James Wheelock, pastor

The Rev. James Ripley Wheelock, grandson of Dartmouth College founder Eleazar Wheelock, served as pastor during the time the brick meetinghouse was constructed. Because the building was financed by James Breck and others on the building committee, the minister and congregation appear to have contributed little to its design. The new building was erected in full view of the 1793 meetinghouse across the river, and Wheelock is reported to have visited the construction site, perhaps often, but he makes no mention of the new meetinghouse in church minutes.

James Wheelock's father practiced law in Hanover (NH), and James practiced law in Royalton (VT) after his graduation from Dartmouth in 1807. In 1816, he quit the law and moved to Middlebury (VT) to study the ministry with the Rev. Thomas Abbot Merrill. Called by the Newport (NH) congregation, James Wheelock was ordained in the old meetinghouse on December 2, 1818. During 1819, he added over 100 new members to the church; among them was his new wife, the former Delia Bass of Middlebury.

After this auspicious beginning, his sometimes irascible and sarcastic nature started to wear thin on neighbors and church members. On February 21, 1823, a council of clergy was convened at Wheelock's own home to consider eleven charges made against him by a faction of church members. After hearing testimony, the council declared the claims unproven but acknowledged that the Rev. James Wheelock probably did possess a "warmth of temper." In any event, his bonds with the Newport congregation had been severed. He was dismissed but allowed to keep the $750 he had received upon accepting the call to settle.

Wheelock's "Farewell Sermon" was delivered on March 2, 1823. The sermon was then published ten days later—on the day before the new, brick meetinghouse was dedicated. Interestingly, the dedication ceremony's program does not identify any participants by name. The officiant was probably Dartmouth's president, the Rev. Bennet Tyler, as previously arranged.

James Wheelock served as interim minister for congregations in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Connecticut, before finding missionary work in Indiana, where doctrinal charges led to a trial and dismissal. During that sojourn, three of his children died. In 1838, he became interim minister in Barre (VT), where his wife died after childbirth. A brief, failed second marriage followed, and then Rev. James Wheelock moved to Milton (MA) to preach occasionally. 

On November 24, 1841, he died in Boston's Pearl Street House hotel—"happy to leave the world, to him so full of sorrow," according to one biographical sketch. He was 51.

© New Hampshire Steeples, 2012