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Wheelock, Edwin Miller (1829–1901)

Carl H. Moneyhon Biography Entry

Edwin Miller Wheelock, minister, abolitionist, and educator, was born in New York City on August 30, 1829, the son of Charles and Lydia (Brown) Wheelock. He attended Harvard University and while a student married Ellen N. Brackett of Sommerville, Massachusetts, on September 22, 1855. The couple eventually had two children. He initially studied law, but subsequently attended the Divinity School, from which he graduated in 1856. He was ordained a Unitarian minister at Dover, New Hampshire, in 1857. Wheelock became an ardent abolitionist. A sermon delivered at his church in Dover on John Brown, entitled "Harper's Ferry and its Lessons," was excerpted in the Liberator, and given again on November 27, 1859 at Theodore Parker's Music Hall in Boston. In October 1862, after President Abraham Lincoln's preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, Wheelock volunteered for nine months service in the Fifteenth New Hampshire Infantry. He accepted an appointment as chaplain of the regiment and accompanied it to New Orleans. On July 20, 1863 he received a commission as first lieutenant in the Seventy-sixth United States Colored Infantry. At New Orleans he began working among the freedmen and was named Deputy Superintendent of Negro Labor on February 20, 1863, inspector of schools for the Department of the Gulf in October, 1863, and member and secretary of the board of education named by Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks to promote the rudimentary education of freedmen in Louisiana on March 22, 1864.

In 1865 Gen. Edgar M. Gregory appointed Wheelock, who apparently wanted to remain in the South because of his wife's tuberculosis, superintendent of the Freedmen's Bureau schools in Texas. His tenure as superintendent was marked by controversy between himself and Rev. Jacob R. Shipard of the American Missionary Association over religious matters and earned him a reputation with bureau officials of caring more for religious issues than developing an effective system of freedmen's schools. Gen. Charles Griffin, who assumed direction of the bureau in Texas in January 1867, ultimately removed him from the position of superintendent, but in August 1867 named him a school inspector and sub-assistant commissioner for Galveston County. After Griffin's death from yellow fever in September 1867 the new assistant commissioner for Texas, Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds, named Wheelock superintendent once again in October 1867. He held the position until March 1868, when Governor Elisha M. Pease, who had replaced James W. Throckmorton, appointed Wheelock superintendent of public instruction in 1868. As superintendent he issued an important report in May 1868 that reviewed efforts at creating public schools in Texas and made recommendations on the implementation of a system that ultimately were incorporated into the new state constitution.

Beginning in the spring of 1867 Wheelock actively participated in the formation of the Republican party in Texas, serving as a secretary of the Galveston Republican Association and a delegate from Galveston to the first Republican state convention. He tied himself closely with Governor Pease, including acting as editor of the pro-Pease San Antonio Express. In the election campaign of 1869 he initially supported Andrew J. Hamilton for governor against Edmund J. Davis, but in an effort designed to encourage his patron Pease to run as a compromise candidate, he joined James G. Tracy of the Houston Union in promoting a convention of all Republican factions. When the compromise failed, Wheelock returned to his support of Hamilton and edited the pro-Hamilton San Antonio Star. After the election Wheelock reconciled with the successful E. J. Davis and subsequently held a number of political positions. In 1871 he was named reporter of the Texas Supreme Court. He received the position of superintendent of the Blind Institute in May 1872. Wheelock also served as editor of various Republican newspapers. With the collapse of the Davis administration and the end of Reconstruction he resigned from his position at the Blind Institute on May 1, 1874. Wheelock remained in Austin as a Unitarian minister, but continued his political activities and served as a deputy United States internal revenue collector from 1879 to 1883. At some point in the mid-1880s, Wheelock moved to the west coast and settled in Spokane, Washington, where he organized a Unitarian Society in 1887. In 1889 he returned to Texas where he was prominent in the Unitarian movement at Austin. He wrote on religious issues and published a book, Proteus. He died in Austin on October 29, 1901, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery.

Christopher B. Bean, Too Great a Burden to Bear: The Struggle and Failure of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Texas (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016). Geraldine J. Clifford, Those Good Gertrudes: A Social History of Women Teachers in America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014). Charles Kassel, "Edwin M. Wheelock," The Open Court 34 (September 1920). Charles Kassel, "Edwin Miller Wheelock: A Prophet of Civil War Times," The Open Court 36 (February 1922). Carl H. Moneyhon, Republicanism in Reconstruction Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980). William L. Richter, Overreached on All Sides (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1991). Edwin Miller Wheelock Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.


  • Education
  • School Principals and Superintendents
  • Religion
  • Unitarian

Time Periods:

  • Reconstruction

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

Carl H. Moneyhon, “Wheelock, Edwin Miller,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 10, 2021,

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September 10, 2019