Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Robert Wright (1752-1826)
MSA SC 3520-1425

Governor of Maryland, 1806-1809

The following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis:  The Hall of
Records Commission, 1970), 55-58.

"ROBERT WRIGHT, political opportunist and staunch Jeffersonian, and the first governor to resign, was born in Queen Anneís County on November 20, 1752, the son of Solomon and Mary (Tidmarsh) Wright. A descendant of several generations of ancestors who had been prominent in that county, his father too, had been active in politics, as a signer of the Association of the Freemen of Maryland and a Revolutionary leader. With this tradition of family service, Robert Wright became successively United States Senator, Governor, Representative, and Judge.

"Wright received his education at home and in the schools of Queen Anneís County. Quite likely his family moved to Kent County when he was young, for he attended Kent County School, the forerunner of the present Washington College, from which he graduated prior to the Revolution. He then studied law, being admitted to the Kent County Bar in 1773, and practiced in Chestertown until 1776. He later removed to Queen Anneís County.

"During the Revolutionary War, Wright served with distinction. On February 3, 1776, he marched from Queen Anneís County against the Virginia Loyalists as a member of Captain James Kentís Minute Company.  In 1777, he was commissioned a captain in Colonel William Richardsonís battalion of the Maryland Line.2 He seems to have been mustered out in
October of the same year.3

"Robert Wright did not begin his political career until after the wart when in 1784 he was elected to the House of Delegates from Queen Anneís County. He was not a member during the session of November 1785, but in the following year he was chosen to represent Kent County, evidently moving again to that county. After his term had expired, he seems to have devoted himself to his law practice for the next dozen years.

"During the war, Wright married Sarah DeCoursey, the daughter of Colonel William DeCoursey, but there is no information available to [p. 56] indicate the date or the place of the marriage. Sarah Wright appears to have died shortly, for Wright married a Miss Ringgold of Kent County, but again there is no information about the date or the place of this marriage. By these marriages, Wright had several sons.

"Robert Wright was elected to a seat in the U. S. Senate in 1801 and took his seat in December of that year, serving in the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Congresses, and resigning in 1806 when he was elected governor. During his term he thoroughly supported the administration of Thomas Jefferson. In his first speech delivered on January 15, 1802, he supported the repeal of the act reorganizing the judiciary, while in 1806, he introduced a bill which would protect and indemnify American seamen.

"On November 10, 1806, Robert Wright was elected Governor of Maryland, defeating Charles Carroll of Carrollton, John E. Howard and Thomas Johnson. When he accepted his gubernatorial office, Wright defended his position on national issues while he was a member of Congress. 'I have most cordially cooperated with a virtuous administration in promoting the best interests of our common country; in repealing such laws as imposed odious and unnecessary taxes on our fellow citizens; in restoring the national judiciary to the state it had [attained] in the time of our Washington; in the purchase of Louisiana, and thereby extending to our western brethren the great advantages of the important port of Orleans and the navigation of the Missouri, with all its tributary streams; in the measures adopted to acquire the Floridas that the American empire might be consolidated and a risk of collisions with a colony of Spain avoided; in the cultivation of the arts of peace with all our foreign relations, with temper and good faith; in an honest neutrality with all the belligerent powers, and in an exact discharge of every duty imposed on us by existing treaties or by the law of nations, and in the laudable attention that has been paid to our native brethren, the savage tribes, in instructing them in the culture of the soil and domestic manufactures, and thereby inducing them to convert their scalping knives into pruning hooks and their tomahawks into implements of husbandry, and both by precepts and examples teaching them to prefer the pacific olive to the bloody laurel.'4

"During Robert Wrightís three-year term, the General Assembly enacted several important pieces of legislation. Among them in 1806, was an act to open a road from Cumberland to the Ohio, while another prevented the immigration of free negroes into the State. In 1807, the Legislature voted the reorganization of the militia and established boards of agriculture. In 1808, one act prevented persons from staking out seines across the Wicomico River, while another empowered the Governor to purchase arms for the use of the militia.

"James Tilghman, a justice of the Court of Appeals representing Queen Anneís County died, so Wright resigned as governor on May 6, 1809, in anticipation of being selected to fill the vacancy. He called the legislators into special session to elect his successor, and apologized to [p. 57] that body for his action in resigning, pointed out the reasons for believing he should be appointed. He called attention to his 'revolutionary services,' his 'long and respectable standing at the bar,' his 'political integrity tested by your appointment as a Senator of the United States, and repeated appointments of me as Governor of the State of Maryland, with the Councilís personal knowledge of my administration.' These qualifications convinced him that he 'would have no serious competition for the appointment. He failed to receive it. Instead, Richard Tilghman Earle received it. Even so, at the time of his resignation, he insisted that the public know all the facts. He hoped that Napoleonís defeat 'by a pacific and wise policy, and not by the Blood of our citizens, and a tax principally paid by the poor, whereby America has been taught her strength,' would be cause for congratulation and celebration. He hoped also that his administration would cause 'the restoration of commerce and on the pleasing prospect of a happy accommodation of our differences with Great Britain.'5

"Wrightís resignation marked the first time such a thing had occurred. Be announced that fact quite simply and briefly to the point:

ď'To the Honourable the Members of the Council of Maryland:

"I Robert Wright Governor of the State of Maryland do hereby resign my office. In Testimony Whereof I do hereunto set my hand this sixth day of May eighteen hundred and nine at Annapolis.
                                                                                                Robert Wright'6

"The Council Proceedings for May 8, 1809 contain the terse note that 'His Excellency Robert Wright, Esquire, having resigned on Saturday the sixth Instant, the honorable James Butcher qualified as Governor before Gideon White, one of the Justices of the Peace of Anne Arundel County in the Council Room in the presence of the Members of the Council agreeably to the thirty-second section of the Constitution and Form of Government.'7 A month later, or on June 5, 1809, 'at a meeting of the General Assembly of Maryland pursuant to a Proclamation signed by His Excellency James Butcher, Esquire, for the purpose of appointing a Governor for the residue of the year in the room of Robert Wright, resigned, they proceeded to said appointment when Honorable Edward Lloyd was appointed.'8

"Wright was inactive politically until 1810, when he was selected to fill a vacancy in the U. S. House of Representatives. He continued as a member until he was defeated in 1816, but he again represented his district between 1820 and 1823. Finally, in May of that year, he was rewarded by the appointment as an associate judge of the district court comprising Cecil, Kent, Queen Anneís and Talbot Counties. He occupied this position until his death.

"In 1801, Wright had purchased 'Blakeford,' a Queen Anneís County estate on the peninsula formed by Queenstown Creek and the Chester [p. 58] River, which he had known as a youth. It is said that he acquired it because of its water situation, its convenience of access, and because it was near his wifeís property.9 Wright became a breeder of fine horses, keeping a fine stable at 'Blakeford.' He also became a member of the American Board of Agriculture.

"Robert Wright died at 'Blakeford' on September 7, 1826. He was buried beside his first wife at Cheston-on-Wye some six miles below 'Blakeford on the Back Wye River. He left an estate valued at nearly $7,000, including twenty-seven negroes and a large number of horses."10

Notes on sources

Return to biographical profile