On to Ohio circa 1800

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Dan Wright Sr., 1757 to 1832

Dan Wright was born in Lebanon, Connecticut in 1757 and lost his father when he was just 4 years old. He joined the Continental Army in 1777 and fought in the Revolutionary War. Family tradition records that he “engaged in many battles,” but perhaps the most important was the Battle of Saratoga in the autumn of 1777. It was at this battle that the American patriots under the command of Major General Horatio Gates forced the surrender of General John Burgoyne and the northern division of the British army. In doing so, they foiled a British plan to trap the Continental Army between three divisions of the British. Many historians cite this as the turning point when fortune finally began to favor the Americans in their War for Independence. The victory at Saratoga also convinced the French to ally with the new United States of America in opposition to England.

After the War, Dan settled near Hanover, Vermont, working as a carpenter and a farmer. In 1785, he married Sarah Freeman. She was the daughter of Colonel Edmund Freeman, another Continental soldier who had also participated in the Battle of Saratoga. Freeman had been part of the New Hampshire militia. Dan and Sarah had six children in Vermont – Asahel, Porter, Dan Jr., Sally (or Sarah), Elizabeth, and Samuel.

In 1814, Dan Sr. and his children decided to move to the new state of Ohio, possibly to escape the uncertainties of the War of 1812 which was raging in his neighborhood. The British were using Montreal as a staging area and attempting to move troops and supplies south through Vermont and upper state New York. A decisive engagement, the Battle of Lake Champlain, occurred not far from the Wright farm. Porter and Dan Jr. had left Hanover by this time and were living in the Genesee Valley south of Rochester – what is now known as the Finger Lakes district. Dan Sr. and the remaining family pulled up stakes, made a short stop in Genesee Valley to pick up Porter and Dan Jr., and moved to Ohio. They first settled in Centerville, just south of Dayton, where Dan Sr.’s son Asahel set up a general store and a small distillery. He also manufactured peppermint oil, which was used as a medicine and a tonic at that time. Dan Sr. was beginning to show his age and his children, especially Asahel, looked after him and Sarah. Asahel helped set up his parents on a small farm west of Centerville. In 1826, there were reports that the National Road – the new nation’s first highway – would be passing north of Dayton. Asahel sold his holdings in Centerville, including the 25-acre farm where Dan Sr. lived, and moved the family to a farm in Bethel Township in Miami County, where the National Road would pass. There Asahel started another store. Construction of the National Road was slow, but it finally arrived in 1838, running along the northern property line of the Wright farm. Dan Sr. was deceased by this time, having passed away in 1832.

Dan Wright Jr., 1790 to 1861

Dan Wright Jr. was born in Thetford , Vermont in 1790. He taught school in Vermont and then traveled to Genesee Valley, New York where he stayed with his brother Porter for a time. In 1814, Dan Jr. and Porter joined their father Dan Sr. and siblings Asahel, Elizabeth, Sarah, and Samuel as they emigrated to Ohio. While in Centerville, Ohio Dan Jr. worked in his brother Asahel’s distillery. He married Catherine Reeder in 1818 – Catharine was the daughter of Margaret (Van Cleve) Reeder, whose family were among the first settlers of Dayton, Ohio. They had two sons while still in Centerville – Samuel Smith and Harvey.

In 1821, Dan Jr. and his wife left Centerville for Indiana, The territory had become a state in 1817 and a year later the Treaty of St. Mary's had opened vast tracts of land for settlement that had formerly belonged to the natives. Of immense importance to Dan Jr., Indiana became a free state in 1820 following the case of Polly vs. LaSalle which freed Indiana slaves from their masters. Dan and Catharine staked a farm in Richland Township, Rush County, and then moved to another Rush County farm in 1823, just a mile and a half southwest of their first Indiana home. Here, Catherine bore two more sons and a daughter, Milton, William and Sarah. There may have also been a son and a daughter who died in infancy, George and Kate. Throughout his life, Dan Jr. remained close to the extended Wright family and made numerous visits to his father, mother, brothers, and sister in Miami County, Ohio.

Dan was a straight arrow who took his ethics seriously. Later in life, Milton Wright described his father as “grave in his countenance, collected in his manners, hesitating in his speech, but very accurate.” The early 1800s was the time of the Second Great Awakening, another burst of religious zeal and revival in America. Dan Jr. apparently got religion in 1830 and became a teetotaler – even though he had once worked in his brother’s distillery – and refused to sell his corn crop to distillers who would convert it to whiskey. Dan Jr. strongly supported the abolition of slavery and opposed the activities of secret fraternal societies such as the Masons. He apparently passed these beliefs on to his son Milton along with his love of family.

In 1840, Dan Jr. sold the second Rush County farm and moved to another just over the county line in Orange Township, Fayette County, Indiana. He died at this farm in 1861.

Bishop Milton Wright, 1828 to 1917

Milton Wright was born in 1828 on his father’s farm in Rush County, Indiana. He was a studious youngster, and was encouraged in his studies by his two older brothers, Samuel Smith and Harvey. Like his father, he was influenced by the tail end of Second Great Awakening and determined to lead a religious life in 1843. However, he did not formally join a church until 1847 when he became a United Brethren. The Church of the United Brethren was the first completely American religious sect and as such embodied many of the equalitarian principles of the new nation. It was especially popular in the Midwest and its unofficial headquarters were in Dayton, Ohio.

Milton moved quickly up the ranks. He took a supervisory position at Hartsville College (a United Brethren institution), was ordained a minister, served time as a missionary in the gold fields of Oregon, and then returned to Indiana to become a circuit preacher. He married Susan Koerner in 1859 and the two of them eventually had five children – Reuchlin, Lorin, Wilbur, Orville, and Katharine. There was also a set of twins, Otis and Ida, who died in infancy.

The Civil War loomed large in Milton’s early life, but he did not fight even though he was unequivocally an abolitionist. He was also a pacifist, so much so that he would not preach to the troops. Strong opinions like these made Milton both an influential and controversial figure in the Church of the United Brethren. His career required that he move his family often. They lived in three different locations in Indiana before Milton was appointed the editor of the church newspaper in 1869 and moved to Dayton, Ohio where the United Brethren maintained their printing house. In 1877, he was appointed Bishop of the United Brethren churches between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, and moved his family to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In 1881, he was called back east to become a circuit preacher once more and he deposited his family in Richmond, Indiana. In 1884 he moved the family for the last time, taking them back to Dayton where he could be closer to and more involved in church politics. In 1889, the Church of the United Brethren spilt along conservative and liberal lines and Milton became a Bishop of the conservatives, the Church of the United Brethren, Old Constitution.

That same year, his wife Susan died of tuberculosis. Reuchlin and Lorin had already left home – Reuchlin to start his own family and Lorin to see if he could make a go of it on the Kansas frontier. Wilbur, Orville, and Katharine remained. While Milton was building a new church, his two younger sons started a printing business, a newspaper, and a bicycle shop. Katharine attended Oberlin College, and then taught at Steele High School in Dayton. About the time that Orville and Wilbur began demonstrating their airplanes, Bishop Milton Wright was forcibly retired from his church over a disagreement on whether or not to prosecute a Brethren who had misappropriated church funds. Milton lived to see his younger sons achieve international fame for the invention of the first practical airplane, and then died in 1917.

For Wilbur, Orville, and Katharine, this was the end of their genealogical line. Nether brother married or fathered any children. Katharine married late in her life, but she had no offspring. Older brothers Reuchlin and Lorin, however, married and had sons and daughters. The ancient Wryta lineage continues through their progeny and many others.

British General Burgoyne surrenders to Continental Army General Gates at the Battle of Saratoga.

The Battle of Lake Champlain was a  battle between ships and armies in 1814 that ended a British attempt to invade the United States from the north.

Asahel Wright's home in Centerville, Ohio is now a community center and museum of Ohio pioneer life. To visit this building in Google Earth, click HERE.

Building the National Road – note the surprising absence of orange cones.

Shawnee leader Tecumseh confronts Governor William Henry Harrison at Vincennes, Indiana in 1810, protesting the settlers encroachment on native lands around the Wabash River.

A typical log cabin built by Indiana settlers in the 1820s. Neighbors marveled that Dan Wright's cabin had a wooden floor.

In 1767, there was a "Great Meeting" in Isaac Long's barn near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. After listening to a passionate speech by Mennonite preacher Martin Boehm, William Otterbein, a German Reformed pastor, embraced Boehm and cried "We are all brethren!" This was the beginning of the Church of the United Brethren, the first religious sect to emerge on American soil.

An illustration from the biography of Eli Farmer, a circuit preacher (or "horse preacher") who served congregations on the Indiana frontier during the same years at Milton Wright.

Milton Wright flies with his son Orville at Huffman Prairie in 1910.
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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