Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Honorable Jabez Wright Part Two: the Underground Railroad

Around 1820, Judge Jabez Wright, son of Freedom Wright, became one of the first men in the Firelands of Ohio to take part in the Underground Railroad, helping fugitive slaves make their way to freedom in Canada. The large brick house he built had eight rooms and a basement with a trap door, from which a sixteen foot wide and a ninety foot long tunnel led to a “corn crib” one hundred feet from the lake shore. The fugitives who exited the tunnel would then be taken by row boats to vessels which would transport them to Canada across Lake Erie. His home became a regular stop on the Underground Railroad. Another blogger, Lisa Yako, has written a wonderful biography of Jabez Wright, including a photograph of the historical marker placed where his house used to be, in her blog, Historical Research Partners—Reflections on Historic Homes and Genealogy. The link is as follows: http://historicalresearchpartners.blogspot.ca/2012/09/jabez-wright-hurons-connection-to.html.

The Honorable Rush R. Sloane, in a speech given to the Firelands Historical Society in 1888, said of Jabez Wright:

My father knew him well since 1815, when he first met him at court at Avery, the year my father came into the state. Judge Wright always had one or more fugitives upon his farm and lands. This statement I have confirmed by a lady of perfect reliability, Mrs. Henry F. Merry of Sandusky, now seventy-eight years of age, and the first white person born on the Firelands. She told me that early in the year 1824, she was living at Judge Wright’s, teacher of his children, and at that time a fugitive slave was in his employ who had been there several years, and this was the first black man she ever saw. The fugitive’s name was James, and in 1825 he was reclaimed by his master and taken away; but he escaped, returned and again lived at Judge Wright’s.

Judge Wright was elected for two terms in the Ohio State Senate, beginning in 1822. As you can imagine, he was taking a huge risk in his position as judge and State Senator in participating so repeatedly and, apparently, flagrantly, in the Underground Railroad. In doing so, he was violating both state and federal laws. It seems that after his death, his sons Douglass and Winthrop carried on his work aiding fugitive slaves.

The Honorable Jabez Wright died on December 16, 1840, upon hitting his head and falling down the embankment of the lake at his home. A newspaper account at the time, in the Huron (Ohio) Commercial Advertiser, dated January 14, 1841, described his life as follows:

Judge Wright was one of the first settlers in this country, by his industry and enterprise has accumulated a large property. He was one of the band of adventures who braved the dangers of the wilderness, in surveying and laying off the fireland tract. No man was more familiar than he, with the land titles and early history of this and Huron counties. He was repeatedly elected to both branches of the Ohio legislature, and was for a number of years associate judge of this county. As a representative and Senator, he discharged his duties with fidelity to his constituents and honor to himself. In the private walks of life he was universally esteemed. His funeral was attended last Friday by a large concours of citizens, anxious to pay the last tribute of respect to departed worth. Peace to his manes!

His wife, Tamar Wright, died on August 26, 1849 at the home of their son, Ruggles Wright. Both she and Jabez are buried in the Huron Village Cemetery in Huron, Ohio.

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