There is something unique in genealogy research. You never know what nugget of information lies hidden on the next page of journal text or what may suddenly explode on your computer screen with an unsuspecting click on a keyboard. That's probably what is so fascinating about it and what keeps us coming back.
In piecing together information for The Wright Story, I was making great strides until one of those worse-case scenarios stopped me in my tracks like I had never been stopped before. My stomach did a major flip-flop when the words "...possible convict ship immigrant" lashed out at me like a boxer's left hook to the solar plexus.
"Can't be," I gasped. "Has to be a mistake...This only happens to other people." Stopping momentarily to catch my breath, I hastened to do a double check and then the terrible truth with verification of what I had uncovered...My Great-Great-Great Grandfather Henry Wright who immigrated to the New World from England in 1763, was a "convict".
Details on Henry Wright's childhood in England and his parentage have been difficult to trace, even the actual date of his birth has varied between 1745 and 1750, often preceded by the word "about". Parish register entries were very brief in the 1700s with few details. The main reason is that small populations at the time meant that most people knew everyone who lived in their community, and no one thought that we might be interested in tracing them some 400 years later. Baptismal records would simply give the date of baptism, the name of the child and the name of his/her father. Marriages just gave the couple’s names and date of marriage and burials simply gave the date of burial and the name of the deceased.
The transcript of the Old Bailey proceedings describe the rather convoluted testimony of both Henry and his accuser, the result of which led to the conviction of the youthful Wright and the subsequent release of his three friends. It was revealed in testimony that Henry actually gave the "book" back to Allen and that the "sealed" notes had not been opened. Still he was charged.
|Character witnesses for Henry from Old Bailey|
The sitting judge seemingly, was not influenced with the testimony of six character witnesses. Thomas Marfleet said that he had known Henry most of his life. "He was apprentice to a merchant at Boston in Lincolnshire; he has been in London for seven or eight years and lived as a gentleman's footman (domestic servant)...I looked upon him to be very honest, sober, industrious young man."
Henry's punishment included next-day "transportation" to a New World penal colony, an epic journey across the Atlantic and into the unknown. In being sentenced to "transportation", Henry joined the ranks of thousands of others who could tell a similar story. Transportation to the American colonies constituted a major transformation in the lives of the people who received this punishment -- a transformation so profound that they probably never could have conceived of what was in store for them before it actually happened to them.
|British transportation convicts America bound,|
including small children and teenagers like
After an ocean passage of three or four miserable months on the convict ship "Beverly", Henry arrived in the Americas in the late summer of 1763 and was immediately purchased as an indentured servant by a George Pierce, a wealthy land owner. It is not known if Pierce purchased Henry on the ship as it pulled into port in Virginia or if he was acquired from someone else soon thereafter.
Research through thousands of reference books containing ships' passenger lists, genealogical registers and other official records led to the discovery of early Wright immigrants to the New World. Below is an extract from the reference book containing Wright immigrants, in this case Coldham, Peter Wilson, English Convicts in Colonial America. New Orleans: Polyanthos, 1976 (Vol 2: London). Here you see the name "Henry" (Wright), the port of entry or area of settlement and the page number where the name was found.
|Convicts confined in the hold of a ship.|
|British convict transportation ship.|
Henry appears spasmodically on American militia muster rolls during the Revolutionary War in the early 1770s all the while continuing to perform hard labor for his owner. In fact he may have been working on a Chester area farm (southwestern section of Pennsylvania) owned by Pierce when he met and fell in love with Mary Christina Klingensmith, the daughter of German/Pennsylvania-Dutch immigrants Daniel and Anna (Reitenauer) Klingensmith, who may well have lived on land nearby. Interestingly, these early settlers came from German-speaking areas of Europe and spoke a dialect of German referred to as "Deitsch" (Deutsch).
While slave and indentured servant marriages were never recognized by law, their appearance in runaway advertisements provides telling evidence that masters recognized and allowed such unions. Details of an actual marriage for Henry and Mary, if any, and living arrangements are unknown but during the summer of 1775 Henry must have hatched a plan to run away from Pierce. With Mary and two infants in tow (one only 10 months old) Henry made good his escape.
As previously mentioned, it is curious that all records pertaining to Henry and Mary have them coming from Rutland, Tioga County, Pennsylvania. The problem is that Tioga County was not settled until 1806 and ultimately incorporated in 1828, the same year Rutland Township was formed, a good 30 years after the Wrights settled in Upper Canada. In the 1770's the area was virtual wilderness, inhabited mostly by Indians but, come to think of it, an unlikely escape from the reach of George Pierce and bounty hunters. If the later adoption of Rutland, Tioga, Pennsylvania was intentional to mislead would-be pursuers and put distance between Henry and his past, it certainly worked. It is anyone's guess as to who was initially responsible for suggesting the Wright family came from Rutland Township in Tioga County -- and why.
At any rate, the ruse lasted a good 225 years.
Casting further doubt on the claim of settlement in Tioga is the fact that a treaty was made, on the 23rd day of October 1784, with the Indians, by which the territory now embraced in the counties of Bradford, Tioga, Potter, Clinton, Cameron, McKean Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Clearfield, Clarion, Armstrong, Butler, Beaver, Lawrence, Mercer, Venango, Crawford and Warren was ceded to Pennsylvania. At this time not single white man inhabited the domain of Tioga county. It had been the hunting ground of the savages for ages, and their paths were traceable in all directions; and when settlers began to invade their land on the waters of the Susquehanna these paths were used by the warriors of the Six Nations, and by the French in their strife for territory. The American scout in pursuit of the red man had penetrated the forests of Tioga, but not with the idea of settlement, for it was unquestionably Indian territory and guarded with jealousy and vigilance by the wily savage: and it was not until the treaty of 1784 at Fort Stanwix that the life of a white man was for a moment safe within its limits. In fact a Christian minister was the first white man to move into the territory after the signing of the treaty.
Tax and Exoneration records show a Henry Wright living on, or renting, 200 acres in Pitt Township, Pennsylvania, sometime between 1768 and 1801, which would seem to be more accurate. Pitt County was located north of the Ohio River and west of the Alleghenry River in southwestern Pennsylvania.
|Map showing the New World and its colonies in the 1790s. Note: The proximity of Philadelphia to Port Detroit and the possibility of an overland route travelled by Henry Wright as he made his way into Canada.|
|Map showing the location of Malden Township |
and Colchester South and North.
All Ontario land belonged to the Crown after Britain gained control over France. To obtain Crown land, early settlers petitioned the Governor or his executive council. The petitions often include information on the petitioner's family and his military service. Henry's name shows up in a December 15, 1788, list of "disbanded troops and Loyalists to be settled on the north side of Lake Erie from Mill Creek, four miles from the mouth of the Detroit River to a small creek about a mile and a half beyond Cedar River."
Several historical summaries of the settlement also mention a "Wrights Inn" where soldiers in the Rebellion of 1837 were known to stop for a short rest. The Inn sat on land that was the original grant to the Wrights by King George III. I am told that the Inn remained in the family well into the 20th century and I am determined to learn more about it.
Over the course of the next 40 or 50 years Land Registry records show Wright siblings -- Peter, Philip Jr., William, Arthur, and Salathiel -- also being granted lots by the Crown.
|Wright Road as it is today in the Town of Essex, running|
north from Erie Aire Beach Road to Gore Road.
In death, the senior Wright left behind one last mystery -- an apparent falling out with his second eldest son Philip, my great-great grandfather. The second sentence in Henry's last will and testament said it all: "Following, first of all, I give and bequeath unto my son Philip the sum of one Shilling Sterling..."
After the obvious and insulting opening salvo, the document went on to list substantial bequeaths to other immediate family members, i.e. the family home together with five farms on Lot 70 in Colchester Township including household furniture, cattle, husbanding tools and other worldly goods left to wife Mary and upon her death to be devised and bequeathed to sons William, Henry and Thomas; additional land on Lot 77 to William, Thomas and Henry Jr. with all remaining "movable" property to be equally divided by daughters Sarah, Elizabeth, Mary, Martha and Catherine.
Whatever caused the bad blood between Henry and Philip, surely left an unfortunate carryover rift in the large family for several generations. We'll never know of the long-term implications.
|First page of Henry's last will and testament|
prepared in 1810 and mentioning his son
From the Botsford family records, I have learned that the aforementioned Henry Jr. jointly settled a "back" farm at Lot 25, Concession 3, Malden with Daniel Botsford in 1831. The lot was later divided into two farms and the south property became Henry Jr.'s homestead. By the early 1830s the original farms along the waterfront were all occupied and the back concessions began to open up, one of the first being the lot claimed by Henry Jr. and Daniel. Henry Jr. would eventually be elected the first reeve of Malden Council in 1850.
I cannot help but wonder if Henry Sr. was ever able to make contact with his folks back home in England...Probably not, given the fact that the advent of a transcontinental postal service and telegraph messaging were many years down the road. Reports also refer to "a brother who stayed behind" when Henry embarked on his journey north but a name was never mentioned, leaving one to wonder if the sibling was in fact the aforementioned Samuel.
Little would Henry and Mary dream that in 200 hundred years, four generations removed, a Richard Kenneth Wright would care enough to trace their pioneering footsteps with respect and new-found eternal appreciation and admiration.
Philip married again in 1801, this time to Delilah Malott of Grosse Ile, Mich., daughter of French immigrant parents, Joseph and Sarah Malott, tenant farmers on Grosse Ile. Remarkably, Philip was 11 years senior to the 15-year-old Delilah who gave birth to their first child when she was still 16. In that time period it was not unusual for young girls to be married by the age of 13 or 14 and if women were not married by the age of 25, it was socially humiliating. I suppose that the parents of young maidens did not object, because it would mean one less mouth to feed.
During the War of 1812-15, the garrison at Fort Amherstburg was strengthened with the call out of the Regiments of Essex Militia and Kent Militia. After a brief incursion into Essex County the Americans returned to the safety of Fort Detroit. A combined force of Essex and Kent militia, British regulars, other Upper Canada militia and First Nations crossed the Detroit River and forced the surrender of Fort Detroit. A portion of the Prize Pay List for the 2nd Regiment of Essex Militia from this capture presently hangs in the Tilston Armoury, Windsor. For the next year the British and the militia of Essex and Kent fought in Michigan and Ohio. By June 1813 with their fighting done and farms in need of care the Essex and Kent militia regiments were dismissed home. Following the decisive American victory in October 1813 near Moraviantown in Kent County, many continued to fight in the Niagara region as the Essex and Kent militia or volunteered with other units.
The Essex and Kent volunteers mobilized for the Patriot War of 1838 and fought battles at Amherstburg, Fighting Island, Pelee Island and Windsor. At the time there were three regiments in each of the Essex and Kent militia. The Patriot War was the last time that Essex and Kent counties were invaded.
Before winter came, the pioneer family hoped to have a small clearing and a snug cabin. The forest was the settlers' enemy—it had to be destroyed to create their fields. At the same time, it was their friend—it gave them logs for their cabin, fuel for their fire, rails for their fences, wheels for their wagon, and a frame for their plow.
|Early settler's home.|
To pioneer people, "book l'arnin'" was less important than learning to use an ax and a plow, a loom and a spinning wheel. But as settlements grew, parents wanted their children to know the three R's. In crude log schoolhouses, shelves fastened to the wall served for desks and the students sat on three-legged stools. They used charcoal to write on hand-smoothed writing boards. Later came slates and slate pencils. A slate, wiped clean after each lesson, could be used for years.
- By the late 1880’s, Essex County had grown to include fur trading, logging, land clearing, farming, road building, railway development, saw mills and gristmills, railway stations and water ports. Another Wright offspring, Peter Wright Jr. of Gosfield South, son of Peter Sr. (1806-1855) and grandson of Henry, served as one of the early wardens of the county in 1888.
- The Historical Atlas of Essex and Kent Counties, 1880-1881, paid the following special attention to the Wright family. "The Wright family is also deserving of mention for the conspicuous part played by its members in the general programs of progress in the locality of the Lake Shore. They were among the first to locate in the township and from the date of their settlement to the present, this name has been closely connected with the advancement of its material interests...Mr. Henry Wright, now of Malden, a grandson of the original settler here of that name, occupied the office of Reeve of Colchester during a term of many years, and the present incumbent of the office is another of his family, Mr. Peter Wright."
- At some point Peter's brother William Wright donated a portion of his farm, Concession 1, Lot 40, for the creation of the Iler Settlement Baptist (New) Cemetery, one of some 30 cemeteries now in the Essex area.
- I was delighted to come across a 600-page Commemorative Biographical Record of Essex, Ontario, "Sketches of prominent and representative citizens and many of the early settled families," published in 1905. The following extract is the impressive and detailed entry for the Wright family with Great Uncle Arthur as the subject: "ARTHUR WRIGHT, a well-known citizen of Colchester South, is a worthy representative of one of the pioneer families of the township, and is of pure English extraction. Henry Wright, his great-grandfather, was born and reared in England, and in young manhood emigrated to America, settling at Rutland, Pennsylvania. There he married Mary Klingensmith. Being a United Empire Loyalist, he left Pennsylvania and removed to Canada when trouble arose between the colonies and the mother country. he had a brother, however, who remained in the States.
- "Henry Wright lived for
a short time at Grosse Ile, but left there as soon
as he discovered that it was not English soil, and
then settled at Malden, on the Big Creek, later
moving to the lake shore, where he took up
land. Here his death occurred and here he was
buried. His children, all born before his removal to Canada, were as follows: William married Betsy Lipps (he became the grandfather of
Ellis L. Wright); Philip married (first) Miss
Dowler, and (second) Delilah Malott, and became the grandfather of our subject; Henry
married (first) Miss Hitchcock, by whom he had
one daughter, Deborah, who married Matthew
McCormick, and (second) Hannah Lipps;
Thomas married (first) Jennie Little, (second)
Mary Leighton, and (third) Abbie Larabie; Betsy married John Brush; Mary married Asa Wilcox; Mattie married Samuel Watson; Katie
married Henry Lipps.
- "Philip Wright, the grandfather of Arthur
Wright, was born Jan. 5, 1775, at Rutland,
Pennsylvania, and came with his parents to
Grosse Ile, and later to Malden, where he was
first married. The daughter of this first union
was Anna, born March 30, 1796, who married
Capt. John McCormick. His second marriage was
to Delilah Malott, who was born June 30, 1786,
on Grosse lie, and they had the following children: Lucy, born Nov. 28, 1802, married Isaac
Ferriss; Catherine was born Nov. 18, 1804;
Peter, born Sept. 30, 1806, married Betty Snider ; William, born Nov. 14, 1808, was twice married, first to a Miss Buchanan, and died in the
States; Sarah, born Nov. 12, 1811, is the widow
of Charles Larrabee, and at the age of ninety-
three is still in the possession of unimpaired faculties; Philip S., born Dec. 4, 1813, married
Mary Quick; Theodore, born Nov. 10, 1816, married Arabella Leighton, and they reside at Ludington, Michigan; Ebenezer, born Sept. 20, 1818,
is mentioned below; Mary Christine, born Oct.
16, 1820, married Thomas Leighton, and died at
Wyandotte, Michigan; Susannah, born Dec. 9,
1824, married Peter Larrabee and died in the
States. The father of this family died Sept.
- "Being of age when he came to Colchester
South township, Philip Wright received a 200-
acre grant of land adjoining that of his father,
but for a time all lived under one roof. When he
started independently he took the rear half of
Lots 75 and 76, arid upon Lot 75 chose a most
desirable site for his home. This spot is now
marked by a pear tree, and a few rods south of
the spot is located a fine spring, which is stoned
to a depth of twelve feet and flows sixty-five barrels every twenty-four hours. In the log house
here erected, many, if not all, of the numerous
family were born. The place is further marked
by a stately elm, measuring seventeen feet in circumference, which towers over and shades the
spring, and it is stated on good authority that
this tree was planted by the daughter Lucy. At
that time it was but a small shoot, which was
guarded with care; its roots were nourished by
the spring which it was designed to shade, and
it stands a living memento of a generation almost
- "Ebenezer Wright, of the above family, father
of Arthur Wright, was born Sept. 20, 1818, in
the old house near the spring, and spent his life
on that farm, where he died Feb. 28, 1900. He
married Eliza Stockwell, born Aug. 22, 1818,
who died May 18, 1881. He occupied the old
French frame house that was built nearly seventy years ago, which he later moved nearer to the
Potleg road, and which is still standing, although
not now occupied as a residence. Some two years
ago our subject built a fine modern home. Ebenezer Wright received the west half of Lot 76,
and gave his whole attention to farming, reaping
much success. In his political views he was a
Reformer. Religiously he belonged to the Methodist Church.
- "To Ebenezer Wright and his wife were born
the following-named children: Salathiel, who
lives in Gosfield South, married (first) Lucinda
Bertrand, by whom he had five children, and
(second) Barbara Shaw, by whom he had two
children. Annie is the widow of Sidney Patton,
of Harrow, and has five children. Wesley, a
farmer of Dresden, County of Kent, married
three times, and had three children. Arthur is
the subject of this sketch. Burwell, a barber of
Harrow, married Minnie Bingham. Erie died
at the age of three years.
|Photo of Arthur Wright and his wife Melinda|
McCormick, with thanks to Rick McCormick
of St. Cathernes.
- Here is another newspaper clipping on the death of Burwell Wright, 1858-1908, another of my grandfather Wesley's brothers. The detail in this account is incredible and substantiates much of the Wright family information on this site.
|Note monument made of white marble |
slab, reflective of fine art and carving
techniques typical of the period.
As best as I can determine, great grandfather
|Louise and Wesley Wright|
I talk about my parents and life in Dresden on another blog site "Father and Son Turn Back the Clock" http://dicktheblogster3.blogspot.com. Also "The Perry's: My Other Half"
My dad, who attempted to do a little family research in the 1940s before the advent of computers, was not privy to Wright background much beyond his grandfather Ebenezer. He did, however, suggest to me that Irish, English, German, Pennsylvania Dutch, French -- and even some Spanish -- blood flowed through our veins. He may welI have known more than he told me. Nevertheless, I have been accepted into a Wright DNA Project, and have been motivated to determine the accuracy of his claim.
As a family and as a country, we've come a long way babe! The Wright Story has it all -- a mix of British loyalty, family togetherness, mystery, juvenile felony, white slavery, pioneer spirit, farm land development, early community leadership -- you name it! And just think, some of us would not be here today had it not been for an impoverished 18 year old boy presumably committing a petty crime in England more than 250 years ago and being banished across an ocean to a "new world" that would lead to a new life, the like of which you only read about in story books.
As a tribute to my great-great-great grandfather Henry Wright, great-great grandfather John Stockwell, and subsequent family members, I have been proud and honored to be accepted as a certified member of the United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada.
From time to time I hear from very keen kindred-spirit Wright "cousins" who have traced their family lineage back to good old Henry Sr. and I appreciate it very much. Teresa Wright Meeker of Fruitland, Idaho and Shelley Wright of Calgary, Alta, are two recent examples of individuals who share identical earlier ancestors, branching off at Milburn Wright. Here is the breakdown on each of their family lines as forwarded to me.
Henry Wright & Mary Christina Klingensmith, 5th great grandparents
F. Philip Wright & Delilah Mallot, 4th great grandparent
Phillip S. Wright & Mary Anne Quick, 3rd great grandparents
Ebenezar A. Wright & Harriet Halstead, 2nd great grandparents
Melburn Wright (b 1859) & Mary Ann McCarthy, great grandparents
Leo Harry Wright & Giaesmina "Jean" Inez Mascetti, grandparents
Ronald Lloyd Wright & Lorretta Barrentine, parents
Henry Wright & Mary Christina Klingensmith, 5th great grandparents
F. Philip Wright & Delilah Mallot, 4th great grandparent
Philip S. Wright & Mary Ann Quick, 3rd great grandparents
Ebenezar A. Wright & Harriet Halstead, 2nd great grandparents
Melburn Wright (b 1859) & Mary Ann McCarthy, great-grandparents
Harold Nelson Wright & Jenie Holmstrom, grandparents
Martin Wright & Annette Ulasik, parents
|...attributed to Author: Della M. Cumming ca. 1943.|