WRIGHT, GEORGE, educator and Church of England clergyman; b. 1752 in Omagh (Northern Ireland), son of William Wright; m. 12 Sept. 1787 Mary Cochran in New York City; d. 1 Aug. 1819 in Halifax, N.S.
George Wright was educated at Trinity College, Dublin (Republic of Ireland), and graduated with a ba in 1782. Shortly thereafter he emigrated to New York, where he taught school and officiated for a time at St Mark’s Church by the Ferry in Brooklyn (New York City). In 1788 he was recommended by the lord primate of Ireland and “several persons of judgement & veracity at New York” for missionary service with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Two years later he moved to Halifax to succeed his brother-in-law, William Cochran*, as headmaster of the grammar school. On 7 April 1799 he was appointed minister of St George’s Church, which had been built in 1758 to serve the “foreign Protestants” of Halifax. Although the congregation was still composed mainly of German Lutherans, Wright reported that only a few members of his flock retained their own language.
Immediately after his appointment to St George’s, Wright became involved in the building of a new church. With the help of the Duke of Kent [Edward Augustus], who was then serving as commander of forces in British North America, a grant of £500 was obtained from the British government, and to this sum the province later added £1,000. Plans for a circular structure, a design favoured by the duke, were drawn by William Hughes, master builder in the royal dockyard, with the assistance of John Merrick* and J. Flieger of the surveyor general’s department. The result, St George’s Round Church, still stands – an architectural landmark of downtown Halifax. Wright officiated at the laying of the cornerstone by Lieutenant Governor Sir John Wentworth on 10 April 1800. He also preached the sermon at the first service in the new structure on 19 July 1801.
From 1799 until his death Wright simultaneously pursued three careers: chaplain of the garrison, headmaster of the grammar school, and rector of St George’s. Since his church was not legally constituted as a parish until 1827, jurisdictional disputes with St Paul’s, the other Anglican church in the city, inevitably arose. The most serious of these, concerning the issuance of marriage licences, developed in 1800 and led to a breach between Wright and the rector of St Paul’s, Robert Stanser*. To add to Wright’s problems, the grammar school was in constant financial difficulty. During the period from 1808 to 1812 the House of Assembly repeatedly vetoed the annual grant to the headmaster, and each year Wright petitioned for redress. Reasons for the assembly’s position are obscure; however, Bishop Charles Inglis, who sided with Wright, suggested that in the minds of some assemblymen the Halifax grammar school was no more entitled to financial aid than any other school in the province. The grant was restored in 1813 and continued thereafter.
Wright was apparently a spirited individual: he was always ready to leap to the defence of his school, and on one occasion he shouldered a musket and marched to the Grand Parade when an alarm was spread that French transports were preparing to land an invading force. In 1817 he suffered a stroke and was largely inactive for the remainder of his life. There is some reason to believe that he married twice, but only his wife Mary appears in historical sources; it was she who inherited the bulk of his estate upon his death in 1819. His son William Wright was a business partner of Andrew Belcher*, a prominent Halifax merchant.
Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), W 138 (will and estate papers of George Wright) (mfm. at PANS). PANS, MG 4, St George’s Anglican Church, Halifax, Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials; MG 9, no.43: 300–27; MG 20, 677, no. 14; MG 100, 151, nos.4b–4c; RG 1, 298. PRO, CO 217/130. USPG, Journal of SPG, 25: 92, 414; 26: 391; 27: 10, 54, 313, 317–18, 366, 412–13, 415–20; 28: 53–57, 172, 302–3, 386, 438; 29: 170, 325, 418–19; 30: 8, 33–34, 151; 32: 281. Acadian Recorder, 7 Aug. 1819. Royal Gazette and the Nova Scotia Advertiser (Halifax), 3 Jan. 1794. Weekly Chronicle (Halifax), 13 Aug. 1819. Akins, Hist. of Halifax City. Fingard, Anglican design in loyalist N.S. R. V. Harris, The Church of Saint Paul in Halifax, Nova Scotia: 1749–1949 (Toronto, 1949).