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WRIGHT, ALFRED (1788-1853)

A missionary and preacher, Alfred Wright was also a physician, a translator, and an educator. His faith and determination brought him from Mississippi to Indian Territory to continue his educational and religious mission among the Choctaws. He established the Wheelock Mission school (later Female Seminary) for the education of Choctaw children and in 1844-46 built the Wheelock Church. Located near the school outside Millerton, Oklahoma, it remains the oldest church building still in use in Oklahoma today.

Wright was born March 1, 1788, in Columbia, Connecticut. He graduated from Williams College, and his life journey in the ministry led him to Andover Seminary and then ordination in Charleston, South Carolina, on December 17, 1819. Shortly thereafter he received his assignment from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to establish a Presbyterian mission with the Choctaws in Goshen, Mississippi. There he stayed until 1823 when he moved to Mayhew, Mississippi. Wright was to meet and marry Harriett Bunce, who shared and equaled his desire for mission work and education of the Choctaws. She had been born on September 19, 1779, to Capt. Jared and Lydia Prettyplace Bunce. The Wrights were married in 1825.

During the removal of the Choctaw from their homeland in Mississippi, Wright and his wife joined a group led by Thomas LeFlore and headed west, arriving in the new Choctaw country in December 1832. Reverend Wright became extremely ill along the way but, with the assistance of his wife and the help of teacher Anna Burnham, soon managed to establish a mission school, Wheelock. It is named after Eleazor Wheelock, Wright's friend and first president of Dartmouth College. Having studied medicine, Wright also acted as physician to the Choctaw peopel. Working in collaboration with Cyrus Byington and Joseph Dukes, Wright translated many religious works, including the New Testament and the Old Testament books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth into the Choctaw language. A hymn book and a spelling book were among the first books printed in Choctaw.

Alfred Wright, namesake of Choctaw Chief Allen Wright, died on March 31, 1853, and is buried within sight of his church. His wife returned to the East in 1854 and died on October 3, 1863.

SEE ALSO: AMERICAN INDIANS AND CHRISTIANITY, AMERICAN INDIANS AND EDUCATION, CHOCTAW, RELIGION.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth: Choshua, nan Apesa Uhleha holisso, micha Lulh holisso (New York: American Bible Society, 1852; Oklahoma Collection, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, Oklahoma City). Len Green, "Wheelock, Symbol of Belief, Dedication and Hardwork," Bishinik (January 1979). W. B. Morrison, "The Choctaw Mission of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 4 (June 1926). Justin D. Murphy, "Wheelock Female Seminary 1842-1861," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 69 (Spring 1991). Allen Wright, "Wheelock Seminary," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 1 (June 1921).

Kitty Pittman

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