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Not Susanna Wright. No image of Ms. Wright exists.

Susanna WRIGHT

Poet / Botanist / Sericulturist / Pundit

Born: 4 August 1697, Warrington, Lancashire, England

Died: 1 December 1784, Columbia, Pennsylvania, USA

Susanna Wright, a dynamic force in establishing colonial self-sufficiency, she encouraged industry, especially the production of silk and linen; implanted her Quaker beliefs; and stimulated a literary current through her poetry and correspondence. She quickened her intellect with some of the most inventive minds of eighteenth-century Philadelphia.

Through letter writing, Wright cultivated connections among the literary, political, and scientific elites of the eastern seaboard. Her correspondents included the politicians Isaac Norris and James Logan, and many writers. Wright's Ferry was well positioned as a stopover point between Philadelphia and the western frontier, and consequently, Wright met a number of notable travelers over the years, including Benjamin Franklin and physician Benjamin Rush.

Among other pursuits, she raised hops, hemp, flax, indigo, and silkworms, establishing the first silk industry in Pennsylvania and receiving an award from the Philadelphia Silk Society in 1771. Silk extracted from her several thousand silkworms was dyed locally and then sent to England to be woven into the heavier grades of silk cloth suitable for mantuas, and the lighter grades needed for stockings. There is folklore that in the 1770s, Benjamin Franklin took a piece of Wright's cloth to Queen Charlotte of Britain as a gift. Wright wrote an essay on silkworm culture that was published posthumously. She also studied the medicinal uses of herbs and formulated medicines for her neighbors.


Versed in Latin and Italian and fluent in French, she also studied the local Native American language when she moved to the fringes of Pennsylvania’s wilderness in 1726. Literature was her constant delight; and she brought, via London booksellers, the leaves of European civilization to the wilds of America. Milton, Swift, Pope, Racine, and Corneille nurtured the insatiable mind of this inquisitive colonist. Fellow bibliophile Benjamin Franklin would send her little presents along with the books she ordered: a thermometer, an almanac for the new year, and bayberry candles. In turn, the Franklin family would receive casks of pickled “Susquehanna salmon,” baskets of apples and charming letters from Susanna’s pen. In order to gather support for Braddock’s troops during the French and Indian War, Benjamin Franklin sought her advice and her brother James supplied flour for the troops from his mill on the nearby Shawnee Run. He and his brother John ran the ferry which was established in 1730 on Susanna Wright’s hundred-acre tract of land on the east shore of the Susquehanna River.

Wright was part of an informal but influential group of Mid-Atlantic women and men writers; female members included the poet and pundit Hannah Griffitts, who considered her a mentor, and Milcah Martha Moore, the writers Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson and Anna Young Smith, and the historian and diarist Deborah Norris Logan. She wrote poetry throughout her life, and many of her known poems were produced in later years. Some 30 of her poems are included in Moore's commonplace book, a compilation of poetry and prose that was published in 1997 under the title Milcah Martha Moore's Book. Contrary to the then-usual practice, Wright did not write under a pseudonym; in Moore's book, her poems are attributed either to 'S. Wright' or to ’S.W.’ It is uncertain how many poems Wright produced in total, but it is likely that many are now lost. An early 19th-century reminiscence of Wright by the much younger Deborah Norris Logan states that Wright "wrote not for fame, [and] never kept copies" of her work. A long poem written for one of her close friends and fellow unmarried women, "To Eliza Norris—at Fairhill," questions the "divine law" used to justify women's inequality, including in marriage:

But womankind call reason to their aid,

And question when or where that law was made,

That law divine (a plausible pretense)

Oft urg'd with none, & oft with little sense.

In 1784, just a few months before Susanna died, Benjamin Rush wrote in his journal about "the famous Suzey Wright, a lady who has been celebrated above half a century for her wit, good sense, and valuable improvements of mind."

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