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Wheatley Family History Project

This page is devoted to the descendants of John Wheatley and Elizabeth Wright, who moved from Nottingham to Northumberland, Pennsylvania, at the end of the 18th century. Its purpose is to facilitate the sharing of information, especially original letters and pictures, among those who are interested. The chapters from the family history that have been researched and written up are available on-line.

Table of Contents

1. Nottingham (to 1794) - Documents
2. Northumberland, Pennsylvania (c.1794-1850s) - Documents
3. Virginia (to 1850s)
4. Missouri (1857-60) - Documents
5. Civil War (1861-65)
6. Montana (1865-66) - Documents
7. Reconstruction (1867-73) - Documents
8. Pennsylvania (1873-89) - Documents
9. Idaho and Washington (1890-1908)
10. Third Generation
11. Historians
Handlist of papers



Note on transcriptions

Historical Outline

John Wheatley (1758-1840) was a shoemaker in Nottingham, England. He was a radical – a Jacobin, or supporter of the political reforms of the French Revolution. For this he and other Nottingham radicals were persecuted by the Tories, especially after the outbreak of war with revolutionary France in 1793. In July of 1794 a Tory mob planned to duck John Wheatley and another radical in the town pump; when the intended victims could not be found, another group was attacked and the ensuing riot lasted several days. John Wheatley emigrated to Northumberland, Pennsylvania sometime before 1797. He may have had contact with the famous scientist and theologian Joseph Priestley, who had left England in similar circumstances in 1794 and settled in Northumberland.

John’s son John Wright Wheatley (1797-1873) worked as a shoemaker in Northumberland. In 1839 he traveled to Illinois to stake a claim to farm land, but for some reason never moved there. He had several children. Three of his sons (John Wright jr., Charles, and Israel Thornton) moved to Americus, Georgia, in the 1850s, and subsequently served in the Confederate army.

The eldest son, William McCoy Wheatley (1827-1900), and his wife Mildred Maria Humes (1838-1908), are the central figures in the surviving family papers. They met and wooed at Mildred’s family plantation at Gravois Mills, Morgan County, Missouri, and married in 1858 at a double ceremony with Mildred’s brother Joseph. They bought a farm in Johnson County, Missouri, but for some reason moved back to Northumberland in 1860. They spent the Civil War there, as William worked first as a shoemaker (renting his father’s shop) and then bought a canal boat. In the summer of 1865 William and his brother-in- law Joseph Humes shipped a steam sawmill up the Missouri River to Montana, intending to cash in on the current gold rush. Various delays, including the sinking of the steamboat Bertrand (which was excavated in 1969), caused them to arrive in Montana too late to set up the mill before winter. The partners sold the sawmill and returned to Missouri.

William and Mildred bought her family’s plantation, which had somehow passed out of family hands, and lived there until 1873. They then returned to Pennsylvania, where William’s father was dying. William now entered the foundry business, eventually rising to be president of the Portage Iron Works at Duncansville. If family tradition is correct, he was given a painting by Andrew Carnegie. He seems to have kept a hankering to be a farmer in the West, however, for in 1890 the family moved to Post Falls, Idaho, and subsequently to Spokane, where they owned a ranch. William died in 1900 and Mildred followed in 1908.

The children of William and Mildred kept various papers and mementos of their parents. John Wright Wheatley (1861-1931), a lawyer in Spokane, kept the family records and did much genealogical research, including interviews with his parents and older relatives. His brothers Werner and Thornt and his sister Mary took an interest, and preserved some items; as they died one by one, much of the heritage was concentrated in Mary’s hands. She was twice a widow and lived in a small apartment in Portland. After her death in 1958 the materials passed to her sister Harriet Williams in Boulder, Colorado. Harriet and her daughter Frances Binkley both died in 1962; the material was then organised by Frances’s sister Jean Williams and son Tom Binkley. Since neither of them had room for it, it passed (some directly, some through the hands of Jean’s and Frances’s brother Harlan Thomas Williams, and some kept by Jean herself for a few years) to my father Robert W. Binkley. By the end of the 1960s it was all stowed in our attic, where it sat until the summer of 1997.


As time permits, I plan to type up the more interesting documents and write a little history of the Wheatley and associated families. Nothing is finished yet, or close to finished, and collaborators are most welcome to take a chunk and run with it.

This page is updated from time to time by Peter Binkley (

The background was scanned from a length of silk damask used to wrap William McCoy Wheatley’s ledgers.