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Wright family papers

1805-1887
 Collection
Accession: 2575

Abstract

Papers of four generations of the Wright family of Monmouth County, New Jersey, and Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, particularly of Samuel G. Wright (1781-1845), Philadelphia merchant and general entrepreneur, and his son, Harrison Gardiner Wright (1810-1885), a gentleman farmer.

Dates

  • 1805-1887

Creator

Extent

3.75 Linear Feet

Historical Note

Members of this branch of the Wright family are descendants of Joshua Wright, one of three brothers who emigrated from Yorkshire as part of the Quaker migration to West Jersey in 1677-1679. His great-great-grandson, Samuel Gardiner Wright (1781-1845), married his distant cousin Sarah Wright (1787-1885) in 1805 and through her inherited a 300-acre farm at what was later known as Wrightsville, Monmouth County, N.J. Here he built a brick mansion that he called "Merino Hill" and pursued the life of a gentleman farmer, breeding Merino sheep and selling produce. Within a decade, he began to expand his operations, first by buying lands in the nearby Pine Barrens and selling cordwood to fuel the new steamboats that were appearing in New York waters. By 1817, he had established himself in Philadelphia as a general merchant, expanding his trade to the Mississippi Valley, Arkansas, and via the Santa Fe Trail with what was then Mexico.

In the 1820s, Wright engaged in the iron industry, operating Delaware Furnace near Millsboro, Delaware, and Dover Furnace at what is now Lakehurst, N.J. Wright also engaged in land speculation, particularly in Otsego County, New York, near Quincy, Illinois, in connection with friends from the Trenton area, and in the Iron Mountain area of Missouri. The economic convulsions of 1837-1843 played havoc with most of Wright's enterprises, especially his iron furnaces and western land speculations, and he spent his last years trying to keep solvent, operating the farm at "Merino Hill" and operating a nearby country store. Wright was an Adams Republican and Whig and served in the New Jersey State Senate in 1830-1831. He was an unsuccessful Whig candidate for Congress in the 1840 "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" campaign. He won election in 1844, but became ill and died before he could take his seat.

Samuel G. Wright's younger brother Joseph Wright (1785-1855) settled in Plymouth, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, and his son, Hendrick B. Wright (1808-1881) was a Congressman at the time of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Samuel G. Wright's widow lived on at "Merino Hill" for another forty years. Of Samuel G. Wright's sons, the eldest, Gardiner Harrison Wright (1806-1886) was sent to manage Delaware Furnace, and he and his descendants remained in Delaware. His son, Custis Wise Wright (1840-1874) was Secretary of State of Delaware in the 1860s. Harrison Gardiner Wright (1810-1885) inherited "Merino Hill," and as his father's executor, was tasked with salvaging the Illinois and Missouri lands, which he also inherited. Harrison G. Wright managed the farm at "Merino Hill," which then passed to his descendants for another three generations.

A fuller account of Samuel G. Wright's activities may be found in the finding aid for Accession 1665.

Scope and Content

This portion of the Wright family papers should be used in tandem with Accession 1665 when researching the activities of Samuel G. Wright, as the separation was somewhat random depending upon where packets of papers and volumes were stored at "Merino Hill." However, this portion contains most of the papers of Harrison G. Wright, which were not part of the earlier gifts.

This portion of the Samuel G. Wright papers is fragmentary, and most of the documentation of his business activities will be found in Accession 1665. Many of the correspondents are the same. Substantial coverage is confined to only a few enterprises: the project to supply fuel wood to the Paulus Hook ferry boats, whose proprietors also controlled the turnpike and stagecoach line leading between Jersey City and Newark; the project for a salt works at Lewes, Del., for which David Thacher (1767-1830), an experienced salt-maker from Massachusetts, was agent; and the ledger and receipts for Dover Furnace. The correspondence relating to the operation of Dover Furnace and the disputes arising out of its sale are in Accession 1665, as is almost all of the material relating to Delaware Furnace and Wright's western trade.

This portion does contain some of the volumes in which Samuel G. Wright copied his outgoing letters, although his back-slanted handwriting is very difficult to read. One of the letterbooks was begun by Nathan Dunn (1782-1844), who later assigned his business to Wright in bankruptcy. Dunn, a fellow Philadelphia-West Jersey Quaker, was read out of the Philadelphia Monthly meeting for bankruptcy. He recouped his fortune by going to China in 1818-1832, where he prospered either in spite of or because of Quaker scruples against dealing in opium. Returning to Philadelphia with a huge collection of Chinese art and artifacts, he established the city's famous Chinese Museum. Reading between the lines of both inbound and outbound letters, one can get some sense of the difficulties faced by enterpreneurial personalities in the wakes of the War of 1812, the Panics of 1819 and 1837 and the boom-and-bust cycles of the early 19th century economy.

Some of the correspondence is concerned with family and domestic issues. There are also items dealing with Wright's role in Whig Party politics, and insurance policies on "Merino Hill" and Wright's nearby country store.

The papers relating to the settlement of Samuel G. Wright's estate were collected by his son and executor Harrison Gardiner Wright. Aside from ordinary debts, the most important issues involve his western lands. Wright's Illinois agents included William J. Conkling (1826-1904) a famous lawyer and real estate dealer of Springfield, and Moore, Morton & Company's Illinois Land Agency in Quincy.

Sarah Wright is represented by two small ledgers that antedate her marriage and a "grocery book" from 1918-1823. The latter was also used by her husband to write what appears to be a draft of a political letter to the editor in the 1830s or 1840s.

The papers of Harrison G. Wright are partly domestic and concern the management of "Merino Hill" and family relationships. The largest files deal with the continuing issues of the Illinois and Missouri lands inherited from his father's estate, some of which was handled through the Philadelphia merchant banking house of Thomas Biddle & Co. Among letters from his cousin, Rep. Hendrick B. Wright, is the text of a speech expressing the Northern conservative view that the Civil War was being fought to preserve the Union and not to emancipate the slaves. There is also an insurance policy on "Merino Hill" and an album of sentimental poetry copied by each of his classmates at the Quaker's Burlington Boarding School in 1826 as a memento.

Harry Hall Wright (1881-1956), the great-grandson of Samuel G. Wright, is represented by a notebook covering the genealogy of the earliest American generations of the Wright family.

Related Material

Wright family papers (Accession 1665), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Documentary photographs of "Merino Hill" by Hagley photographer Martin Kane (Accession 1991.243), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library. Includes a photographic copy of the portrait of Samuel G. Wright that was later sold at auction.

"Merino Hill" was the subject of an Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Records (HABS/HAER) study, the records of which are preserved in the Library of Congress.

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Additional Description

Separated Material

Portrait photographs of Samuel G. Wright, Jr., Sarah Wright and Walter Livingston Wright, and Gardiner Harrison Wright have been transferred to the Audiovisual and Digital Initiatives Department.

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
Wright family papers
Status:
Author:
Christopher T. Baer
Date:
2014 April 28
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin
Language of description note:
English

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400