|Jonathan Jasper Wright on Beaufort S. C.
November 14, 1868
American Missionary Association
Beaufort S. C. Nov. 14th 1868
As one who is a laborer in the cause of human freedom and progress, and one whose laborer is more particularly
among my own class of people those who by legislative enactments have for many years been deprived of the privilege
of becoming men and women in the true sense of the word: and I realizing the great amount of good that has been
accomplished here by the operations of the American Mission Association also understanding the conditions of the
people her I feel called upon to write you a few lines and give you a few facts in relation to the condition of the freed
people here. It is a historical fact that the colored people on these Sea Island in South Carolina were more oppressed
more degraded and in a worse condition than the colored people in any of the other slave states. Today I can say
without fear of successful contradiction that they are in a more prosperous condition than the freed colored people, in
any other portion of these state or any of the other late ex slave holding states. This year abundance of provisions
have been raised, a majority of the heads of families have their own lands so that they are well provided for in the
coming year. Last year there was considerable corn and pork sold to both classes (colored and White) by the
government on credit, I think the colored people could have got along without any of it. However, they purchased it on
credit, and are now paying for it very rapidly. The Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and
Abandoned lands (Genl Gile, told me a few days since, that he thought they would pay every dollar of their
indebtedness this year out of the cotton they raised, aside from their other crop and that they were paying much better
than the white people, as they had at that time, paid over three thousand dollars of their indebtedness to the
Government, and the white planters had not paid a dollar. In an educational point of view I think the children here are
fully up with the children of like parents in Charleston, Columbia, Greenville. and other intervening place that I have
visited where the missionary teachers have been at work. I have just become acquainted with the gentleman whose
present the A.M.A. here I have had a pleasant conversation with him and am very grateful to have such a man among
us, I think his views in relation to the elevation of the freed people are correct. He perceives the necessity of teaching
them, not letters alone but the importance of self sustenance of economy, of honesty, of industrial habits. and he also
appears to realize the fact that if one desires to do good among this people they must make themselves know among
the parents of the children they are called to teach; and manifest a missionary and Christian spirit, keep out of the ball
room, and not confine all their visits to the white families of the town. I learn that this gentleman has been here before,
but I never knew him nor never should had known him if he had not have visited the colored church, and lectured or
advised, the people concerning their educational duties. The colored people here are willing to hold up the arms of
and encourage the teachers, but they will hold back until the teacher manifests a desire to care for them. The reason
for their holding back is, in continence of the conduct of some who have been in this place. I know that the hand of God
is in his great work of elevating my people. I thank him for the American Missionary Association, for their have not been
Very Respectfully I am
Jonathan J. Wright
Jonathan Jasper Wright (February 11, 1840 - February 19, 1885), the first African American lawyer in the State of
Pennsylvania and South Carolina and the first to serve on a state Supreme Court (South Carolinia), was born in
Luzerne County, Pennsylvania and grew up in nearby Susquehanna County in the northeastern corner of the state. In
1858, Wright traveled to Ithaca, New York where he enrolled in the Lancasterian Academy, a school where older
students helped teach younger ones. He graduated in 1860 and for the next five years taught school and read law in
Wright’s first known political activity came in October 1864 when he was a delegate to the National Convention of
Colored Men meeting in Syracuse. The convention, chaired by Frederick Douglass, passed resolutions calling for a
nationwide ban on slavery, racial equality under the law and universal suffrage for adult males. When Wright applied
for admission to the Pennsylvania bar, however, he was refused because of his race. After the Civil Rights Act passed
he returned to Montrose, Pennsylvania from Beaufort, and was examined. The Committee recommended his admission
to the Bar. He was admitted August 13, 1865, being the first African American admitted to practice law in Pennsylvania.
Later, he returned to South Carolina as legal advisor to General Howard and was the first African-American to practice
law in South Carolina.
In 1865 the American Missionary Association sent Wright to Beaufort, South Carolina to organize schools for the
freedpeople. Wright taught and gave legal advice to the ex-slaves. In 1866 he returned to Pennsylvania and was now,
with the backing of a new federal civil rights law, accepted into the bar as the state’s first African American attorney.
Wright returned to Beaufort in January 1867 and worked as a legal advisor for the Freedman’s Bureau.
He soon became active in Republican politics. In July 1868, Wright was elected as a delegate to South Carolina's
constitutional convention and was chosen as a delegate to the South Carolina Constitutional Convention that met in
Charleston in January 1868. . In this position he played a major role in shaping the provisions relating to the judiciary.
In the first election in which freedmen could vote, Wright was elected as senator from Beaufort County. On February 3,
1870 the Republican-dominated legislature in Columbia named him a justice of the state supreme court even though
he was 30 and had little courtroom experience. He joined two white Democrats on the bench.
It was Wright’s concurrence in a February 1877 decision confirming the authority of a Democratic claimant to the
governor’s chair, Wade Hampton, which ended Republican rule, reconstruction in South Carolina and Wright’s tenure
as a state Supreme Court Justice. Hampton the Democrate established himself as the official governor by issuing a
pardon. The case was brought before the supreme court for associate justices Wright and A. J. Willard missing Chief
Justice Moses was ill. Each justice ruled in favor of the pardon, thus recognizing Hampton as the legal governor.
Two days after the court decision, Wright attempted to revoke his opinion and the prisoner's pardon. His request was
not honored, the order was upheld by the court, and Hampton was affirmed as the governor. In August 1877 Wright
submitted his resignation from the bench.
Wright practiced law in Charleston then in Orangeburg where he established the law department at Claflin College.
Jonathan Wright died of tuberculosis in Orangeburg in 1885.