Sorting Out the Chincoteague Whealton Family Tree

by Richard H. Smith, Jr.

(The following article appeared in the Chincoteague Beacon September 2, 2004)

Throughout the more than 300-year history of the settlement and development of Chincoteague Island, a handful of family names appear with regularity. Among these, the most frequently encountered is that of Whealton, a family that figured prominently in the early farming community, the growth of the seafood industry, and the foundation of the present day infrastructure of the Island. Kirk Mariner's "Once Upon an Island" describes the exploits of over two dozen Whealtons and, in his "cast of characters," includes the biographies of seven. But what is the lineage of these Whealtons, where did they come from, when did they first settle on the Island? Lillian Rew in "Assateague and Chincoteague: As I Remember Them" retells the legend of four English Whealton brothers, two of whom settled on the Island after seeking shelter there from a storm. Each subsequently obtained a land patent for half of the Island, with the dividing line being Church Street. But how much of this legend is fact?

Sorting through family histories, particularly those dating from the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Centuries, is often difficult. Records are sketchy and remembrances often conflicting. This certainly is true of the Whealton family, where the picture is often complicated by the appearance of identical or very similar given names in successive, sometimes even the same, generations; Ebenizer, Eber, and Eba; Joshua Sr. and Joshua Jr.; Daniel J. and Daniel T.; John B. ("Burt") and John B. Jr. (not father and son); and two different "Joshua & Nancy" families in the 1870's (more on that below).

What follows is a brief attempt to set straight the records of the main actors. With apologies aforehand to the Whealton women, they have been omitted in order to focus upon tracing the Island Whealton surname through the first six generations of the family in this country. And, to keep the picture simple, mainland branches are not addressed. Piecing together this jigsaw was greatly aided by the results of years of tireless research generously shared by Charles Leslie (Les) Whealton of Tuckerton, NJ.

The Whealton line actually begins on the nearby mainland with the arrival in 1663 of John Wilton, Sr. (Whelton, Wheelton; ca. 1653 - 1717). In 1693, after working off the cost of his transportation from England, he purchased 90 acres north of Chincoteague Creek (Little Mosquito Creek) on the mainland. John Sr. and his wife Catherine had two sons, William (ca. 1685 - 1763) and John Jr (ca 1687 - 1757). The younger son, John Sr. is the ancestor of most Chincoteague Whealtons.

A mainland farmer like his father, John Jr. married as many as three times and had four sons, two of whom, Nehemiah (ca. 1748 - 1779) and Joshua, Sr. (ca 1755 - 1802), are known to have had children. The Chincoteague Whealton line derives from Joshua, Sr., who, after serving in the 3rd. Maryland Independent Company of Worcester County during the Revolutionary War, purchased land (50 acres) on Chincoteague Island in 1787. He is the first Whealton to own land (eventually totaling 145 acres) and reside on the Island, having purchased land that was originally awarded to John Kendall in 1769, the year when John Kendall and John Robins were granted patents for the northern and southern halves of the Island, respectively (divided at Church Street).

Joshua, Sr. and his wife Mary had two sons, Daniel (ca. 1782 - 1805) and Joshua, Jr. (ca 1784 - 1838). Daniel married, but apparently had no children. Thus the Island Whealton line continues through Joshua, Jr.

In 1808, Joshua Jr. married Sally Lewis and, together, they had four sons, Ebenizer, Sr. (1811 - 1854), William James (1814 - 1853), John A.M. (1831 - 1912), and John Daniel, Sr. (1837 - 1916). It is from these four brothers (I - IV, below) that the common heritage branches out to the various individuals noted in most histories of Chincoteague.

(I.) Ebenizer, Sr. (Eba) and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Jones, had six sons:
(1) Joshua (1832 - 1878) married Nancy Ferguson and in doing so produced the first of two 1870 "Joshua & Nancy" families. (2) Eba, Jr. (1833 - 1860) married Elizabeth Sharpley and continued what would eventually become a line of four Eba Whealtons. (3) Daniel Timothy (1838 - 1871) married twice, first to Emma Downing and then to Mary Ann Daisey. (4) John Burton, "Burt," (1842 - 1925), famed for his heroic feats in the Life Saving Service (now U. S. Coast Guard), married Mary Ann Claville and then Mary Williams. (5,6) The two remaining sons, William J. (1846 - 1919) and Louis F. (1849 - ?), both married, but no children are recorded for either.

(II.) William James married twice, the second time to Tabitha Lewis. They had seven children, among whom were the co-founders of the "Big Store" and the Whealton Oyster Company, Joshua W. (1846 - 1925) and Daniel J. (1854 - 1925). The marriage of Joshua W. to Nancy C. Lewis produced the second 1870 "Joshua & Nancy" family (and thus, much genealogical confusion!). Their six children, all of whom attended Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College), were the subject of an earlier article (Chincoteague Beachcomber, 6/19/2004; Chincoteague Beacon, 8/12/2004). Hallie Whealton Smith - drive past the high school on the street named for her - was one of those children.

(III.) John A.M. married Sarah Jester, but had no children. His outspoken advocacy of the Unionist position played a major role in preventing the Island from seceding during the Civil War. Whatever opinion one might hold of John A. M.'s politics, by helping keep the Island in the Union, he assisted in preventing the economic strangulation of Chincoteague. In the mid-1800's, the vast majority of Chincoteague seafood, lifeblood of the Island, went to markets in Philadelphia and New York.

(IV.) John Daniel, Sr. married three times, the second to time Rebecca J. Hill. They had a total of nine children. Their eldest son, Daniel T., "Squealer Dan" (1859 - 1943), was famed for his fierce independence in the face of what he took to be restrictive fishing and gaming laws. Yet, later in life he became an enforcer of those very same laws! Chincoteague owes its link to the mainland to John Daniel Sr.'s second son, John B. (1860 - 1928), who built the causeway (that bears his name) atop stones hauled in "Squealer Dan's" schooner, the Alberta.

Most Whealtons on the Island and the Shore today can trace their heritage to some point on this family tree. But why would anyone care to do that? After all, the traditional family is a vanishing entity in today's America, right beside the Delmarva fox squirrel on the endangered species list. That, however, is precisely why it is so important to remember our roots. Each of us is a product of our biology and our history. To lose contact with our heritage is to lose an important part of who we are. Life, like driving, benefits from keeping an eye on the rear view mirror.

[The author, Rick Smith, is Chair of the Chemistry Department at McDaniel (formerly Western Maryland) College and, with his wife, owns a future retirement home "down the Island." He is compiling a history of the Whealton family of Chincoteague and would welcome information, recollections, or pictures anyone might wish to share. Questions are also welcome. He can be contacted at McDaniel College, 2 College Hill, Westminster, MD 21157; 410-857-2491;]

Copyright 2004 by Richard H. Smith, Jr. All rights reserved by the Author. Do not reproduce by any means for any purpose without written permission from the Author. For personal use only.

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