A Special Fourth of July
As the months rolled along toward summer in 1826, Asahel Wright worked to get his store arranged and fully operational. Along with the work in the fields, it was a busy time
for the Wrights. In this time of transition for Asahel’s family, when everyone was busy creating order in their new home, in the store, and on the farm, the family went through a very sobering
experience. At his sister Elizabeth’s farm three miles south of him in Wayne Township, the Van Cleve family was going through an unspeakably difficult time. William and Elizabeth Van Cleve lost
their infant daughter Amy Louise. Just twelve months old, Amy Louise Van Cleve passed away on June 19, 1826. Unspeakable indeed. It was a time for reliance on Christian fortitude.
In the wake of the adversity within the family, in the following month with the fullness of summer upon them, the citizens of the Miami Valley and the United States took time out from the conventions of daily life to come together in community on the Fourth of July. In the summer of 1826 the celebration of the Fourth was an especially significant event. It was the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Throughout the country there were special events organized to celebrate the milestone anniversary.
In the early years of the nation every Independence Day was a serious and heartfelt event that elicited a special pride among the people who had helped to build the nation and the families who shared in it with them. In small towns and cities across the country the high point of every celebration was a reading of the words of the founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence. In the crowds gathered around the numerous court houses across the twenty-four states, there were always veterans who had as young men stepped forward to take a stand for the ideals contained in that document. As their numbers were dwindling, those remaining took a unique sense of pride in the visible results around them of the stand they took fifty years earlier.
There were numerous special events organized around the country in 1826. In New York gold medals were struck by the Common Council and sent to the three surviving signers of the Declaration of Independence. In Newport, Rhode, Island Major John Handy read the Declaration of Independence from the identical spot where he had read it to the townspeople fifty years earlier, when it was read as a notice of the bold action taken by their representatives in Philadelphia. In Wooster, Massachusetts at the South Meeting House, Isaiah Thomas stood to read the Declaration of Independence from the same spot where he had read it
A Special Fourth of July
in 1776. In Arlington, Virginia, the tent which General Washington used during the Battle of Dorchester Heights in 1775 was erected along the Potomac River as the centerpiece for the celebration
there. In Saratoga County, New York, the citizenry and a band of veterans gathered to celebrate the Fourth on the field where the British under General Burgoyne surrendered in October of
Dan Wright, Sr. was a part of the Revolutionary force that drove General Burgoyne and his troops to surrender up in New York State. While many of his contemporaries were gathering up in New York to commemorate the Battle of Saratoga, Dan Wright, Sr., veteran of the Connecticut Militia, celebrated out on the frontier of the country with his family and friends in Ohio. On Tuesday morning down in Dayton the bell which Daniel Cooper carried across town in 1818 was pealing its call to the townspeople to gather at the river. The annual ritual of marching from the river to the courthouse for speeches, military salutes, and revelry was especially inspirational and spirited on the fiftieth anniversary. The games, the contests, the big dinner, and the dancing were all a little grander in 1826 and the revelry ran well into the night.
In the days immediately after the Fourth of July celebrations, melancholy news traveled throughout the country via the nation’s newspapers. It was news of the striking loss of two giants of the Revolution. On the Fourth of July, fifty years to the day after they had signed the Declaration of Independence, both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams passed away in their homes. John Adams had lived to see his son John Quincy Adams become the sixth president of the United States and to see the country through its first half century. Thomas Jefferson in late June had written a letter to the committee organizing the anniversary celebration in Washington D.C., declining an invitation to come to Washington due to his poor health. It was the last letter Jefferson ever wrote. In it he said of the Declaration of Independence:
May it be to the world, what I believe it will be…the signal of arousing men to burst the chains….and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form, which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man…For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.
A Special Fourth of July
The country would move forward without the last of the great patriarchs who gave life to the young nation. It was in this air of patriotic fervor and melancholy rolling across
the country that the summer of 1826 unfolded. In Bethel Township, Miami County, Ohio Asahel Wright and his family were adjusting to their new home and neighborhood within the aura of the
heightened sense of nationalism and community that had weld up across the country.
In the fall of the year, Asahel Wright had settled into Bethel Township and he completed the transactions that would fulfill his agreement with Felix Hoover for purchase of the farm. On October 19 his father Dan Sr. transferred the twenty-five acre farm at present day McEwen Road and Centerville Miamisburg Road into Asahel’s name. The next day Asahel turned around and signed it over to Felix Hoover. In the same indenture Asahel also signed over to Hoover the remaining ten acres of woodland he held in section 36 west of Centerville (see map on Pg. 619). With these transactions completed Dan Wright, Sr., his wife Sarah, and their granddaughter Eliza Wright, Porter’s daughter, left the Washington Township farm and joined Asahel’s family on the farm in Bethel Township. Asahel had a separate cabin on the farm for his parents where they would live the remainder of their lives. Eliza Wright, then fifteen, would continue to live with her grandparents on the farm.
All the family was settled into their new environs by late autumn. At the end of the year Asahel Wright took pen in hand and wrote the first of a series of letters that were to come out of Bethel Township over the next several decades to his brother Dan Wright, Jr. in Indiana. Asahel wrote of the changes in his life and of his new location along the potential course of the National Road. He also mentioned the recent actions of Congress that year which gave some degree of permanence to the course of the National Road, and yet he noted a caveat that left the route not completely fixed. The people of Dayton were pursuing an act in Congress to have the road rerouted from Springfield down through Dayton. It was a caveat that in the years to come would draw out the completion of the road through Ohio.
Miami County, Ohio
I write to inform you that we are all in good health. I understand that Porter wrote to you lately and suppose he informed you that we had changed our place of residence. I moved into this neighborhood last April and commenced keeping store. Last October to the mutual satisfaction of all parties I exchanged the farm near Centerville with a
A Special Fourth of July
Mr. Felix Hoover, for the one where I am now. It is on the state road leading from Dayton to Troy on the east side of the river about ten miles from Dayton, and eleven miles from Troy, and eight
miles from any other town. Mr. Reeder will probably know the place. It was once occupied by Ralph French as a tavern stand. I am to pay five hundred dollars in three years from the time I
I had previously sold twenty acres of the woodland without interest. The National Road through Columbus and Indianapolis has been permanently located this fall where it will go unless altered by an act of congress which the Daytonites are trying to get done so as to have it through their town. It runs within about twenty five feet of my north line where it crosses the state road. Doctor Stone has bought farm adjoining north through which the road is laid and agrees to let me have half or a whole acre in the corner to bring me to the National Road, should it be made, at ten and a half dollars per acre.
Father and mother moved here about the fifteenth of November. They have a house by themselves. William Van Cleve is in a bad state of health, but better than he was a year ago. Your Aunt Mary McLane was married a few weeks ago to a man by the name of Sweany. We did expect you in last fall, we are very anxious to see you and hope you will come as soon as you can possibly make it, consistent with the situation of your family and other affairs. Do not fail to write often at any rate. Direct yours to: A-W-P.M. Wright Store Miami County, Ohio, and they will come free of postage.
Perhaps you may wish to know what kind of improvements are on the place that I have got. There is a two story hewed log house – 24 feet by 20, shingled roof, porch on each side – A hewed cabin, a log barn with a shingle roof 60 feet by 20 – 60 acres cleared and well fenced, An orchard of 120 good size apple trees and plenty of peach and cherry trees, a large spring of never failing water near the house. A good smoke house and corn crib besides. Try to come and see how you like it and if you could sell to good advantage I think you might better yourself by buying in this neighborhood. We all wish to be remembered to Catherine, I have not time or room to add more than, with sincerity to subscribe myself your affectionate brother.
Dan Wright Jr.
“Your Aunt Mary McLane” referred to in the letter above was Mary Van Cleve, the sister of William and Benjamin, who entered the settlement of Dayton with her family as a nine-year-old child in 1796. Mary’s husband John McLain whom she married in June of 1803 had passed away in June of 1825. Mary was Dan Jr.’s wife Catherine’s aunt, and the sister of Catherine’s mother Margaret. Catherine would pass on
A Special Fourth of July
the news to her mother who lived a mile and a half up the road from their Rush County, Indiana farm (see map on pg. 623).
The Wright family’s move into Bethel Township in 1826 established a long running connection to the area which would be a part of family reunions and visits well into the next century. In Asahel’s letter to his brother Dan he wrote, “We did expect you in last fall, we are very anxious to see you and hope you will come as soon as you can possibly make it”. It is one of numerous references in his letters over the years that indicate that the existing letters are not a complete barometer of the level of communication and interaction between the Bethel and Indiana Wright families. The notation indicates that some earlier communication had led Asahel to believe Dan Jr. would be visiting. It would be a constant refrain in Asahel’s letters from Bethel Township over the years. He was always encouraging his brother to visit, even suggesting that Dan Jr. consider moving to the Bethel area. With the core of the family who remained in Ohio eventually all winding up in Bethel Township, the concentration of family there would generate periodic visits back to Ohio by Dan Jr. and his family over the coming decades.