Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Rachel Wells Wright, Colonial Quaker Preacher, June 11, 2019

People go east only when invited. 
People go west when all bets are off. 
When they need to save their sorry souls, 
folks head for the frontier.
~Karen Hines

John and Rachel Wells Wright are my 6X Great Grandparents who made their mark on 18th Century Colonial America. Their impressive life story -- almost 300 years ago now -- has recently become available to me. John and Rachel are related to me through my Great Grandfather James Brooks Davis, whose birthday was remembered in this blog earlier this month on June 2.

James Brooks Davis' mother was Malinda Wright Davis. She is the one who connects us to our Wright ancestry which we can trace all the way back to the mid 1600s. Here is a lineage that shows our heritage going back 14 generations, covering almost four centuries.
  1. Francis Swanston Sr., (1645-1675) who married Isabel Saddler (1650-1744)
  2. whose son Francis Swanson Jr. (1672-1698) married Sarah Plummer (1675-1720)
  3. whose daughter Margaret Swanson (1697-1755) married Joe Wells (1697-1758)
  4. whose daughter Rachel Wells (1720-1771) married John Wright (1716-1789)
  5. whose daughter Sarah Wright (1749-1789) married James Brooks (1747-1790)
  6. whose daughter Vashti Brooks (1776-1867) married John Wright (1759-1806)
  7. whose daughter Nancy Wright (1811-1882) married John Lynn Wright (1808-1909)
  8. whose daughter Malinda Wright (1846-1920) married Charles E. Davis (1849-1926)
  9. whose son James Brooks Davis (1870-1928) married Caroline Spear (1865-1951)
  10. whose daughter Bura Davis (1896-1986) married William Shepard (1888-1976)
  11. whose son Eugene Shepard (1921-2003) married Maida Gower (b. 1924)
  12. whose son Steve Shepard (b. 1948) married Cindy Harris (b. 1948)
  13. whose son Nathan Shepard (b. 1977) married Chenda Sou (b. 1980)
  14. James Brooks Davis (1870-1928)
    son of Malinda Wright Davis (1846-1920)
  15. whose daughter is Preslea Maida Shepard (b. 2010)
This is quite an impressive lineage that covers nearly 400 years. At first glance it can be a confusing array of names and dates. But there are a few things worth pointing out about this lineage. The first generation listed here, includes Francis Swanston, a young doctor who migrated across the Atlantic in 1665 from England and settled in Maryland. The colony of Maryland had only been in existence about 30 years when Francis arrived by ship from England. Maryland was the state where several of our ancestors had their New World beginning, including: John and Mary Shepard, Nathan and Hannah Gatchell, James and Mary Alexander, Richard Reynolds, and John McKnitt.

John Wright and his wife Rachel Wells are the two in the above lineage that I am most focused on at this particular time. Rachel, the first of Joseph and Margaret Well's 11 children, was born in 1720 in Maryland, just 25 miles east of what is today Washington, D.C. Her parents had her baptized on July 12, 1721 at All Hallow's Episcopal Church in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. All Hallow's Church still exists today and is listed in the National Register of Historical Places. For anyone interested in our family history, All Hallow's Church in Maryland is a "must-see" place to visit.

All Hallow's Church, Davidsonville, Md
where Rachel Wells was baptized
July 12, 1721 
Rachel Wells was just 16 years old when, in 1737, she married John Wright, who was only 20 himself. He was from Pennsylvania Quaker stock, born in Chester County, Pa. When just a child his family relocated to Northern Maryland and settled in a Quaker Community near Frederick, Maryland. Rachel's family, presumably still Episcopal, moved from Eastern Maryland to Frederick which is where Rachel and John met and eventually married. Rachel's marriage to John meant that she would become a Quaker herself, which she did wholeheartedly.

The Minister Rachel Wells Wright. At this time in American History, The Society of Friends (the Quakers) was the faith of choice for one third of all American Colonialists. John and Rachel became very involved in their Quaker "Monthly Meeting" (the name for their local gathering). In the spring of 1745 John was made overseer of the Men in their Monthly Meeting. At the same time Rachel was made overseer of the Women at the same Monthly Meeting. Even though there was this division of labor for the men and the women, the Quakers believed in the equality of the sexes and their ability to serve in leadership positions. For many years John and Rachel Wright were dedicated leaders of the local Quaker gatherings wherever they lived. Because of her leadership and dedication Rachel became a Quaker "friend of the ministry," which made her a Quaker preacher, which she took to with great energy, spirit and determination.

By the time she was 24, Rachel was the mother of 7 children under the age of 10 (they would eventually have 13). They were seemingly on a mission to help populate the world for the Quakers. The Wrights and their brood were of course typical of frontier families. In 1750 John and Rachel with their first 7 children, uprooted their family and migrated 300 miles southward. They were part of what became known as "The Great Quaker Migration" that moved down the Shenandoah Valley into Virginia, the Carolinas and even Georgia. It was an awesome undertaking for this young family of 10 (plus possibly a few grandparents) to make this move into the frontier of North Carolina. If nothing else it showed the grittiness of John and Rachel, their faith in God, their strength of character, and their hope for the future.

In my next post I will write about John and Rachel Wright's experience in North Carolina and their help in founding the Cane Creek Monthly Meeting in Orange County.
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Steve Shepard

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