A few years ago, the Waterford town historian, Bob Nye, secured a state grant to remove several large trees that were endangering standing headstones in the Wheeler Cemetery, an abandoned burial ground located on a residential property, just off Route 32 in Quaker Hill (just a little down the road from Hardwick Cemetery). Nye was able to secure a state grant to have the trees removed, and, in the spring of 2017, along with Waterford resident Patrick Crotty, was given permission to clear the site of brush and briars.¹ Only a few years later, the headstones are once again hidden under heavy plant growth, illustrating the persistent danger facing many abandoned gravesites in town.
Because of a high embankment, the Wheeler Cemetery is not accessible from Route 32. To reach the cemetery, it is necessary to cross over private property, therefore this burial site is not available to the public.
The above photo was taken after Bob and Patrick finished clearing out the weeds. The graves are arranged in a long rectangular shape in rows of three or four. Twenty-one of the graves are marked with a gravestone while nine have field stone markers.
Without a doubt one of the most poignant burial stories can be found in the Wheeler burial ground in Quaker Hill. A four-sided post-type gravestone stands among the stones. On each of its four sides of the square stone is engraved with the date each of the four Guy and Mercy Bolles Wheeler’s infant children who died in infancy. Each of these heart-breaking deaths occurred in the eleven years between 1788 and 1797. Two additional stones nearby are for Francis, another daughter who died in 1816 at age 29, and son Elisha who died the same year at age 22. It is hard to fathom the grief this family endured. The following inscription has been carved on the four sides of the first stone:
Front side of stone:
Died Sept. 10th, 1788
Aged 1 month
Right side of tomb:
Died March 13th, 1790
Aged 2 months
Left side of tomb:
Of Guy and Mercy
Died Oct.16th, 1793
Aged 11 months
Back side of tomb:
Died Jan. 28th, 1797
Aged 12 months
The stones beside it:
In memory of
Elisha, son of
Guy and Merrcy Wheeler
Age 22 years
In memory of
Frances, daughter of
Guy and Mercy Wheeler
Oct. 22nd, 1816
Aged 29 years
“He, like a plant of generous kind, By living waters set, Safe from the storms and blasting wind, Enjoys a peaceful state.”
What grief this family endured over and over so many times with the death of each child! This headstone is located in a private family burial ground dating back to the late eighteenth century.
The paternal grandparents of the Wheeler children are buried in nearby graves. Captain Guy Wheeler, who died in 1839 at age 87 was buried nearby. His wife, Mercy Wheeler, died at age 70 in 1828.
Two other very young children buried here are the two sons of Roswell and Mary Caulkins who died a year and a half apart in 1819 and 1820: Orin, age 5 years and Francis, age 2 years 10 days.
*More information about burials in this cemetery can be found later in addendum.
A history of the Wheeler Family in New London
The first Wheeler to settle in New London was John who was born in London in 1627. He arrived in New London with his wife, Mary Wheeler and four children in the mid-1660s., They were among the first settlers: the settlement was still in its infancy. John was forty years old — -rather old compared to most twenty-year-old arrivals. John’s three brothers and two sisters who arrived with him settled in various parts of New England, including Stonington.
John built and settled his family in a comfortable home in the northern part of the city on a high hill overlooking the Thames River. It’s mere location indicated the prosperity of its owner. It stood next to those houses of the wealthy Saltonstall and Prentis families.
The Wheeler’s land — large tracts on both sides of what was called “Wheeler’s Cove,” was located three miles from town. The Wheelers were still living south of the cove 100 years later. At that time the area was still considered wilderness. Caulkins notes: July 30th, 1695 : “ Paid an Indian for killing a wolf this morning up by- Mr. Wheeler’s four shillings cash.”²
Caulkins mentions that on November 19, 1766 a bear was killed on the Norwich road near the Wheeler. It weighed two hundred and forty pounds and was “dressed” and brought into town to market. Hundreds tasted of bears’ meat for the first time.³
John Wheeler, an early shipping merchant of the city and a man of means, took a prominent position in its maritime business. He became part owner of a vessel called the Zebulon and was involved in trade with the West Indies. Another vessel, built for him in 1689 for the European trade, was sent out under the command of Captain Samuel Chester. Wheeler died in 1691 just after the first voyage was completed. The vessel was then assigned to his creditors, merchants in London.⁴
When John died, he left behind three sons, three daughters, and wife, Elizabeth. His son, Zaccheus, served in the French and Indian War as Captain and died without heirs. John’s other children, including Joshua and Edward’s families lived and died in the New London area. Their descendants were plentiful and many continued to live in the Quaker Hill area.
Sarah Kemble Knight
One evening in 1704, John’s twenty-one year old son, Joshua, earned a unique spot in history. He agreed to accompany Sarah Kemble Knight on horseback to New Haven on her historic journey from Boston to New York City. Sarah had stopped for the night in New London to visit the Saltonstalls and was in need of another guide to accompany her to New Haven. Her previous guide was unable to travel any further. At his neighbor’s request, Joshua accompanied Sarah on the two day trip. In her diary, Knight mentions the terrible condition of the roads along the way to New Haven. “The ‘Rodes’ all along this way are very bad, encumbered with Rocks and mountainous passages, which were very disagreeable to my tired carcass.”⁵ Joshua left her off in New Haven where another rider accompanied her on the next part of her journey.
In May, 1775, the Colony of Connecticut passed an act regulating and ordering that troops be raised for the defense of the colony. During the first few years of the Revolutionary War, Connecticut “was literally full of Tories. They filled our jails to overflowing; many of them were confined within the court-house at Hartford.”⁶ The area was called a “hotbed” of Tory activities. Even before the war erupted, Connecticut was forced to pass anti-Tory laws. New London had its share of anti-revolution sentiment.
Zaccheus Wheeler of New London was one of those accused of treasonous sentiments during the Revolutionary War, such as expressing hopes that Great Britain would win the Revolutionary War and trying to discourage others from engaging to support the American Cause. Apparently Wheeler was accused of acting as an agent for the British cause so he was forced to publicly declare his loyalty to the revolution in a notice placed in the New London Gazette on March 21, 1777. After this no more has been written about Zaccheus. He died in 1803.
Robert Boucher notes that although Frances Caulkins attached the the name “Smith Cove” to that body of water in Quaker Hill, he asserts that he
Has read probably almost every deed to the land surrounding this cove in the colonial era. The name “Smith’s Cove” had never appeared. This cove was universally called Wheeler’s Cove or some other name associated with Alewife Brook. This name undoubtedly related to John Wheeler sho in the late 1600s owned necks on both sides of the cove that separate the inner cove from the outer cove. Wheelers were still living south of the cove 100 years later. The preamble for the survey of the road which we all call Old Colchester Road reads ‘…at the head of the cove commonly known by the name of Wheeler’s Cove.’⁸
In Memory of
Sylvia Daughter of
Mr. Samuel & Mary
Williams, who died
March 1, 1792
Aged 29 Years
In youthful bloom death laid me down
Here to await the trumpet found
When God doth call I must arise
To meet my Savior in the Skies.
This beautiful headstone for Sylvia reveals love and concern from her parents. Her parents are Samuel and Mary Hurlburt Williams who lived in Groton.⁹
Rebecca Wheeler is the daughter of Zacheaus and Sarah Harris Wheeler. She was born Jan. 9, 1739 and died Jan. 31, 1830. She was the eighth of ten children.
Another young child buried here was Andrew Barros.
Son of Francis P.
& Mary Barros
Died April 18, 1833
Age 13 months
Sleep lonely baby, and
Take thy rest
God called thee home, he
Saw it best.
- Bob Nye and Patrick Crotty are members of the Town of Waterford’s Historic Properties Commission, which serves to preserve and protect the “buildings, archaeological sites, landscapes, and places of historic and cultural significance and their settings in Waterford, Connecticut, recognizing such as landmarks in the history of the town, state or nation”.
Much of the information about the Wheeler family is from Boucher’s notes. See Bucher, Robert L. The Colonial Lands of New London, Conn., vol. 1, 1984. Available at the Waterford Public Library (Search online catalog here).
Patrick Crotty has recently contributed to the library a collection of photographs of Historic Cemeteries & Burial Grounds of Waterford, CT. (Search online catalog here).
2. Caulkins, Frances Manwaring. History of New London, Connecticut: From the First Survey of the Coast in 1612 to 1852. p. 258
5. Sarah Kemble Knight. From “The Private Journal of a Journey from Boston to New York in the Year 1704”. Available for free on Google Books.
7. The Connecticut Gazette was Connecticut’s earliest known newspaper that ran from 1754 to 1768. Benjamin Franklin was the business partner of James Parker of New York who was the owner and publisher. It was mainly a military record reporting the events of the French and Indian War (1754–1763).
8. Robert L. Bucher, Colonial Lands of New London