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Wright, Richard (1764-1836) (DNB00)


WRIGHT, RICHARD (1764–1836), unitarian missionary, eldest son of Richard Wright, was born at Blakeney, Norfolk, on 7 Feb. 1764. His father was a labourer; his mother, Anne (d. 11 Oct. 1810), claimed cousinship with Sir John Fenn [q. v.] A relative (who died in 1776) sent him to school, and would have done more had his parents not joined the dissenters. He served as page, and was apprenticed to a shopkeeper, joined (1780) the independent church at Guestwick under John Sykes (d. 1824), and began village preaching on week nights, an irregularity for which he was excommunicated. The Wesleyans opened their pulpits to him, but he did not join them. For a short time he ministered to a newly formed general baptist congregation at Norwich. Here he made the acquaintance of Samuel Fisher, who had been dismissed on a moral charge from the ministry of St. Mary's particular baptist church, Norwich, and had joined the Sabellian particular baptists, founded by John Johnson (1706–1791) [q. v.] Fisher ministered for periods of six months alternately at a chapel of this class in Deadman's Lane, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, and a chapel erected (1778) by his friends in Pottergate Street, Norwich. Wright was engaged to alternate thus with Fisher at both places. After no long time the arrangement was broken, Wright giving his whole time to Wisbech. His views rapidly changed; he brought his congregation with him from Calvinism to unitarianism. Some time after they had been disowned by the Johnsonian baptists, he procured their admission to the general baptist assembly. His influence extended to the general baptist congregation at Lutton, Lincolnshire, which had become universalist (1790). This introduced him (1797) to William Vidler [q. v.], to whose periodical, the ‘Universalist's Miscellany,’ he contributed (in the last half of 1797) a series of letters (reprinted Edinburgh, 1797, 8vo). Vidler and he exchanged visits, and he made Vidler a unitarian (by 1802). At this time he wrote much on universalism. He began to travel as a missionary, and in 1806 the ‘unitarian fund’ was established in London, with Wright as the first travelling missionary. His journeys were mostly on foot; his effectiveness was greater in private converse than as a preacher; his debating skill and temper were alike admirable. In 1810 he resigned his charge at Wisbech, to devote himself entirely to itinerant work. His travels extended through most parts of England and Wales, and in Scotland as far as Aberdeen. In 1819 the ‘unitarian fund’ brought him to London to superintend the organisation of local preachers. He became (September 1822) minister of a baptist congregation at Trowbridge, Wiltshire, which he brought into the general baptist assembly. In 1827 he removed to the charge of a small congregation at Kirkstead, Lincolnshire [see Taylor, John, 1694–1761]. Here he died on 16 Sept. 1836; a tablet to his memory is in Kirkstead chapel. His portrait has been engraved. He was a little man; at a public dinner in 1810 he ‘mounted the table’ to make a rousing speech (Christian Reformer, 1860, p. 264). His first wife died on 6 June 1828. He left a widow and three daughters. His brother, F. B. Wright (d. 26 May 1837), was a printer and lay-preacher in Liverpool, author of ‘History of Religious Persecutions’ (Liverpool, 1816, 8vo), and editor of the ‘Christian Reflector’ (1822–7, 8vo), a unitarian monthly. His brother, John Wright, lay-preacher in Liverpool, was the subject of an abortive prosecution for blasphemy in a sermon delivered on Tuesday, 1 April 1817. He emigrated to Georgetown, United States of America. Richard Wright's grandson, John Wright (1824–1900), was one of the projectors (1861) of the ‘Unitarian Herald.’

Among Wright's very numerous publications, most of which were often reprinted, the following may be noted. 1. ‘An Abridgment of Five Discourses … Universal Restoration,’ Wisbech, 1798, 8vo. 2. ‘The Anti-Satisfactionist,’ Wisbech, 1805, 8vo (against the doctrine of atonement). 3. ‘An Apology for Dr. Michael Servetus,’ Wisbech, 1806, 8vo (has no original value). 4. ‘An Essay on the Existence of the Devil,’ 1810, 12mo. 5. ‘Essay on the Universal Restoration,’ 1816, 12mo. 6. ‘Essay on a Future Life,’ Liverpool, 1819, 12mo. 7. ‘The Resurrection of the Dead,’ Liverpool, 1820, 12mo. 8. ‘Christ Crucified,’ Liverpool, 1822, 12mo. 9. ‘Review of the Missionary Life and Labours … by Himself,’ 1824, 12mo. He left an autobiography, which has not been published.

[Memoir, by F. B. W[right], in Christian Reformer, 1836, pp. 749, 833; Biographical Dict. of Living Authors, 1816; Missionary Life and Labours, 1824; Christian Reformer, 1828, p. 315; Monthly Repository, 1817, pp. 244, 306, 431 (for John Wright); minute-book of Wisbech baptist congregation; extract from Blakeney parish register, per the Rev. R. H. Tillard.]

A. G.