previous next

William Gray of Salem and Samuel Gray of Medford.

If Lynn feels that she was honored by having been the birthplace of William Gray, and Salem and Boston deem themselves favored by having been his places of residence for many years, Medford should be glad to be able to add the name of the famous ship merchant, often called Billy Gray, to her list of distinguished guests and residents, though he was here but a short time. (Register, Vol. XVI, No. I.)

The papers of this merchant, who owned more ships than any one in the country, were destroyed in the great Boston fire, 1872, but there is a letter written by Mrs. Gray from Medford, in which she mentions being “in the country.”

The family is supposed to have been here several summers; is known to have been one at a place called “The Chimneys,” which our historians have failed to locate.

Horace, the youngest child of Mr.Gray and Mrs. Gray, was born in Medford, August 25, 18oo, and baptized six days later. He became a merchant in Boston, and the city is indebted to him primarily for the formation of its fine Public Garden. A son of his, also named Horace, gave honor to the family name as chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts and justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

There are several reasons to account for the Grays being here, relationship for one, as Mrs. Gray was the [p. 26] daughter of John Chipman and Elizabeth (Brown) Chipman of Marblehead, the latter's sister, Abigail Brown, being the wife of Rev. Edward Brooks of Medford.

At that time our town was a small one, with a population of eleven hundred. There were not many houses on the Woburn road (our present High street) between the market place and Meeting-house brook. Most of them had wide spaces of land around and between them, with an open view across the river. Save for a few buildings close to the market place on the east, there were still fewer houses along the Salem road.

Ship building had not begun; there was no local stage; only one long-distance one passed through the place; there was no town house; but one meeting-house, and one schoolhouse. Sea captains and Boston merchants found it a good residential place for the summer. Several who came for a short time became permanent residents.

Salem was a thriving town, a well-known port with a large East India commerce; a place of many large and beautiful colonial houses, and of such business activity that perhaps the quiet of our town, and its nearness to Boston, drew this merchant and his family here for a few weeks. It was said of Medford as late as 1853, “It was a quiet, restful place, withal, excepting in the ship-yards.” Possibly the strongest reason that drew them was to be near their daughter Lucia, twelve years old, who was a pupil at Mrs. Susanna Rowson's celebrated private school.

If class prophecies were then in order, and it had been foretold that Lucia Gray would have a daughter who would live beyond a century's mark, and a granddaughter who would be well known in the world of art and letters, it might have seemed like a wild flight of fancy, but it would have run parallel with the true course of events. A daughter of this little Medford school girl married Francis Alexander, a native of Connecticut. He was an artist, who settled first in Boston, then in Florence, Italy,

* Medford was on the stage line called the upper route to Exeter and Portland. [p. 27] where the daughter, Francesca, was born. She inherited artistic taste and was endowed with poetic gifts. She became well known as an author and illustrator, and Ruskin, who was a friend of mother and daughter, thought very highly of this talented American girl. Francesca died in February, 1917.

Another granddaughter of Lucia Gray, Mrs. Edward N. Hallowell, for many years a resident of West Medford, visited Mrs. Alexander in Florence on the occasion of the latter's one hundredth anniversary of her birth, and found her aunt “as bright as a woman of fifty.”

Other facts of interest connect Billy Gray with Medford.

February 27, 1801, he bought of Rev. Jedidiah Morse of Charlestown the property known to three generations of our townsmen as the Train estate. The dwellinghouse has been taken down within two years. When William Gray purchased this estate it contained two acres, more or less, was bounded southerly on the country road, easterly on land of Abigail Tarbett, northerly on land of John Bishop, and westerly on land of David Buckman. An old building on the lot was bought by Samuel Swan and removed.

May 29, 1806, William Gray sold this property to James Gilchrist, who lived here many years. He was a sea captain, sailing from Salem and Boston, engaged in trade with China and the East Indies. As there is no one of that name listed in the Boston Directory of 18IO, it is not unsafe to assume that the Captain Gilchrist who was master of Gray's brig, the Caravan, that year was the same as Capt. James Gilchrist of this town.

Joseph Swan (1784-1853), our townsman, was educated in William Gray's counting-room, and the church formed by those who withdrew from the First Parish received a gift of a thousand dollars from the philanthropic merchant, with which they purchased the site on High street on which they erected a house of worship. [p. 28] It was burned in 1860 and a second building was erected on the same spot. After serving both Protestants and Roman Catholics, the steeple was removed, the interior and exterior were altered, and today it is the hardware store of Page & Curtin, for whom the changes were made.

William R. Gray, oldest child of William, must have spent some time here with his family, as our records note the baptism of a daughter, October io, 1819, and a son, August 5, 1821.

A relative of the writer (whose life, beginning in the last decade of the eighteenth century, extended over more than three-quarters of the nineteenth), a resident of Boston, knew it well, and used to tell of seeing it grow from a town into a city, of cows being pastured south of Summer street, and of Billy Gray's mansion on that street.

Samuel Gray of Salem married first Anna Orne of Marblehead, by whom he had six children. He married a second time, at Medford, April 25, 1799, Mary, daughter of Rev. Edward Brooks and Abigail (Brown) Brooks. There were seven children by this marriage. It was natural, then, that he should finally settle in Medford.

Before the erection of the Angier-Boynton house, about seventy-five years ago, the house next below Dr. Osgood's was that of Isaac Warren, on the site of the one now west of the Public Library. Isaac Warren was made deacon of the church, 1767. His son, also named Isaac, inherited the so-called mansion and lived there. A later tenant was Dr. Luther Stearns, who, when the place was sold to Samuel Gray, moved to the vicinity of what was later the Medford turnpike, and opened his academy. The Warren house was moved to a lot on the Woburn road (High street) further west and the Gray family lived in it until the new house was built, 1802 or 1803, on the site of the old one. The house built by Samuel Gray is still standing just west of the Public Library. The old house became the home of the Roach1 [p. 29] family, respectable people, notwithstanding their peculiar name, and the remains of the cellar can be seen east of Grace Church parsonage.

Though information at hand from two sources states the purchase of the land was 1802 and the erection of the house 1802 or 1803, and the church recorded the baptism of a child in 1806 and one in 18I I, yet Samuel Gray is not listed as a resident tax payer till 1811. From 1805 (records missing 1803 and 1804) till 1811 he is classed as non-resident, also non-resident in 1813, resident in 1814 and 1815. The diary of Rev. William Bently states Mr. Gray moved to Medford 8i i.

Samuel Gray died January 21, 1816, aged fifty-six. His wife, Mary, died January 30, 1842, aged seventythree. They were buried in the family tomb bearing his name in the old Salem street burying ground. It is in the northwest corner, extending under the passageway which in our youth was called Deadman's alley. On the plan accompanying Dr. Swan's thesis, 1803, it is marked Burying Yard Lane. So distinctive a name as Deadman's alley would, in London, draw hundreds of visitors to it yearly. Its official name is River street.

The new home of the Grays must have been the scene of many festivities, for there were nine daughters in the family, and the marriages of seven are found on our records. Two became brides of men of their home town. Anna married Andrew Hall, April 9, 1815; Catherine (1797-1874) married Jonathan Porter (1791-1859), July 22, 1823. She is represented here today by two great-grandchildren, one a recent war bride.

Sarah Charlotte, born 1808, married, December 23, 1828, Ignatius Sargent of Boston, where she died, 1831. Her sister Henrietta (1811-1891) became the second wife of Mr. Sargent, May 7, 1835. In 1842 the heirs of Samuel Gray sold the homestead to Mr. Sargent and it became the residence of his family for a few years, until he moved to Brookline. The youngest child of three in his family today recalls the pleasure he had picking up [p. 30] the seeds of the horse-chestnuts and storing them in the attic. “The child is father to the man,” and perhaps the lad acquired in this place the love for trees that has made his name known throughout the world as the able professor of horticulture and arboriculture, the director of the Botanic Garden of Harvard University, Charles Sprague Sargent, a man of many honors, one of the latest having been noticed in the Outlook, August 22, 1917.

In 1850 Francis A. Gray, youngest child of Samuel and Mary, bought the property of the Sargents. He was born in this house October 5, 1813, and died there, December, 1888. He married Helen Wyckoff Wainwright of New York, 1857, who died September 12, 1895. They had two children, who married and left Medford-Mary, now a widow, living in Paris, France, and Francis A. Gray, with wife and two children, living in Evanston, Wyoming. One of these children was born in Medford.

In 1892 the property passed to strangers, having been owned until then, from the time the house was built, by descendants of Samuel Gray.

In the elder days of Art

Builders wrought with greatest care and in commonplace things those who erected houses and made furniture did their work with a conscientiousness and thoroughness that shames much that is modern. So today the house of Samuel Gray, having weathered more than a hundred years, stands as a monument to the excellent workmanship of those who constructed it. It is said to be a copy of a colonial house in Salem, constructed by a builder from that town assisted by carpenters from the ship-yards. The rooms are lathed and plastered and boarded up on each side. Some of the beams are so large and hard they could not be cut through when later occupants put in a furnace. The main part has two stories, the ell three, making a curious arrangement of staircases. The roofs are on a level, though the ell is built on land lower than the main part [p. 31] and you step down two or three steps from the latter to reach the rooms of the ell. There are many rooms, all the old ones having fire-places, for to the original building rooms have been added in the ell on two stories to include modern conveniences.

The plain exterior gives no hint of the charm of the interior. The house faces nearly south, with an entrance of generous proportions in the middle. On each side of the hall are large square rooms on both stories, in each of which are four large shuttered windows. The hall is particularly interesting, wide and high, ending at the second story in a rounded or domed ceiling. At the back it is part of an ellipse, with a door on each story of peculiar construction, being curved. The work was so well done that there has never been any warping and they close perfectly. The staircase is wide, long and curving, of easy ascent. The hand-rail is mahogany, the balusters are simple square uprights, making a light, graceful effect.

On the first floor, back of the northeast room, is a small one once a butler's pantry. From this a passageway leads to a small but wide, high, well-lighted hall, giving an entrance on the west. This is a fine piece of work. At the back of this hall, its east side, the back stairs come down to meet the front hall, which is wholly shut off from the small one. The east part of this small hall is a fine arch, and here, and in other parts of the house, is some fine but simple ornamental woodwork.

Later owners have made minor changes here that have not substantially altered the plan. The integrity of the old-fashioned mansion is maintained, and no evidence is visible to the casual observer of altered construction. The external appearance of the house is the same today as when built. The entrance door of the small hall has side and top lights, the former with long, narrow hinged shutters. The north wall of the butler's pantry and of the little hall was the limit of the main part of the house, and from the pantry a door led outside. [p. 32]

The fire-place of the original kitchen, occupying the western side of the ell, was of the generous proportions of the old days, and the porch door and an inner one here, now enclosed, form a closet.

A high board fence along the front of the estate screened it from view. There was no gate or walk to the front door, the entrance being by the carriage way at the west, and the place had a secluded, quiet air. The stable was removed and the front fence taken down about twenty years ago. The settles on the porch are modern additions. Across the street was an open lot, used as a garden by the Grays, where now stands St. Joseph's Church.

Note.--Since writing the above we have learned that “Gilchrist took over a house formerly occupied by W. R. Gray.” Captain Gilchrist moved from the house he bought of William Gray to the Parson Turell house, then back to the former house, which his wife preferred. So in one of these houses William R. Gray resided the seasons he spent in Medford.

1 See Register, Vol. XI, p. 47.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: