This information is part of the Champaign County ILGenWeb Project. If you have reached this site by means other than The USGenWeb Project, The ILGenWeb Project, or directly, please visit the main Champaign Co, ILGenWeb site for more information regarding Champaign County, IL ancestors. Information contained here was transcribed by Judy Simpson. Please do not repost this information without the express written permission of Celia Snyder.

Champaign County, Illinois

Biography of James S. Wright

SOURCE: "History of Champaign County, Illinois with Illustrations," 1878


JAMES S. WRIGHT was born in Highland county, Ohio, Aug. 4th, 1816. His father, John B. WRIGHT, who was a native of Frederick county, Va., about the year 1800, married Miss Elizabeth STEVENS, of German descent, and by whom he had nine children, five of whom are yet living. In company with others he dropped down the Ohio river and settled in Highland county, Ohio, during which time James S. was born, but remained here but a short time, as the same year he removed with his family to Randolph, Ind., and purchased a piece of ground upon which now stands Winchester, the county seat. In the fall of 1830, Mr. Wright removed with his family to this county and settled in Homer, which however at that early date was known as Vermilion county.

Mr. Wright was a man of prominence and influence in local politics and a person of no small ability, as appears from the fact that from 1820 to 1824 while a resident of Indiana he was selected by his fellow-citizens to represent the district in the Legislature that assembled at Corydon.

In his religious views he was a Quaker, to which denomination he belonged at the time of his death, which occurred in 1872, at his residence near Homer at the advanced age of 84 years. The grandfather, John Wright, was, as also his father before him, a native of Frederick county, Va., the land of presidents.

Mr. James S. Wright's boyhood days were passed at home on the old homestead cultivating its paternal acres during the summer, and attending the common school during winter. At the age of eighteen years, 1835, he attended school at Georgetown, but a short time, for in 1836 hearing of the building of the Illinois and Michigan canal, and that they were paying one dollar per day he went to Joliet and worked a summer, and in the winter returned home and with the money thus earned bought forty acres of land north of Homer, for $50.

As he had not yet attained his majority he hired, a man at $10 per month to take his place on his father's farm, and engaged himself to M. D. Coffeen as clerk for $12 per month, with whom he remained five years.

The 19th day of November, 1840, witnessed the marriage of James S. Wright to Miss Catherine LANDER, of Bourbon county, Ken. In Miss Lander's veins flowed commingled Irish and German blood. The birth of eight children strengthen and commemorate that union. Of those eight only four survive, one boy and three girls.

The year after, in 1841, a co-operative trade system was organized by which the people could ship their goods and produce direct to New Orleans, and receive such things in exchange as they needed. This onerous and delicate part of the work fell upon Mr. Wright, who, owing to his peculiar fitness and adaptation, was placed in charge of the business, and to which he gave his attention for three years, visiting New Orleans in the interests of the company, exchanging their commodities, for such as the home market demanded, and keeping the run of the business in its detail as between the members and company.

In 1845 he opened a store of general merchandise in Homer, in which business he continued until the fall of 1855, when he located in Champaign city. In 1857 he was elected county surveyor, but soon after again resumed his old place behind the counter selling goods, at which he continued for several years, and then went into the real estate business.

During this time he in connection with Prof. James, a Methodist preacher, and Dr. Scroggs, was deeply interested in building the Seminary between the two towns, and which subsequently formed the nucleus around which all the friends favorable to having the present school located here rallied. It proved to be the chrysalis that subsequently developed into the present imposing and valuable institution, the Illinois Industrial University, now in our midst, and of which Champaign county may well be proud. And to Mr. Wright and partners is this success mainly due. The war of 1861 came, and Mr. Wright was appointed Deputy Provost Marshal of the 7th district, with headquarters at Danville. One year later he was appointed commander of Board of Enrollment, which position he held until the necessity that created it ceased. In 1865 together with other capitalists he organized the First National Bank of Champaign city, of which he was appointed cashier for three years, a position he filled with great credit to himself and acceptably to those whose servant he was.

Mr. Wright is a man of deep political convictions. He was formerly a whig, voted for old Tippecanoe in 1840, and ever after adhered steadily to that party until the organization of the Republican, since which time up to the present he has followed its fortunes.

In 1846 Mr. Wright, as a candidate, and against Col. M. W. Busey, entered the political arena for Legislative honors, and in the race that followed carried off the prize.

Mr. Wright is attached to no church organization, subscribes to none of their formulated creeds, but believes in the golden rule, us you would that others do to you, do you even so to them, and thinks in this short creed is contained the true essence of Christianity. His wife is a member of the Presbyterian church.

James C., his son, during the late war joined the three months' men first called out, and at the expiration of the term of enlistment entered the Quartermaster Department, Department of the Mississippi, W. D. Armstrong Quartermaster General, and was stationed at New Orleans, and was also with the Freedmen's Bureau, and was altogether seven years in the service retiring in 1868.

James S. Wright, Esq., the most prominent facts in whose life we have endeavored to gather up in the foregoing sketch and arrange in chronological order, is one of Champaign county's oldest and best-known citizens, one of its early pioneers having been a resident of the county ever since 1830. He is also one of its most prominent business men, wide awake, always on the alert, and closely identified with all its material and leading interests. An excellent financier, a man of varied experience, of excellent judgment and executive ability, as the success attending him in all the different and important trusts committed to him, give ample evidence.

But it would be superfluous in us to any anything more than what is legitimately expected of us and the nature of this work demands, and we will therefore leave Mr. Wright in the hands of his friends, who are already more fully informed in regard to the merits of the old Pioneer than ourselves.

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