Ancestry of John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008)

NYT: "John A. Wheeler, Physicist Who Coined the Term ‘Black Hole,’ Is Dead at 96"

Wheeler comments on his ancestry in Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics:
My mother was tall--as tall as my father--and pretty, with naturally curly blond hair and blue eyes. [p. 65]

My father was about 5'8", slender, blond, and blue-eyed. He was a no-nonsense achiever and a man of principle, committed to serving the public. [p. 66]

Both of my parents had ancestors in America going back many generations. It is not easy to say what influence this had on my development, my career, or my nature. It does make me a little unusual among physicists of the 1930s. Many of my American physicist colleagues at that time were newly arrived from Europe: Eugene Wigner, Edward Teller, Albert Einstein, Hans Bethe, Enrico Fermi, Leo Szilard, and George Gamow, to name some of them. Gregory Breit, my first postdoctoral mentor, arrived in the United States from Russia as a child. Robert Oppenheimer was the son of immigrant parents. Yet I was not unique in having deep roots in America soil. Ernest Lawrence, the inventor of the cyclotron, and Arthur Condon, an early contributor to quantum mechanics and later director of the National Bureau of Standards, shared this kind of American heritage with me.

My father was of Puritan stock and grew up in a strict home. His father (my grandfather Wheeler) left a steady job as assistant to the vice president of the Boston & Maine Railroad to become a Swedenborgian minister, and spend the latter part of his life ministering to communities in southeastern New England, from Providence, Rhode Island, to Bridgewater, Massachusetts. His parents, in turn (my great-grandparents Ezekiel and Mehitable Wheeler), although not in the ministry, were much concerned with religion, and spent evenings in their New Hampshire home arguing theological points, each trying to save the other's soul. Further back, the Wheeler clan in this country had arrived with other Pilgrims from England via Holland, not long after the Mayflower landed. By 1640, a year after the town of Concord, Massachusetts, was founded, thirty-five Wheeler families lived there. Wheeler was the most common family name in the town.

Adventure is to be found on my mother's side. Her Scottish ancestors, after emigrating to Ireland in search of a better life, found themselves besieged in Londonderry in 1689 . . . [p. 68; I'm unable to view p. 69 on Google Books, but you can read more about Wheeler's mother's family in this interview.]

I still feel closely linked to my parents and their parents and grandparents. My father, in his later years, gathered and summarized much of the history of his and Mabel's forebears in neatly typed, bound books. I continue to look out for more information with which to embellish his record. I have always loved history, and I find the histories of the Wheelers and Archibalds as fascinating as the histories of great leaders and great conflicts elsewhere in the world. I take pride in my American heritage. [p. 71]

A lengthy video interview with Wheeler is available at Peoples Archive.

There's also the other interview linked above:
The early settlers in Massachusetts came, of course, primarily for religious freedom. My wife and I visited in Leiden, Netherlands, the church where the early Pilgrims had met before they made their trip to Plymouth in the new world. Freeman Dyson tells me that it took at that time about seven years of one's earnings to buy a trip to the new world. I do not know the financial story of them all. But we have been lucky enough to have visiting us at various times the historian Carl Brieenbaugh, who died a couple of years ago. His books include one called Vexed and Troubled Englishmen, analyzing the reason's why Englishmen left the old country for the new.

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