Bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. Father of aviation pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright.
November 17, 1828 – April 3, 1917
Milton, a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, was born in Rush County, Indiana, to farmers Dan Wright, Jr., and Catharine Reeder. He was their fifth child (of an eventual seven) and fourth son. Dan Wright was a teetotaler who accepted lower payments when he sold his corn, so it would not be made into whiskey, and an uncompromising abolitionist. Milton also supported these causes, transmitting these values to his children. At the age of 12, Milton moved with his family to a farm in Fayette County, Indiana. It was while working in the fields of his parents’ farm at the age of 15 that he experienced a religious conversion. In 1848, the Reverend Joseph Ball baptized Milton into the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. In 1850, the United Brethren licensed Milton to preach. He was admitted to the church’s local governing body in 1853 and was ordained as a minister in 1856. While a student at Hartsville University in 1853, Milton met Susan C. Koerner. After courting for several years, and after Milton served as a missionary for the United Brethren in the western United States, they married in Indiana on November 24, 1859. Milton and Susan had seven children, five of whom survived infancy. Susan died in 1889 of tuberculosis; Milton never remarried.
Milton and his family first moved to Dayton in 1869 when he became editor of the United Brethren periodical, The Religious Telescope. His prominence within his denomination grew, and in 1877 Milton’s colleagues elected him bishop. The next year his duties expanded to include the administration of the church’s Western conferences. He and Susan moved their family to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to allow Milton to live closer to the churches he served. Milton cared greatly about the intellectual development of his children and maintained a large and varied library in which they read. His gift of a toy helicopter to Wilbur and Orville in 1878 helped develop their interest in aviation.
The Wright family returned to Dayton, home of the United Brethren’s publishing house, for a final time in 1884 when Milton desired to live closer to the United Brethren headquarters and publishing house during the culmination of years of theological conflict between Radical and Liberal elements of the church. Milton, a leader of United Brethren members known as Radicals who were loyal to the denomination’s old constitution, was instrumental in an 1889 denominational schism. Milton was a respected elder statesman of the United Brethren in Christ – Old Constitution until his retirement from the active ministry in 1905.
Milton continued to live with sons Wilbur and Orville and daughter Katharine after his wife’s death in 1889. He flew once, with Orville at Huffman Prairie in 1910, and moved with Orville and Katharine to Hawthorn Hill in Oakwood in 1914. He conducted extensive genealogical research into the ancestry of his family and maintained a diary that chronicled nearly sixty years of his life. Milton died at Hawthorn Hill on April 3, 1917. He is buried in Dayton’s Woodland Cemetery.
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