Wright Johnson, Part 1: Preacher Right

Wright Johnson was born ca. 1774. His name first appeared in the Surry County, North Carolina, census in 1820, when he was about 46 years of age, along with what would appear to be a wife, four sons, and three daughters. He first appeared in Surry tax lists in 1813.  He owned land in the northeast corner of Surry County, bordering on Stokes County, North Carolina, and Patrick County, Virginia, in the area of Archie’s/Archer’s Creek.

In the late 1700’s, John Wesley sent missionaries to America to spread his beliefs among the colonists. A man named Francis Asbury came to America around 1771 and traveled and preached throughout the colonies. Asbury later became a bishop of the newly established Methodist Church. Methodism was spread by means of camp meetings and itinerant preachers who took their doctrine into remote settlements. By the middle of the 1800’s the Methodist denomination was the largest Protestant church in America. Their services were known for their exuberant singing, shouting, and preaching.

Wright Johnson was ordained as a Methodist deacon in 1836, when he was in his sixties. The story is told that he walked the entire distance from Surry County to Norfolk, Virginia about 275 miles, for his ordination. He was described in the Virginia Annual Conference Minutes as a local preacher of the Surry circuit, elected to the office of Deacon by Bishop Elijah Hedding and others on February 17. Consider how healthy and strong he must have been to walk that distance in the depth of winter.

A story in the 1894 Yadkin County News, by Bill Whitehead, told how a Methodist preacher named Right Johnson waded through creeks to preach at a home somewhere near Mount Airy, on “The Cold Friday.” There are a number of “Cold Fridays” on record early in the 19th century, when the temperature did not rise above zero and set records all over the East Coast. One exceptionally cold winter was recorded in Tennessee in 1835, when many livestock froze to death and snow drifted deep. This was only about 100 miles from Wright’s home on the border of North Carolina and Virginia.  Whitehead wrote:

“I recollect on the ‘cold Friday’ that Right Johnson waded the creeks and came to our house to preach. The creeks I speak of are those crossed in traveling from Mount Airy to our house. Where can you find in this day any person who would even ride in a fine rig and go to a common log cabin to preach in such weather as the ‘cold Friday’?

“But the old preachers of an early day had many hardships to encounter. I will mention some of their names. Of the Methodist–Thos. Bryant, Wiley Patterson, James Needham, John Hix and Right Johnson, and later on William Rawley and one of the Roberts. Of the Baptists–John Jones and Jonah Cockerham. The Methodists generally, except Rawley and Roberts, were very poor men who did the most of their traveling on foot.”

© Glenda Alexander, All Rights Reserved.

Sources:

William Lee Grissom, History of Methodism in North Carolina: from 1772 to the Present Time, (Nashville, Tenn.: Publishing House of the M. E. Church, South, 1905).

Mary E. King, “I Have a Memory Trace,” in Nikki Giovanni, editor, Grandmothers: Poems, Reminiscences, and Short Stories about the Keepers of Our Traditions, (New York: Henry Holy and Co., 1994) pp. 114-132.

1820 Census of the United States, Population Schedule of North Carolina, Surry County, Capt. Lachrys District, Wright Johnson household, pp. 760-761.

Hand-written records dated “Norfolk 1836,” in the 1800-1840 Virginia Annual Conference Minutes, located in the McGraw-Page Library Special Collections, Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, Va.

Wright Johnson, Deed of Trust, Surry County Register of Deeds, Dobson N.C., Book X, pp. 206-207.

Wright Johnson, Grantor, Wesley Johnson, Grantee, Deed to Land on Archie’s Creek, Surry County Register of Deeds, Dobson N.C., Book 9, pp. 12-13.

Bill Whitehead, “Oldentime Memories,” Vol. 14, #50, The Yadkin Valley News, Mount Airy, N.C., Thursday, July 5, 1894, p. 1.

David Ludlum, “Historical Weather Facts,” http://userpages.chorus.net/wxalan/wxfact/feb.html, accessed Feb. 18, 2006, Aviation Weather Center, Kansas City, Missouri.

24-7 Family History Circle, “The Year Was 1835,” blog hosted by Ancestry.com, Copyright © 1998-2006, MyFamily.com Inc., 17 September 2006, accessed Sept. 11, 2009.

Iris Harvey, Surry County, North Carolina Tax List-1813, (Raleigh, N. C., author, 1991) p. 48.

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