Uncle Samuel A. Gray: Part III – Moving West

Larry Pearce
Excerpts from “The Gray Family”
Marguerite Gray & Claude Mathews
1/11/03 rev. 2/27/16

In Part I of this series, you were introduced to my Great-great uncle Samuel Alexander Gray (1842-1919) who, according to a family narrative composed by his grandchildren in Missouri, left his West Deer Township, Allegheny County, PA, homestead to fight in the American Civil War. My Great-grandfather Robert Patterson Gray (1844-1928), just aged 19 at the time, also fought for the Union cause, having been drafted several weeks before Samuel’s discharge near the end of the war. Samuel was captured by the enemy in early May, 1863, at Chancellorsville, before the Battle of Gettysburg and placed in what was known as a parole Camp near Alexandria, VA, just south of Washington, DC, which probably remained in Union hands. This may have been a temporary holding facility for prisoners who had been exchanged, until they could rejoin their units or be mustered out. We can’t be certain. His letter home, dated July 26, 1863, and transcribed with commentary in Part II, expressed his fears and anxieties about serving in the war but also his hope that he and his fellow prisoners would be eventually discharged to go home. He was released and did go home to Western Pennsylvania in September 1864. The boys’ father, William Sylvester Gray (1816-1879) had also enlisted with his oldest son Samuel, served as a teamster for the 63rd Regiment, witnessed the terrible conflict at Gettysburg while Samuel sat in a POW camp, and was discharge early on a surgeon’s certificate in November of 1863. We don’t know what his medical problems were nor if they were battle related.

This article reveals what happened to Samuel Gray after his honorable discharge, through the words of his grandchildren, and where his descendants are today. Samuel Alexander Gray’s grandson, Harold Beever Gray (1924- ) of Missouri, visited our Robert Patterson Gray’s annual family reunion two summers ago (8/4/01) in Pennsylvania. The descendants of these two great American Gray lines seemed to have little idea of the significance of that reunion. It is fortunate that Harold carried with him his family’s narrative and genealogy written by his sister Marguerite and her husband Claude Mathews, also of Missouri.

On February 23, 1865, after his exchange, release, and discharge, but before the war was even over [April 9, 1865], Samuel married Margaret Montgomery (1844-1934) and together they migrated west by riverboat and railroad to the little town of Avalon in north-central Missouri. Missouri was considered a “slave” state during the war. The famous Missouri Compromise of 1820, enacted by Congress, maintained the long-time balance of slave and free states (11 each) and awarded statehood simultaneously to Missouri and Maine, which was admitted as a free state (HTTP://ENCARTA.MSN.COM). No doubt, Missouri still offered some solace to southern sympathizers even after the war, and besides, land was cheap the farther west one went. Margaret had been born in Ireland of John Montgomery and a Miss Hemphill. According to the family narrative, Samuel’s father-in-law was known as “Devil John,” probably for his antics. The Grays apparently had friends who had already bought land and settled in the plains of Missouri. So, Samuel and Margaret were not alone when they arrived in the West. But still, frontier life was tough and the young couple experienced six tragedies in their child raising:
• Unnamed twin girls, born Dec. 6, 1865, died the day after they were born.
• Son William Montgomery (possibly named john) died in 1868 at age 10 after falling in a well and getting sick. His mother climbed down to get him on a rope. She was apparently three months pregnant at the time.
• Sarah Jane (nick-named Jenny) was born six months after the death of her brother but also died at age 10 of a cause not recorded in family history.
• Lilly Ann, a twin, was born the day after Christmas, 1875, but only lived for two weeks.
• Martha Elizabeth, Lilly Ann’s twin sister, only lived 10 days.
Fortunately, Samuel and Margaret’s had four surviving children:
• Mary Luella (1870-1941), known as Aunt Lulu, married William Canning in 1902.
• William Alexander (1874-1931).
• Harry Bliss (1882-1967), who married Zoa Ella Beever in 1907, and was the mother of Harold and Marguerite, who provided “The Gray Family.”
• Robert Grant Gray (1872-1923), whose occupation is listed as “fireman.” At some point he moved back to Western Pennsylvania and married twice: first to Laura Gibson of Tarentum in 1896 who produced Robert’s only child, Sarah Eva, the next year, and second to Sarah Montgomery, of whom little is known. Laura died in 1952 and is buried at Bull Creek. Robert married a third time in 1909, a Maude Venard, who died only 6 years later.

I saved Robert until last to point out several important theories. Not only was he named Robert, probably for his uncle, my great-grandfather, but his middle name was no doubt given in honor of Ulysses S. Grant, the great Union general for whom his father fought and the American president the year he was born. And, why did Robert move back east to marry? Furthermore, it’s ironic that Robert’s second wife was a woman with the same first name as his daughter by his first wife. Finally, Robert apparently moved back to his birthplace, Avalon, MO, where he died and was buried at the relatively young age of 51, just four years after his father. It seems that he lived his life caught between his father’s mid-western culture and his uncle and grandfather’s northeastern way of life. More research is needed.

In returning to Samuel, he farmed the remainder of his years and died in 1919, and his wife Margaret, after bearing 10 children, died in 1934. Both are buried in Avalon. We continue now with the hand-written transcript [nearly verbatim – my edits and comments in brackets for easier reading] of his granddaughter Marguerite and her husband Claude Mathews, which is subtitled “History of Our 100-year old Family Farm” and which provides further context for my Great-great uncle Samuel Alexander Gray’s westward migration:
Our farm is located one mile east and one-half mile north of Avalon, MO. In 1865 this land belonged to a railroad company, but [they] decided to build [the] railroad to [the] south so [they] sold the land to my Grandfather Samuel A. Gray in 1865.

Samuel A. Gray [had been] a soldier in the Civil War for three years when he came home to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania on February 23, 1865. He and Margaret Montgomery (my grandmother) were married and left [for] the prairies of Northwest Missouri on [their] bridal trip to buy land and make a home. They came by steamboat from Pittsburg to Hannibal, then on to Chillcothe by railroad. All they brought with them was a trunk. Grandmother’s father [had given] her $1,000 in bills, which she sewed in her dress belt for fear [it] might be stolen. They had some friends from Pennsylvania [who] had already settled north of this present place [with whom] they stayed until getting settled.

There was a two-room log cabin, which was [their] first home. The land was mostly all timber and had to be cleared off before any farming could be done. Down over the hill was a spring [from] which they carried drinking water.

Grandfather Gray went [by] horseback to Chillicothe [about 15 miles northwest] on errands: to get mail, food supplies, and flour [at] the grist mill in Utica [just southwest of Chillicothe]. He had to cross [the Grand] river by swimming his horse across. The bushwackers [Confederate guerrilla fighters] were still around and he was in danger [because] he was from the northern army

Here [on this farm] ten children were born: two pairs of twin girls [who] died in infancy and two others [who] died in childhood [sic-see above]. Four grew to maturity: Robert, Luella, William, and Harry Gray.

After clearing the timber they planted hedge rows for fences. One hedge row has stood for years as a landmark between Grandriver and Fairview Townships, but it was taken down last year and a new line fence [was] put up.

[Bottom line illegible – apparently their church] ___ was built and which my grandfather helped build, and [he] later was a member and deacon.

In 1884 Grandfather Gray built a new two-story home down near the public road, which they had [then] put in. Grandmother’s father from Pennsylvania came out and helped them. Also, [a] henhouse was built and two barns across the road.

On February 23, 1915, Mr. And Mrs. Samuel Gray celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary. Three of [their] children were present: Mrs. Luella [Gray] Canning, William, and Harry, along with his wife and daughter, Marguerite, at that time the only grandchild. [No mention is given of Robert’s absence nor of his child, Sarah Eva, born in 1897, but his third wife died in May of 1915 and may have been ill at that time.]

[On] Sept. 5, 1919, Samuel A. Gray passed away. On Sept. 9, 1924, a son was born to Harry and Zoa Gray named Harold Beever. This made the second grandchild [sic]. Luella was living with Grandmother Gray, so [she] continued to care for her until she passed away June 27, 1934.

On Aug. 24, 1932, Marguerite Gray and Claude Mathews [the authors of this narrative] were married at Chillicothe. After my grandmother’s death, my aunt wasn’t in very good health so my folks, Harry and Zoa Gray, moved over to [the] home place and cared for her. She passed away Feb. 23, 1941 [this date would have been her parents’ 76th wedding anniversary].

[On] July 2, 1944, Harold Gray [after whom this article is named] and Ruth Hutcherson were married in Chillicothe. Harold was inducted into the Army [in] Nov. 1944 [to fight in World War II and was honorably discharged July 3, 1946]. [The narrative continues here with additional names and dates, but of special interest is that Harold and Ruth named their oldest son Harold Samuel, after the father and the grandfather.]

On June 5, 1957, Mr. And Mrs. Harry Gray [Harold’s parents] celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary in the same home that his folks [Samuel and Margaret] did 42 years before. Mr. Harry Gray passed away [on] May 13, 1967 [in his 85th year]. Mrs. Harry [Zoa] Gray passed away May 17, 1968.

As there [were] only two children [bottom line illegible] ___ the 200 acres, I [Marguerite] took the west 100 acres and Harold the east 60 and 40 where the old homestill stands. Harold fenced the 40 acres and had cattle and hogs there.

We [Marguerite and Claude] built a new home with barn and other building in 1973. Now we have public water from [the] District and underground cable for telephone service and REA [Rural Electric Administration] for electric service. We have a family of five children [including a set of twins, which apparently runs in the family, and she gives names and dates of birth] and now 20 grandchildren.

Thus ends the fascinating story of Samuel Alexander Gray and his descendants. Having fought in the Civil War, Samuel was captured during the Battle of Chancellorsville in early May, 1863, and held at what he called a Parole Camp just south of Washington, DC, until late summer of that year. After being exchanged for Confederate prisoners, returning to his unit until his honorable discharge in September of 1864, and returning home to Western Pennsylvania, he married and migrated to Missouri. There, he purchased land, cleared it, and began to farm and raise a family. Thanks to his grandchildren, Harold and Marguerite, that land is still in the Gray family, and thanks to Marguerite and her husband Claude, we have Samuel’s story to pass on to future generations of Grays. Recent research, especially the discovery of a book about William and Samuel’s 63rd Regiment, is available in the article, “The Grays in the Civil War book, Under the Red Patch.” We hope you’ll enjoy it.



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