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Wright, Susanna (1697–1784)

Wright, Susanna (1697–1784)

American colonial writer and poet . Born in Manchester, England, on August 4, 1697; died in Columbia, Pennsylvania, on December 1, 1784; daughter of John Wright and Patience (Gibson) Wright; educated in England.

The Quaker writer Susanna Wright was born in Manchester, England, in 1697, one of six children of Patience Gibson Wright and John Wright, a Quaker minister and bodice-maker. Hoping to find prosperity in the English colonies in the New World, in 1714 John took his family to Chester, Pennsylvania, and set himself up as a shopkeeper. After her mother's death in 1722, Susanna managed her father's household; five years later, the Wrights moved to Hempfield on the banks of the Susquehanna River, where John became a successful ferryman. Because his ferry (two canoes tied together) forded the most important river crossing into what was then the midwest, the Wrights' home became a retreat for officials, travelers, traders, and pioneers. Over the course of her 20 years heading the family at Wright's Ferry (later the town of Columbia), Susanna Wright became known as a genteel and gracious host.

In 1745, Susanna Wright was bequeathed land and a house by the settler Samuel Blunston. The exact nature of Wright's relationship to Blunston is not clear, nor is why she never married, but it seems probable that she and Blunston had had a love affair. She moved to the house and took in her brother James and his family.

Settled in her own homestead, Wright became an intellectual and artist while at the same time managing a frontier home and establishing a successful silk farm. She served her community as a scribe, writing wills, indentures, and deeds for her illiterate neighbors. Highly respected, Wright became an informal arbitrator and notary as she settled disputes between local settlers. She also acted as a doctor and pharmacist for her neighbors on the colonial frontier, where professional doctors were scarce.

Well educated, fluent in French and Italian, and interested in philosophy, poetry, and science, Wright established friendships with other colonial intellectuals. These included James Logan, Benjamin Franklin, and Charles and Isaac Morris, who supplied her with the latest books and journals for what she termed her "large and well-chosen library." She was celebrated as a witty conversationalist who could discuss poetry and natural philosophy with ease and grace. She also drew and wrote verse, though few examples of her work survive. Wright's intelligence and vivacity earned her numerous friends and supporters, and in her final years many visited the "celebrated Susanna Wright." She died in 1784, at age 88, in Columbia.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California

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