Chauncey Wheeler, 3rd Gunner’s Mate

Chauncey Wheeler. Born on Wednesday 17 December 1751 in Fairfield, CT; Chauncey Wheeler was the second child of David Wheeler 3rd (1726-1806) and Lois Chauncey (1727-1793). He was descended from Thomas Wheeler (1591-1654) who emigrated from Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England and founded Black Rock, Connecticut where Chauncey lived and died. According to the pension application testimony of fellow Fairfield native Aaron Hubbell thirty-five years after the death of his friend Chauncey Wheeler, both served during the late Summer of 1778 in Lieutenant Trowbridge’s Company of Connecticut State Guard militia infantry attached to Colonel Samuel Whiting’s Regiment of General Gold Selleck Silliman’s Brigade. They were stationed together for two months at the Upper Wharves in Black Rock near where the twenty-six year old Wheeler resided. According to his wife, Chauncey Wheeler enlisted at Fairfield and joined the frigate Alliance at Boston in the Autumn of 1778. According to the testimony of Ichabod Perry, Sergeant of Marines on the Alliance; the two friends sailed with ship under the command of Peter Landais on her maiden cruise to France with Lafayette on board. He testified that after first landing the General at Brest, the vessel sailed to L’Orient where she was repaired before sailing “out on a cruise in company with Paul Jones.” Out but a few weeks, the Alliance and the BonHomme Richard “ran foul of each other” and returned to port. In the pension application, both Wheeler’s wife and friend Elijah Bibbons recall a story told concerning Chauncey and Lieutenant of Marines Thomas Elwood who was a fellow native of Fairfield and neighbor who recruited Perry and Wheeler to join the ship. Apparently when news of the burning of Fairfield by the British on 8 July 1779 reached the crew of the Alliance at anchor off France, Elwood “being a pompous man and very poor set up a lamentation for fear his house was burnt before the officers of the ship.” According to daughter Huldah, Chauncey Wheeler claimed the commotion raised by Elwood in front of the men that night frightened him “more than he was in the whole two years that he served on board the ship Alliance.” To Lieutenant Elwood’s cry of “I wonder now if my house was burnt up with the rest”, Chauncey Wheeler “speaking in a low tone of voice” responded “I guess all the house you have in Fairfield might be carried away on your wife’s head!” For this retort to the obviously unpopular Elwood, according to Wheeler’s wife, “the officers treated Chauncey with a bottle of wine.” After further repairs the frigate and the ‘Good Man’ Richard sailed again with the crew of the Alliance witness to Jones’ celebrated sea battle with the Serapis on 23 September 1779. Sergeant Perry notes that when the ships reached Holland after the engagement, Peter Landais “was suspended for misconduct” by Paul Jones who took command of the Alliance. Chauncey Wheeler’s rate or rank is noted as 3rd Gunner’s Mate in the “Roll of the Officers and Crew of the Frigate Alliance” under the command of Captain Peter Landais dated 3 October 1779, the day the Alliance and Serepis with Jones now aboard limped into Texel Roads, the deepwater port of Amsterdam. Perry’s affidavit indicates Wheeler was “Gunner’s Clerk” on the Alliance; however Chauncey’s widow described his position as Quarter Gunner and mentions that her “husband had a warrant or commission with a large seal on it for many years after the war.” After sailing from Texal on 27 December 1779, the Alliance “put in to Cromey (Corunna) in Spain” for eleven days in late January 1780. According to Perry’s testimony, Captain Jones and the Alliance, sailing in the Spring “took some prizes and put in again at L’Orient.” The ship actually returned to L’Orient in late February 1780. While Paul Jones was off the ship, deposed Captain Landais retook command of the Alliance and quickly sailed the American frigate out from under Jones nose in June 1780. The frigate Alliance left France on 8 July 1780 under Landais’ command. However, on the voyage home 1st Lieutenant James A. Degge relieved the captain of his duties on 11 August 1780. Taking command himself, Degge brought the frigate into Boston on 19 August 1780 where both faced court martials for their actions. Sergeant of Marines Perry continues that while “a greater part of the hands then left the ship a few however remained, among them myself and the aforesaid Chauncey Wheeler to discharge the ship and fit her for repairing….then Wheeler and myself left for home without receiving a cent of pay for our services” sometime in October 1780. Interestingly, Wheeler’s widow relates that her husband kept a journal while serving on the Alliance but that it was lost about 1834 when she left her house in the care of another family for awhile and returned to find “their children had destroyed all his papers relative to his service in the Revolution.” According to the pension testimony, Ichabod Perry “later saw Chauncey Wheeler at a place called Bridgeport on board a privateer” and “supposes (Wheeler was) in guard along the coast during the remainder of the war.” Caroline Matilda Wheeler sheds more light on her husband’s activities in early 1780; Chauncey “had command of a Whale Boat” after his service on the Alliance and was stationed at Black Rock “to prevent the Tories from carrying on the Cordoroy Trade.” One year following his departure from the frigate Alliance, twenty-nine year old Chauncey Wheeler was married to Caroline Matilda Beers on 12 October 1781 by the Reverend Elisha Rexford, pastor of the Congregational Church of New Stratford- now Monroe, at the home of Caroline’s older brother Archipus Beers. Caroline’s sister Jemima and cousin Rachel both testified to their presence at the wedding in the widow Wheeler’s pension application W-25,998. Caroline Matilda, daughter of Nathaniel Beers and Caroline French, was born at Stratford on Wednesday 6 December 1761. Just over one year after their marriage, the day of their first child’s baptism, on 3 November 1782; Chauncey and Caroline Matilda Wheeler “recognized their baptismal engagements” by joining into the full communion of Christ’s Church in Fairfield. Over the years, the couple shared nine children: Patience born Sunday 10 August 1782 at 7:10 in the evening and baptized 3 November 1782; Huldah born on Sunday 28 March 1784 after nine o’clock at night and baptized 29 August 1784 who died 2 June 1861; David born Thursday 4 May 1786 at 4 o’clock after noon and baptized 18 June 1786; Phebe born Sunday 5 April 1789 at 11 o’clock at night and baptized 6 September 1789; Lois born at 3 o’clock in the morning of Wednesday 14 September 1791 and baptized on 1 May 1792; Nichols Chauncey born on Thursday 26 December 1793 about nine o’clock at night and died 6 February 1859; Nathaniel born about 2 o’clock in the morning of Tuesday 15 March 1796; Caroline born Friday 5 October 1798 with the break of day; and Simeon born Wednesday 4 March 1801 at night and baptized 18 May 1803 who married Betsy Ann Brown and died in 1841. The 1790 Census indicates Chauncey and his wife are living in Fairfield with their only son at the time and their four oldest daughters. The 1800 Census includes their three boys and two of their younger daughters living at home. Scrutiny of the girls’ ages suggests that Patience and Huldah have left the household and young Phebe is not present. Three years after this census and several weeks previous to the baptism of his youngest child, Chauncey Wheeler was drowned on 22 April 1803 at Black Rock at the age of fifty-two. He was laid to rest in the Stratford, or Pequonnock, Burying Ground at Bridgeport. The will of Chauncey’s father David who died in 1806 names his widowed daughter-in-law and all nine of their children. Census records suggest that Chauncey’s widow Caroline Matilda Wheeler moved into the household of her oldest son David sometime after the death of her husband. She is clearly not living with son Nichols or daughter Huldah at the time of the 1820 and 1830 Census. Daughter Huldah Wheeler became the third wife of Jesse Benedict, three decades her senior, sometime in 1810 between the birth of Jesse’s son by his second wife on 10 February and the birth of Huldah’s son Jesse Wheeler Benedict on 25 December of the same year. Huldah’s first husband Jesse died on 18 October 1815 and the forty-two year old widow was remarried to seventy-three year old Ezra Gregory in Bridgeport by the Rev. Franklin Y. Vail on 26 February 1827. The 1820 Census indicates only Huldah Benedict and her son Jesse are living in her household which is located next door to Ezra Gregory. Ezra Gregory’s household in the 1830 Census appears limited to himself, wife Huldah and one other male about his wife’s age whose name Lemuel Coleman is revealed in Gregory’s pension application. About 1847, Huldah Gregory moved to New York to live with Coleman’s daughter Mary Louisa who married her son Jesse W. Benedict. Most definitely by the 1840 Census, widow Caroline Matilda Wheeler is residing in the household of her youngest son Nichols Chauncey Wheeler. She appears again in the 1850 Census in the household of her son Nichols, a farmer, and his wife Polly. Caroline Matilda Wheeler died at the age of 92 on 13 May 1853 at Stratford, CT and was interred next to her husband Chauncey in the old Stratford Burying Ground. Caregiver daughter-in-law Polly died just three months later on 29 August 1853 followed six years later by her husband Nichols Chauncey Wheeler, namesake of the Continental Navy veteran, on 6 February 1859.

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