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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 Dickerson
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
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
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.