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Wheaton, John Francis "Frank, J. Frank"

House 1899-1900 (District 42)

Party when first elected:  Republican

Counties Served:  Hennepin


Date of Birth: 5/8/1866
Birth Place: Hagerstown, Maryland
Birth County: Washington
Birth Country: United States
Date of Death: 1/15/1922
Gender: Male
Religion: Catholic
Reported Minority: Black
Other Names: Frank, J. Frank
City of Residence (when first elected): Minneapolis
Occupation (when first elected): Lawyer


Hagerstown Public Schools, Maryland; Elementary School; Until He was 13 Years Old
Ohio Schools; Secondary; 2 Years
Dixon Business College, Illinois; Postsecondary; 1888
Storer College, Harper's Ferry, West Virginia; College Graduate; State Normal Department; Valedictorian, 1882
University of Minnesota, Law School; Law Degree; Class Orator, 1894
Howard University Law School, Washington D.C.; Law Degree; Graduate, May 1892; Admitted to the Maryland Bar, 1892


U.S. Legislative Staff/Council/Commission: United States House of Representatives (House Document Room, Clerk); 1889 to 18??
State Legislative Staff: Minnesota State Legislature (Assistant File and Reading Clerk); 1894 to 189?
Judicial Administration: Minneapolis, Minnesota (Municipal Court, Deputy Clerk); 1895 to 1??? [Appointed]
Municipal Attorney: New York City, New York (Assistant District Attorney); 01/1920 to 05/31/1920


Spouse: Ella Chambers (married on June 6, 1889)
Children: Three children (2 while in office): Layton J. and Frank P. (sons, while he was in office); Richard (son, born after he left office)
Family Members Who Have Served in the Minnesota Legislature:


He moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 1, 1890 or 1893.

He was the first known African American to serve in the Minnesota Legislature. The second known African American to serve in the Minnesota House of Representatives was Ray Pleasant in 1973. The first known African American to serve in the Minnesota Senate was B. Robert Lewis in 1973. (Session Weekly, February 21, 1992)

He did not run for re-election in 1900. (MinnPost, June 9, 2015)

He represented the state's Republicans at two national political conventions. (Minnesota Monthly, August 2004)

In the early 1900s (around 1905) he switched to the Democratic Party in New York. He ran unsuccessfully for the New York State Assembly in 1919. (Minnesota Monthly, August 2004)

He was the first African American to graduate from the University of Minnesota Law School. (MinnPost, June 9, 2015)

He was a member of the Masons.

He died by committing suicide through inhaling illuminating gas at home in New York. He had posted $10,000 bail for a client who disappeared, leaving Wheaton in financial ruin. His funeral was held at St. Benedict's Roman Catholic Church in New York. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.

Religion provided by his New York Times obituary.

Total Days Served: 735


31st Legislative Session (1899-1900)

  Session Details
Body: House
District: 42
Elected: 11/8/1898
Residence: Minneapolis
Term of Office: 1/3/1899 to 1/7/1901
Counties Represented: Hennepin
Occupation: Lawyer
Party: Republican
  • Judiciary
  • Labor and Labor Legislation
  • Local Bills (Chair)
  • Military Affairs
  • Public Accounts and Expenditures
Articles & Books About
Brown, Curt. "Decades Apart, They Crossed Color Line." Star Tribune. June 12, 2016.

Cameron, Linda A. "John Francis (J. Frank) Wheaton was the First African American to Serve in Minnesota's Legislature." Minnpost, June 9, 2015.

Cameron, Linda A. "Wheaton, John Francis (1866-1922)." MNopedia, June 3, 2015.

Brady, Tim. Gopher Gold: Legendary Figures, Brilliant Blunders, and Amazing Feats at the University of Minnesota; St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2007, p. 64-69.

"It's a Fact! (John Francis Wheaton)." Session Weekly, St. Paul: Minnesota House of Representatives Information Office, February 21, 1992, p. 14.

"Lawyer a Suicide, Ruined By Client (Obituary)." New York Times, January 16, 1922.

"Negro Attorney a Suicide. J. Frank Wheaton, Who Hunted Boddy, Dies By Gas." New York Tribune, January 16, 1922, p. 18.

Shutter, Marion Daniel. "John Francis Wheaton." Progressive Men of Minnesota, Minneapolis: The Minneapolis Journal, 1897, p. 350-351.

These files are available in the Legislative Reference Library.