A Nation of Saints circa 1650

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Deacon Samuel Wright, 1606 to 1665

Samuel Wright was born in 1606 in Wrightsbridge, Essex County, England. He attended Emmanuel College of Cambridge University like his father, graduating in 1624. And like his father, he became a dyed-in-the-wool Puritan. He married Margaret Stratton in 1625. Samuel and Margaret had four children together while they lived in England –Samuel Jr., Margaret, Hester (or Esther), and Lydia. About 1636, they sailed with these four children to America where they had four more – James, Judah, Mary and Helped.

Samuel and his family were part of the “Great Migration” in which 80,000 Puritans left England between 1629 and 1640, during the years that King Charles I (1625-1649) had suspended Parliament. Religious repression was rampant during this period and with an unsympathetic king on the throne and Parliament gone, the Puritans had no way to redress their grievances. They emigrated to Ireland, the Netherlands, the West Indies, and America. About 20,000 of them traveled to New England, settling mostly in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

The migration began in the summer of 1630 with the "Winthrop Fleet" – eleven ships carrying 800 people under the guidance of John Winthrop and bound for Massachusetts. These ships and others continued to sail back and forth across the Atlantic for a decade ferrying Puritans intent on building a “nation of saints” in the New World. It is impossible to underestimate the effect that this migration of literate, socially-cohesive, working-class families had on the subsequent history of America. The Puritans thought of this as a Second Exodus in which Charles I was the Pharaoh and they were God’s Chosen People. They formed the basis for a uniquely American society with a respect for education, hard work, religious freedom, and personal autonomy, each member with a conviction that they were the apple of God’s Eye.

Samuel Wright and his family stayed for a while near the coast of Massachusetts, then in 1638 accompanied William Pynchon and other colonists to a Native American village named Agwam on the Connecticut River, where they settled the town of Springfield. Samuel was part owner of a toll bridge there and helped build a mill dam. In 1652 the pastor of the First Congregational Church in Springfield returned to England and Samuel was employed to “dispense the word of God in this place” for fifty shillings per month. It was during this time he earned the title “Deacon.” Deacon Samuel Wright left Springfield about 1656, traveled up the Connecticut River and settled Northampton, Massachusetts, where he built a mill and continued to serve as a deacon. He died in 1665 at age 59 “while sleeping in his chair.”

James Wright, 1639 to 1725

James was one of the first native-born citizens of the “nation of saints.” He was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1639, the moved to Northampton with his family about 1656. He married Abigail Jess in Northampton about 1662, and she bore him nine children –Abigail, Helped, James, Lydia, Samuel, Preserved, Jonathan, Hester, and Nathaniel. His father Samuel gave him four acres in Northampton and he lived there with his wife all his life.

We know very little about James and his children for the simple reason that the first colonists were a little too preoccupied to keep many records. Massachusetts was a beachhead for Europeans in America and they fought the natives to keep it. When the Wampanoag natives weren’t attacking them, the colonists faced disease and famine.

We do know that James fought in King Phillips War – the first true war with Native Americans. Twelve Puritan settlements were burned to ground and James’ brother Samuel Wright Jr. was shot and killed as he led a small contingent of soldier-settlers. James served under Captain William Turner and fought at the Battle of Turner’s Falls in 1676, in which his band attacked a poorly-defended village of Wampanoag and slaughtered many of them. Some of the warriors escaped, regrouped and counterattacked the colonists. William Turner was killed, but James escaped. 

The latter half of James’ life was apparently more peaceful, although there were some memorable moments. In 1692, 150 people were accused and 20 executed in the “witch trials” of Salem, Massachusetts. The English passed the Wool Act in 1699, forbidding the export of wool from the American colonies. It was the first of many laws designed to limit production and trade in America so the colonies would remain a captive market for England. In 1700, Massachusetts passed a law expelling all Catholic priests, and in 1714, tea was introduced to the American colonies. James passed away in 1725.

Samuel Wright, 1674 to 1734

Samuel Wright was born in Northhampton, Massachusetts in 1674. He married Rebecca Sykes in Northampton in 1697 and the two of them had eight children – James, Lydia, Samuel, Preserved, Nathaniel, Ebenezer, Esther, and Benoni.

Towards the end of Samuel’s life came the “First Great Awakening,” a period of intense religious interest and zeal in America. It was begun, in large part, by Jonathon Edwards, one of America’s most important theologians, author of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, and the originator of the fire-and-brimstone sermon ubiquitous to religious revivals in America. Edwards was born in East Windsor, Connecticut, but he preached at the Congregational Church in Northampton and conducted his first revival meetings there. Later on, he toured all thirteen colonies in America, preaching his brand of reformed determinism and ethical fitness. The Great Awakening, as shaped by Edwards and others like him, was a defining moment in the development of the national American character.

It’s not known whether Samuel Wright ever heard Jonathon Edwards preach, or if he subscribed to Edward’s intense and unforgiving theology. At some point, Samuel moved his family to Lebanon, Connecticut and died there in 1734.

Benoni Wright, 1719 to 1761

Benoni Wright was born in Lebanon, Connecticut in 1719 and seems to have been unaffected by the Great Awakening, at least in his youth. He was high-spirited and had at least one brush with the law. An old family document recorded that “he played crazy in the hills and was soundly thrashed by the town officers.” Other remembrances label him an “original character” and “lively fellow.” Fortunately for the Wright lineage, he settled down long enough to get married. Benoni Wright and Elizabeth (Eliza Betsy) Smith tied the knot in 1742 in Lebanon, CT. They had five children – Samuel, Theodora, Dan, Esther, and Benoni. The last son was born after Benoni’s death in 1761, which may explain why he was named after his father. His mother, Eliza Betsy Wright, called Benoni Jr. the “son of her sorrow.” Benoni Sr. was just 42 years old when he passed away.

Benoni’s Connecticut was deeply divided by the Great Awakening. The Congregational Church was the most powerful organization in the colony; the colonial government was made up of “Old Lights” or conservative Congregational members. The Congregationalists that attended the religious revivals of the Great Awakening were the “New Lights” – liberals. The Old Lights discouraged revivals, even passed laws to prevent them. There is no clear indication which side Benoni supported, but it’s likely that as a rebellious youth, he chaffed at authority and would likely have aligned himself with the New Lights.

Late in Benoni’s life, the Seven Years War broke out, involving most of the major powers in Europe. It was oddly prescient of the World Wars of the twentieth century in that it involved not only Europe but also European colonies in the Americas and Asia. In the North American theater it is remembered as the French and Indian War. The British were the big winners in this conflict, capturing New France (Quebec) in the north and Spanish Florida in the South. Benoni did not fight, but his brothers Samuel and Ebenezer are listed on the rolls of Connecticut militia.

The Winthrop Fleet under sail to America.

Governor John Winthrop arrives in Salem, Massachusetts in 1630, bringing with him the Massachusetts Bay Colony Charter.

When the Puritans arrived in New England, they found palisaded Algonquin villages like this all along the coast. Surprisingly, some of them were vacant. A plague of smallpox had preceded the European settlers, killing an estimated 90% of the native population.

Indians attack Brookfield, Massachusetts during King Phillips War. "King Phillip" was a Wampanoag chief named Pometacom.

The superstition and hysteria that caused the witch trials weren't confined to Salem, Massachusetts; they took place in other locations. The trial depicted here occurred in Connecticut in 1662.

This depiction of Jonathon Edwards preaching is misleading – he always read his sermons and held the papers close to his face because he was nearsighted. The theatrical gesticulating associated with revival preachers would come later.

A revival camp meeting during the Great Awakening.

This map depicts the British attack on New France at Montreal during the French and Indian War. Over 29,000 colonial soldiers served beside British troops.
More Sources

The Dayton and Montgomery County Library -- If you'd like to know more about the Wright family, or research other branches of the family tree, you will find extensive genealogical data here.

Ohio, Home of the Wright Brothers is a genealogical chronicle of the Wrights and four other families, all ancestors of the Wright brothers. It traces these families as they settle Ohio and Indiana. painting Wilbur and Orville as the sons of pioneers and revolutionaries who built an energetic, forward-looking civilization founded on technology and democracy.

Ohio, Home of the Wright Brothers is the history of the Wright family in America, particularly their settlement of Ohio. Click the cover to read sample chapters.

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