Berkeley County, West Virginia Biography of the GRAY Family


         While the following paragraph concerns in the main two characters, John Gray and his son, James William Gray, there is much incidental material reflecting the history of the family throughout their American residence and much valuable history of the life and times of the environment in which they have lived. Berkeley County for more than a century has owed much to this family. The Grays have been justly described as quiet, thrifty, industrious people, prepared for service when the emergency came, but seeking no profit or honor in public affairs, and devoted to home, family and community.

         John Gray was born in South Scotland March 6, 1746, son of John Gray of Christen and his wife, Jean Wardrop, of Brained Hall, Fife, Scotland. The parents belonged to the old, untitled gentry of Scotland. Their seven children, all of whom eventually came to America, were David, John, Margaret, Christian, William, James and Jean.

         After the fatal battle of Culled, Scotland was laid waste by the English. Fire and sword, fines, imprisonment and death filled the cup of fury for the unhappy Scots, and the Grays shared the fortune of their compatriots. Notwithstanding these reverses, or perhaps because of the necessity created by them, in 1760 John Gray, then at the age of fourteen, was a student at St. Andrews College, University of Edinburgh. Latin and Greek text books bearing this date, inscribed by his own hand, are still in the possession of his descendants. Scotch students of that period from stark necessity rather than from inclination applied themselves strenuously eighteen or twenty hours out of every twenty-four, when their future depended on their efforts, and the habits of close application and untiring industry learned in youth clung to John Gray throughout a long and eventful life. After told, he acquired eleven languages, several of them after he left college. He was an enthusiastic student of political economy. leaving a volume of interesting papers on this subject strongly endorsing the political tenets of Thomas Jefferson. By faith he was a Presbyterian.

         In the latter part of 1765 David and John Gray joined their uncle, William Gray in America. They first came to Alexandria, thence into the Shenandoah Valley, where much dilapidated and mostly illegible, from George the Second of England, bearing date of 1730, perhaps indicated the time of William Grays arrival. David Gray settled near his uncle in what is now Jefferson County, West Virginia. He served through the American Revolution with Colonel Hugh Stephensons Riflemen. He married Elizabeth Craighill, of the Charleston neighborhood, and died in 1796, without issue. His widow married a Mr. Willis, by whom she had two sons, Rich Willis and William Willis.

         John Gray besides learning languages in University also studied civil engineering, and outside of his interests as a landed proprietor he performed an immense amount of work as a civil engineer and surveyor, both before and after the Revolution. He surveyed portions of Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky and North and South Carolina, laying out many towns and villages. This was a work that in the main preceded settlement, and involved expeditions into the very heart of the wilderness, risking starvation, dangers from wild animals and red men, and complete isolation for months at a time from family and civilization. For these services John Gray acquired title to extensive tracts of land involving many thousands of acres in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and on the Monongahela River in what is now West Virginia, besides an estate in Berkeley County. He owned a number of slaves, though there is no record of the purchase of slaves by him or by his sons. The first slave came to him as part of his first wife's dower after the Revolution. His family home was at Springhill, near the village of Gerardstown, Berkeley County, and was established after the Revolution. All his children were born there.

         After the death of his mother, Jean Wardrop, in 1771 in Fife, Scotland, the younger brothers and sisters being then orphans, joined John Gray in America. William and James settled on his southern lands, which he conveyed to them later in fee simple. Margaret married Thomas Russell in Scotland and died shortly after coming to Virginia, leaving an infant son, John Russell. After her death Thomas Russell married Margaret Craighill. He built the stone house at Runnymede in Berkeley County where he lived until his death. Christian came to America a widow with her small daughter, Jean McDonald. She married Thomas Cowan and lived a number of years in Berkeley County at the Cowan home, Graylands, eventually removing to Tennessee. The youngest sister, Jean, married Thomas Moon. She was about thirteen when she came to Virginia, and she lived the rest of her life in Berkeley County. She died August 27, 1804. She was the great-great-grandmother to Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty of Ohio and Washington, D. C.

         David, John, William and James Gray served in the Revolution, the last two named in the southern campaigns, David and John during 1775-76 with Captain Hugh Stephensons Company of Riflemen and the Virginia-Maryland Riflemen from Berkeley County. John was erroneously reported killed. As a matter of fact he survived to share all the vicissitudes of the Continental Army, and had many memories of the winter at Valley Forge. Stephensons was the company that " took a bee line" for Boston, 600 miles distant, starting July 15, 1775, and arriving August 10th, " not a missing man." He introduced his company as from "the right bank of the Potomac." They were cordially welcomed by Washington personally, to whom many of them were known. They gave good service.

         In 1787 John Gray laid out the Village of Gerardstown, 100 lots on land belonging to William Gerard, son of Rev. John Gerard, a Baptist minister, who had settled here with a colony in 1754. There had been a previous Baptist settlement in 1743 and a still earlier Scotch- Irish settlement. At least two churches were built on the site in the Baptist graveyard at Gerardstown. The last building was demolished after the Civil war. The original trustees of Gerardstown were William Henshaw, James Haw, Robert Allen, Gilbert McKowan and John Gray.

         May 28, 1782, John Gray married Mary Sherrard Cowan. No children were born to this union. After her death he married, on March 21, 1805, Jean Hyndman Gilbert, he being fifty-nine and his bride twenty-two.

         Jean Gilbert was born in 1783 in County Antrim, Ireland, of Scotch parentage, daughter of Edward Gilbert and his wife, Jean Sim Rennie, of Covenanter stock from Galloway, Scotland. The Gilberts were in comfortable circumstances, owned an estate near Belfast, a large bleach green and interests in the Irish linen industry. They immigrated to America in 1785 on a sailing vessel, the voyage lasting three months. They landed at Philadelphia, where Edward Gilbert died a few years later, leaving his family well provided for. His widow subsequently moved with the Scotch Irish tide through the Path and Cumberland valleys into the Shenandoah Valley, where her children grew to maturity. These children were six, four born in County Antrim, William in 1778, John, 1780, Elizabeth, 1781 and Jean, 1783, and two in America, Helene and Edward. Their mother died in 1837. Her sons William and John died without surviving issue in Berkeley County. Elizabeth married David Sherrard, of what is now Morgan County, and she removed to Illinois. Her son David Sherrard was prominent in his locality, president of the Sherrard Banking Company, and of the Sherrard Coke & Coal Company and director in other organizations Helene married John Sherrard, brother of David. Her descendants are Hon. James W. Stewart of Cleveland, Ohio, Rev. Maitland Vance Bartlett of New York City, and Laurence Bartlett, M.D., of Buffalo, New York. The Sherrards were Scotch- Irish from Ulster, and were among the earliest settlers of the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley. Edward Gilbert, Jr. married Elizabeth Patterson and after some years removed with his family, except one daughter, to Indiana.

         While John Gray was from Scotland and Jean Gilbert from Ireland, both were Scotch to their finger tips. They had four children that reached maturity, one daughter, Mary, and three sons, James William, John Edward and David Wardrop. Mary, born December 25, 1805, was educated at a young ladies seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. Her descendants are Miss Eloise Nadenbousch of London, England, and the family of Mr. Alexander Parks of Martinsburg. The second son, John Edward Gray, was born in 1814 and died in 1837, unmarried ,a student and exemplary young man. The youngest son, David Wardrop Gray, born in 1817, several months after his fathers death, had a disposition as gay as that of his brother was quiet and retiring. He read and practiced law with Judge George S. Lee of Batavia, Ohio, and was to of married Judge Lee's daughter, but the war with Mexico intervened. In that war he was commissioned a first lieutenant in the American forces, First Regiment of Virginia Volunteers, going out with a company from Berkeley County under Capt. E. B. Alburtis, but later exchanged into another company. ( In the Archives of West Virginia it is stated that officers under captains were non-commissioned officers; in the roster of Captain Alburtis's Company Lieutenant Gray is listed as second lieutenant. His record from the War office shows he was commissioned first lieutenant; also his own letters. He received $65 per month, with an allowance of $16 for his servant. Only commissioned officers had servants. Also he was received and entertained with the other commissioned officers by the governor of Virginia.) He served throughout the war, was honorably discharged June 30, 1848, and left Mexico with a party of forty men for the United States. As far as known none of that party reached home. They were probably ambushed and murdered by Mexicans or Indians.

         John Gray, father of this family, died July 1, 1816. His widow lived more than a century after his death and survived all of her children. She died in 1869, full of years and good works.

         Hon. James William Gray, the second principal figure in this story, was the eldest son of John Gray and Jean Gilbert and was born at Springhill September 1, 1811. He and his brothers were educated at a private school. Wherever the Scotch or Scotch-Irish went it is said they built first a church and then a school. The Presbyterian Church at Tuscarora, two miles south of Martinsburg, is said to be the oldest church west of the Blue-Ridge still in use. It is seven miles north of Gerardstown. There is evidence of a Presbyterian Church several miles south of the present village of Gerardstown. The first Presbyterian Church erected in the village of which there is authentic record was built in 1793. The present church, built on the same site, was erected in 1892. Within the same enclosure was the schoolhouse, known as Stonewall Academy, a structure roughly but substantially built of stone. Educational facilities were not lacking in this section, and these schools were very thorough, usually taught by college men, not infrequently by the pastor of the church. The course included English, Latin, French, mathematics and other branches, with considerable emphasis on mathematics. The students were required to write out roles and work out examples in blank books, and some of the specimens of penmanship are very fine. The school in which James W. Gray and his brothers were educated was of this sort, and it was the serene atmosphere of school and church and a cheerful home that they grew into manhood. James W. Gray was a country gentleman of the old school, of unquestioned probity, with a breadth of view far beyond that of most of his contemporaries. He was a Free Mason, a Presbyterian and a democrat.

         A leader in his party in his section, he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1852. He resigned because of failing health and an infection of the eyes that confined him to a darkened room for several months. He never fully recovered his health, therefore he was compelled to decline his other nominations tenured him, though he was as active in his party as his circumstances permitted.

         During the Brown raid at Harpers Ferry in October, 1859, Captain Gray commanded the Berkeley Rangers, a company of Berkeley men and supported Captain Albertus in the premature attack on the engine house. It failed, but would have succeeded had the attacking party not been fired on by friends as well as their foes. Later Captain Gray was ordered by Col. Robert Baylor to guard the railroad bridge over the Potomac, left undefended by the withdrawal of Rowans Company. He stood guard there from late afternoon until after the arrival of the Marines from Washington under Col. Robert E. Lee at 10 P.M., when he was relieved by the Hamtramck Guards.

          In the period of unrest and apprehension that followed the Brown raid Virginia armed for self-protection. Berkeley County raised seven companies. Three companies were stationed at Gerardstown, the Winchester rifles under Capt. William Clarke, the Old Dominion Grays of Darkesville under Capt. William Sherrard, and the Berkeley Rangers under Capt. Gray. Mr. Grays diaries cover much of the period from the Brown raid to the Civil war. They reflect faithfully the spirit and aspirations of the time and make interesting reading. Incidentally they show considerable activity on his part. Many names later made famous appear in them. Besides his diaries he has left other documents and some fugitive verses.

         In 1861 he raised and equipped but could not fully mount a company of thirty-three men, with which he did scout duty for the Confederates while Johnstons Army remained in Berkeley County, first under Col. Edmonson and then attached to the command of Col. ( afterwards General) J.E.B. Stuart, who was a warm personal friend. Because he could not secure the fifty rank and file of mounted men the Confederate service required this company disbanded after a few weeks. Mr. Gray remained with Stuart until after the first battle of Manassas, when he was discharged for disability. From this time his health failed rapidly. When the war closed and martial law was declared he was made to pay for all the horses pressed by the Confederates in his section, no inconsiderable matter with his lands devastated, labor scarce and inefficient and his farming stock gone. He was further harassed by being obliged to pay in legal tender while compelled to receive the discredited Confederate notes for any debt due him. He died July 10, 1866.

         February 6, 1840, James William Gray married Martha Jane Gilbert. She was of Scotch Irish ancestry, daughter of Edward and Elizabeth ( Patterson) Gilbert, and was born in Frederick County, Virginia, April 23, 1823. She died February 2, 1893, having survived her husband over a quarter of a century. Her mother, Elizabeth Patterson, was an only child whose parents died during her infancy and she was reared by her grandparents, who had immigrated from Ulster and settled in Frederick Co. She became their sole heir, inheriting from them a large farm and other property. James W. Gray and wife had eight children, six daughters and two sons.

         The oldest daughter, Mary, married Frank Silver November 6, 1867. She resides in Martinsburg with her son, the Hon. Gray Silver.

         Virginia married Lieut. Robert Hanson Stewart, of the Confederate Army, a number of years her senior. Lieut. Stewart died in 1879 and she in 1880. There were no children.

         Elizabeth married Congressman George M. Bowers and lives in Martinsburg with her family.

         The older son, John David Gray, living at Needmore in Berkeley County, a widower without children, was educated at the Shenandoah Valley Academy, Winchester, Virginia, is a Presbyterian and democrat.

         The younger son, J. William Gray, was educated at the Shenandoah Valley Academy and at the Wherry School at Worsham, Virginia, being a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity at Worsham. He offered himself for service in the war with Spain but was rejected because of physical disability. He took an active interest in politics, was a leading democrat of this section, but refused several nominations. Like his father, he was fond of versifying. He liked to take his dogs and gun and go afield, but he seldom returned with bloody trophies, although a good shot. The pockets of his hunting coat bulged with pebbles, shells, bulbs, roots and plants instead of game. He died October 5, 1904. He married Harriet Wilson, but had no children. Both these sons were men of unimpeachable integrity, good citizens and good neighbors, with a large charity for the limitations and short comings of others and frank recognition of their own. One of the unmarried daughters died young. Two survive. Among the descendants of John Gray may be found members of the Daughters of the Confederacy, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Alumnae of the Mary Baldwin Seminary, Fairfax Hall and other institutions and organizations.


    Submitted by Joan Wyatt and extracted from History of West Virginia, Old and New, 1923, Volume III

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