When Catherine “Kitty” Payne first arrived in northern Adams County, she was almost certainly assisted by William and Phebe Wright, prominent members of the Quaker faith and agents on the Underground Railroad. Later, after Catherine’s death, her daughter Mary would live with the Wrights for a decade or more. The Wrights were some of the most important figures in the Underground Railroad network, and their presence is probably one of the key reasons Gettysburg was a critical stop on the Underground Railroad. In his autobiographical work on the Underground Railroad, William Still credited the Wrights with having helped more than one thousand people to escape slavery.
The Wrights were Quakers, and the areas north of Gettysburg were heavily settled by German immigrants and Quakers. The following maps help to see illustrate. The Wrights attended the Menallen Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends, which was founded in 1748 and is still in operation today. The following map shows Menallen’s location in relation to Gettysburg.
The Wrights actually lived in Latimore, a neighboring township, which can be seen in the following map.
The 1840s census records are less detailed. but the 1850s and 1860s are instructive on how the Wrights lived. The 1850 and 1860 census records are as follows. Note the “B” in the color column of members of their household.
Notice that the names are not consistent. That’s because the Wrights had people cycling in and out of their household during their entire lives. For many people who had fled slavery, the Wright house became a permanent or semi-permanent residence until they were able to secure better clothes, identity papers, and enough money to find their own places.
Why were the Wrights so committed to the ongoing assistance of runaways? This was fundamental to the Quaker religion. As far back as the 1790s, George Washington himself complained that an escaped enslaved person he had owned was being sheltered by a Quaker family. Quaker congregations have been famously egalitarian since inception with a dedication equality among the sexes and races. Unlike other religions in the United States, Quakers were not torn apart by sectional politics.
While schisms occurred in most Protestant religions between their northern and southern congregations, Quaker congregations remained united around their principles. A Quaker family in Washington, Virginia, helped fund Catherine Payne’s legal case against Samuel Maddox. They did so at the behest, perhaps, of the Wrights.