Monday, January 7, 2013
The Honorable Jabez Wright Part One: the Firelands and a Cherry Festival
Jabez Wright, my first cousin five times removed, was the son of Captain Freedom Wright, my four times great grand uncle, and Freedom’s first wife, Anna Horton. I am writing about him today because he was a remarkable man in the history of America, and I think I may be one of the first to put the key parts of his biography together in one place. His accomplishments include being a militia captain, a merchant, one of the first surveyors in the firelands of Ohio, a pioneer, a land agent, a judge, a State Senator, and a participant in the Underground Railroad.
He was born on February 6, 1780, in Winchester, Connecticut, the second eldest of Freedom and Anna’s six children. He made the move with his family, including his father, some of his siblings, and his uncle Charles and his family, to the Black River country of upstate New York in 1802. He became the first merchant in the town of Denmark in 1805, and was also a militia captain there.
In 1808, Jabez moved to Ohio, and became the “first white man on the firelands” in the “old county of Huron” according to A standard history of Erie County, Ohio. The “firelands” were lands in what is now Ohio set aside for the residents of specific areas Connecticut who had suffered damage, including fire, to their property due to the actions of the British in the Revolutionary War. These lands were not accessed until many years later due to their being heavily forested and inhospitable. As a surveyor and a land agent for William Winthrop of New York City, who owned a large amount of land in the area, he along with Almon Ruggles were to survey several of the townships in the area, including Huron, Florence, and Oxford. Jabez was to be Winthrop’s agent, and that of his heir until he died, and named one of his sons after him. You can view Jabez's surveyor's compass at the following link: http://cdm16007.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p267401coll36/id/2530/rec/8.
On May 11, 1811, Jabez married Almon Ruggles’ daughter Tamar, likely in Huron. They had at least five children, Winthrop Horton, Douglass, Lucy, Abigail, and Ruggles. They lived on a farm on the west bank of the Huron River, about two and a half miles from the lake, known later as “Wright’s River Farm”, and later to be owned by his son, Winthrop. There is a charming story of a “sail and a cherry festival” in about 1814 told in A standard history of Erie County, Ohio:
About the year 1814, the pioneers of Huron concluded they would have a sail and a cherry festival. Cherries grew on the peninsula. They were to go on Abbot’s boat and started before daylight; among them were Major Underhill, Judge Everett, Lyman Farwell and others. Lucy Abbot, then a girl of nine years, accompanied her father. As they passed down the Huron River, they took on board Judges Wright and Ruggles with their wives; Messrs. C. Curtis and Daniels with their wives; some young people named Downing Smith, and several others, and started for “Gov.” Wolcott’s on the peninsula. On their arrival in the afternoon, a heavy rain had driven the water out so they could not land near Wolcott’s house. Get cherries they must, and dance they would, so each gallant gentleman took a lady upon his back and struck out into the water for the shore and “didn’t go home until morning”. After a supper of fish, shortcake and cherries, preparations were made for the dance. Tables, beds and chairs disappeared, music being furnished by the worthy host. Dancing was kept up until morning. As there was not room for all to dance at once or even for all to be in the house at the same time, part staid outdoors while part danced. After breakfast, they all went to picking cherries. Having obtained all they wanted, they set sail for the Huron River and arrived there about sunset.
They moved to the lake shore in about 1815, about one mile west of the mouth of the Huron River, where he built the first brick house in the township in 1822. They lived there for the rest of their lives. Also, in about 1815, Jabez was elected Justice of the Peace and a Judge of the Common Pleas Court. (More of his life in the next installment).