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Thomas Wright, 1365 to ?

The first person we can say with some surety was an ancestor of the Wright brothers was Thomas Wright, born in Essex County, England in 1365. It was during the reign of King Edward III (1327 to 1377); the Hundred Years War with France was an on-again-off-again affair that drained England’s blood and treasure; and the country was still recovering from the Black Death which had killed half the population in 1348. During Thomas’s lifetime, spoons came into common use and Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales. We know very little about Thomas’s personal history. We haven’t yet discovered the name of his wife, how many children they had, and when he passed away. We don’t even know with certainty that his name was Thomas; in some documents he is referred to simply as “Father.” However, we do know that he had at least one son, also called Thomas Wright, born in 1396.

Thomas Wright, 1396 to 1492

Thomas Wright was born in White Notley, Essex County, England in 1396. He became the lord of the manor in which he was born and was later “ennobled,” that is, made a member of the peerage and given a noble title by the king, possibly Henry V (1413 to 1422) or Henry VI.(1422 to 1461). In Thomas’s time, land was inherited but titles were not; they were conferred by the king, usually based on the amount of land a person controlled. During Thomas’s long life (he lived to the unusually old age of 96) the fortunes of England waxed and waned. Under Henry V, the English crown gained control of France, but his son Henry VI failed to consolidate these holdings and the two nations drifted apart again. Sometime before 1424, Thomas married Agnes Hunt of Gosfield in Essex County, and the two of them moved to Upminster, on the northeast outskirts of London. They had at least one son, Henry Wright, born in 1424. Both Thomas and Agnes passed away in 1492, just as America was being discovered.

Reverend Henry Wright, 1424 to ?

Henry Wright was born in 1424 in Upminster, Essex County, England. He joined the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church at Upminster and took the title “Reverend,” although he was not a priest. He probably served as a deacon or in another lay position. The first English civil war – the War of the Roses – broke out in 1455 and during Henry’s lifetime, the throne of England passed to three separate families, the Houses of Lancaster, York, and Tudor. It was also during his lifetime, in 1477, that the first book was printed in England. He married Anna Whitbread sometime before 1450 and the two of them moved to Dagenham, slightly west of Upminster and nearer to London. Henry and Anna had six children: John, William, Richard, Henry, Thomas, and Katherine. Note that the five boys bore the same names as John Wryta’s five sons in 1066. It’s not known whether Henry and Anna chose these names because of family tradition or because they wanted to advertise that the family was Norman in origin. Although it was 400 years since England had been conquered, there was still definite division between the old Vikings (the Saxons) and the new Vikings (the Normans), with the Normans – the landowners – very definitely on top.

Rev. Sir John Wright, circa 1450 to 1509

Henry’ son John was born about 1450 in Dagenham, Essex County, England. Like his father, he was a cleric at Upminster and an “avowdson” of the church, having the right to nominate and appoint clerical staff. He married Agnes about 1480. Her surname is not known for certain; it may have been Kelvedon, but she also may have been Agnes of Kelvedon. John and Agnes had at least one child, also named John Wright, about 1485. There may have been other children; documents mention Edmund, James, Thomas, Nicholas, Fridewold, and Johane Wright, all from the same region during the same period. One or more of these could have been the sons or daughters of John and Agnes, but the records are not clear. The records do show, however, that John was both successful and prosperous. He earned a reputation as a theologian and was knighted, possibly for his work in theology. He might also have earned his knighthood in the War of the Roses; he was in his twenties when the House of York deposed Lancaster in 1471 and Edward IV (1461-70, 1471-83) took the throne for a second time. He wore the title Reverend Sir John Wright and whatever the source of his title and position, it provided enough money to acquire more land, including Hoo Hall Manor near to where his grandfather Thomas had been born. He and Agnes moved sometime during their marriage, settling in Kelvedon Hatch where John died in 1509, just as Henry VIII (1509 to 1547) came to the throne.

Victims of the Black Death recently discovered in London. The plague was so devastating that the genetic diversity of Britain is still less than it was in 1300 CE.

The opening page of the first English best-seller, Canterbury Tales. Courtesy the British Library.

York soldiers storm London in 1471 during the War of the Roses. Lancaster defenders rally to break the siege.

William Caxton, England's first printer and publisher, shows his first book to King Edward IV in 1477.

In 1497, Henry VIII commissioned John Cabot, a Venetian merchant, to sail west to the Orient. Cabot landed in Newfoundland instead -- this was England's first exploration of the New World.
More Sources

The Dayton and Montgomery County Library -- If you'd like to know more about the Wright family, or research other branches of the family tree, you will find extensive genealogical data here.

Ohio, Home of the Wright Brothers is a genealogical chronicle of the Wrights and four other families, all ancestors of the Wright brothers. It traces these families as they settle Ohio and Indiana. painting Wilbur and Orville as the sons of pioneers and revolutionaries who built an energetic, forward-looking civilization founded on technology and democracy.

Ohio, Home of the Wright Brothers is the history of the Wright family in America, particularly their settlement of Ohio. Click the cover to read sample chapters.

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