Originally from Essex County, New Jersey, William R. Wright and wife Sarah Baldwin moved to Butler County, Ohio, in 1808.
I am still investigating Quaker records to ascertain if our family was, in fact, Quaker, but it is too soon to make that presumption.
Daughter Susannah (Susan) Wright would have been about 8 years old at the time that her parents emigrated with her brothers and sisters to the Wilderness of Ohio. Before they would move again, the family would grow to at least 10 children — Susan, Mary, David, Clarissa, Stephen, Dennis, Elizabeth, Lucinda, John, and Rachel.
Susan later would meet Amos Webster in Butler County, and marry him on March 20, 1817. Busy with her own family, she would not accompany her parents and siblings on their next pioneering journey in 1828.
The move to Michigan was a planned exodus. The summer before leaving, William had gone ahead to the settlement where he intended to buy land, and he cut 12 acres of hay to feed his livestock along the way. The family later left Southwestern Ohio in wagons, bringing with them five horses and 12 head of cattle. The way was rough, and they camped many nights in the woods, in the safest areas they could get to.
After making their way to Fort Wayne, Indiana, they saw no other people until they arrived at Edwardsburg. When finally they reached LaGrange Prairie, Cass County, Michigan in October, 1828, William bought two acres of standing corn to feed their animals.
The prairie and township of LaGrange were named by fellow traveler Abram Townsend, who wanted to honor Lafayette in France (though for a number of years, the area was called Townsend's Prairie). The Wright couple arrived about the same time as their daughter Elizabeth, who traveled with her husband, Eli P. Bonner. Daughter Mary came with her husband, Isaac Shurte. Daughter Clarissa arrived with her husband Stephen Ball, and her son Davis, but that family soon returned to their home in Ohio (where Davis would enroll at age 20 to fight in the Mexican War).
The families truly suffered that first winter in their new home. The weather was harsh with deep snows, and the lack of food became very serious for all. They cut down hackberry trees and fed the animals the sweet, pulpy wood found closest to the bark. The trees were then split into rails, some hollowed out and used to carry water to the cabin that soon was built of log. They existed primarily on corn meal and potatoes, but hunger didn't stop the sons from helping their father tend the livestock. The cattle couldn't break their own paths through the snow, and when they fell, it oftentimes was impossible for them to get back up. William and his sons and sons-in-law were constantly in attendance to keep the cows alive.
That year, son David L. Wright, a young man of only 23, died on December 30th. He was the first person laid to rest in what would become a little burying ground on the emerging farm of his uncle, Isaac Shurte.
In the following spring, the prairie land that William bought had to be prepared for planting. Though the meadow looked fertile, the land seemed impossible to till by hand plow. The few families in the area joined forces and attached long teams of horses to their plows. Moving from field to field together in this fashion, they were able to break soil which seemed held together by "rope-like red root" of an unknown but prevalent plant.
In 1829, the first marriage in the settlement took place between neighbors James Cavanaugh and Amy Townsend – and "Squire" William R. Wright presided. By now, LaGrange was a small settlement in which William was also named school commissioner and assessor. Isaac Shurte was made Commissioner of Highways, and Eli Bonnell was named Collector and Constable. These three families made formal petitions for the land (on which they had "squatted" and developed to establish legal ownership) in 1829.
In January of 1830, William and Sarah celebrated the birth of their grandchild, Mary Bonnell, daughter of Elizbeth and son-in-law Eli. Mary was the first white child born in the township. (Later she would marry John Nelson Webster, son of their daughter Susan). Eli Bonnell had established himself as a pottery maker, creating pottery pieces reflective of the various patterns popular with arriving pioneers. One of the first manufacturers and merchants, he continued in that business for a long number of years.
On February 15th, 1830, the Wright's daughter Susan gave birth to Mary Elizabeth – according to my records, in Cass County, Michigan. There is just passing mention of Susan Webster in one published report of the era.
I would guess that Susan was visiting her parents at the time of Mary's birth, as she and her husband and other children likely lived in Fountain County, Indiana, where Amos was the first teacher of the Newtown settlement.
Meanwhile, in Cass County, young Clara and John Wright went to school alongside Elizabeth Shurte in a log house where 32 children were taught by Miss Arlantha Jane Brown.
Within a few years, neighbor John Jones brought William Wright and Isaac Shurte some apple trees from Niagara County, New York. They planted an orchard to provide family and neighbors with fruit for pies and, more important, to give them supplies to jar to help see them all through the next winters. This seemed to be a sign that the settlement was becoming a town, though it had only about 18 males old enough to vote. A trading post was opened, followed by a post office and a Baptist Church. Eventually Reverend James Webster would be the first preacher of the Methodist Church, established in 1842. Meanwhile, a nearby Quaker settlement in the county would become the hub of the famous Underground Railroad, which offered safe passage to African-Americans who were trying to escape slavery.
Many winters later, a mandatory meeting was called of all able-bodied white males citizens of Cass County between the ages of 18 and 45. The purpose was a militia muster, and the men were ordered to assemble for training and told to bring any available weapons. The area had become much more populated in the past decade, and nearly 1,000 men showed up – many of our kin present amongst them. They wore whatever civilian clothing they had, and they brandished everything from rifles to rake handles, including the occasional stick. In fact, the group assembled was such a spectacle that local folks thereafter referred to them as "The Cornstalk Militia."
Equally comical was the training, which proved to be impossible. The ground was soon saturated with a mixture of rain and snow, and the farmers marched ineffectively through cold mud and mire. Given the resulting confusion and mounting anger, the frustrated real military officers soon surrendered to the chaos and called a halt to the mission. They then brought out barrels of whiskey and passed out tin cups (when amazingly, the troops could manage a straight line). More barrels were rolled to the town square and amid the drinking and sudden hilarity, historians modestly report that "several disgraceful scenes followed" and "the debauch was general." By all accounts, the drinking lasted long after nightfall, and "the labor of taking the census of unintoxicated persons present upon that occasion would be very trivial."
William R. Wright and wife Sarah Baldwin remained on the homestead in Cass County, Michigan. He died in the summer of 1850, and she in 1868. Their daughter Mary, before her death, was declared to be "the oldest person alive in the town of LaGrange."
[Family composite written by Jody Glynn Patrick; one predominant resource is History of Cass Co., MI]