Sunday, January 24, 2010

John Wesley "Devil John" Wright

Letcher County Kentucky

One of the most colorful men in Eastern Kentucky history was a man known as "Devil" (or "Bad") John Wright. John was a grandson of Joel Martin Wright and also John Wallis Bates - two of Letcher County's pioneer families.

He (Devil John Wright) was the great grandson of William Payne Johnson.. He was the son of Joel Ellis Wright and Eliza Agnes Bates Wright. John served as Sheriff of Wise Co., VA, and was at one time a Pinkerton Agent. It was from these years as a lawman the John was given the nickname of "Devil John". When tracking an enemy or an outlaw, John never relented until he got his man...thus to be chased by John Wright was to have the Devil himself at your heels.

To continue reading: Click Here.

Note: This sprawling article begins with a fairly lengthy summary of the history of Letcher County which is interesting its own right and provides background for the discussion of Devil John which follows.

For more details on Devil John's genealogy: Click Here.


  1. Bad John Wright was not the grandson of William Payne Johnson.
    His grandparents on his father's side were Joel and Susannah Wright. This is widely known and is clearly shown in the census records and family histories.

  2. Note, the article says that William Payne Johnson was his great grandfather, not his grandfather. It correctly names Joel Wright as paternal grandfather.

  3. Sorry Dennis. I meant to write, "Bad John Wright was not the great grandson of William Payne Johnson."
    Bad John Wright's mother, Eliza Bates, was the daughter of John Wallis Bates and Sarah Waltrop (or Waltrop). John Wallis Bates was definitely not the son of a Johnson and neither was Sarah Waltrup. John Wallis Bates' father was Wm Bates or one of Wm's brothers. (This has been confirmed by Y-DNA tests.) Most of the Bates researchers believe that Wm was John Wallis Bates' father.
    As for Bad John Wright's father, Joel Wright, it is well known and confirmed by various records and numerous oral histories that Joel was the son of Joel Wright (born abt 1785) and Susannah Wright (born abt 1785). As other men in the distant past with the surname Wright have been found with the same Y-DNA as Bad John Wright it is clear that old Joel Wright (born abt. 1785) was indeed a Wright and not a Johnson.
    This leaves only Susannah, old Joel's wife, as the only possibilty. For anyone named William Payne Johnson to have been Bad John Wright's great grandfather it would have been necessary for Wm Payne Johnson to have been the father of Susannah. There has never been any suggestion of this anywhere or by anyone that I have discussed this with in the past 50 years. No one knows what Susannah's real surname was. There has been speculation as to her being an Indian, a Bates or a Bentley, but none of these speculative claims has any evidence whatsoever to back it up. If Susannah was a Johnson I would be the first to state it, but even among the large number of speculative claims in the past there has never been any such claim that Susannah was a Johnson or that her father was a Johnson.
    The likely source of this mistake is the fact that there are many John W. Wrights in the same extended Wright-family and that one or more of these may well be descended from a Wm Payne Johnson. Given the many marriages between the Johnsons and Wrights in that area the probability is high that one of the many John W. Wrights is indeed a great grandson of a Wm Payne Wright.

  4. I know John did help Jesse and Frank James out at least 1 time but does anyone know if he was related to them? I am distantly related to John, Joel was my ggggg grandfather and there is an old family story that we are related to the James brothers.

  5. John Wesley Wright is my great-great grandfather. I have heard my family tell the story many times as a child. His daughter Flora had a son Roy Cantrell which is my mother's dad. Pretty neat!!

  6. Devil John is my great-great grandfather also :)
    He had Frank Wampler Wright with Alice Harman, who had Frank Wampler Wright Jr., who had my mother, who had me.
    I was looking at a few websites, and John seems to have gotten quite busy in his lifetime, having had 35 children and been a detective and stuff... And more than one "wife" at once, sometimes more than two. Mama said he didn't get saved till he was in his eighties.
    I think that Alice being born in 1818 is a mistake or something; she couldn't have had my great-grandfather when she was that old! (he was born in 1894)

  7. Gayle Wright WeberJuly 8, 2010 at 3:04 PM

    Dennis, Devil John was my great-grandfather. Do you think he was Melungeon? I found your blog here when I googled his name.

  8. It's amazing to think of all the people I am related to because of this... fruitful man. Haha.

    John is my ggg Grandfather. The one of 30 some children my branch came from was Samuel Preston, then so on.

  9. Huh, how is it you put Devil John on a Melungeon Blog? You know something his family does not?

  10. Appearing in the blog does not imply that he was a Melungeon. The blog has always concerned itself with all things Southern Appalachian. As it says at the top, the blog is ". . . dedicated to the Melungeons and their descendents and to the world in which they have lived . . ." Devil John was part of that world.

  11. Same answer applies to Gayle's comment made on July 8th, 2010, at a time I did not have access to the net. My apologies for not noticing it earlier! To be crystal clear on this point: I do not believe Devil John was a Melungeon.