GaspeeVirtual Archives
Captain Silas Wheeler (c1752-c1828)

The Gaspee Days Committee at www.gaspee.COM is a civic-minded nonprofit organization that operates many community events in and around Pawtuxet Village, including the famous Gaspee Days Parade each June. These events are all designed to commemorate the burning of the hated British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee, by Rhode Island patriots in 1772 as America's 'First Blow for Freedom'®.  Our historical research center, the Gaspee Virtual Archives at www.gaspee.ORG , has presented these research notes as an attempt to gather further information on one who has been suspected in, or being associated with, the burning of the Gaspee. Please e-mail your comments or further questions to
Evidence implicating Silas Wheeler:

In February of 2003, we received the following e-mail: from a Ben Wheeler:
Captain Silas Wheeler was a revolutionary war soldier who fought at Lexington, Bunker Hill and was captured by the British on the high seas and thrown into an Irish jail in Kinsdale Ireland. He later escaped with the help of the Irish Patriot, Henry Gratten, and settled in Steuben County, New York State after spending a year in the wilderness there...He became a wealthy land-owner and the town of Wheeler New York is named after him.. I inquired about Silas to the Steuben County Historical Society, who sent me historical excerpts noting that Silas was involved among other things in the burning of the British tax ship "Gaspee". My father was a columnist for the Providence Journal and he wrote extensively about Silas over the years and loved writing about the history of Rhode Island. I am surprised you didn't make reference to any of his pieces about the burning of the Gaspee
Biographical Information: 

From: from LANDMARKS OF STEUBEN COUNTY by Hon. Harlo Hakes, 1896
The first settlement in the town of Wheeler was made by Captain Silas Wheeler in the year 1800, and the town is named after him. He was a descendent of Captain Timothy Wheeler, who was born in England in 1604, and was a nephew of Governor Brooks of Massachusetts.

The parents of Silas Wheeler, Jonas Wheeler and Percis Brooks, both natives of Concord, Mass., were married October 13, 1743, and Silas Wheeler was born March 7, 1752 at Concord, Mass. He was married in Providence County, R.I., to Sarah Gardner, and they remained there nearly a year with the bride's parents. Before the year ended the famous fight at Lexington and Concord, April 19, 1775, took place, in which battle many kinsmen of Silas Wheeler took part in defense of their homes. An "army of observation," consisting of three regiments, was at once organized in Rhode Island, and in a few weeks marched to Prospect Hill near Boston. General Nathaniel Green was commander of one of the regiments raised in Providence, and Silas Wheeler was a private in that regiment. These three regiments formed what was known as the "Rhode Island Brigade," and were present at the battle of Bunker Hill. After Washington assumed command of the troops before Boston, a body of eleven hundred men was selected from his army to make a descent upon Quebec. This body was intended to co-operate with General Montgomery's army, which had set out for Quebec by the way of Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River. Washington selected Benedict Arnold to command the eleven hundred men, with the orders to march through the Maine woods. Among the first to volunteer in this body was Silas Wheeler, who was appointed 3d corporal in Captain Simeon Thayer's Company. On September 13, 1775, Arnold started with his men from Cambridge, and on November 3 they reached Sertigan in Canada, in a state of starvation. For several days this little army had been without provisions of any kind.

Caleb Haskel, in his journal of the expedition recorded at the time, says: "November 1, 1775, set out weak and faint, having nothing to eat; the ground covered with snow; traveled fifteen miles and encamped. Eat part of a hind quarter of a dog for supper; we are in a pitiable condition. November 2, set out early this morning very much discouraged, having nothing to eat or no prospect of anything; we are so weak and faint we can scarcely walk, obliged to lighten our packs, have been upon short allowance for sixteen days. November 3, about two o'clock we espied a house, then we gave three huzzas, for we have not seen a house before for thirty days. The village is called Sertigan, the people are all French and Indians."

The day before the army reached Sertigan Captain Dearborn, afterward Major-General Dearborn, gave his Newfoundland dog to the men, and although the dog had been a great favorite with all the command, he was at once killed and eaten without bread or salt.

Judge Henry, of Pennsylvania, in his journal, says: "One spoonful of the dog stew was quite enough for me," but Captain Wheeler often said that nothing ever tasted better to him than this meal eaten as it was after a fast of five days. Many men of this little army died of hunger, some in four or five minutes after making their last effort and lying down. Corporal Wheeler had with him fifty golden guineas, and in his fight for life he threw them away, in order to lighten his load, and a comrade picked them up and carried them until he fell from exhaustion.

December 1, Arnold reached Quebec, but it was not until the night of Dec. 31 that the assault was made. Corporal Wheeler's company was in the assault, took one barrier of the fort, and captured 130 prisoners, but were unable to reach the second barrier, or to retreat. Meantime Montgomery had fallen and Arnold was sounded; and after holding their position for four hours, his men were captured and taken to the Dauphine Prison in Quebec. This prison was burned down in 1810. The American prisoners were kindly treated by Sir Guy Carlton, afterwards Lord Dorchester, the "savior of Canada;" but smallpox broke out in the prison,and great suffering ensued, and in March an attempt was made to escape but failed through the treachery of John Hall. The prisoners were placed in irons and so kept for two months. Corporal Wheeler was treated with exceptional severity, because it was reported that he had taken part in the capture and burning of the British armed sloop "Gaspe."

In August, 1776, the prisoners were paroled, and on August 12 Corporal Wheeler's company left Quebec for New York and arrived there September 12, but finding New York in the posession of the British, they proceeded to Elizabethtown, N.J. Captain Thayer, in his journal, says that he landed at Elizabethtown on September 20, with nine rank and file, one lieutenant - all that returned of the eighty-seven men of his company who left Cambridge a year before. From Elizabethtown Corporal Wheeler went to Rhode Island to join his young wife, and was soon exchanged as a prisoner. He at once re-enlisted in the "Rhode Island Brigade," in Colonel John Popham's regiment. This brigade served three years in the Continental Army. Many of the Rhode Island troops were permitted to volunteer for service on the sea, and under this permission Silas Wheeler went on board a privateer which was captured by a British man-of-war. The prisoners were treated as pirates, were taken to Ireland and confined in prison at Kinsale for more than a year. Henry Grattan, the great Irish orator and patriot, was in deep sympathy with the Americans in their struggle for freedom, and in some way Silas Wheeler was placed in communication with him, and was assured that if he could escape from prison, shelter and aid would be furnished by Lord Grattan. Wheeler planned and made his escape over the walls of the prison; and amid a shower of bullets aimed at him by the guards, he made his way to Grattan, and the latter gave him clothing and money, and secured his passage to France, and when asked how he could be repaid, answered: "If you should have a son, give him my name, and bring him up to love liberty and his fellow man." Soon after Captain Wheeler took passage for America, and lost no time in making his way to Rhode Island to his wife, who for nearly two years had not heard from him and had supposed him dead.

It was during his service with the Rhode Island Brigade and before he went on the privateer that he was made a captain. He remained in Rhode Island until the close of the war; and on August 25, 1783, his only son was born, and to him the name of Grattan Henry was given. Soon after the close of the war Captain Wheeler moved to Albany county, then in 1798 to Steuben County. He was a man of great energy and perseverance, but liberal and generous and never a money maker. His son, Grattan H. Wheeler, who came with him to Wheeler, was a man of great business ability, and largely through his efforts and good judgement, the great Wheeler farm of 5,000 acres was secured and improved; upon that farm Captain Wheeler lived until his death in 1828. He never forgot his early sufferings from hunger, and at his house everyone who came was invited to eat and drink. He planted fruit trees by the roadside, and raised tobacco for the free use of the wayfarer. He had three children, two twin girls born during the Revolutionary war, both of whom lived and died in Wheeler, Ruth as the wife of Nathan Rose and Sarah as the wife of William Holmes.

Be careful to avoid confusion; there were many other Silas Wheelers, including others born in the 18th century in MA, and one who lived in Wisconsin and married a Polly WHIPPLE.  The Wheelers have traced their ancestry back to 1571.

From Vital Record of Rhode Island, 1636-1850, by James N. Arnold: article entitled <Colwell's "Spirit of '76." An Analytical and Explanatory Index> , 1776:83
WHEELER Silas, private, Col. Topham's regiment, 1776 ; pay due £15 6 11. Pensioned

From The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 1852 v6 p135: we see that Silas Wheeler is listed as one member of Capt. Thayer's Company that was taken prisoner by the British in the expedition against Quebec.  Unfortunately, we can't find Silas Wheeler's pension application on-line through HeritageQuest, nor was able to be located in a search of the US National Archives in June 2006.

There are no Wheeler families listed in the 1770 List of Providence Taxpayers.  We do find Silas Wheeler in the Federal 1790 census living in an Albany, NY suburb of Rensellaerville: 1 male more than 16, 1 male less than 16, and 3 females.  This exactly matches what we expect of his known family as posted below. We can't discern him from the 1800 census, but does show in the 1810 census living in Steuben County in what was the hamlet of Pulteney, NY as 1-1-1; the twins married off and Grattan having moved out on his own but living nearby.  Wheeler, NY is just south and west of the Finger Lakes area of Upstate, NY.  Nothing is found for our Silas Wheeler in newspapers of NY or RI at the time.

Genealogical information:

From a Google search of Silas Wheeler we discover the following:
Wheeler Family Cemetery in Wheeler, Steuben County, New York.  This cemetery plot is at the South east corner of Rt. 53 and Dinehart Crossing Roads. Lat: 42°26'54"N, Lon: 77°18'47"W

Silas Wheeler, b. 1748, d. 25 Nov 1827
Sarah Wheeler . b 20 Feb 1760 d 24 Sep 1827  w/of Silas (nee GARDNER)
The LDS site claims him with slightly different dates:
Silas Wheeler
Birth:   17 Mar 1752 Concord, Middlesex, Ma
Death:   25 Nov 1828 Wheeler, Steuben, Ny
Father:  Jonas WHEELER
Mother:  Persis BROOKS
Spouse:  Sarah GARDNER  b23 Nov 1760 of Middlesex, Mass.
Marriage:  Bef 1783 searches indicate that Silas Wheeler was the sixth of ten children born in Concord, MA. We have one indication that Sarah Gardner was probably born in South Kingstown, RI.  There were two possibilities according to RI birth records, one Sarah Gardner born too late in 1767 to an Oliver and Mercy Gardner, and another who died in 1807 that was born to a Zerias and Susanna Gardner. Per LDS there was one Sarah Gardner, daughter of a Nathaniel Gardner and Sarah Pierce, born in 1748 in South Kingstown and who did not marry a person other than Silas Wheeler, and although this one's spouse is unknown, she's listed as having died in South Kingstown.

Most of the following information is taken from the excellent Heywood Genealogy website at:

Born March 17, 1752 in Concord, Middlesex County, Massachusetts.
Married SARAH GARDNER. She was born November 23, 1760; and died in 1827.
Died November 25, 1828 in Wheeler, Steuben County, New York.
CHILDREN: 1. RUTH WHEELER (twin), born during the Revolutionary War. Married NATHAN ROSE.
2. SARAH WHEELER (twin), born during the Revolutionary War. Married WILLIAM HOLMES.
3. GRATTAN HENRY WHEELER, born August 25, 1783 in South Kingston, Washington County, Rhode Island; died March 11, 1852 in Wheeler, Steuben County, New York. Was a successful farmer, NY State Senator and Representative to US Congress.   Married1 FRANCES BAKER. Married2 ELIZA AULLS in 1814. 
We have only here an indirect reference to Silas Wheeler reportedly having taken part in the raid on the Gaspee.  While he was present in Rhode Island in 1772, and apparently had some maritime connections, his wife's family with which he was staying was probably in South Kingstown, some 30 or more miles South of Providence when the raiding party assembled.  We await further confirmatory information from his descendants, particularly articles written for the Providence Journal.
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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 3/2003    Last Revised 07/2009    SilasWheeler.htm