The possession of slaves was a mark of wealth for many southerners and the Whaley family of Edisto Island, SC was no exception. In 1827 they purchased a group of Africans from the coast of West Africa. One of them was Zedekiah, a keen advocate of freedom. In a pamphlet by Nancy Whaley, she described Zedekiah as a very intelligent boy. She further stated that, “Although the expansion of the cotton kingdom fastened human bondage for the slaves on her grandfather’s plantation, not all slaves were willing to accept slavery as a way of life.” Zedekiah was one such person. Zedekiah took the last name Wright when he overheard his overseers talking about a woman named Frances Wright (1795-1852) who was a lecturer and journalist and who also worked to promote human rights in the United States. Frances Wright supported the abolition of slavery and public education for children. That lit a spark in Zedekiah.
Although Zedekiah died in 1845 and never lived in physical freedom, he instilled in his son Zigmon, the attitudes that would lead him to learn all that he could in whatever he did. That attitude led Zigmon to always want to be among the ones who knew all aspects of the work required on the plantation. According to the article by Nancy Whaley, her grandfather was one of the first to purchase a cotton gin and Zigmon Wright was the first slave to learn to operate the machine.
On a cold winter morning, December 8, 1886, Zigmon and Molcie Wright gave birth to a son, Peter. As the result of an accident while operating the cotton gin, however, Zigmon died when Peter was very young. Due to the untimely death of his father, Peter was reared by his maternal grandmother, Abby. A picture always remained in his memory of his maternal grandmother because she told him tales of his ancestors who came to Edisto Island, SC and Georgia by way of the slave market. He was proud of the fact that his father and grandfather were skilled craftsmen, who passed from generation to generation the idea of development of the mind “to the fullest under the circumstances of the time”.
Peter was a quiet and reflective person. Like his father and grandfather before him, he always tried to learn what he thought would benefit him and his family. As a young person, he became the handyman around the “Big House” of Simon Whaley. It was he who oversaw the work of the gin during the cotton season. At other times he worked around the house seeing that the windmill, the cane mill and other machinery around the plantation were in working order. When Simon Whaley purchased the first car on the island, a 1910 Model-T Ford, Peter made history by being the first black man on the island to drive a car.
In the early 1900′s Peter Wright met and married , in his own words, ” the prettiest black woman on Edisto “. She was Hattie Singleton, daughter of Emma and Cain Singleton. They were blessed with eleven children including his step-daughter Magdaline, Edith, Gertrude, James, Rena, Peter Jr., Georgianna, Evelyn, Dewey, Carrie and William. When Hattie died during child birth, Peter took on the full responsibility of raising all his children.
Though not formally educated, Peter learned to read and write. He was an avid reader and extremely adept at mathematical calculations. He instilled in his children a love for education that was passed on to his grandchildren and is being passed on to their children. Members of his family have since been educated in colleges and universities of all kinds over much of the continental United States. In addition, some have proudly served in every branch of the military as veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and the Iraq war. Descendants of Peter and Hattie Wright are making a difference in the fields of Education, Law, Business, Politics, Medicine, Government, Music and The Fine Arts.