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Meet Captain Robert Gray:
He Discovered Grays Harbor
and Fought in the
by Carol Stubb
Why is our DAR chapter named Robert Gray? Because an
American sea captain of that name was the first to sail into our
harbor in a sailing ship. His crewmen named it Grays Harbor. The
ship: COLUMBIA. The date: May 7, 1792. So who was Robert Gray?
Capt. Robert Gray was born May 10, 1755, in Tiverton, RI.
He was a descendant of Edward Gray
of England and Mayflower passenger Mary Winslow. They became some
of the original purchasers of Tiverton where Captain Robert Gray
was later born to William M. Gray (Samuel3, Edward2,
Edward1) and Elizabeth _________ of Tiverton RI.
Robert was married on February 3, 1794, at the age of 39 to a
Massachusetts woman, Martha Howland Atkins,1
and they had four daughters. He died of what was thought to be
yellow fever off the coast of Charleston, SC, in July 1806. Later,
in 1846, Congress awarded his wife Martha Gray a pension of $500
per year for his services.2
Captain Robert Gray's
first sailing expedition to the Pacific North Coast was in 1787,
in the ship LADY WASHINGTON researching the fur trade. His
principal discoveries, however, were made on his second trip, on
the COLUMBIA, in 1792.
He dared to sail closer to land than other mariners before him, so
was able to see what appeared to be an entrance to inland waters
not yet charted. He made entrance across the sand bar, and put
down anchor in our harbor.
A 16-year-old ship's officer, John Boit, kept a journal (which was
later notarized as official by the Library of Congress,
Washington, D.C. As the COLUMBIA entered the previously unknown
harbor, Boit wrote that Gray invited the curious Indians
surrounding them in canoes to come aboard. Boit wrote: " ... they
was well arm'd, every man having his Quiver and bow slung over his
shoulder ... we purchas'd furs and fish." When they left four
days later, Boit wrote: "Named the harbor we Left after our
As important as this discovery was, Capt. Gray was impatient to
sail further down the coast. He was searching for the entrance to
the fabled Great River of the West. He had tried before, but
severe seas prevented discovery. No known sailing ship had yet
been able to breach that entrance. Besides, most geographers
doubted the existence of the "mysterious river."
Capt. Gray was determined! After many tries, on May 11, 1792, the
Columbia successfully fought its way into this fast-moving river,
and sailed six miles upstream, to the amazement of Indians who
followed in canoes. They traded furs for copper and spikes,
according to Boit's Journal.
Gray was nine days in that mighty river. What an exploit! He did
some charting as he sailed back to the Pacific Ocean. He named it
"Columbia's River." This, Grays Harbor, and other of Gray's
significant discoveries along the Pacific Coast are credited with
greatly helping American claims to all of the Oregon Country.
He completed his journey by sailing to China and on to Boston,
thereby being the first American sea captain to circumnavigate the
globe. Back in Boston, he was honored by a reception given by the
Gray also built the first American ship on the Pacific Coast. And
he fought for America in two wars: The Revolutionary War; and the
Naval War with France in 1798. This service was done before and
after his explorations.
Crossing the bar into Grays Harbor was not easy then, and it isn't
now! But entering the mouth of the Great River of the West was
nearly impossible for the small sailing vessels of that day. But
he did it! Our chapter of DAR is proud to be named after such a
man. Our organizing members must have been a sturdy group of women
as well. Carry on, ladies!
Rodney W. Some of the Gray Line. www.rootsweb.com/~rinewpor/grayfam.html
Fred. 1928. History of the Columbia River Valley: From the
Dalles to the Sea. The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company,
It should be noted that, as
with all surnames, varying lineages exist on different websites.
Such is true with this line where some believe that Robert Gray
Edward Gray and Dorothy Lettice, Edward's second wife, and
Robert's lineage may be William, Edward, Edward, omitting the
Samuel (above). In addition, William's wife's maiden name was
For further study, read: Cross, F.E. and Parkin, Jr.,
Captain Gray in the PNW:
Captain Gray's Voyages of Discovery, 1787-1793. Also see,
Album of Revolutionary Soldiers, Compiled by Florence Hazen
Miller of Crete, Nebraska, Published in 1958. page 125.
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