Biographical Sketch On The Life
Of Jacob Wright
Although the son of one of the
pioneers sketched in this volume, Elder Jacob Wright is entitled to a
place among the first advocates of the Reformation in Indiana. He was
born October the 9th, 1809, near Charlestown, Clarke's Grant, Indiana
Early in the Spring of 1810, his father,
John Wright, removed to a point on Blue River four miles south of Salem, in the
present county of Washington, though then within the limits of Harrison. He
recollects distinctly when Salem was laid out by his father and the other county
commissioners. Probably it received its name—city of peace—from Elder John
Wright, the great advocate of peace among all the children of God. Among his
earliest recollections are the thrilling incidents that occurred while his
parents and their neighbors were shut up in forts to escape the tomahawks of the
Owing, therefore, to the circumstances
surrounding him, in early life, his education was only on a par with that of
other pioneers who grew up in the Western wilds. His father, realizing in his
ministry the want of mental culture, did all in his power to improve the minds
of his sons; but Jacob, with the rest, acquired only a superficial knowledge of
the lower branches of an English education. His spiritual training was carefully
superintended, especially by his pious mother, whose holy life was a potent
argument in favor of Christianity. But being of a lively and rather forward
disposition, no deep impressions of a religious character seem to have been made
on his mind in childhood or youth.
At a very early age he was married to
Miss Sarah Sheets, after which event he put away many youthful follies and
became more sober-minded. From this state of mind the transition was easy and
rapid to a state of religious anxiety which induced him to attend the meetings
and listen to the teachings of the several denominations. In so doing he well
nigh made shipwreck of his faith on the fatal rock of doctrinal diversity.
He had been taught that it was the part
of charity to believe all men sincere in their religious views and candid in the
statement of their respective experiences. Therefore his confidence in religion
was severely shaken when he heard men earnestly endeavoring to inculcate
doctrines as opposite as the poles, and all, at the same time, claiming to be
directly called and specially qualified by the Holy Spirit. He could not believe
that the Spirit of God inspired such contradictory doctrines; therefore he
concluded that those who honestly professed to have been specially called and
qualified, were the victims of a delusion; and if they were, so, perhaps, were
When witnesses in earthly courts have
already contradicted each other times without number, their testimony is good
for nothing when they chance to agree upon a single point. So when these
opposing sectaries agreed in witnessing the blessing to be obtained at the
"anxious seat," Elder Wright believed them not, and consequently resisted all
the tearful entreaties of his friends, who would fain have seen him at that
place of prayer. The religious leaders in those days did not seem to think that
the sinner's path of duty terminated at the "mourner's bench;" but at
that point it became so obscure that it could scarcely be discerned even by the
spiritualized eye of the called-and-sent preacher. In allusion to this fact
Elder Wright is wont to say, in his plain style: "The preachers wanted us
sinners to do something in order to be saved; but neither they nor we could ever
clearly understand what that 'something' was." But for these difficulties he
would, no doubt, have obeyed the gospel long before he did; and it is probable
that he never would have obeyed it had not those dark places been illuminated by
the dawning light of the Reformation.
Finally, however, he heard some
enlightened preacher observe that "man's duty is simple and may be narrowed down
to two points, faith and obedience. This remark directed his mind to something
tangible; and it was not long until both he and his wife were immersed, in
humble submission to the will of the Lord.
They united at once with the congregation
of Free-will Baptists at Blue River, which church had been organized by his
father on the apostolic foundation, and which, with all the surrounding Baptist
churches, came into the Reformation at the time of the great union effected soon
after between them and the Reformed Silver Creek Association.
He immediately began to take part in the
meetings for public worship; and in a short time it was whispered about that he
ought to preach the gospel. But to this he was firmly opposed; for his father's
experience had taught him that the minister's life is one of severe trial.
While this matter was pending, he met
with a severe affliction in the loss of his wife. She died of consumption in the
Summer of 1832.
Humbled by this sad dispensation of
Providence, and seeing the fields on every hand "ripe for the harvest," he
yielded to the importunities of his friends, and resolved to devote his life to
the service of the Lord. On the third Sunday in August, 1832, he was ordained to
the work of the ministry.
He was at that time in feeble health, and
was thought to he in the first stage of consumption; but he continued to preach
the word with all the energy he could command, his labors being crowned with
some success, and his health being finally restored.
On the last day of March, 1833, he was
married the second time, to Rachel Denny, who has been, and still is, a faithful
helpmeet in the gospel.
In May, 1834, he removed to Martinsburg,
where he entered into the cabinet business His cabinet shop was also, per
necessity, his theological seminary. He used to keep a Bible on his work-bench;
and while resting be would read a few verses on which to reflect while he plied
his tools. In this way he acquired much of that thorough knowledge of the
Scriptures, for which he is now noted.
While prosecuting his worldly business he
did not neglect the "great salvation." From the very first, his Sundays were
regularly employed in the Master's service; and each succeeding year the area of
his operations was enlarged, his influence increasing in a direct ratio.
During a portion of the year 1838, he
preached monthly for the congregation at Coffee Creek; and through his efficient
labors the church increased from forty to over one hundred members. In the year
1839 he immersed about five hundred persons, and about four hundred the year
following. Not all of these, however, were enlisted under his preaching alone;
for he travelled much in company with his father, Jesse Mavity, Mordecai Cole,
and the Littells—John T. and Absalom.
Among other important achievements of the
year 1839 was the organization of the churches at Driftwood and
Brownstown—churches which still continue to enlarge their borders, and through
the instrumentality of which, many a "mouldering heap," in the cemeteries hard
by, will give up its inmate at the first resurrection.
These years—from 1838 to 1840—were the
most successful of his whole ministry.
At the close of this period his
usefulness as a preacher was seriously impaired, and for a while entirely
destroyed, by his becoming entangled in the affairs of this life. By close
economy and hard labor in his cabinet shop he soon acquired considerable means,
which he invested in a steam flouring mill. In this enterprise he had a partner
to whom he entrusted the management of the business, while he, for the most
part, gave himself to the word. Under this arrangement the firm became involved
in debts; and the great financial crisis of 1840 coming upon them, in that
situation, rendered them completely bankrupt.
Up to that time his preaching had been
almost gratuitous, having received only about fifty dollars during the
last six years of his ministry. He, therefore, had no reason to look in
that direction for pecuniary aid.
Under these circumstances, and in view of
the commandment to "provide things honest in the sight of all men," he
determined to quit preaching, and labor with his hands, at least until he could
pay off all his debts. Accordingly he went to work as a house-carpenter, and by
extraordinary exertions was fast liquidating the claims against him.
But the brethren, especially those of
Jackson county, were unwilling for him to abandon the evangelical field. They
held that such a course on his part would either produce the impression that his
faith had been shaken, or reflect upon his brethren for not giving a more
liberal support to one who had made so many sacrifices and manifested so much
zeal in the work. Therefore the churches at Driftwood, Brownstown, Pea Ridge,
and Indiana Creek, met "in co-operation," and agreed that if he would resume the
preaching of the word, as evangelist of Jackson county, they would remunerate
him sufficiently to enable him to continue the payment of his debts. To this
agreement he became a party; and since that time—October, 1841—he has been
(save one year) continually before the public as a minister of the gospel.
From his journal of proceedings for the
year 1842 it is ascertained that he preached for the four churches above-named,
and also at Friendship, Leesville, and Leatherwood, in Lawrence; Coffee Creek
and Paris, in Jennings; Sand Creek and Columbus, in Bartholomew; Harrodsburgh,
in Monroe; and Canton, in Washington county. The record also reveals the fact
that during the year two hundred and seventy-eight persons were added to these
He continued his labors in Jackson until
the Fall of 1844, during which time the disciples in that county were greatly
multiplied. At other points also he held important meetings, among which was one
at Mill Creek, in Washington county, where fifty-five were added under his
His health failing in the Fall of 1844,
he removed to Salem, where he was employed during the year 1845 as a clerk in
the dry-goods establishment of J. B. Berkey.
When he entered the ministry the second
time in 1841, he determined to seek some further scholastic attainments—at least
to acquire the art of using with propriety the English language. Therefore when
he engaged to preach for the churches in Jackson county, he also made
arrangements to spend a portion of his time in a school taught by a brother
Richard Fisher. His main study was Kirkham's Grammar, with which he became quite
familiar. He also acquired some further knowledge of the subject by attending
the lectures of Dr. H. T. N. Benedict, of Bloomington, who was traversing the
country as a teacher of the English language.
Subsequently he fell in with a brother
Newton Short, by whom he was induced to begin the study of Greek. In order to
encourage him, his patron gave him a Greek Testament, grammar, and lexicon, and
also taught him the alphabet. After this humble beginning he continued for two
or three years to wrestle with the declension of nouns and adjectives, and to
grope his way slowly through the labyrinth of the verb. He obtained all the
information he could from every scholar he chanced to meet; and aside from this
he had no assistance until he removed to Salem in 1844. There he placed himself
for a few months under the instruction of Prof. John I. Morrison, formerly of
the State University; and by this means he was enabled to read the original text
with tolerable proficiency.
Only a few years ago he began the study
of Hebrew, which subject, like the Greek, has been pursued under many
difficulties and mainly without a master. He does not profess to be proficient
in either language, but he has learned a sufficiency of both to be able by means
of his lexicons to determine in most cases the true meaning of the Scriptures.
Thus it appears that he has pursued an irregular course—not thorough by any
means, but surpassing in length even the curriculum of the German Universities!
On the first of January, 1846, he resumed
his labors in the ministry, engaging to preach for the churches at Greensburg,
Milford, Clifty, and Clarksburg, in Decatur county. These congregations he found
in a weak, lukewarm condition; but at the end of two years he left them
zealous, prosperous, and happy. While employed in Decatur he also reached over
into Franklin county, where he organized a church of some forty members. This
was in a community previously under the influence of the United Brethren,
several of whom entered into the new organization.
In the Spring of 1848 he commenced
preaching monthly for the churches at Salem, and New Washington, Clarke county,
reserving the remainder of his time for holding protracted meetings at various
points. For the space of three years he successfully served the church at New
Washington. With the exception of one year he has preached one-fourth of his
time at Salem since 1848. During this long period the church has passed through
many vicissitudes, has experienced many expansions and contractions; but it
still listens with unabated interest to the instructions of its long-tried
In March, 1851, he held a meeting, in New
Albany, which resulted in several additions, and gave such satisfaction to the
congregation that they employed him to visit them once a month for one year.
During the next year he preached for them three-fourths of his time, and half
his time during the year following. In the three years about one hundred and
twenty-five were added to the congregation, which was otherwise greatly
In the meantime he also organized a new
church at Georgia, on the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad. This was composed
largely of those who had formerly been Baptists.
During the years 1855-56 he served the
churches at Milroy, in Rush, and Clifty, in Decatur county.
In November, 1858, he returned to his old
field of labor at Driftwood, where he has since continued to preach once a month
Through his zealous ministry nearly the whole community have been converted to
the faith of the gospel.
About this time a rather remarkable
meeting took place at Courtland, Jackson county. The Methodists, Baptists, and
Disciples of that locality had united their means and erected a union
meeting-house. All parties claiming a share in the dedication, Elder Wright was
invited to represent the Christian element on that occasion. Arriving at the
appointed time, and finding that the building would not be completed for several
days, he determined to have a few valedictory exercises in the old house of
worship. He accordingly delivered four discourses on the subject of Christian
Union, at the conclusion of which one of the class-leaders arose and expressed
his determination to embrace the Reformation. He paused long enough, however, to
deliver a powerful exhortation to the members of his class, about twenty of
whom—all but one or two—took their stand with him on the Bible alone. Thus,
while the workmen were finishing the union house, Elder Wright, as a workman
that needeth not to be ashamed, was preparing a united people to occupy it!
Through the increased moral power resulting from this more perfect union, not
less than forty or fifty others were brought into the heavenly family before the
close of the meeting.
But it is not designed to enumerate even
a tithe of the meetings which he has held with signal advantage to the cause of
reform; and perhaps those already referred to are sufficient to illustrate, with
justice to himself, the manner in which he has been employed, and the success
that has attended his efforts for the last thirty years. A line indicating all
his travels would pass through, at least, the counties of Decatur, Rush,
Franklin, Bartholomew, Jennings, Johnson, Morgan, Monroe, Owen, Lawrence,
Jackson, Martin, Washington, Jefferson, Floyd, Greene, Davis, Sullivan, Clark,
Scott, Orange, and Harrison. Indeed, his field has embraced almost the whole of
southern or southeastern Indiana, which district he has traversed again and
again; for it has been his custom not only to plant, but also to revisit and
confirm. He has organized many new churches, set up many altars that had fallen
down, and, from the data at hand, the number of his proselytes cannot be much
less than five thousand.
But Elder Wright has rendered important
services in another department. He is emphatically "His disputer"—if not "of
this world," at least of the State of Indiana. It is as a debater that he has
especially distinguished himself, though he was a weak opponent in the
beginning. In a brief sketch like this, his numerous discussions cannot be dwelt
upon; but justice demands that they shall, at least, be enumerated as follows:
1. His first was with a Methodist
preacher by the name of John Bailes. It occurred at Martinsburg, about the year
2. His next debate, which was on slavery,
also took place at Martinsburg, in 1836. His opponent was one Dr. Suggs, an
Englishman, who is said to have had a liberal share of the braggart spirit for
which his countrymen are remarkable. In this respect Elder Wright was also fully
up to the American standard; and conscious of Yankee superiority and the justice
of his cause, he accepted the disadvantage of affirming a negative, viz., that
"American slavery is not according to the revealed will of God." This he was
compelled to do, or be reproached with "backing out;" for the Doctor, with
genuine English obstinacy, insisted upon the proposition in that form as a sine
qua non. The moderators decided in favor of freedom.
3. At the same place and within the same
year, he had a sharp engagement with a Mormon apostle, by the name of Emmet.
4. His next collision with one of the
contrary part was at Brownstown, Jackson county, in 1839. It was an
insignificant, extempore affair, in which he was opposed by the Rev. Philip May,
of the M. E. Church.
5. This was followed by a regular
discussion with a Methodist preacher by the name of Walker. The subjects
discussed were, "The Influence of the Holy Spirit in Conversion and
Sanctification," "Infant Baptism," and "Immersion." The debate began at
Leesville, Lawrence county, August 1st, 1842, and continued three days. Before
leaving the ground, Elder Wright immersed twenty-two; and before the approach of
Winter he immersed more than one hundred and fifty in that immediate vicinity.
6th. On the 27th of June, 1843, he met
Erasmus Manford, the Universalist editor, in a discussion which took place at
Columbus. On this occasion, his antagonist had the advantage of him in education
and experience; and it is the part of candor to express the opinion that the
result was against him.
7. In the Spring of 1846, and near
Clarksburg, Decatur county, he had a sharp but irregular contest with the Rev.
Williamson Terrell, a Methodist itinerant. The substance of this debate, with
the causes that led to it, has since been published by Elder Wright, in a
pamphlet of sixty-six pages.
8. In October, 1848, he debated five days
with Mr. Foster, (Universalist,) at New Washington, Clark county. This time he
was more successful than in his former discussion of' Universalism. At the close
he immersed about fifty persons; and it is said that "the final holiness and
happiness of all mankind" was not again preached in that place for several
9. His ninth engagement was at Salem, in
1850, with a travelling phrenologist, who, in harmony with that whole race, was
inculcating infidel sentiments.
10. From the 2d to the 10th of August,
1859, he debated, at Palmyra, with Dr. E. E. Rose, (Methodist,) on the following
ten propositions :
First. Does the Holy Spirit ever operate,
in the conviction, conversion, or sanctification of a person, apart from the
revealed or written word of God? Affirmative, Rose
Second. Did the baptism of the Holy
Spirit cease with the death of the apostles? Affirmative, Wright.
Third. Has the Church been one and the
same under both the Old and New Testaments, and children of believing parents
entitled to membership and baptism therein? Affirmative, Rose.
Fourth. Is immersion the one only
apostolic baptism?Affirmative, Wright.
Fifth. Is sprinkling or pouring apostolic
baptism? Affirmative, Rose.
Sixth. Is immersion a necessary condition
of justification or pardon? Affirmative, Wright.
Seventh. Is the Methodist Episcopal
Church, as such, a part of the Church of Christ? Affirmative, Rose.
Eighth. Is the Church of Christ, which is
frequently called "Campbellite," in its organization and form of government, the
Church of Christ? Affirmative, Wright.
Ninth. No church or council has a right
to make a discipline or creed for the government of the Church of Christ.
Tenth. Is it the will of God that all
Christians should be visibly united in one body? Affirmative, Wright.
11. In 1860 he again debated with Dr.
Rose, at Worthington, Greene county. The propositions were almost the very same.
12. In November of the same year he had a
discussion with Nathan Hornaday, at North Salem, Hendricks county, on the
First. Has the kingdom of God, spoken of
by Daniel, ii. 44, been set up or organized? Affirmative, Wright.
Second. Does the soul of man survive the
death of the body, and remain conscious after the death of the body?
Third. Do the Scriptures teach that the
"everlasting punishment" of the finally impenitent will be utter extinction?
13. His last public debate, in which he
was opposed by Rev. T. S. Brooks, (Methodist,) began August 1st, 1861, and
continued seven days.
Thus ends the long chapter of his public
discussions, which, in connection with what precedes it, will exhibit to the
reader the part which Elder Wright has performed in the current Reformation. For
thirty years he has endured "hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ;" and,
through the kindness of the Heavenly Father, he still stands upon the walls of
Zion, clad in the full armor of God, and brandishing with a strong arm "the
sword of the Spirit."
Elder Wright is a small, sinewy man,
black-haired, black-eyed, and of a rubicund complexion. His form, his features,
his dress, his gait—every thing about him indicates that he is, in a good sense,
a busy-body, a man of deeds, as well as pretensions not a few. He is never weary
in well doing, and whatever his hands find to do he does with his might.
His mind is well-balanced and
well-informed, especially upon theological subjects. He sees a point readily and
clearly, and reasons forcibly from cause to effect. In phrenological terms
firmness is large, combativeness larger, self-esteem largest.
He is rather original and profound in his
mental operations, hence the fact that he has preached for the congregation at
Salem during the past sixteen years, without exhausting his intellectual
resources. He is far from belonging to that class of preachers who deliver a few
discourses with great effect, and after that have no more that they can do.
His manner of preaching is plain,
straightforward, energetic, authoritative. He speaks with tolerable fluency, yet
he is not rich in language; and his gestures are impressive rather than
pleasing. He deals exclusively in facts, and carries his point by sheer force of
logic. Though not harsh and repulsive in his elocution, yet he is destitute of
pathos, and ordinarily incapable of delivering a touching exhortation.
In debate he is prompt, discerning,
perfectly candid, and mild even to a fault; therefore he contends more
successfully against an able opponent than against a deceitful quibbler. From
the number of public discussions in which he has been engaged, it would be
inferred that he is not only combative, but habitually aggressive. Such,
however, is not the case; for in the most, if not in all of his regular debates,
he has been the challenged party.
In the world as in his profession, he
shows "uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity." Though in every respect a positive
man, yet he is humble, frank, affable, and therefore popular, especially among
the common people. Wherever he has gone preaching he has a host of friends, with
whom his example avails not less than his precepts.
Poor in this world's goods, yet rejoicing
in prospect of a heavenly inheritance, he still proclaims the glad tidings of
salvation, resolved to devote the remainder of his days to the advocacy of the
principles for which he has so long plead, and which he is fully persuaded will
eventually prevail over the whole earth.
-Biographical Sketches of
Pioneer Preachers Of Indiana, Madison Evans, Page 349-362.
Directions To The Grave
Of Jacob Wright
Jacob Wright is buried in
the old Blue River Christian Cemetery south of Salem, Indiana.
From Louisville, Kentucky:
Head north on I-65 to Exit 19, Hwy. 160 and turn left (west). Head toward Salem.
Hwy 160 will dead into Hwy. 60 (Jackson St.) Turn right on Jackson St. Turn left
on S. Main St. (Hwy. 135) and head south of town. About five miles south of town
turn left on E. Rudder Rd. Go .6 miles and turn right on S. Blue River Church
Road. Go 1.1 miles and the church and NEW cemetery is on the left. NOTE: Wright
is NOT buried here. Across the street from the church building is a little road
heading into the woods. Follow the road to a gate. Open the gate and go through.
Head down the old road to a barn on your left. Then bear to the right and head
down a steep hill and back up on the other side. When you get to the cemetery
you will be about 1/2 mile from the road. This is the old cemetery where the
Wrights are buried. This is the old cemetery where the Wrights are buried. Go
through the gate and head to the far left side of the cemetery to find the
burial plots of the Wright family.
From Indianapolis: Head
south on I-65 to Exit 29b (Hwy. 56) in Scottsburg. Head west toward Salem.
Travel on Hwy. 56 into Salem. Turn left on N. Main St. Head through downtown and
continue south on S. Main St. out of town. About five miles south of town turn
left on E. Rudder Rd. Go .6 miles and turn right on S. Blue River Church Road.
Go 1.1 miles and the church and NEW cemetery is on the left. NOTE: Wright is NOT
buried here. Across the street from the church building is a little road heading
into the woods. Follow the road to a gate. Open the gate and go through. Head
down the old road to a barn on your left. Then bear to the right and head down a
steep hill and back up on the other side. When you get to the cemetery you will
be about 1/2 mile from the road. This is the old cemetery where the Wrights are
buried. Go through the gate and head to the far left side of the cemetery to
find the burial plots of the Wright family.
N38º 32.915' x W086º 05.037'
Grave Facing West
Accuracy to 20ft.
Father And Mother
Died Sept. 5, 1881
Ages 71y. 11m. 5das.
Wife Of Jacob Wright
Died Sept. 12, 1864.
Aged 50 y. 5m. 14d.
Hill Cemetery Map