South Carolina Supreme Court Justices

Jonathan Jasper Wright
Date Born: February 11, 1840

 Date Died: February 18, 1885

Place Born: Luzerne County, PA

Place Buried: Calvary Episcopal Church Cemetery in Charleston, SC


Associate Justice 1870 - 1877

Jonathan Jasper Wright was born on February 11, 1840 in Luzerne County, PA, of free parents, names not known. When he was about six years old his parents removed to Montrose in Susquehanna County, PA. He attended the district school during the winter months, working for the neighboring farmers the rest of the year.

Having saved up a small sum of money, Jonathan Jasper Wright entered the Lancasterian University, at Ithaca, NY. After a thorough course of study there, he returned to Montrose, PA. He entered the office of a law firm, where he read law for two years, supporting himself by teaching. He subsequently entered the office of Judge Collins, in Wilkes-Barre, PA, with whom he read law for another year. He applied for admission to the Pennsylvania bar but the committee refused to examine him because of his race.

In April of 1865, the American Missionary Society sent Jonathan Jasper Wright to Beaufort, SC, as a teacher and laborer among the freed slaves. He remained in Beaufort until the Civil Rights Act passed. Then he returned to Montrose, PA, and demanded an examination for the Pennsylvania bar. The committee found him qualified, and recommended his admission. He was admitted on August 13, 1865, and was the first African American admitted to practice law in Pennsylvania.

In April of 1866, Jonathan Jasper Wright was appointed by General Oliver Otis Howard as head of the Freedmen's Bureau in Beaufort, SC to be the legal adviser for the freedmen. In July of 1868 he was elected to the Constitutional Convention of South Carolina. He was the convention Vice-President and helped draft the judiciary section of the SC Constitution, which remains today.

In 1868, Jonathan Jasper Wright was elected to represent Beaufort County in the SC Senate of the:
- 48th General Assembly that met from 1868 to 1870

On February 1, 1870, Jonathan Jasper Wright was elected as Associate Justice of the SC Supreme Court, replacing Associate Justice Solomon Lafayette Hoge, who had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and Wright resigned his Senate seat on February 2, 1870. He served as Associate Justice for seven years. When the new Democrat-controlled legislature attempted to impeach Wright for corruption and malfeasance he at first denied the charges and vowed to defend his name and record. By August 1877, however, realizing he would not win, Wright submitted his resignation.

Jonathan Jasper Wright left the SC Supreme Court and entered into private practice in Charleston, then commuted to Orangeburg where he established the law department at Claflin College. He also taught law from his Charleston law office. Jonathan Wright died of tuberculosis in Charleston (some say Orangeburg) on February 18, 1885, and he was buried in the Calvary Episcopal Church Cemetery in Charleston, SC. He was never married.

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