Friday, February 19, 2016

Being Samuel Gray: Interpreting a Central Figure from the Boston Massacre (Part II)

Detail from the account of the funeral procession,
Boston Gazette and Country Journal,  March 12, 1770
Who was Samuel Gray? What evidence do we have for his family background, or any blood relationship to John Gray his employer? The only contemporaneous mention of another family member is found in the March 12, 1770 Boston Gazette and Country Journal account of Gray's funeral procession, above, which states that his brother was a Benjamin Gray who lived very near the Massacre site on what was then known as Royal-Exchange Lane.

There were several Gray families at this time Boston - a town of less than than 16,000 souls - and not all of them shared a common ancestor.  There are Boston marriage records from the 1750s and 1760s for a number of Grays, including some named Samuel, Benjamin and John.  There were also members of Gray families in neighboring communities who came to Boston in the 1770s.  One of these, Winthrop Gray of Lynn, became the owner in 1781 of the no-longer-Royal "Exchange" tavern on what is now Exchange Street.

Although Samuel Gray was claimed in the aftermath of the Massacre as one of the Town's own rather than a stranger, it is not easy to substantiate characterizations made about his Boston connections. The radical leader Samuel Adams, writing as "VINDEX" in a letter published in The Boston Gazette and Country Journal on December 31, 1770, claimed that "Mr. Gray was of a good family", but researchers have been unable to clearly connect him with the most prominent Grays of Boston.

It is known that Samuel Gray worked at John Gray's rope-walk.  He is alleged in loyalist accounts (and in John Adams summation in defense of the soldiers of the 29th Regiment)  to have been involved in brawling with British soldiers in the vicinity of the rope-walk just days before the Massacre. Captain Preston, who commanded the detachment of the 29th that ultimately fired on the crowd at the Massacre, confused Samuel Gray in his deposition with Gray's employer, stating that one of the three men shot dead was "Mr. Gray at whose rope-walk the prior quarrels took place."

While Samuel Gray's pedigree remains unconfirmed, much more is known about John Gray. He was the seventh and last child of the Edward Gray (1673 - 1757) and his first wife Susannah Harrison. Edward Gray was an immigrant success story, arriving in Boston as an apprentice rope maker in 1686. On his death in 1757 he left an estate valued at £5,500, including ten slaves and his own rope making business.  He left the rope-walks - seven hundred and forty-four feet in length, by twenty or more feet wide - to his son John by a will dated February 12, 1753 (witnessed by James Otis), which also included "a brick warehouse adjoining, with yarn houses, knotting house, dwelling house and land...valued at £1,000." 

John Gray was born in 1713, the year his mother died.  He married late in life and had no surviving issue.  His first wife was Mary Otis, daughter of James Otis, Sr. and sister of Mercy Otis Warren and James Otis, Jr.   John and Mary were married in Barnstable in 1761, but she died two years later.  Her husband had at least one mourning ring made in her memory, one of which is in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, along with another for their newborn son John who predeceased Mary by two months.  The MHS also holds this striking portrait, below, made of her in 1763 by Copley.

Mary Otis Gray by John Singleton Copley, 1763 (MHS)

In addition to John Gray, Edward Gray had six other children by Susannah Harrison, including Harrison Gray, who became Receiver-General of Massachusetts and was a loyalist who ultimately left Boston in 1776.  Edward had five more children with his second wife, Hannah Ellis, who died in 1726.  One of the sons of Edward Gray and Hannah Ellis was named Benjamin, who married Mary Blanchard, a distant collateral relation of mine, in 1761. 

None of the children of Edward Gray in either marriage was named Samuel, and it does not appear to be a name used by this branch of the family.  It is extremely unlikely, then, that Samuel Gray was any relation to John Gray who owned the rope-walk.  There was a Samuel Gray in another Boston family who was in 1738 to Samuel and Sarah (Emmons) Gray, but he died in 1784.

As for the Benjamin Gray who lived "on the North side the Exchange", he too remains an enigma.  A Mr. Benjamin Gray was among four Collectors of Taxes elected during consecutive years at Boston Town Meetings from 1771-1774.   An audit of the Treasury in November, 1776 found that through March, 1775, £1,529 was still due from these Collectors of Taxes, including £345 from this Benjamin Gray.  The delinquent collector may have been the same man who was half brother to John Gray, or he may have been the individual who the Boston Gazette identified as the brother of Samuel Gray.  He cannot have been both, and he might be an entirely different man altogether. 

Until additional evidence comes to light, the best we can say with confidence about Samuel Gray is that he was a laborer at a rope-walk owned by John Gray but it is highly unlikely that they were related.  As for his "anti-occupation" activities prior to the Massacre, his journey to King-Street the night of March 5th,  and his actions before the soldiers fired, we will examine the evidence in subsequent posts in this series.

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