Legend has it that mountain man Peter Wright, snowbound in a cave for four days, resorted to eating part of his moccasin for sustanance. Thankfully, before he had consumed all of his footwear, a deer ambled by. He promptly shot it and made a meal out of raw venison. He returned home safely, most likely with very cold feet.
A recent trip to the Virginia Historical Society, coupled with a family history left behind by J.R. Boyce, confirmed the Thompson linkage to the Wright family and the legendary Peter Wright. An archival search turned up an article based on a family history written by a distant cousin, William Wright (1783-1880), in Volume XXXIII of the Kentucky State Historical Society. The article may explain a seeming genetic disposition among Thompsons, especially younger ones, to chew on their shoes.
The article basically reprints a letter left behind by William Wright, who lays out in painstaking detail the genealogy of the Wright family, going back to Adam Wright (1669-1749), who lived in the Oyster Bay Colony of Long Island. With the help of Ancestry.com, we can take the Wright clan back even further. The first Wright to arrive in this country was Adam Wright’s grandfather, another Peter, who born in 1595 in Wendling, Norfolk, England.
The Thompson family intersects with the Wrights through Annie Marie Boyce (1846-1894), whose mother was Maria Louisa Wright (1820-1875). Maria Louisa was the daughter of another William Wright (1796-1849) and Jane H. Wright (1798-1835). They were cousins. No family history would be complete without a little inbreeding.
Being related to Peter Wright, though, provides plenty of consolation for a weakened gene pool. He was a legend in his time. In fact, the entire Appalachian mountain range where he ate his shoe is named after him, Peters Mountain. He was one of the very earliest colonial settlers of Alleghany County, Va.
“He emigrated to Bottetourt Co. Virginia at a very early period in the settlement of that part of Viginia,” writes William Wright. “He married Jane Hughart and settled on Jackson’s river, between the mouth of Dunlap’s and Potts Creek.”
Resorting to consuming footware for sustenance isn’t the only legend surrounding Wright. Peter Wright hunted most of the 52-mile range that eventually bore his name, marking trails that were followed by others.
Mrs. Scott McClintic, quoted in “WPA Historical Inventory, No. 131: Fort Young,” by Mary S. Venable, notes that Wright made trails all over Monroe, Bath, Alleghany counties and further West. He was the first to make a path over 4000-foot-high Peters Mountain.
“[T]he name came about thus: One hunter would say to another, ‘going hunting?’ ‘How you are going; over the mountain?’ ‘Im goin’ by Peter’s path.’ Later they started saying ‘I’m going over Peter’s Mountain.'”
The shoe-eating incident, according to this document, occurred near the home of John Lewis, who lived near what is now known as Big Ridge. Wright took refuge for several days under a shelving rock that is said to be on the right side of State Route 311, just after the entrance road to Alleghany Cemetery.
According to oral legend related by Mrs. McClintic, Wright had gone out without his hunting gear, though he must have been carrying a gun if he shot a deer. “He traveled light and did not have his hunting paraphernalia and so he knew he could get no game if he went out and the snow was too deep to make any progress,” she’s quoted as saying.
When Peter Wright settled in a part of Alleghany County, Va., known as the cowpasture in the spring of 1746, it was one of the westernmost settlements in the “new country.” He promptly surveyed 286 acres of bottom land along the Jackson River. [Most of current-day Covington, Va., is built there now.] The land was pretty rugged wilderness when Wright settled there, according to Alleghany County Heritage, Volume 1. The river bottom was the only practical place to put a cabin.
The other reason to live on the bottom land was that it was fertile. Though he loved to hunt, Wright knew that wild game would not be enough to secure his survival. He planted corn and wheat, and eventually, to grind his crops, he built a grist mill. The mill was probably located at the edge of the Jackson River, near Covington High School’s Cassy Field, according to one historical source.
Two years after he settled in Alleghany County, Wright married a neighbor, Jane Hughart, the daughter of James and Agnes (Jordon) Hughart of the Cowpasture. The couple produced 13 offspring. In the beginning, the family probably lived in a small, round log cabin, with a roof made from long riven shingles held down by weight poles. Floors in those days were typically made of puncheons (heavy timber slabs), or even bare ground.
The Wrights may have entertained some wandering Moravian missionaries in 1749. According to a diary they left behind, the missionaries swam across Jackson River with some difficulty. Then, after crossing Dunlap Creek, they reached a house, “perhaps that of Peter Wright,” according to the Centennial History of Allegheny County. “Here they slept on bearskins, the same as the members of the family.”
The Moravians were not impressed with the conditions in this part of the New World. They reported that people along their route lived like savages (though hopefully not the Wrights!). They wore deerskin clothes. Hunting was their main pursuit. They pounded corn and separated it into hominy and meal. They used bear oil as a substitute for butter.
As his fortunes improved, Peter Wright probably moved up to a better residence. Perhaps he owned a home that was as nice as the one that Captain William Jameson built in 1752. It was a one-and-a-half-story house that measured 18 by 24 feet, clear. He paid all of $22.50 to have it built.
There were no banks in West Virginia in the mid-1700s, so prosperous people like the Wrights and Jamesons were forced to hide their money. According to “A History of Bath,” Wright stashed his cash on Peters Mountain. It wasn’t found until a hundred years later. That may explain why he spent so much time crossing the hills.
Peters Mountain is notorious for another reason. It is known throughout the world for producing one of nature’s great noises. In the spring, when conditions are right, a great roaring wind can be heard through the hills. It’s described as a “tremendous roar of giant waves breaking over rocky reefs.” The phenomena occurs in only one other place, on the island of Penang, off the Malay Peninsula.
When Peter died, he divided his land between two of his sons, John and William, according to the Centennial History.
“Not many years afterward the Wrights went West,” according to the document. “We are told that one of them sold his land to George Sibley for $500 in cash, a wagon and two horses, and a barrel of whiskey, using the wagon and team to move to the vicinity of Indianapolis. The Peter Wright of 1782 was seemingly the most wealthy man in the valley.”