1789 – 1850: The Wheelwright Years

After leaving the infantry, Wheelwright became a privateer for the colonies until the end of the war.  During the years of 1777 through 1784 he sailed annually to the Caribbean, and participated in numerous sea battles. He was captured three times, and escaped all three times to fight again.

During the early years of the United States, Captain Abraham and his brother Ebenezer used their knowledge of West Indian trade to establish a profitable trade network from Newburyport, and owned several ships. In 1789, he bought the newly built house at 10 Spring Street (built by Samuel Noyes). In 1798, as a member of the Newburyport Marine Society, he and several other prominent Newburyport merchants and sea captains oversaw and financed the building of the USS Merrimack, leased to the United States Government for its fledgling navy, at the same time that the USS Constitution was built.  Wheelwright was also a director of the Newburyport Woolen Manufactory, one of the first wool mills in the country, and helped found the first Newburyport Library, and the Newburyport Bank (now the Institution for Savings).

By the first decade of the 1800s, Abraham and Ebenezer Wheelwright were among wealthiest men in Newburyport, and owned a significant amount of the port city, including Merchantile Wharf (just east of the Firehouse), and Merchant’s Row – the ferry wharf building (which still stands)  and the buildings behind it.  In the 1800s, Ebenezer’s son, William, became a famed industrialist in Chile.

In 1806, Captain Wheelwright built a new home at 77 High Street (now known as the Wheelwright-Richardson home) near his brother’s home (now known as the Ebenezer Wheelwright home) on High street.  In between stands the Stocker-Wheelwright home, bought by William in the mid 19th century.

The Great Newburyport fire of 1811 destroyed most of the Wheelwright holdings, and the War of 1812 was an economic disaster for Captain Wheelwright. He sold the High Street mansion in 1813 and moved to 9 Fruit Street.

His son, Jeremiah, lived in 8-10 Spring Street starting in 1806.  He also was a captain, and in 1830 was lost at sea in a wreck off the coast of Norfolk Va,  Around that time Abraham moved back into Spring Street.

Around 1835, his daughter Rebecca Wheelwright March Clark moved to Spring St, probably around the time her mother died, to take care of her father.  At that time, we suspect,  the house was divided into two, numbers 8 and 10.  Thomas March Clark and Rebecca had  lived on Green St. (today it’s the Clark-Currier Inn); their son was the Rev Thomas March Clark, Episcopal bishop of Rhode Island. Rev March Clark was also a pastor at Boston’s Old South church and St Paul’s church, and Christ Church in Hartford, CT.

Other direct descendents of Abraham Wheelwright include G.W. Wheelwright, III, co-founder of the Polaroid Corporation, John Tyler Wheelwright (founder of the Harvard Lampoon), and Edmund March Wheelwright (Boston architect of the Longfellow Bridge and many other Boston buildings.)

Abraham and Rebecca Wheelwright had 11 children. 1850 was a difficult year for Rebecca March Clark, her husband dying in the spring (March 30) at the age of 79, and her father dying in the fall (October 4th) at the age of 93.  At that time Abraham was the oldest person in Newburyport.

The house was sold at auction in 1851.


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