The 1792 John Wright Controversy

Identification of Wrights in early Virginia is difficult. Wright is a fairly common surname, and the names John, William, and Francis were common given names during the 1700s. It was not unusual to find men with the same given and surnames, born about the same time, and living fairly close to one another, who were not related by known marriages or common ancestors. For example, in Lancaster County, Virgina there was Francis Wright who died in 1690 and had sons John, Charles, and Francis. There was Francis Wright who died in 1713 who married Anne Washington and had a son John. There was John wright who died in 1698 who had a son John Wright who died in 1718. In neighboring Westmoreland County, Virginia John Wright who died in 1734 had a son John Wright and grandson Francis Wright, etc., etc. So, it is not surprising that a genealogist might have mis-identified which Wright belonged to a specific family line.

This appears to be the case with John Wright who died in 1792 in Fauquier County, Virginia (hereafter referred to as 1792 John Wright). Charles A. Hoppin, who was commissioned by the McLain family to study their genealogy, published his works in 1932 and assigned 1792 John Wright as the son of John Wright who died in 1729 or 1730 in Stafford County, Virginia (hereafter referred to as 1729/30 John Wright). Mr. Hoppin had previously written two articles in Tyler's Quarterly Historical Genealogical Magazine (1919 and 1923) that identified 1729/30 John Wright as the son of 1713 Francis Wright of Westmoreland County, Virginia and grandson of 1663 Richard Wright, who immigrated from Yorkshire to Northumberland County, Virginia. The link to 1713 Francis Wright was significant because Francis first married Anne Washington which would thereby classify 1729/30 John Wright and his descendants as Washington family descendants. So, for nearly 100 years, families of this line have believed the genealogist who reported that they were Washington descendants. The National Society Colonial Dames XVII Century and the National Society of Washington Family Descendants accepts this assignment as qualifying for membership. To determine otherwise would engender strong emotions and a sense of loss. As with many long-held beliefs, the belief often outweighs contrary facts.

Questions about this particular family line were raised when several researchers compared their work and found a difference in the assignment of William Wright, a son of 1792 John Wright. One identified him as William Wright who died in 1805 in Fauquier County, Virginia, and the other assigned him as William Wright who died in 1809 in Franklin County, Virginia. This discrepancy initiated an intensive review of all extant documents which was performed by Mr. Robert N. Grant. He published his findings in a work titled The Identification Of 1809 William Wright of Franklin County, Virginia, As The Son Of 1792 John Wright Of Fauquier County, Virginia published in 2004. This work, in turn, led to a question about the identification of 1729/30 John Wright. Since existing documents did not answer that question, a Y-DNA project was created as an attempt to determine the correct assignment using a systematic sampling of descendants from these lines. The project involved finding living Wright male descendants from each of the lines, and comparing their Y-DNA patterns to see which matched, or not. To be certain, only those lines with indisputable documentation of their lineage were recruited as participants.

Y-DNA testing is 100% accurate in determining genetic relatedness. To summarize the project simply, if 1792 John Wright was the son of 1729/30 John Wright, the grandson of 1713 Francis Wright, and great grandson of 1663 Richard Wright, then they would all share the same Y-DNA pattern. If descendants of either of the two William Wright lines also matched, it would confirm which William was the son of 1792 John Wright. All living male (Wright) descendants of any of the related lines would also match. Would it be: 1663 Richard >> 1713 Francis >> 1729/30 John >> 1792 John >> 1809 William, or would it be 1663 Richard >> 1713 Francis >> 1729/30 John >> 1792 John >> 1805 William?

Descendants were located and volunteered to provide DNA samples. To date, there are 17 descendants with clearly documented lines to their index ancestor. There were 3 sons of 1792 John Wright, but one of those did not produce male heirs, so testing along that line cannot occur. The two sons whose lines can be tested were: 1809 William Wright of Franklin County, Virginia, and 1789 John Wright of Surry County, Virginia.

There were 3 sons of 1809 William Wright: 1823 James, 1830 William Wright, and 1845 John Wright all of Franklin County, Virginia. There were 2 participants from the 1823 James line, 5 from the 1830 William line, and 1 from the 1845 John line. Click here to see participant diagram.

There were 2 sons of 1789 John Wright: 1838 Daniel Wright of Madison County Alabama, and 1840 Thomas Wright of Surry County, Virginia. There were 3 participants in the 1838 Daniel line and 1 in the 1840 Thomas line.

Among these 12 participants, 10 of them match Y-DNA within accepted genetic genealogy standards. There are two outliers: one participant in the line of 1845 John Wright is a total mis-match from the others (implying he is not related), and one participant, a descendant of 1809 William Wright, has a pattern that falls outside accepted standards; he is also considered a mis-match.

The genetic genealogist faces problems when trying to understand a genetic mis-match. It could be that records were not correctly assigned to the individual. It could also be due to a misattributed paternity (MAP); when someone who is presumed to be an individual's father is not the biological father. A MAP occurs, on average, in about 4% of births. Testing other descendants of 1845 John may help to identify when the genetic mis-match occured.

The mis-match of the one descendant of 1809 William is inexplicable. The results fall within the general haplogroup of the other participants, but the genetic distance of 10 is too great at the 37 marker level to support relatedness. It is possible that this represents another MAP, but perhaps the test should be repeated, or further refined.

What is remarkable about the remaining 10 samples is their consistency. There are 5 participants with exact matches at the 37 to 67 marker level. And, 4 of those 5 represent distinct lines described above. This defines the haplotype pattern -- known as the "modal haplotype" -- of their common ancestor, 1792 John Wright.

1805 William Wright had 7 sons of which 4 have participants in this project: 1835 Edward Wright, 1866 Joseph Wright, and 1853 John Wright all of Coshocton County, Ohio, and Joshua Wright who died after 1850 in Barbour County, West Virginia. There were 2 participants in the line of 1835 Edward Wright and 1 from each of his brothers.

All of these 5 participants match Y-DNA within accepted genetic genealogy standards, thereby establishing the Y-DNA pattern for 1805 William Wright.Click here to see participant diagram. The results show that descendants of 1809 and 1805 William Wright do not match -- they are unrelated. The Y-DNA pattern of 1809 William Wright did match descendants of 1789 John Wright thereby confirming that they were brothers, and sons of 1792 John Wright.

The next step of this project was to determine if 1792 John Wright shared the same haplotype as 1729/30 John Wright and 1713 Francis Wright. By locating other descendants of 1713 Francis Wright, 1663 Richard Wright, or their more distant ancestors, a comparison was made.

There were 2 wives of 1713 Francis Wright, first Anne Washington, and second Martha Cox. Two descendants from the second marriage agreed to participate in the project. In addition, two descendants of 1655 Francis Wright of Yorkshire, England (the father of 1663 Richard Wright), also agreed to participate. The Y-DNA pattern from those 4 participants match each other supporting their relatedness. However, they were totally different from the pattern of 1792 John Wright.Click here to see participant diagram.

Therefore, 1792 John Wright was NOT a descendant of 1713 Francis Wright. This means that there are no identified Wrights who descend from the 1713 Francis Wright and Anne Washington union.

The documentation to confirm the family lineages is detailed in another book by Mr. Robert N. Grant, titled: The Identification of 1792 John Wright of Fauquier County, Virginia As Not the Son of 1729/30 John Wright of Stafford County, Virginia published in 2009.

Jeffrey A. Wright
11 Dec 2017