John S. Wright Papers

Dates: 1848-1866
Size: .25 linear feet, 3 oversize folders
Repository: Chicago Public Library, Harold Washington Library Center, Special Collections, 400 S. State St., Chicago, IL 60605
Collection Number: Archives_WRI
Provenance: The materials in this collection were the gift of Joseph B. Francus, 1978 and 1983.
Access: No restrictions
Citation: When quoting material from this collection the preferred citation is: John S. Wright Papers [Box #, Folder #], Special Collections, Chicago Public Library.
Processed: May 1990

Biographical Note

John Stephen Wright was born in Sheffield, Mass., on July 16, 1815, the eldest son of John and Huldah (Dewey) Wright. His father was a storekeeper, his mother a former schoolteacher. The baby was named for his grandfather, John Wright and Stephen Dewey II. About the time of John Stephen’s birth, his father took a year’s trip to the West in hopes of bolstering his failing health with liberal doses of fresh air, during which trip he visited the site of Chicago, then a tiny village of fewer than 40 inhabitants.

In 1832, father and son set off with a stock of goods, intending to settle at Galena, Illinois. However, when they arrived at Chicago on October 29, they decided to remain, building a log merchant house at Lake and Clark. This site was so far from the town’s business center that it became known as "The Prairie Store." Not yet twenty, Wright not only took a census of Chicago in 1833 but published a lithographed map of the town in 1834, the year he began a real estate business. By the time he achieved legal majority on his twenty-first birthday, his property was worth $200,000.

This handsome fortune was wiped in the panic of 1837. Wright began again as secretary and general manager of the Union Agricultural Society for whom he began a newspaper, the Union Agriculturist . A merger with the Western Prairie Farmer followed, and by 1843 Wright became its owner and changed the name to the Prairie Farmer . Although he maintained his connection with the paper until 1857, he hired an editor and began investing his interests elsewhere.

Following his marriage to Catherine B. Turner of Virginia on September 1, 1846, Wright again entered the real estate business and over the next decade acquired an impressive second fortune, which was swept away in the late 1850s as a result of his financial backing of a "self-raking" reaper manufacturing concern. Shortly afterwards, he formed a land company designed to interest Eastern capitalists in the Midwest.

Among Wright’s civic interests was public education; the first public school in Chicago, a log structure, was built at his own expense in 1835. He was also a promoter of the Chicago park system connected by wide boulevards—a system designed, but far from completed, at Wright’s death. Always a Chicago booster, he compiled Chicago: Past, Present, and Future (1868) which has been described as "a rambling, bombastic volume." Other similar books were added to his bibliography; his later works are said to exhibit evidence of a weakening mind, and indeed, shortly after the Chicago fire of 1871, his family was forced to commit him to an asylum. The remainder of his life was spent in and out of institutions. At 59, he died and was buried in Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago, on October 1, 1874.

John and Catherine (Kitty) were the parents of four children: Augustine Washington (b. 1847), Walter (1848-1849), Maria Alexander (b. 1849) and Chester Dewey (b. 1852). All four children were born at their grandfather’s Virginia home, so ardently did their mother dislike Chicago, an animosity which she never fully conquered.

For more information, see Lloyd Lewis' John S. Wright: Prophet of the Prairies (Chicago: The Prairie Farmer Publishing Company, 1941). Special Collections also has three titles of Wright’s authorship: Chicago: Past, Present and Future (first edition, 1868, and second edition, 1870) and Wright’s Proposition to a Chicago Railway Capitalist with Important Addendum (1871).

A map of Wright’s land ownership follows in the print version of this finding aid.

Scope and Content

This small collection concerns the purchase of Chicago land by John S. Wright in 1848 from the New York speculator Bronson family, and the subsequent history of that land over the next two decades. The original deeds (Oversize 1, 2, and 3) are to lots 3, 4, 5, and 6 in Block 3 of the original town of Chicago, and lot 3 of Block 5. The majority of the collection, however, concerns lots 4, 5, and 6 of Block 3. See map for location in present-day Chicago.

The collection is arranged in five series: Correspondence (folders 1-13), Land records (Oversize 1-3, folders 14-20), Legal papers (folders 21-30), Tax receipts (folders 31-32) and Miscellaneous (folder 33). Each series is arranged chronologically.

Most of the persons represented in the collection are, in addition to the original buyer and seller of the land, a cast of lawyers and court officials.

Container List

Correspondence

Box 1 Folder 1 H. W. Collender, ALS to “Sir”, New York; 1853 November 9
Box 1 Folder 2 Samuel & Ellen Kerr, ALS to “Son & Daughter”, Drummaker (?),1858 June 27
Box 1 Folder 3 I.H. Burch, ALS to Frederic Bronson, Chicago; 1858 July 13
Box 1 Folder 4 I.H. Burch, ALS to Oliver Bronson, Chicago; 1858 July 13
Box 1 Folder 5 Amos Truck, ALS to Frederick Bronson, Exeter, NH; 1859 January 26
Box 1 Folder 6 B. Roekler, ALS to Frederic Bronson, New York; 1861 March 5
Box 1 Folder 7 Walter Wright, ALS to Frederic Bronson, Chicago; 1862 January 6
Box 1 Folder 8 Amos Tuck, ALS to Frederick Bronson, Boston; 1862 January 10
Box 1 Folder 9 Amos Tuck, ALS to Elias L. Smith, Boston; 1862 January 13
Box 1 Folder 10 F. Randall, ALS to Elias L. Smith, New York; 1862 January 14
Box 1 Folder 11 Amos Tuck, ALS to Elias L. Smith, Boston; 1862 January 17
Box 1 Folder 12 Timothy Wright, ALS to Oliver Bronson, Chicago; 1863 July 13
Box 1 Folder 13 John Mattocks, Jr., ALS to Elias L. Smith, Chicago; 1863 July 24

Land Records

Oversize 1 Frederic Bronson to John S. Wright, sale of Lot 3, Block 3, Original city of Chicago; 1848 April 29 (2 copies)
Oversize 2 Frederic Bronson to John S. Wright, sale of Lots 4, 5, & 6, Block t, Original city of Chicago; 1848 April 29 (2 copies)
Oversize 3 Frederic Bronson to John S. Wright, sale of Lot 3, Block 5, Original city of Chicago; 1848 April 29
Box 1 Folder 14 John S. Wright to Francis A. Hoffman, Chicago; 1857 April 13
Box 1 Folder 15 Rees, Chase & Co.—Examination of conveyance, Timothy Wright & John S. Wright (1848-57); 1858 July 12
Box 1 Folder 16 William H. Bradley—Examination of judgments & liens against Timothy Wright; 1858 July 13
Box 1 Folder 17 William L. Church—Examination of judgments against Timothy Wright; 1858 July 13
Box 1 Folder 18 Rees, Chase & Co.—Examination of conveyance, J. Wright to various people, Chicago; 1861 February 21
Box 1 Folder 19 Frederic Bronson, quit-claim to Francis A. Hoffman, Chicago 1861 March 5
Box 1 Folder 20 Frederic Bronson (executor of Arthur Bronson), copy of quit-claim to Timothy Wright, New York; 1866 May 12

Legal Papers

Box 1 Folder 21 Receipts—Thomas Dyer & others to John S. Wright, installments on purchase of land in Block 1, Original city of Chicago; 1847 May 1, 1848 July 27, 1849 August 1, 1850 October 2
Box 1 Folder 22 Contract—John S. Wright, Frederic Bronson & Oliver Bronson, postponement of payment; 1850 October 2
Box 1 Folder 23 Power of Attorney—Frederic Bronson to George W. Snow; 1858 June 2
Box 1 Folder 24 List of Timothy Wright’s leases sent to I. H. Burch; [after 1858 July 1]
Box 1 Folder 25 Certification of Cook County records to Timothy Wright, by Walter Kimball, clerk; 1858 July 13
Box 1 Folder 26 Receipt of contract—Oliver Bronson to Timothy Wright; 1858 July 20
Box 1 Folder 27 Receipt—G.W. Snow to I.H. Burch, Chicago; 1859 April 29
Box 1 Folder 28 Receipt—Elias L. Smith, for Frederick Bronson, to Amos Tuck--payment on Lot 3, Block 3, Original city; 1862 January 18
Box 1 Folder 29 Legal agreement-Oliver Bronson & Timothy Wright—payment on Lots 4, 5, & 6, Block 3, Original city; 1863 July 22 (Signed agreement and two drafts)
Box 1 Folder 30 Bill to Amos Tuck, with notation of his refusal to pay; undated

Tax Receipts

Box 1 Folder 31 John S. Wright—Lots 1-8, Block 1, Original town of Chicago; 1847 February 12, City taxes, 1846; 1848 February 16, City taxes, 1847; 1848 November 25 City taxes, 1848; 1850 February 18, City taxes, 1849
Box 1 Folder 32 Timothy Wright—Lots 4, 5, & 6, Block 3, Original town; 1859 March 11, City taxes, 1858; 1859 July 22, County taxes, 1858; 1860 March 14, City taxes, 1859; 1860 August 1, County taxes, 1859; 1861 March, City taxes, 1860; 1861 June 24, County taxes, 1860; 1862 April 7, City taxes, 1861; 1863 February 16, [Wrapper only]; 1863 April 17, City taxes, 1862; 1863 August 22, County taxes, 1862; 1864 March 29, City taxes, 1863; 1864 August 20, County taxes, 1863

Miscellaneous

Box 1 Folder 33 Wrappers (3 pieces); undated
Print