The origin of Wheatley name is not really relevant to the church. I find it more important to talk of the history i.e., church being built one year following the victorious Revolutionary War (ended sept 1783), five years prior to George Washington becoming the first elected American president (October 1789); and believed to be the oldest Methodist Church in America, with a continuous congregation, that continues to worship in it's building that was erected for the purpose of being a Methodist Church. There is one current Methodist church(St. George ) in Philadelphia whose congregation convened 1769. But, their church was originally erected (just few years earlier) as a Lutheran Reform Church. When I can get to the courthouse to look for the deed of the Edward Wheatley Chapel (which we know existed prior to this current building), we may find that we are a congregation older than the one in Philadelphia.
Throughout my life, I have heard numerous accounts how the Wheatley family ancestors came to that “new land” which became known as America and now our great United States of America. There have been stories about a gentleman granted land by the King of England. This gentleman sent his three sons, who supposedly were horse thieves, to America as he wanted them out of England to save the family embarrassment. Information I found some 13 or 14 years ago have led me to believe we may have some less than favorable history and more concretely believe a “gentleman” or even a “Lord” may have sent his sons to America. I have found nothing to corroborate stories of their alleged unfavorable conduct.
Origin of the Wheatley Name:
There has been controversy whether the name Wheatley is English or French because it is recorded in the Domesday Book as a “Norman Surname”. In British terms, this means the name descended from the Duke of Normandy. How did the name become known as a “Norman” surname? The Duke, originally named “Rollo” and believed to have been a Viking, was a descendant of Scotland’s King Stirgud. Rollo invaded France during the later tenth century. After converting to Christianity, he married the daughter of France’s King Charles. King Charles granted Rollo Northern France and named him the Duke of Normandy.
The Duke’s descendant known as William the Conqueror invaded England during the late eleventh century. Following the Battle of Hastings, William took rule and became Duke William. He was quick to take a census of all citizens within the area at the time he took rule. This census was recorded in the Domesday Book as it was great honor during the Middle Ages to be acknowledged in the Domesday. The name “Whatley” is recorded in the Domesday as a British name. It is an honor today to be linked to this very distinguished manuscript.
Several spellings of the Wheatley name are recorded. However, it is the W-h-a-t-e-l-y root and its link to the Battle of Hastings England that assure the English origin. Such documented spellings include:
Whatel Whatley Whatly Wheatley Whetley Whetly Whettell
There have been several explanations for the multiple spellings Such include alterations for religious affiliations, the pronunciation, or ones preference to be connected to a different clan. Perhaps the most likely reason is the various pronunciations. During this time in history, few persons other than Scribes and Priests could read and write. Scribes most likely spelled the name as it was pronounced to them.
The spelling “W-h-e-a-t-l-e-y” is found to be that of a notable family in Somerset England. Lord John Wheatley was Lord John of the Castle Bromwich and Edward Wheatley was Mayor of Bristol (a major seaport city in South Western England) during the 1760’s. The Wheatley’s branched to several areas of England serving various political positions and knowingly intermarried with the prominent English Westmoreland clan.
Reading our heritage, it seems our ancestors contributed much to the English political and social history. However, it can be each of our personal thoughts if we were in England awaiting the Duke of Normandy’s invasion or if we were part of the Viking history and participated in Rollo’s French invasion.
Wheatley’s Migration to the New World
The 17th and 18th centuries were times of much English political and religious upheaval. The monarchy, the Parliament, and Church were all striving to become the powerful body. “The Church” or religious community included 1) the State or Anglican Church, 2) the Roman Catholic Church, and 3) the Reform Church (known as the Protestant Reformation). The conflicts had their demands on all people – the rich and the poor alike. Many turned from the church while others turned to the church becoming stronger in their convictions and beliefs.
Families were encouraged to migrate from England. Some migrated to Ireland and others to the “colonies”. King George II granted land in the New World or “the Colonies” to prominent persons and those who paid him money to bring persons to the new world. William Wheatley, as the mayor of an important Seaport city – Bristol received such a grant dated 1759.
The Wheatleys are recorded as coming to the colonies and migrating West and North. Persons of this derivation, as well as folk of other spellings, are said to have settled in other areas of North America and Barbados. Over the past 250+ years, Wheatley’s have settled in multiple locations throughout the northern portion of the Western hemisphere.
William Wheatley Grant
The tract granted to William bordered the Nanticoke and Marshy Hope Rivers and Dennis Glade (or creek). It is said William sent his three sons William, Jr., Charles, and Edward and a daughter to the colonies. The daughter’s given name is not found recorded. History shows she married a Dr. Gale and settled in what we know as Galestown. One son settled in the lower neck (Wheatley’s Church, Sharptown and Marshy Hope River) and portions of the Upper neck which extended to Wheatley camp ground (now named Cokesbury). Another settled in the East New Market area, and the third in Wicomico County. It seems Edward must have settled in the lower neck area as, what may have been the original church, was known as the Edward Wheatley Chapel.
Wheatley Methodist Church
The Wheatley church construction began in 1784 with the first service being held in spring 1785. The early American Wheatley family not only built a church, they had an early hand in bringing Methodism to the area by inviting Bishop Francis Asbury to preach in the new church. It is believed he was one of the first persons to preach in the new church. Bishop Asbury’s personal recordings are said to confirm his preaching in the “new” church.
Oral accounts spoke of repairs to the church in 1837 and 1844. The church was closed in late 1870’s as the members wanted to build a newer church. After cutting timber and finishing the lumber, it was decided to remodel the original building. Records show these renovations were completed and the church reopened in 1879. I recall “old timers” saying the church suffered internal damage resulting from fire. Repairs were made again in 1894 when the recessed pulpit and painted glass windows were installed along with new seats……………”benches with backs”. These are what we are sitting on today. I recall Aunt Addie (Wheatley) Brinsfield telling me that her mother (Aunt Effie Wheatley) spoke of there being a balcony where the slaves sat during Sunday worship services. I do not know if that balcony was removed during the 1879 or the 1894 renovations. One speculates it would be the 1879 renovations given the Civil War period ended 1869. The current pulpit furniture was purchased in 1894 and brought from Baltimore to Sharptown by steamer. There have been numerous improvements made to this little church by the side of the road over the past 225 years. All have been without change to the shape of the building’s original shape.
No one is certain when electricity was added but, most certain result of 1936 Rural Electrification Act.. The original coal oil lamps had been removed but the brackets had remained. During the 1960’s, the MYF raised funds to purchase replacement lamps and reflectors (currently in place), as well as an electric organ. The current heating system was installed during the 1960’s. The beautiful carved wood organ here today was presented by Fern Brinsfield Suhr. It belonged to her grandmother Aunt Effie Wheatley. When the old farm house was vacated, Fern moved the organ to the community house. For the church’s bicentennial 1984, Mr. Harold Eskridge and his son Gary moved the organ to the church where it remains.
Major renovations occurred during the mid 1970’s when termites invaded the church’s original supporting beams and pine flooring. The church was jacked up to allow repairs. During this work, large pine trees were found to be the church’s supporting foundation with wood pegs holding the building and flooring together. It is believed wood pegs continue to hold the walls in place. Cost prohibited replacement wood flooring, so carpeting was installed. The lower portion of the old tin paneling was damaged, during these repairs. The wood paneling we see today was chosen as wall covering for the lower walls. The chandeliers replaced the old hanging school house style lights I recall as a child. The ceiling fans were added during the 1980s.
This little church by the side of the road, one of the oldest in the Peninsula Conference, has endured much over the past 225 years. The interior was supposedly damaged by fire during the late1800’s. The church building was closed for few years waiting renovations. However, the “Church” continued as the members held “class meetings” in their homes. Then there was major structural damage by one of God’s creatures…..termites. Today attendance is almost nil. However, the building and the “Church” both continue to prevail three years prior to the inauguration of first United States’ President in 1787. This little building has served as a house of worship for many people for more than two centuries and with God’s continued help it will continue to serve as a house of worship for many years to come.
Whatever our individual beliefs and practices, history shows attending church and worshiping God has been an important part of the Wheatley family legacy. If time would permit, most of us here could recall how our lives have been centered on this beautiful old church. My memories include my Sunday School classes and the biblical teachings which helped mold my faith, learning to play the piano when I did not have my own, the first time I played to lead congregational singing, and so many wonderful people who now rejoice around the Great Throne. I’m not here to preach today. But I do ask each of you to stop and reflect upon the importance of attending church and worshiping God has been to our ancestors. And, then ask ourselves “don’t we need this today”? For our family heritage and the land our ancestors so bravely traveled to settle and have served in various military to defend, it is imperative we return to the basic morals and convictions upon which both the United States and the Wheatley family church were founded.
Thank you for allowing me this time to share a bit of history about our family heritage and this church our family founded.
Respectfully Submitted by:
Suellen Wheatley Wilkins
October 4, 2009
Wheatley Methodist Protestant Church
Dorchester County Land Transaction Records: A review
Land Records are documented/recorded in “periods of time”
1. 1669 – 1819 (recorded in cursive hand writing contained in large fragile book)
2. 1819 – 1887 (recorded in cursive hand writing contained in large fragile book)
3. 1887 – 1901 (recorded in cursive hand writing)
4. 1900 – 1950 (recorded in cursive hand writing)
5. 1950 – 1967 (electronic records)
6. 1968 – 2014 (electronic records)
Three deeds corresponding to the Church have been found:
1. Deed HD 14/ 130/133 (recorded June 12, 1798): William and Sara Fletcher sold “a tract of land” known as “Hog Yard” to nine “trustees….and their survivors ” for “fifty pounds of current money” to build a “preaching house or Chappel for use of the Methodist preachers or the friendly clergy of the Church of England”. The deed continues that the trustees and survivors shall ….. permit such persons appointed at the yearly conference of the people called Methodists held in America to preach and expound Gods Holy Word. And no others are to “enjoy the said properties”. ….the preachers are to preach “no other doctrine then is contained in the W John Wesley Notes upon the New Testament”. The Trustees listed include:
a. Saben (Laben) Jones
b. Solloman Russell
c. William Dean
d. James Fletcher
e. George Mezseck
f. Edward Wheatley
g. Charles Dean
h. Nathan Baker
i. Nathan McCallister
2. Deed ?? [recorded September 18, 1884]: this deed shows the Trustees of Wheatley Methodist Episcopal Church sold the church and lot to Edward T. Wheatley for $50.00 at public auction on July 11, 1881. The church sale was authorized by the Quarterly Conference of the Galestown Charge held July 18, 1881, at the Cokesbury ME Church. The sale of the property to Edward & Lilly Wheatley was not recorded until September 1884.
Listed Trustees include:
a. Augustus T. Wheatley
b. Jesse K. Wheatley
c. William M. Wheatley
d. James G. M. Gordy
e. James T. T. Wheatley
3. Deed CL 9/660 [recorded May 31, 1887] shows Edward & Lilly Wheatley sold the church and land originally known as “hog yard” to Wheatley Methodist Protestant Church Trustees for $40. Listed Trustees include:
a. Caleb S. Stack
b. George D. Brinsfield
c. William M. Wheatley
d. James Marine
e. John S. Griffith
f. Joseph Bryan
g. George E. Wheatley
This is the final and last deed discovered, during my search, for any land transaction records regarding a church [located in Dorchester County Maryland] named: Wheatley Methodist, Wheatley Methodist Protestant, Wheatley Methodist Episcopal and Wheatley United Methodist Church.
There are multiple documents written about the church (1955 – 1984) referencing the Church having been called “the Edward Wheatley Chapel”. The belief for this, passed to many of existing members, was because the land had been purchased by an Edward Wheatley following a fire in late 1870’s. Such ownership is substantiated by the deed showing Edward & Lilly Wheatley purchased the church and property, from Wheatley Episcopal Church in 1881 and then sold it to the Trustees of Wheatley Protestant Church in 1887.
However, I (Suellen Wheatley Wilkins) am led to believe a Chappel existed prior to the construction of the current 1784 building. This is based upon the land coordinate descriptions within the 1798 deed [HD 14/ 130/133]. The description of property (William & Sara Fletcher sold to build a preaching house), states the “parcel called Hog Yard lying and being butted and bounded as followeth”:
· Beginning at a marked white oak standing near the southwest corner of the Edward Wheatleys Chappell then runs south sixty eight degrees, east ten perches binding with the William Fletcher land,
· and then north twenty eight degrees east sixteen perches binding with the Edward Wheatley’s land,
· then by a straight line binding with the Ezekiel Wheatley land to the first beginning containing one acre of land more or less and also all the estate right title interest property claim and demand whatsoever of them the said William Fletcher and Sarah Fletcher his wife and heirs Executers and Administrators forever either in law or equity”.
Recorded by Suellen Wheatley Wilkins
Search – Dorchester County Land Records; Internet (Maryland Historic Trust: Touart report, Rootsweb/Ancestory.com Barretts Chapel Curator) Methodist History Review