Facts and Events
John Wheelwright (c.1592–1679), was a Puritan clergyman in England and America, and was most noted for being banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the Antinomian Controversy, and for subsequently establishing the town of Exeter, New Hampshire. Born in Lincolnshire, England, he was raised in a family with substantial means, and received both a B.A. and M.A. at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge where he was a noted athlete and where Oliver Cromwell was a college mate of his. Ordained in 1619, he became the vicar of the church in Bilsby, Lincolnshire, and held this position for ten years until removed for simony.
Leaving for New England in 1636, he was warmly welcomed in Boston, where his brother-in-law's wife, Anne Hutchinson, was beginning to attract negative attention for her religious outspokenness. Soon he and Hutchinson, as adherents of Reverend John Cotton's "covenant of grace" theology, accused the majority of the colony's ministers and magistrates of espousing a "covenant of works". As the pitch of this controversy reached a peak, both Hutchinson and Wheelwright were banished from the colony. Wheelwright went north with a group of followers during the harsh winter of 1637–1638, and in April 1638 established the town of Exeter in the Province of New Hampshire. Wheelwright's stay in Exeter lasted only a few years, because Massachusetts activated an earlier claim on the lands there, forcing the banished Wheelwright to leave. He went further east, to Wells, Maine, where he was living when his order of banishment was retracted, though it was done in a way that still placed guilt upon him. From Wells he returned to Massachusetts to preach at Hampton (then in the Bay Colony, but later in New Hampshire), where in 1654 his parishioners helped him get the complete vindication that he sought from the Massachusetts Court for the events of 17 years earlier.
In 1655 Wheelwright moved back to England with his family, and preached near his home in Lincolnshire. While in England he was entertained by two of his very powerful friends, Oliver Cromwell, who became England's Lord Protector, and Sir Henry Vane, who occupied several key positions in the government. The political tide turned markedly during the more than six years he was there, and following Cromwell's death and Vane's execution, Wheelwright returned to New England to become the minister in Salisbury, Massachusetts, where he spent the remainder of his life. He was characterized as being contentious and unbending, but also forgiving, energetic and courageous. His sincere piety was never called into question, even by those whose opinions differed greatly from his.
Wheelwright was banished from Massachusetts with Anne Hutchinson and other allies. He moved to Piscataqua, New Hampshire, later Exeter. In 1643, after the death of Hutchinson, he sought a pardon and was allowed to return to Massachusetts. He spent several years in England in 1650s before returning to settle in Salisbury.