Select Gray Miscellany

Here are some Gray stories and accounts over the years:

The Lord Greys of Rotherfield

In the Domesday Book of 1086 Anchetil de Greye was described as owning Redrefield (i.e. Rotherfield) in the county of Oxfordshire.  The de Grey family - starting with Anchetil, John, Henry and Robert - continued to own the Rotherfield estate for close on four centuries.

In 1239 Walter de Grey, the Archbishop of York, bought Rotherfield from his kinswoman, Eve de Grey, in order to give it to his brother Robert de Grey.  This Robert's grandson, Sir Robert de Grey, fought for King Edward I in Wales in 1282.

John de Grey was probably the most famous of the de Greys of Rotherfield.  He was one of the original Knights of the Garter formed in 1344 and confirmed in 1348 when he occupied the eighth stall on the King's side at Windsor Castle.

The 5th Baron Grey of Rotherfield, another John de Grey, also fought in the Hundred Years War.  His brass, dated 1387, can be seen in the Rotherfield Greys Church, hidden beneath a carpet.  He had no sons and was the last of the de Grey Rotherfields

The Greys and Groby

The Grey family inherited the Groby estate in Leicestershire when Sir Edward Grey married Elizabeth Ferrers in 1445.  He was the only Grey to ever live there.

Their son Sir John lived at his estate in Northamptonshire.  During the turbulent times of the War of the Roses, he was killed in battle and had his estateforfeited while his widow and sons were ejected from their home and made penniless.  Widow Elizabeth was later introduced to King Edward IV who took pity on her and made her his Queen.  She was the mother of the two princes who were later murdered in the Tower of London.

Her sons by Sir John Grey benefited from the royal patronage.  Thomas Grey was made the Marquis of Dorset in 1475 and it was he that commenced the building of a new Hall at Groby.  Although he and his successors were styled the Barons Grey of Groby, none of them ever lived there.  Groby Hall entered into a period of slow decline during the 1500’s, arrested partially by Sir Henry Grey’s reconstruction work in the early 1600’s, before another period of neglect and abandonment ensued.

Grays for England and Grays for Scotland

The historian Andy King had the following take on the divided loyalties among the Grays on the English/Scottish border: 

Four successive generations of Grays spent their adult lives under arms.  Thomas Gray fought at Bannockburn in 1314; his son fought at Neville’s Cross in 1346; his grandson fought at Otterburn in 1388; and his great-grandson John fought at Agincourt in 1415.  

The first Thomas Gray survived being shot in the head by a bolt from a springald and was twice captured by the Scots, at Melrose Abbey in 1303 and at Bannockburn in 1314.  His son was also captured in 1355; and his grandson’s family was held for ransom when Wark Castle was sacked by the Scots in 1399.  

Yet none of this seems to have any significant impact on the family’s wealth and prosperity, or to have hindered in the least their continued scaling of the social ladder.  Indeed, of these four generations of Grays, just as many died on the block, executed for treason against the English Crown, as died on the battlefield, in the service of that same crown."

David Gray, Scottish Whaler

Between 1811 and 1826 David Gray made at least twelve voyages from Peterhead in Scotland to the whaling grounds off Greenland and Canada.

In 1825, after capturing seven whales, David was forced to abandon the whaler Active in Exeter Sound off Baffin Island after it had become beset in the ice.  The second mate, David’s son John, planned to stay with the ship for the winter, but then took the opportunity to depart with the last of the whaling ships.  John did retrieve the ship the next spring and brought it safely home.  This was the first time a whaler had been left in the Arctic over the winter season.

In the meantime David Gray took command of his former ship Perseverance again for one season, his last, in 1826.  Sadly, seven years later, he drowned after his small fishing boat capsized in Peterhead Bay

Grays and Greys in the UK

The Grays outnumber Greys by ten to one in the UK today:  

  • Grays around 82,000  
  • and Greys around 9,000.  
The Grays show concentrations on the east coast of Scotland, in Northumberland, and also in East Anglia. 

Greys also figure in Northumberland and there appears a surprising cluster of them in the Welsh town of Swansea.

George Gray, from Scotland to America

In 1650 the Scottish town of Dunbar was the scene of a bloody battle between the forces of Oliver Cromwell and a Scottish army led by General David Leslie.  Cromwell easily defeated Leslie's disorganized troops.  Three thousand Scots fell in the battle and another ten thousand were taken prisoner.  The able-bodied of them, about five thousand in number, were marched south to Durham.  Many of them did not survive.

"Sixteen hundred men taken prisoners died within a period of 55 days, nearly thirty a day.  It was a revolting picture of savage cruelty, supplemented by ignorance of elementary hygiene."

Arrangements were soon made to transport the Scottish prisoners to New England. In November some 150 prisoners were put on the ship Unity.  A number were sent to Lynn, Massachusetts to be employed in the iron works and others were distributed to numerous towns in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

Among those believed to have been part of the Dunbar prisoners settling in the upper part of Kittery in Maine was George Gray, the progenitor of the Gray family of Hancock county, Maine.

Nicholas Gray, from Ireland to America

The Irish uprising in Wexford in 1798 divided many families, including the Grays of Whitefort and Jamestown.  Joseph Gray was a captain of the Wexford militia that year; while his younger brother Nicholas was Secretary to the Rebel Council of Wexford and was active in recruiting troops to the rebel cause.  After the rebellion was quashed, Nicholas was imprisoned in Wexford jail and narrowly escaped with his life.

He decided to flee Ireland for America due to his rebel principles.  When he arrived in America, he had little money and no place to live.  But he had some connections.  He became the private secretary to New York Governor Daniel D. Tompkins who later became US Vice President.  Tompkins played an active role in organizing a state militia during the War of 1812 against the English. 

Nicholas Gray played his role in this war.  He was an effective recruiter of new troops and held a command in the line on the frontier under General Smyth.  After this distinguished service he was appointed Register of the land office in Mississippi territory.  However, this engagement did not turn out well.  Poor health resulted in his early death there in 1819 at the age of 45.

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