In the somewhat shaky handwriting of a 72-year-old man, he signed the letter “[I] remain thy affectionate father, Jonathan Wright.”
The letter, written December 12, 1820, was an expression of love and concern. Jonathan had recently learned that his son-in-law, John Shaw, had accepted an appointment as assistant Indian Agent to the Wyandot. Jonathan’s daughter Elizabeth would have to uproot her life, leave the comfort of a two-story frame home in the nascent city of Cincinnati for a life among the Native Americans in the wilderness of central Ohio.
“I hope thy mind will [be] strengthened to bear the separation with a good degree of fortitude.”
Jonathan could foresee the challenges that lay ahead for his daughter. Taking their two young sons–ages 5 and 2–away from the extended family and friends in Cincinnati would create a whole new set of issues; as if raising children in early nineteenth-century Ohio wasn’t hard enough already.
“we have but one pure source of comfort in this world. It is our greatest interest to mind and feel after that, day by day ’tis the only sure support that we can apply to.”
In times of difficulty, Jonathan relied on his Quaker faith for support. He had been a member of the Society of Friends for his entire life. He had served on the Indian Affairs Committee of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting. In 1800, he had sent his daughter Elizabeth to the Westtown Boarding School near Philadelphia, one of the first Quaker boarding schools in America.
Westtown was founded as “a boarding school exclusively for Quaker children [that] could provide a ‘guarded’ education–a physical, educational and spiritual environment in which students (and teachers) could be wholly dedicated to seeking a closer relationship with God through adherence to Quaker beliefs and practices.” The Philadelphia Quakers who established it were serious about the expression of their beliefs.
Elizabeth used the training she received at Westtown to become one of the first teachers in western Ohio. She taught in Highland County and Warren County before marrying John Shaw in Cincinnati in 1814.
“It is my daily experience, and [it] has often been the secret prayer of my heart that my children and grandchildren might seek it above all worldly motives.”
Jonathan’s concern extended not only to his daughter, but to all his children and all their children. Several of his children lived together in Cincinnati. And when they could not live together, they wrote to one another.
“if we never see each other again in this world I hope all will be well.”
Jonathan was 72 years old. He was born in 1748. He married Susannah Griffith (a great-granddaughter of Madame Marie Ferree) on May 16, 1770. He had lived in Adams County, Pennsylvania; Baltimore; Greene County, Ohio; Cincinnati; and finally, Fayette County, Indiana. He had built tanyards, grist mills, saw mills, oil mills and farms along the way. He had married off his daughters and received a slew of grandchildren in return. He probably had a sense that his time was limited.
Nevertheless, a few years later, Jonathan and his wife Susannah would travel to visit Elizabeth and John among the Wyandot. They would bring the eldest grandson, Edward, back to Indiana to stay with them, so that he would not become too much enthralled with the Native Americans.
After four years with the Wyandot, John left the Indian Service. He and Elizabeth moved to Fayette County, Indiana to be near Jonathan and Susannah and the rest of the family that had gathered there. For the winter of 1824, Elizabeth and their three children stayed in a rented house less than a mile from her brother’s while John traveled to visit other family. Then, in the spring of 1825 John and Elizabeth moved back to Cincinnati.
Those few months in the winter of 1824-5 must have been sweet for Jonathan and for Elizabeth. It must have pleased Jonathan very much to see that Elizabeth survived the time of separation. It must have given him joy to have his children and grandchildren gathered around him. Just a few years later, in 1827, Susannah died at age 78; and then in 1829, Jonathan died at age 81.
Jonathan’s daughter Rebecca later wrote: “Jonathan Wright my father was a man of good natural understanding. In temporal and religious matters, his judgment was sound and discriminating. His deportment was reserved yet he was affable in manner. He was given to hospitality so that his home was proverbially styled the Travellers Rest. He was always active in aiding those who were engaged in preaching the Gospel and in the spread of the Gospel. He died of a short illness in triumphant faith and trust in his Heavenly Father, aged 81 years one month and 30 days, and was buried by the side of his wife in the cemetery of Poplar Ridge in Fayette.”
To read more about John Shaw and his time as assistant Indian Agent to the Wyandot, see my previous post, “A Little Boy’s Shoes.” To see a transcribed copy of the letter from Jonathan Wright to Elizabeth (Wright) Shaw, visit the document page, “Jonathan Wright to Elizabeth (Wright) Shaw, 1820.”