We know where Orrin Burright and his brother Ashbell Burright [Asabel] were in 1840. According to ‘The History of Van Wert County,’ they were members of the Indicting Jury in the first murder trial at the Van Wert County courthouse. This intriguing piece of our family history was recently uncovered while searching the Historical Books section of the LDS Family Search website, shedding light on the Burright family’s early involvement in the legal proceedings of Van Wert County, Ohio.

Van Wert County Ohio, First Court House

The text lists the primary judges for the trial and then elaborates on the composition of the grand jury, stating:

“The grand jury that indicted was composed of Josiah Foster, William R. Kear, Jacob M. Harpster, Peter Bullenbaugher, David Major, William Johns, Lyman S. Wells, Asabell Burright, James Major, William Glenn, George Leslie, Daniel M. Beard, Joseph D. Moore, Orrin Burright and Samuel Moore.”

This detail not only highlights the community’s role in the judicial process but also places the Burright brothers within the broader context of Van Wert County’s legal history.

From various family records, we know Orrin spent time in Ohio before moving to Illinois in the mid-1800s. His son, Joseph Warren Burright, was born in Washington Township in 1833. It was only after some in-depth research, including land purchase evidence in Illinois, that we realized Orrin had several brothers and sisters, including Ashball Burright. Discovering a narrative that included both brothers in the early days of Van Wert County was a significant find, adding depth and color to their stories.

The First Van Wert County Trial for Murder

According to ‘The History of Van Wert County,’ on January 10, 1840, a Wyandot Indian named Tawohesackwaugh inflicted a fatal wound in the neck of a fellow Wyandot, Sacheewaugh, who died four days later. The subsequent trial in May 1840 concluded with Tawohesackwaugh being found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to five years in a county penitentiary, although he was later pardoned to join his tribe in the West.

The trial attracted significant attention, with ‘over 100 Indians’ reported to be at the Van Wert County courthouse. The proceedings were contentious, with many white settlers opposing the trial and advocating for the defendant to be handed over to the Wyandot tribe for judgment. Despite these tensions, the book recounts that Tawohesackwaugh’s wife and mother expressed relief at his sentencing, hopeful that he would reform.

While county histories like these can provide valuable clues to events, they often contain biases and misinformation, so this story prompts a desire for further exploration into Van Wert County, Ohio court records from the mid-1800s to corroborate and expand upon these accounts. Such records could offer a more nuanced understanding of the legal landscape during this period and enrich the Burright family history with additional details and context.

References:

The History of Van Wert County, Ohio and Representative Citizens. Edited & Compiled by Thaddeus S. Gilliland. 1906
The Sun Rides High. compiled by Ora Blanche. 1976
Burright Family Tree