Monday, February 29, 2016

Being Samuel Gray: Interpreting a Central Figure from the Boston Massacre (Part V and last)

Detail from a sketch of the Massacre Site attributed to Paul Revere

When rope worker Samuel Gray arrived on King-street the second and final time on the night of the Boston Massacre,  events had nearly reached a climax.  Benjamin Davis, Jr., who was one of the witnesses for the defense, stated during questioning that "I do not suppose he could have got into King Street two minutes before the firing."  It was then that he was shot dead in the street, suffering a massive head wound.  His fate was recorded in the Boston Gazette and Country Journal a week after the shooting:

“The Dead are Mr. Samuel Gray, killed on the spot, the ball entering his head and beating off a large portion of the skull…”

What did Gray do during those final minutes of life?   Did he stand by, passively observing with arms folded to keep his hands warm, or did he encourage the members of the crowd to stand firm?  Was he unarmed, or did he carry the stick that Davis remembered him having but others claimed he did not?  What does the evidence suggest about the clothes he may have worn and precisely when he fell?

One of the first depositions to mention Gray's actions was given by Charles Hobby, taken on March 20th, 1770 "to perpetuate the remembrance of the thing" and recorded as No. 44 in the Town's Narrative of the Boston Massacre.

I saw the mulatto fall, and Mr. Samuel Gray went to look at him, one of the soldiers at a distance of about four to five yards, pointed his piece directly for the said Gray’s head and fired. Mr Gray, after struggling, turned himself right around upon his heel and fell dead. Capt. Preston some time after ordered them to march to the guard-house. I then took up a round hat and followed the people that carried him down to a house near the post office.”

Thanks to Hobby's recollection, a round hat seems an appropriate choice of head covering for an historical interpretation of Samuel Gray's clothing.  Hobby is the only witness who testified that Gray was looking at Attucks lying on the ground when he himself was shot.  Others had him falling at about the same time.

Ebenezer Brigham testified for the prosecution at the trial of the soldiers of the 29th regiment, during which it became clear that Private Matthew Killroy had fired the weapon that killed Gray.

I saw Gray fall...He fell in the middle of the street…the gun that killed him must have been nearer to the Center.

Watchman Edward G. Langford also testified for the prosecution.  He gave a detailed account of Gray's last moments:

"Samuel Gray, who was shot that night, came and struck me on the shouldered, and said ‘ Langford, what’s here to pay?’…I looked this man (pointing to Killroy), in the face, and bid him not fire, but he immediately fired, and Samuel Gray fell at my feet…"

Q) "How many guns went off before he fired?"
A) "Two, but I saw nobody fall. Gray fell close to me. I was standing , leaning on my stick.”
Q) "Did Gray say anything to Killroy before he fired?"
A) "He spoke to nobody but me."
Q) "Did he throw any snow-balls?"
A) "No, nor had he any weapon in his hand, he was naked as I am now.”
Q) "Did you see anything thrown?"
A) "No, I saw nothing at all thrown of any kind."
Q) "Was you talking with Gray at the time the gun went off?"
A) "I did not speak with him at that instant, but I had been talking with him several times before that."
Q) "Was you near Gray, that if he had thrown anything you must have seen it?"
A) "Yes, his hands were in his bosom, and immediately after Killroy’s firing, he fell…”
Q) "Have you any doubt in your mind that it was that gun of Killroy’s that killed Gray?"
A) "No manner of doubt: It must have been it, for there was no other gun discharged at that time…”
Q) After Gray fell, did he (Killroy) thrust at him with his bayonet?
A)  "No, it was at me he pushed."
Q) "Did gray say anything to Killroy, or Killroy to him?"
A)  "No, not to my knowledge, and I stood close by him."
Q)  "Did you perceive Killroy take aim at Gray?"
A)  "I did not: He was as liable to kill me as him."

This was crucial evidence for the prosecution, for if it could be shown that Gray was unarmed and not acting in a hostile manner, it supported a charge against Killroy of deliberate murder. For the historical interpreter, it provides a line of dialogue and a pose for Gray to assume before being shot. "His hands were in his bosom" might suggest they were inside an outer garment, perhaps for warmth, or they might have been tucked under his arm pits. Sam Adams later paraphrased Langford's description of Gray, saying "his arms were folded in his bosom."  I've tried it both ways, and find it easier and more natural to place my hands across my chest and under my arms than to unbutton a jacket or coat and stick them inside. That is probably the way I will play it this Saturday during the Massacre reenactment.

Samuel Gray, "hands... in his bosom", option 1
Samuel Gray, "arms folded in his bosom", option 2 (with stick)
Joseph Hinkley was a witness for the defense, and he described Gray as more actively engaged in the mob:

"…Samuel Gray, who was shot that night, clapped me on the shoulder, and said do not run, my lad, they dare not fire, and he ran back and forth among the people and clapped others on the back as he did me."

Q) "Had he anything in his hand?"
A) "I think not: I looked to my left soon after the guns were fired, and saw him on the ground, and with the help of some others, carried him to Dr. Loring’s shop, but could not get in, and left him there."
Q) "Did you see anybody go up to Gray, and thrust at him with a bayonet?"
A) "No I did not see it."
Q) "How near did he fall to the soldiers?"
A) "He was in the middle of the street."

Q) "How near was you to Gray?"
A) "About three or four yards distance."

Hinkley's evidence helped John Adams argue that Killroy acted in self defense.  According to his version, Gray encouraged the crowd to stand because the soldiers would not shoot without authorization from a higher authority than Captain Preston.  Past experience during the ropewalk brawls and other confrontations may have encouraged this idea, and indeed the "rules of engagement", to use the modern term of art, should have prevented the soldiers from shooting.  Hinkley also describes where Gray's body was carried after he was killed, and indeed Dr. Loring's shop was quite near the Post Office on the other side of King-street where Charles Hobby said he had followed the body with the round hat.

Defense attorney John Adams dismissed the crowd that night as "a motley rabble of saucy boys, negros and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs."  Which of these descriptions fits Samuel Gray, about whom not much more is known for certain save that he was a native Bostonian of English stock and a laborer at John Gray's ropewalk
The most famous contemporary engravings of the Massacre by Pelham and Revere depict Gray in jacket and trowsers, clothing associated both with sailors and with lower class laborers.  Aside from the round hat described by Hobby, Gray might have worn any of the clothing of the period usually associated with those of the lower sort in Boston or with sailors familiar with rope work.  Jackets were very common among among these groups, as well as linen trowsers, sometimes worn over breeches and long stockings.  There was a foot of snow in the streets on March 5th, 1770, so it is likely that an under jacket was worn as well.

As to whether Gray had a stick, only one witness during the trial proceedings recalled that he had one, and that was young Benjamin Davis, Jr. who was not at the Massacre site when the shooting took place.  Hinkley, a defense witness, stated that he did not think Gray had anything in his hand.  Langford said that he had no weapon of any kind, not even a snow ball.

Samuel Gray after Pelham/Revere
My interpretation of Samuel Gray, above, is a nod to Revere and makes use of my 1760-1780 American merchant seaman impression.   There will also be a new striped calimanco under jacket, but to see that you'll need to wait for pictures from the upcoming Massacre reenactment, Saturday March 5, 2016.


No comments:

Post a Comment