Wheeler, Jesse Obadiah (1813–1867)

By: Charles Spurlin

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

Jesse Obadiah Wheeler, Victoria entrepreneur, son of Obadiah and Ester (Duncklee) Wheeler, was born at Rutland, Vermont, on February 21, 1813. Little is known of his life until he arrived at Victoria in 1840 and opened a mercantile store. Shortly thereafter, in August 1840, Comanches raided Victoria and the surrounding area. As the Indians retreated northward after pillaging Linnville on Lavaca Bay (see LINNVILLE RAID), Wheeler, along with other Texans, pursued and defeated them at the battle of Plum Creek. From his store Wheeler speculated in several business endeavors. Not only did he sell the traditional dry goods, but he also made land transactions, loaned money, bought and sold livestock, purchased cotton, and managed the Guadalupe River toll bridges. On July 30, 1842, Wheeler, a Methodist, married Mary K. Hardy of Jackson County. During the eighteen years of their marriage, which ended with her death in 1860, the couple had five children. On February 25, 1862, Wheeler married a widow, Mary A. Tucker. When he was elected to the Victoria city board in 1843, Wheeler began a decade of public service, during which he served at various times as alderman and mayor. While a member of the city's governing board, he helped establish Victoria's first property tax and drainage program. As a prominent community member and a Democrat, he was occasionally called upon to entertain such notable politicians as Sam Houston.

In an effort to stimulate commerce for Victoria, Wheeler purchased the steamboat William Penn at Cincinnati, Ohio, commanded the vessel up the Guadalupe River to Victoria in 1850, and sold it to a newly formed joint stock company made up entirely of local residents. After disposing of the steamboat, he turned to railroad speculation and invested in the Indianola and Victoria Plank and Turnpike Road Company and the Powderhorn, Victoria and Gonzales Railroad Company. When these railroads failed, Wheeler associated himself with the San Antonio and Mexican Gulf Railroad and was instrumental in the completion of the line to Victoria by 1861. The Confederate army destroyed the railroad in December 1862 to keep it out of the hands of Union raiders on the Gulf Coast. By 1860 profits from his business activities had made Wheeler part of an elite financial group. He had not only become the wealthiest man in Victoria County, but he was also one of the 263 Texans on the 1860 census who owned total property of $100,000 or more. Even after suffering financial losses as a result of the Civil War, Wheeler had an estate valued at over $76,000 at the time of his death. A longtime asthma sufferer, Wheeler traveled to the Riviera in 1866 to restore his health. After he arrived in France his health became worse, and on February 14, 1867, while visiting Nice, he died. His body was returned to Victoria labeled as a marble block to circumvent the superstitions of the sailors. It lay in state for six months at his Italian villa-style house before he was buried in Memorial Square; his remains were reinterred in Evergreen Cemetery.

Roy Grimes, ed., 300 Years in Victoria County (Victoria, Texas: Victoria Advocate, 1968; rpt., Austin: Nortex, 1985). Victor Marion Rose, History of Victoria (Laredo, 1883; rpt., Victoria, Texas: Book Mart, 1961). Victoria Advocate, 88th Anniversary Number, September 28, 1934. Theora H. Whitaker, comp., Victoria (Victoria, Texas: Victoria Advocate, 1941).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Charles Spurlin, “Wheeler, Jesse Obadiah,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 19, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wheeler-jesse-obadiah.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995