Martha 'Mattie' (Humphries) Wright

11 March 1843 ~~~ 12 March 1924

Jenkins, Letcher County, Kentucky


Martha A. “Mattie” (Humphrey) Wright’s life was quietly lived in the shadow of her legendary husband “Bad John” Wright.  Though Mattie remained in the background she was always there to cook and provide for John and their family, their many friends, neighbors, travelers, and business associates. One of the greatest compliments of a person’s life is the good witness of those who knew them. A number of people that remembered Mattie were interviewed after her passing and all spoke of what a very nice woman she was.   

With the many newspapers accounts, books, and other articles of her husband’s life, little has been written of John’s faithful help-mate. For the most part, all that has been known about Mattie is that John brought her to Letcher County from the “Bluegrass Region” of Kentucky.  Then after Mattie’s death, incorrect and misleading information has been written and passed on regarding how she met and married her legendary husband.  Through the diligent research of several people we now know the truth about Mattie and how the paths of these two crossed.

Martha A. “Mattie” Humphrey was born in Cynthiana, Harrison County, Kentucky to Jameson and Elizabeth (Henry) Humphrey.  Mattie’s birth date of March 11, 1843 is based on her age in the 1850 and 1860 Harrison County, Kentucky census records where she is shown as age seven and seventeen respectively.  Other records indicate that she was born a few years earlier.  Her death certificate gives her age as eighty-six when she died on March 11, 1924 and her tombstone has her birth date as March 12, 1835.

Mattie’s father Jameson Humphrey was a well known Harrison County, Kentucky land owner.  His farm was located in Cynthiana, Kentucky and it was assuredly at this farm where Mattie and John had their first meeting.  The Humphrey farmland was situated in the northern part of the famous Bluegrass Region. Cynthiana is the county seat of Harrison County and was established in 1793, and is located on the South Fork of the Licking River.  

The man that would later become Mattie’s husband had enlisted as a young man in the Confederacy and his war records state he was wounded June 12, 1864 during the Second Battle of Cynthiana. The first day of this battle at Cynthiana took place around the narrow old covered bridge that stood at the south edge of town, which was located on present day US 27, then the Leesburg Pike.  This bridge served the community for over 80 years after the war.  The Rebels secured the town on Saturday, June 11 and set up camp near the town. They now had more than 1,000 Union Prisoners to guard.

William Troy Wright gave a description of the battle, saying his father was scouting when he came upon a band of sharp-shooting home guards near the town of Cynthiana. It became clear they could not take the bridge with grape and canister flying through the air from a howitzer and heavy rifle fire pouring from buildings across the Licking River.  An intense running fight took place, some men were hit by rifle fire, some drowned outright, but a few of them gained the east bank and dug in. 

On the first day of the battle William Troy depicts the fight as taking place in the early part of the day and we know General John Hunt Morgan approached Cynthiana at dawn, on June 11, 1864 to divide his force of 1,200 men into three columns and surround the town. He launched an attack at the covered bridge, driving the Union forces back towards the depot and north along the railroad, capturing the town.

On the next day, the Union troops attacked the Rebel camp at dawn and over ran the camp before they could reach their horses.  As the Rebels tried to mount a defense, the covered bridge became so jammed with panic-stricken horses that the riders leapt off and swam the stream.

John was probably shot at the covered bridge and tried to escape by going in a north direction out of town. This would have taken him toward the burnt out railroad bridge near Keller's Lane. This is not far from the home of Jamison Humphrey, which lay just north of town.  John's was shot in the lower abdomen and the front of both thighs at a pretty close range.  He lay  hidden  in  a  ravine  through  that  day  and night, suffering  from   severe injuries,  in  pain,  bleeding  and  without  food,  not more than two hundred yards from the scene of the previous  day’s  fight. After He managed to drag himself under the lap of a swamp wallow and lay in hiding until the band departed.

With only water from the river and no  food  for nourishment, the soldier’s chances of survival were bleak.  It was the  next day before a  farmer  with  a  sled and ox searching for firewood discovered the wounded man. The farmer cautiously  loaded him  to  the sled, concealed  his  body  under  firewood,  and  then  moved  him to his home where he kept him out of sight in a blind cellar that was only accessible  from the interior of the house. Who was this farmer who risked his own life in order to save a stranger?  It is thought by many that the farmer was Jameson Humphrey and the young farm girl was none other than Mattie, later to be the wife of John W. Wright. During the long weeks of his recovery, the farmer’s young daughter and his family took turns nursing the severely injured soldier back to health.   The story has endured that this is how Mattie first met her future husband.          

Their marriage bond gives information the marriage took place Oct 14, 1866 at her father’s house in the County of Harrison and State of Kentucky, in the presence of Adam Renneker, James D. Lafferty, and Thomas Lafferty by Wm. Conrad, Pastor of the Old Baptist Church at Twin Creek. Below is a copy of the license which is recorded at the Harrison County Court House: 



John & Mattie's Marriage Bond


The couple spent the first few years of  their  marriage in the Kentucky Bluegrass Region of Kentucky where John worked for Mattie's father while doing a little horse trading  and some  detective  work.  All  the  time  Mattie realized  her  husband missed the beautiful  mountains he had grown up in   and  though they  were happy together,  she felt that he would be happier back in his mountains. No doubt for that reason, four years later Mattie, her husband and young family were living in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, listed as residents  of  Letcher County on  the  1870 census.

Mattie’s  step  son  William Troy ‘Chid’ Wright  said  in his book “Devil  John Wright Of The Cumberland’s” that he thought Mattie  only  went  back home once  after  their  move to Letcher County and that one of her brothers came to visit her  one  time.  As  far  as  he  knew  these  were  the  only  visits  she  had  with  her  family  after  she  and John   moved to the mountains. However, though it can’t be documented, Mattie must have kept in good contact with the rest of her family in Harrison County. Nadina Osborne remembered hearing that when Mattie died a lot of flowers for her funeral came by train from Cynthiana.

It must have been very difficult for such a young girl to  leave  all that was familiar, home, family, and  friends  to begin a completely  new  life so far away with her husband. Her love must  have  been  very  deep-seated  to have taken such a step. She could easily have remained in the Bluegrass and maybe convinced her husband to do the same, but her choice was to go to the mountains, not because she had to, but because she chose to. Her love for her husband must have been strong. Mattie’s parents, Jameson & Elizabeth (Henry) Humphrey, were the parents of seven children who are listed in Jameson’s will dated April 15, 1885 and produced in court on April 26, 1897.  Jameson Humphrey was born January 8, 1801 in Virginia and died April 13, 1897, in Harrison County, Kentucky at the age of 87.  His funeral was under the direction of the Whaley Funeral Home and he was buried in the Family Cemetery.



Mattie's Old Tombstone                                                                 Matties New Tombstone

His children as listed in the will are:  Nancy A. Humphrey,  B. F. Humphrey, Jamimia J. Buzzard, Mattie Right, Eliza Crofford, J. H. Humphrey and Joseph Humphrey.  The will instructs that his land be divided with each child receiving a parcel of the land.  Mattie Right was given Parcel No. 2 which consisted of 17.85 acres which is listed in the Division of Property papers recorded August  23, 1897.  Each of the seven children also received $75.54 from the sale of his personal property as shown in the Appraisement & Inventory and Settlement of Property papers recorded Nov. 12, 1897 and a Sale Bill with the final settlement recorded on June 10, 1898.


According to the amount of land distributed in Jameson Humphrey’s will, he owned about 110.23 acres.  The breakdown of the division of land for each child as per will went as follows:

                                Nancy A. Humphrey            15.00 acres

                                Mattie Right                  7.85 acres

                                Eliza Crofford                 15.72 acres

                                Jamimia J. Buzzard             15.00 acres

                                B. F. Humphrey                15.00 acres

                                Joseph Humphrey              17.00 acres

                                James H. Humphrey             14.66 acres


The information from these documents gives us the proof that Martha A. “Mattie” (Humphrey) Wright was indeed the daughter of Jameson & Elizabeth (Henry) Humphrey of Cynthiana, Harrison County, Kentucky and tells us that she was a young farm girl when John Wright met her and fell in love with her. It is an easy transition to see this young girl of the Bluegrass become the adult woman of the mountains, sitting on her porch with the scarf she always added to her attire around her neck. 

An interview John Wright gave appeared in the  "The Mountain Eagle" and describes the tenderness that strong-willed Bad John had for his wife Mattie Wright. In his own words from an interview with Bad John Wright:

"My wife" referring to Mattie, who was then out in the yard near the house working with some rose bushes and who gave no heed to our conversation, "is the noblest of all women I have ever known.  Long ago her health gave way and her life has been a clouded one.  In all my rambles I have kept her in mind and returned to her to find her the same kind and devoted mother that she always is.  No matter how gloomy or hard life has been to her, she has seldom, if ever, complained."

John and Mattie lived mostly in the community of Jenkins, Letcher County, Kentucky until Mattie's death in 1924 and by then John had sold most of his holdings and retired from his work with the coal operations. 

After Mattie's death, her husband moved just across the mountain to Wise County, Virginia where he lived until his death in 1931.





         Mattie Humphry                                                                                               



Sources of Information:

1850 and 1860 Harrison County, Kentucky Census

Certificate of Marriage for John Wright & Martha Humphrey

Death Certificate for Mattie Humphrey Wright

Will of Jameson Humphrey

Division of Property of Jameson Humphrey

Appraisement & Inventory and Settlement of Property of Jameson Humphrey

Final Settlement Papers

Harrison County Public Library

On site assessment of Cynthiana, including Kellers Bridge, Humphrey Farm area, Battle Grove Cemetery



The material on this webpage holds a copyright © 2010 by Nancy Wright Bays &  Patty May Brashear

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