25 May 2010

Benjamin Fort Wright: From the Stagecoach to the Railroad

Sometimes I come across a person whose life just seems interesting for seemingly no good reason. There is no grand occupation, no scandal in the immediate family unit, and no tragedy in the newspaper. This was the case with Benjamin Fort Wright. He was the father of Mary Olivia Wright Love (1913-2003), my 5th cousin 3x removed in law.

I think what piqued my interest about Benjamin was his birthplace. He died in Laredo, Webb County, Texas. Though his death certificate claims he lived 73 of his 90 years there, I found his place of birth to be listed as Macon, Georgia. Since I don't live far from Macon, I began to wonder how much time he and his parents actually spent there and curiosity grew. I soon found out that Benjamin's father was a travelling man.

Francis Kimberly Wright was born between 1811-1820 in Massachusetts. I do not know if he came with his family or alone after reaching adulthood, but I do know Frank made his way to Georgia. He married Olivia Hill there before 1850. Mr. and Mrs. F. Wright were enumerated for the 1850 Macon, Bibb County, Georgia Federal census at the Washington Hall Hotel. This hotel, built in 1827, was located on the corner of Second and Mulberry streets in downtown Macon. Frank's occupation was stage contractor.

Frank and Olivia went on to have at least four children. Benjamin, the oldest son, was the second child born 29 November 1854 in either Macon or Americus, Georgia.

In those days, stagecoach operations were closely tied to government mail contracts. These contracts provided a good financial base that allowed the stage to also carry passengers and freight. Frank would be in this business for many years to come. In addition to being a stage agent, he was also a very successful planter. By 1860, Frank and his family (including a six year old Benjamin) were in Albany, Dougherty County, Georgia. Frank's real estate value was $56,000 and his personal estate was valued at $66,400. Frank was also the owner of F. K. Wright & Co., stage contractors.

In 1870, Frank and family were still in Albany. He was listed as a farmer, and his assets had dwindled some. His real estate value was $50,000 and personal estate was valued at $12,000. I'm sure the emancipation of the 50+ slaves Frank was showed as owning in 1860 hurt his planter business. Frank still managed to have a house keeper, four servants, and a laborer, though. They were all listed in the 1870 Federal census, even though his son Benjamin and Ben's older sister Annie were not. Maybe they were at school.

Sometime between 1870 and 1880, Frank decided to go west. I'm not sure if he received a government mail contract and then moved, or vice versa. I can tell you he relocated his family to Texas and settled in Austin, Travis County. They were enumerated there for the 1880 Federal census. Living on Live Oak Street, Frank was a stage proprietor. His son Benjamin joined him as a state agent. They were living with Ben's sister Annie and her husband John W. Orr. John was also a stage proprietor.

I was able to follow Benjamin and his father over the next several years with Ancestry's Morrison & Fourmy's General Directory for Austin, Texas. In 1881-2, Benjamin F. Wright appears to have been in business with his brother-in-law John Orr. The company of Wright & Orr (consisting of B. F. Wright and J. W. Orr) was a "Texas Transfer and Mail Company" located on the southeast corner of Congress avenue and Pine. Benjamin was listed in the home of his father F. K. Wright, also a mail contractor, whose residence was on the southeast corner of Live Oak and Brazos. They lived just a couple of blocks from the Colorado River.

Some time between 1882 and 1885, Benjamin decided to leave the stage and mail business. From 1885 to 1890, he was a clerk for the grocer David F. Wright (I've found no relation as of yet). During this time, father Frank was still a mail contractor.

At some point in between 1890 and 1893, Francis Kimberly Wright died. In 1893 his widow Olivia H. was living in the home of her son-in-law John W. Orr. John was still a mail contractor. The directory came out in 1894 and stated John died 28 June 1893. In the same directory Benjamin F. Wright was listed as a salesman for Wm. Lochridge Co. and living at 302 W. 6th. Olivia and her daughter Annie were living at 305 E. 2d.

From 1897 to 1901, Benjamin F. Wright was a member of King & Wright. They were men's furnishers, hatters, and tailors, also dealing in boots and shoes. They were located at 616 Congress ave. Olivia H., widow of F. K. Wright, was still residing with her daughter Annie Orr at 305 E. 2d. from 1897 to 1899. During those years, Benjamin boarded at 303 E. 11th and resided at 300 E. 13th. The 1898-9 directory was the last one to include Benjamin's mother Olivia Hill Wright.

I have been unable to locate Benjamin F. Wright in the 1900 or 1910 census. By 1920, however, I find him in Laredo, Webb County, Texas. He was married to George (aka Georgie, Georgia) Graham after 1910. They had at least three children. The oldest was Benjamin Jr., and the second child was my cousin Mary.

During all the years Benjamin was working as anything but a stage agent, the stagecoach lines were giving way to the railroad. By 1920, Benjamin had rejoined the transportation business as a railway auditor. His stage and other business experience prepared him to scour over records to determine the financial status of the railway company for which he worked. He continued this business through to at least the early 1930s.

The 1920 Federal census for Laredo, Webb County, Texas shows Benjamin and family residing at 1617 Juarez Avenue. A 1925-30 map of the area from the Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection, part of the Texas State Library and Archives Division, shows this address as being not far from Ft. McIntosh, in between the Rio Grande and the city park.

The Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division in Washington, DC has a photo of Laredo, Texas in 1920:

Laredo, Texas 1920 (Click to enlarge)
Railroad yards that Benjamin might have walked at one time or another are
in the foreground.  To the right is the Rio Grande and the International
Railroad Bridge that crosses into Mexico.

The map mentioned and pictured above describes Laredo: "Health and Wealth await you in Laredo and an opportunity to Play Golf - Hunting Big Game and the fascination and freedom of old Mexico." Benjamin Fort Wright lived there until his death on 22 June 1945. He was laid to rest in the Episcopal section of the City Cemetery. His wife George Graham Wright joined him less than six years later.

1 comment:

Ben F. Wright, III said...

Thank you so much for your comments. I am Benjamin Fort Wright III and my grand son is the "V". I was born in Laredo, Tx 12/08/1938. I moved to Austin in 1972. I now live in Buda, Tx. south of Austin. I worked for The Texas Mexican Railway 11 years. My dad was president of the Tex-Mex.
benjieb4@aol.com

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