Henry Wright (1782-1856) and Joanna Henwood (1782-1845)

This is the story of an English shoemaker from Devon with unknown ancestry and few records to chart his life, and the young woman he married from the neighboring county of Cornwall whose ancestry has been traced back to 1532.  Together, they had 11 children and left a huge posterity.

Henry Wright (1782 - 1856)

  • Born Plympton, Devon, England
  • Died Callington, Cornwall, England
  • Married 1803 Callington, Cornwall, England, to:

Joanna Henwood (1782 - 1845) 

  • Born Callington, Cornwall, England
  • Died Callington, Cornwall, England
  • Eleven children
© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons
Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.
© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

Shoemaking is an ancient craft. Tombstone depicts Xanthippos, a  Greek shoemaker, circa  425 BC.

No birth or baptism record has yet been found for Henry Wright. We know only from later documents that he was "of Plympton," which was a satellite village to Plymouth, the large port in the county of Devon, and that he made shoes for a living. On those documents his profession is described as "cordwainer," which allows for some conjecture about Henry's life.

In the 1800s, a cordwainer was a skilled artisan or craftsman who specialized in making high-quality shoes and other leather goods. Cordwainers were essentially shoemakers who worked with fine leather materials and employed intricate techniques to create custom-made shoes, often catering to wealthier clientele who could afford their services.

The term "cordwainer" originally referred to a guild or trade association of shoemakers in medieval England. Over time, it came to signify a shoemaker who crafted shoes from new and high-quality leather, as opposed to a "cobbler" who primarily repaired shoes.

In the 19th century, as industrialization took hold, the traditional craft of cordwaining began to shift. In the larger cities of England, mass production techniques and factories started producing shoes on a bigger scale. While some cordwainers continued to operate as skilled artisans, others transitioned to working in larger workshops or factories. But the Industrial Revolution had less impact on the trade in rural Cornwall than it did in the cities of England.  Mining, fishing and agriculture were what kept the Cornish economy afloat, and shoemaking  would have continued as a local craft carried out by skilled artisans, producing tough shoes also for miners, fishermen and farmers. In the substantial market town of Callington, where Henry married Joanna Henwood, he must have found enough work creating custom footwear for his clients that he was able to support a large family for most of his life.

Joanna was the sixth of seven children born to Robert Henwood a tailor, and Ann Boucher, who were married in 1770 in Callington.  It was Joanna's grandfather, John Henwood, who had made the family home in Callington some time before 1845. He and at least five generations of Henwoods from the 1500s had lived in the nearby villages of Menheniot and Quethiock, a few miles to the southwest.

The Henwood name is Anglo-Saxon in origin. There is an ancient village of the same name less than 10 miles from Callington, and it seems likely that the Henwoods originated in this area and remained within a few square miles for centuries. From there, the Henwood diaspora spread the name worldwide. Ship passenger lists and immigration records contain dozens of Henwood names from Cornwall who settled in Australia, New Zealand and the United States in the first half of the 19th century.

The Henwood surname also emerged elsewhere in ancient Anglo-Saxon and Norman Britain. Thomas Henwood was Lord of the manor at Honeywood in the parish of Cumnor in Berkshire in 1273. A branch of his family spread to Kent, where they named their place Henewood and maintained estates there for several centuries. However, no positive connection between these Henwoods and those of Cornwall has been established.  A coat of arms also exists for the Henwood family, probably originating with those from Berkshire.

As for Henry and Joanna Wright, their 11 children came regularly at intervals of 18-24 months from 1804 over the next 20 years. All were born in Callington. Two of their children carried Henwood as their middle names.

First son James and his wife Jennifer Hodge also had 11 children, and once again all were born in Callington. Second child Henry married Mary Pethick Cardew and had nine children in the same village. Their gravestone at St Mary's parish church is pictured.

Most of the remaining children of Henry and Joanna remained in Cornwall. But Charlotte, born in 1820, emigrated with her husband and a baby girl and settled in Vermont, in the United States.

Henry and Joanna's last child, Sarah Wright, married a soldier in the 59th Regiment of Foot, at Portsea on the south coast of England, but he died in 1856 in his mid-thirties. Sarah soon remarried another soldier in the same regiment, George Giles, and had five children before she also died at the relatively young age of 42 in Liverpool. She is the ancestor of this website's co-webmaster, Catherine Berry Otterson.

Like her siblings, Sarah signed her marriage certificate in 1856 with a perfectly legible hand. At that time, many of the working class signed with an "X," suggesting that Henry and Joanna ensured their children received an education that would be passed on as legacies to the Henwood and Wright posterity.

Right: Cathy Berry Otterson in St Mary's parish church, Callington, where her 3rd great grandparents, Henry Wright and Joanna Henwood, were married in 1803.

St Mary's, Callington. Photo: Michael Otterson
A Wright grave, St Mary's churchyard, Callington. Photo: Michael Otterson
A Wright grave, St Mary's churchyard, Callington. Photo: Michael Otterson
Coat of Arms of the ancient Henwood family. Credit: www.houseofnames.com
Coat of Arms of the ancient Henwood family. Credit: www.houseofnames.com
Inside St Mary's, Callington, Cornwall.