Philemon Wright

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Philemon Wright (September 3, 1760 – June 3, 1839) was a farmer and entrepreneur who founded what he named Columbia Falls Village,[1] mostly known as Wright's Village and Wright's Town to others, the first permanent settlement in the National Capital Region of Canada. Wright's Town later became incorporated in 1875 and renamed Hull, Quebec, and then in 2002, as a result of a municipal amalgamation, it acquired its present name of the City of Gatineau.

Biography[edit]

Portrait of Philemon Wright by John James

Wright was born in Woburn, Massachusetts into the family of Thomas Wright and Elizabeth Chandler, a large and prosperous Woburn family that had been among the town’s founders, 120 years before. Philemon Wright was raised as a farmer. At the young age of 16, he was thrust into service for two years with the rebel forces in the first years of the American Revolution, leaving service as a sergeant. He fought in several battles including the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775.[2]

On May 16, 1782, Philemon Wright married Abigail Wyman, a Woburn woman who's ancestors were among the founding families of Charlestown, Mass. in 1628. Charlestown would later become Boston. Philemon and Abigail would have a large family of 9 children. Their children, in order, were: Philemon Jr. (Phil), Tiberius (Bearie), Abigail (Nabby, who died at 7 yrs.), Mary (Polly), Ruggles (Rug), Abigail (Abbie), Christopher Columbus (Chris), Christiana (Chrissie) and Susana.[3]

Settlement of Wright's Town[edit]

Feeling the strain of overpopulation in Massachusetts, Wright first came to see the isolated and unsettled area of the Ottawa Valley in 1796, returned again in 1798, and once more in 1799. He finally decided that the best location for a new settlement would be next to the Chaudière Falls, near the intersection of the Gatineau and Ottawa rivers, where he found thousands of acres of good soil.

Wright used his natural leadership abilities to convince a group of Massachusetts settlers to come north with him. He led a group of 5 families and 25 labourers (axemen) to the area in the winter of 1800. With the help of a native scout, who volunteered to help the group negotiate the treacherous voyage over ice from Carillon to the Chaudière Falls, the group arrived on the western shore of the Gatineau River where it meets the Ottawa and began to clear land. At first their objective was to clear what was needed for homes and farmland for their survival. Having been very successful, Wright began to build his village at the foot of the Chaudière Falls the very next year, in 1801. Wright preferred to call them the Columbia Falls. The name was repeatedly used throughout the new settlement: Columbia Pond (now, Leamy Lake), the Columbia farm, the Columbia hotel and Columbia road (now, St. Joseph blvd.).

The process was long and difficult and by 1806 Wright had nearly exhausted his capital. In an effort to earn money and in order to keep his workers busy in the winter time, he began the cutting of timber. Then, he attempted what was then thought impossible: to build a raft of timber and float it all the way to Quebec City. There, it would be sold for export to Britain. The first raft he built, he named "Colombo". Despite taking two months and encountering many hurdles he reached Quebec and sold his 700 logs and 6000 barrel staves. The timber trade on the Ottawa River had begun.

In Wright's Town, Wright quickly built several enterprises, shops and mills so that the small community would not be dependent on the expensive practice of importing goods from Montreal. He built a lumber mill, a hemp and grist mill to fulfill their needs. He also built a foundry and trip hammer mill in a stone building large enough for four fires and four bellows operated hydraulically. He built shops for a shoemaker, a tailor, and a baker, as well as a tannery for curing leather. Always the opportunist, he also saw to it that a brewery and distillery were operating to slake the thirsts of the many employees he employed. Before long, he and his wife Abigail also saw to it that there was a teacher to teach all of the children in the community.

He founded several companies, among them a limestone quarry for building-stone and producing cement, The Hull Mining Company and P. Wright & Sons which, in particular, made him a great deal of money exporting timber, during the Napoleonic Wars when Britain was cut off from its traditional Baltic region suppliers.

As a pioneer and an entrepreneur, Wright had few equals. He was the point man for every builder, land speculator and government project in the region. According to John McTaggart,[4] the Royal Engineer in charge of the construction of the Rideau Canal and a contemporary of Philemon Wright, Wright should also be credited with having been the person who first suggested the building of the Rideau Canal,[5][6] and once the canal's construction was under way, Wright secured most of the contracts for supplies, materials and craftsmen.

Despite his many achievements, he and his community faced near bankruptcy on several occasions. His earliest efforts to establish his settlement almost exhausted his entire capital and then, when his town was ravaged by a disastrous fire in 1808, the village was practically wiped out. A despondent Wright was ready to abandon the venture and possibly would have, if not for the encouragement he received from his sons Philemon Jr. and Tiberius. They rebuilt the mill, a larger foundry and the tavern within 6 months.

His Political Career[edit]

Wright was elected to the legislature of Lower Canada to represent Ottawa County in 1830 and he and his settlement both saw great success. He voted against the Ninety-Two Resolutions.[7] He was also the leader of Freemasonry in the area for many of the villagers and surrounding communities.

The Wright Farms[edit]

Although he and his family spent their lives as lumber barons, Philemon Wright was always a farmer at heart. By 1823, the Wright family had created several large and lucrative farms, some of which covered most of the land occupied by present-day Hull & Aylmer. These included the 'Gatino' Farm, as Philemon named it, near Leamy Lake, the Columbia Falls Farm, The Columbia Farm, The Dalhousie Farm, the Britannia Farm and the Chaudière Farm. In fact, Wright's agricultural community, at the time of his death, was the most developed of Lower Canada. From Onslow Township (present-day Quyon) to present-day Buckingham, Philemon Wright owned 36,978.5 acres (over 150 km2)[8] The fame of Hull as an agricultural community in Canada, the US and Britain was well deserved.

The Gatino Farm was the site of the original clearing by the Wright expedition in 1800, where stood Philemon Wright's first cabin he affectionately called "The Wigwam".[9] His second home, a bigger home with a stone foundation, was built just north of the Wigwam. In 1801, at the Chaudière Falls, Wright & his sons created the Columbia Falls Farm (Wright renamed the falls, but the name never stuck)[10] and that is the location where Wright's Town grew up. In 1810, Philemon Sr. moved to his third home, built on the Columbia Falls Farm.[11] He lived in that home until 1818, when he handed it over to his son Ruggles, along with the reins of all of the family's Chaudière operations.[12] Eventually this property was purchased by E.B.Eddy and he tore down the Wright home and built a mansion named "Standish Hall". That 1st mansion burnt down in 1900 and he built another that ultimately became the very popular Hotel in Hull by the same name, where Louis Armstrong and many big bands came to play. Philemon's 4th home was built just west of the Standish Hall near the Chaudière Falls and was a grand home he named "The White House". The White House closely resembled the Wright Farm home in Winchester Massachusetts where Wright grew up. Almost a perfect copy of Wright's White House can be found at the Billings estate in Ottawa and given that Braddish Billings[13] started his career in the employ of Wright, it may be no surprise that Billing's "grand, genteel" home, as he called it, would have been modeled after The Squire's, as Philemon was often referred to by his friends.

When Philemon Sr. moved to the Columbia Falls Farm in 1810, the Gatino farm was put in the hands of Philemon Jr. and Sarah Wright, where Sarah, principally, raised animals and operated a distillery. It eventually ended up in the hands of Andrew Leamy who married Erexina Wright, the daughter of Sarah and Philemon Wright Jr. The Columbia Farm of 800 acres (3.2 km2) was located at the junction of what would be the Brigham Road (now Gamelin) and Chelsea Road (now boul. St. Joseph), and was operated first by Philemon Jr., then eventually owned by Thomas Brigham, who had married Philemon Sr.'s daughter, Abigail. The Britannia Farm, on the road leading to Aylmer, was owned by Philemon Jr. as was the Dalhousie Farm, south of what is now Leamy Lake. The Britannia Farm is now the site of the Royal Ottawa Golf Club, the Champlain & Château Cartier golf clubs. A farm at Lac Deschênes in Aylmer, called the Chaudière Farm, was established in 1821 by Philemon Jr.[14]

After Philemon Jr.'s tragic death in a stagecoach accident on Dec. 5th, 1821, Philemon Jr.s' heirs ended up only retaining ownership of the Gatino Farm because of some dubious paperwork (as Wright Sr. confessed in a letter dated 1938),.[15] In 1826, Philemon Jr.'s widow, Sarah (Sally) Olmstead Wright, married Nicholas Sparks (politician), who was then in the employ of P. Wright & Sons. Sparks would become a wealthy landowner & politician in the future Bytown. In 1822, Philemon Sr. gave the Britannia and Chaudière Farms to Tiberius and Ruggles, and in 1823, he put the Chaudière Farm under the supervision of Charles Symmes, his nephew.[16] The Dalhousie Farm went to Ephraim Chamberlain who was married to Philemon Sr.'s daughter Mary (Polly) Wright.

As well, there were additional Wright farms along the Mountain Road, and on both shores of the Gatineau River. At the site of the current Collège St-Alexandre in Limbour, Tiberius Wright established a farm in 1816, which his son Alonzo Wright would inherit. By 1823, nearly 800 acres (3.2 km2) at this farm had been cleared.

Retirement & Death[edit]

At the end of his life, Philemon Sr. retired to another farm, this time in Onslow Township, Lower Canada (now the province of Quebec). Wright owned 12,000 acres in the first six ranges of Onslow Township.[17] In Wright’s papers, in the National Archives of Canada, he frequently refers to his properties in Onslow, both his timber cutting operations and his farming activities there, listing acreages of oats and potatoes and his numbers of cattle. Unfortunately he did not state who was living on the properties or looking after his interests in the township. Philemon Wright’s brother-in-law, Joseph Wyman, and his son Joseph Jr., who also came from Woburn, obtained several hundred acres in the west end of the township through Wright. They named the new settlement Woburn after their New England home, and brought in other settlers. Woburn was later renamed Billerica (after Billerica, Mass.) and the name was eventually changed to Wyman.

Wright died on June 3, 1839 in Onslow Township, and is buried in St. James Anglican Cemetery, Gatineau (Hull Sector). He was survived by a large family, including his son Ruggles Wright who would go on to invent the timber slide.

Philemon Wright is regarded as the founder of both the cities of Ottawa and of Gatineau. Philemon Wright High School in Gatineau is named after him.

Genealogical relationships[edit]

Interesting research through the years has established that through his own family and that of his wife, Abigail, Philemon Wright's family members are related to every President of the United States with the exception of Martin Van Buren and to the English Royal family, as well[18][19][20]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Famous Township of Hull, Image and Aspirations of a Pioneer Quebec Community, Bruce S. Elliot, Social History, 12, 1979, pg. 348
  2. ^ Brault, Lucien. Hull 1800-1950. Ottawa: Les Éditions de l'Université d'Ottawa, 1950, pg. 28
  3. ^ Wright Carr-Harris, Bertha: The White Chief of the Ottawa, page 28. William Briggs, Toronto 1903.
  4. ^ Three Years in Canada an Account of the Actual State of the Country in 1826-7-8, Comprehending its Resources, Productions, Improvements, and Capabilities; and Including Sketches of the State of Society, Advice to Emigrants, &c. in two Volumes. Vol I & Vol. II, London: Henry Colburn, New Burlington Street. 1829, pg 269
  5. ^ Philemon Wright ou Colonisation et Commerce de Bois, Joseph Tassé, Des Presses à Vapeur de la Minèrve, 1871, pg. 57
  6. ^ Ottawa Titans, L.D. Cross, Altitude Publishing Canada Ltd., 2004, pg. 26
  7. ^ Journals of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada, from the 7th January to the 18th March, 1834 p. 337
  8. ^ Brault, Lucien. Hull 1800-1950. Ottawa: Les Éditions de l'Université d'Ottawa, 1950, pg. 32
  9. ^ Wright Carr-Harris, Bertha: The White Chief of the Ottawa, page 28. William Briggs, Toronto 1903.
  10. ^ Brault, Lucien. Hull 1800-1950. Ottawa: Les Éditions de l'Université d'Ottawa, 1950, pg. 30
  11. ^ Brault, Lucien. Hull 1800-1950. Ottawa: Les Éditions de l'Université d'Ottawa, 1950, pg. 26
  12. ^ Brault, Lucien. Hull 1800-1950. Ottawa: Les Éditions de l'Université d'Ottawa, 1950, pg. 26
  13. ^ http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/arts-culture-and-community/museums-and-heritage/billings-family-virtual-exhibit-0/braddish
  14. ^ Brault, Lucien. Hull 1800-1950. Ottawa: Les Éditions de l'Université d'Ottawa, 1950, pg. 31
  15. ^ B. S. Elliott, "‘The famous township of Hull’: image and aspirations of a pioneer Quebec community," SH, 12 (1979): pg 365
  16. ^ Brault, Lucien. Hull 1800-1950. Ottawa: Les Éditions de l'Université d'Ottawa, 1950, pg. 31
  17. ^ http://www.heritagepontiac.ca/qohistory.htm
  18. ^ The Wrights. A Genealogical Study of the First Settlers in Canada's National Capital Region, Patrick M. O. Evans, National Capital Commission, pg 169
  19. ^ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2183858/All-presidents-bar-directly-descended-medieval-English-king.html
  20. ^ Converse/Redfern Family Tree and related branches, Cornell University, 2012

Bibliography

  • Laberge, Edward P. (1989), Philemon Wright, a Yankee who helped build Canada. Bytown pamphlet series., Ottawa, Ontario: The Historical Society of Ottawa 

External links[edit]