Digging

Wright House Narrative

  • February 27, 2015

I wanted to share a bit about my trip to the historical society on Wednesday.

My goal was to uncover more information on the Wright House–my new underground railroad permission–as well as more information about Latimore Township. I wanted to share an excerpt with you from one of my readings at the historical society:

In the early part of harvest, 1851, four slaves came to William Wright’s house from Maryland. They were in a state of semi-nudity, their clothing being nearly all torn off and handing in ratters. At this hospitable home they were furnished with clothing and shoes. Learning that the slaveholders had gone to Harrisburg in search of them, two were concealed at William Wright’s place, and the other two sent for concealment to Joel Wierman, his brother-in-law, two miles distant.

In a day or two while William Wright with the colored men and some workman was at the barn, a party of hunters came up and recognized the two slaves as belonging to one of their numbers. The negroes, apparently giving themselves up, said they had left their coats at the house. William Wright told them to go and get them. One was seen by the family to take his coat hastily from the one of the out-buildings.

Giving them time to get their coats, William Wright and the slave holders walked leisurely to the house. 

Stepping upon the piazza where his wife was seated, he said, giving her a significant and piercing glance, “Phebe, these are Mr. __ and Mr. __ from Maryland and Mr. __ from Pennsylvania. Gentlemen., this is my wife. These gentlemen, be seated.’ Taking from her husband’s look that they were to be entertained and thus delayed for a purpose, Phebe Wright arose in her dignified manner and seconded her husband in his invitation. Her eldest daughter coming to the door she cast at her a glance that told the story. William Wright sent for some fresh water and some cherries that were near by in the dining room…

After three-quarters of an hour thus spent, they arose saying that it was time to proceed to business, and asked William Wright to produce the men. He replied, ‘Oh! that is not my business at all; if they are your slaves, as you assert, you saw them, it was your business to take them.’ In answer to their assertion that he was hiding their slaves, he said: ‘Haven’t I been here all the time? How can I have concealed your slaves? If you have your lawful authority here is the house; search it. I shall not help you, but I can’t prevent you.’

With this they showed their warrants and proceeded to search the house. After this they went through the out-buildings, William Wright saying: ‘I will go with you. You charge me with being responsible for your slaves; this I deny, as they were within your grasp half an hour ago.’ Continuing, he said: ‘Gentlemen, I protest against this whole proceeding and consider the Fugitive Slave Law no law in that it contravenes the law of God. But, you have the withed law of the land on your side. I can’t prevent you.’

This could possibly be some fanciful exaggeration of events, but I admire the character demonstrated by William and Phebe Wright. That is why I chose to share it with you. These people possessed such bravery and selflessness. I can not wait for an opportunity to uncover anything that might connect me with them.

I realized something about myself at the historical society. I may not be a history scholar and I may not have an outstanding college degree, but I love history. I love the people and I love to be able to connect with them through metal detecting. The folks at the historical society were helpful and very knowledgeable, but I could never do that.

My passion for history comes from my ability to touch it and to dig it and hold it in my hand. All the books with pages and pages of data and hard facts… I could do without those. Just give me the narrative. Tell me who these people were. Tell me what they did that defined them. That is what I am after.

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1 Comment on Wright House Narrative

  • jesse says:
    February 27, 2015 at 11:40 am

    history is not what you read in books, but you what you find in looking for history.

    Reply

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