On the Bicentennial of James & Mary Gray’s Wedding

Larry Pearce, great-great-great grandson

Today, Sunday May 15, 2005, is a monumental day in the lives of all who are related by blood to the Gray clan of Western Pennsylvania. We owe our very existence to ancestors James and Mary Patterson Gray, whom we believe were married on this day two centuries ago by the Rev. Abraham Boyd (1770-1854). A portion of his story is told in a previous article, “The Rev. Abraham Boyd & the Bull Creek Presbyterians.” Fortunately, since that story was written almost two and a half years ago, our research has uncovered several important additions, aallowing us to make important revisions to our webpage. While we summarize our present knowledge of James and Mary in this article, we will also try to tell you what we don’t know because it’s always easier to “fill in the cracks” later when you know where they are. This article brings up many unanswered questions, but the great irony here, to me, is that while my grandparents Paul Barton Gray (1892-1977) and Bertha Ione Campbell Gray (1893-1980) purchased the Harbison farm along Rt. 228 in Middlesex Towship in the mid-1930’s, Grandfather Paul’s great-grandparents, James and Mary, MAY have also once lived in that general area. No one that I knew while I was growing up in Middlesex Township, Butler County, ever mentioned this possibility. Instead, we believed our family roots lay to the south in West Deer Township, Allegheny County. Other possible narratives for the origins of James and Mary may be found in another recent article at this site. We hope, as you take a moment to read this tribute and review, you’ll remember James and Mary’s long line of descendants and pass this information on to your issue and others who may be without modern computer technology. Of course, your comments, corrections, and additions are welcome anytime via e-mail.

First, we don’t know specifically where or when James and Mary were born. Family tradition has listed James as sailing from Scotland as a young lad with Rev. Abraham Boyd, before 1790. But, a recent conversation with a British genealogist revealed that Rev. Boyd sailed from Northern Ireland. Technically, most ships in those days sailing from Scotland, or the English mainland, stopped to pickup passengers in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Caroljo Lee, author of Merrie Olde Middlesex, points out that while Rev. Boyd served the Bull Creek church in northern Allegheny County where so many of our Grays belonged and are buried, he also served the Middlesex Presbyterian in southern Butler County, founded in 1794 and formally organized five years later. Her history of the Boyd family and Middlesex Church, especially what she calls “The miraculous springs,” is riveting. We’ll go into more details in a future article, but consider her account of the miracle of our James Gray’s survival:

When Abraham arrived with his family at the port of Londonderry [Northern Ireland], to set sail for America, the ship’s captain flatly refused to let the huge tribe of Boyds set sail. They were instead put into quarantine because young Abraham and his brother John had smallpox. While waiting out the period, the Boyds learned that the ship they originally were to have sailed on foundered at sea with loss of all lives. (58)

This is reminiscent of the novel Star of the Sea, by Joseph O’Connor, where so many Irish lives were lost at sea on their way to America. But the Boyds, the Grays, and the Fultons, Abraham’s grandparents, made it. In fact, Abram Fulton, for whom Rev. Boyd was named, carried a certificate of character reference from his church dated 1772. The Clan Boyd Society International Ministerial Directory lists some interesting Ulster family names that may or may not suggest blood ties between our families and their’s:

• Andrew Gray Boyd (b. 1886) Seattle, WA
• Andrew Gray Boyd (d.1915) Oregon (probably the father of above)
• Robert Patterson Boyd (b. 1884) Lancaster, PA
The entire Fulton-Boyd family settled in Westmoreland County, and the younger Abraham Boyd later studied at the Canonsburg Academy, the Presbyterian predecessor to Washington and Jefferson College. There, he encountered several fellow preachers named Patterson, one of whom became president of the University of Western Pennsylvania, now known as the University of Pittsburgh.

There are literally dozens of James Grays in early Pennsylvania census reports. The common name is a derivation of the biblical “Jacob” and in this case comes from British King James I (1566-1625), of Bible translation fame, who came from Scotland bringing Protestantism and establishing a British-Scottish colony, or plantation, in Northern Ireland in 1610. To read about the surname “Gray,” go to “Introduction: Gray.” These are a few of the James Grays in early Federal Census reports:

• 1790 – Allegheny Co, Plum Twp. and Westmoreland Co, Washington Twp. (too young to be counted?)
• 1800 – Allegheny Co, Deer Twp.
• 1810 – Allegheny Co, Indiana Twp.
• 1860 – Allegheny Co, Crescent Twp, born Ireland, age 65, farmer; Allegheny Co, Sewickley Boro, born Ireland, age 75; Butler Co, Connoquenessing Twp, born Maryland (?), age 74.

While most of the above entries might fit our James, one internet source believes the Sewickley Gray was a Methodist minister. We know that Crescent Twp., the home of another, is just across the Ohio River from there. We believe now that, according to early census records, the Grays of Russellton, originally Gray’s Mill near Bairdford in northeastern Allegheny County, were of German descent. Nevertheless, James’ and Mary’s son William Sylvester Gray inherited his father-in-law Leslie’s farm, which is nearby. Grandson Robert Patterson continued to farm there, and his son, my grandfather Paul Barton Gray, built many of the coal miners’ homes in Bairdford [See “Gray Family Connections to the Great Coal Miners’ Strike of 1927-28,” a book review.] Could James have originally settled in Deer or Indiana Township? Did he follow Rev. Boyd to Butler County and meet Mary Patterson there?

In 1802, two years after Rev. Boyd had been appointed to supply at the fledgling Middlesex Presbyterian, 12 members are recorded, one of whom is simply listed as “Gray.” If James sailed from the Old Country with the minister’s family, was he an orphan? Was he adopted? Or was that Gray at Middlesex his father. Perhaps additional research into the ship’s registry will hold the answer. If James and Mary owned land, a trip to the courthouse is in order. The Lee book interestingly contains a photo of a legal agreement to build a Union Community Hall in Cooperstown, Middlesex Township, in 1896 that reveals the signature of a W.S. Gray. James and Mary’s son, my Great-great grandfather, was William Sylvester (1816-1879), but he died before the signing, so just who were those other Grays in southern Butler County?

Before we cover the wedding of James and Mary, let’s consider her side of the family. First, according to the records of my late Aunt Edna Gray, Mary was born about 1797. I don’t know what her source was, but this would have made Mary much younger than James. In fact, she would have been only eight when she married. Not likely! Women and children were not recorded by name in the earliest censuses and ships registries, so finding her in public records may be difficult. In addition, our Ulster Scots, both Gray and Patterson, no doubt carried a heavy dialect when they came to America. For example, at least one of my other family records indicate that the first name “Jane” was often pronounced “Jean.” Rev. Boyd, who listed the names of 175 couples he married between 1802 and 1849, records Mary’s last name as “Peterson.” The son of Peter and Patrick, Peterson and Patterson, would mean the same and sound very similar on the heavily-Ulster Scot Western Pennsylvania frontier. [See “Introduction: Patterson.”] The primary reason we link this James and this Mary to our modern Grays is because my great-grandfather was named Robert Patterson Gray (1844-1928). Using ancestors’ surnames as middle names was and still is a common Scottish naming practice and is a big help to genealogists.

Another reason we suspect Rev. Boyd’s Middlesex connection is that the churchyard there is full of Pattersons, most of whom might surely be Mary’s family. These are a few:

o Elizabeth J. (1803-1887), a sister or cousin?
o John (1833-1850), son of A. & J.
o Thomas L. (1836-1863), son of R.A. & A.L. (couldn’t be below!)
o Robert A. (1842-1887)
o Anna Lena (1846-1917)
o Robert W. (1869-1889), brother of Thomas, also son of R.A. & A.L.

Unfortunately, the churchyard also has many plain brown fieldstones marking unnamed graves, either from a time when fancy tombstones were not available or to locate gravesites where headstones were broken or removed. Could James and Mary lie there? We need to point out that one of Rev. Boyd’s successors, Rev. Ephraim Ogden (1848-1888), experienced a fire at his parsonage that destroyed church records from 1817, the year Rev. Boyd left Middlesex, through 1834. At this time we’re still researching the remaining early church and cemetery documents for Grays and Pattersons. We also notice that the early Bull Creek Church and cemetery has no record of Pattersons, although we realize that after 200 years those lists and gravesites could also be lost. We do know that Rev. Boyd and wife Agnes are buried at Bull Creek. Patterson was a common Ulster Scot name, and we haven’t fully researched the other local churches with which Rev. Boyd had ties as an evangelist and organizer: Fox Chapel’s Pine Creek, old Deer Creek, Buffalo, Tarentum’s First Presbyterian, and several home meeting places.

So, on what was probably a beautiful, sunshiny Sunday afternoon, May 15, 1805, possibly after a morning Pentecost celebration like today, James Gray and Mary Patterson were united in marriage. Was there a picnic or luncheon to follow on the church grounds or at a nearby friend or relative’s? It’s fun to speculate. We don’t know where they made their home nor how many children they raised. An internet source suggests that, in addition to having William, there may have been a son Dan who worked in the lumber business. We do know that Rev. Boyd also married William Sylvester and Elizabeth Leslie Gray. Spelled “Lasley,” this was probably another of Rev. Boyd’s “write it as it sounds.” Their wedding was held April 13, 1837, probably at Bull Creek Church, not far from her father George’s homestead. George was married to Rebekah Ferguson in 1809 by Rev. Boyd, also at Bull Creek. Many of the Scotch-Irish families into which the Grays and Campbell’s would eventually marry are buried at Bull Creek: Leslie, Ferguson, Norris, Jack, Anderson, Brown, and McKrell. Most of the rest of our families are interred just down the road at the East Union Presbyterian Cemetery.

James and Mary’s descendants number in the thousands now and live all across these United States. [See “The Descendants of William Sylvester Gray & Elizabeth Leslie,” and other E-Gen: Gray family lines.] Recent research has turned up some important Grays, and some just interesting, who are probably not directly related. The famous novelist of the American West, Zane Grey (1872-1939), was born in Zanesville, Ohio, the son of a preacher. Senator and Astronaut John Glenn was also born there. Zane’s ancestor Henry (1770-1822) came to Philadelphia from England before moving to Westmoreland County in 1800. Zane was a family surname and “Grey” probably seemed closer to the British royal spelling. His real name was Pearl Gray. Another noble Western PA Gray family farmed the banks of the old Pennsylvania Canal, which connected the Allegheny River above Pittsburgh to the Conemaugh River at Johnstown in the mid-19th century. William Gray (1811-1896) owned the land around what was called Broad Fording, now Cokeville, in Indiana County. The canal and portage railroad carried freight and passengers along and over the Allegheny Mountains. Charles Dickens included this experience in his essay on traveling in America. The Pittsburgh City Directory of 1815 lists four Grays:

• James, Liberty Ave. merchant,
• John, wagoneer,
• John B., Wood Street merchant, and
• Samuel, a laborer who live on Strawberry Alley. (9)
Were any of them related to us? We don’t know.

Using an internet search engine such as Google can turn up some interesting coincidences. For example, FamousAmericans.net revealed that James Gray (1770-1824) was a clergyman who was born in Ireland and died in Gettysburg. After graduating from the University of Glasgow and being ordained, he came to America in 1797. He pastored in Philadelphia and helped organize New York City’s Reformed seminary and the Philadelphia Bible Society. He was known for his theological treatises and sermons.

Finally, the James Gray (b. 1954), who garnered the most hits, represents the county of Wiltshire for the Conservative Party in Great Britain’s Parliament. My modern Pearce family began with the birth of twins in Wiltshire in 1785, about the same year our James Gray was born. Richard Pearce married Susan Austen and Richard’s twin Sarah married Susan’s brother Charles in a double ceremony in the Queen’s Church, London, in 1813. They all sailed to America in 1820 and settled the land that is now North Park, Allegheny County. One of Parliamentarian James Gray’s chief causes is the welfare of modern Northern Ireland, the birthplace of his namesake and our patriarch. Having attended high school and college in Glasgow, his expertise is the shipping industry, and Belfast is the largest port in Great Britain.

In conclusion, genealogical research is never complete, especially when dealing with so few records over such great periods of time. We’ll update you every so often as we discover anything new and interesting. Meanwhile, wherever James and Mary Patterson Gray are at rest, may the memory of them remain with us, their descendants. They represent the true Ulster Scot emigrants and American pioneering spirit.

Works Cited

Boyd, Rev. Abraham. Clan Boyd Society International. 31 March 2005 http://www.clanboyd.info/ministerial

Cemetery Inscriptions from Bull Creek Presbyterian Cemetery. 30 June 2002 http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~njm1/bull.htm

Closson, Bob and Mary. 175 Southwestern Pennsylvania Marriages performed by Rev. Abraham Boyd (1802-1849). Apollo, PA: Closson Press, 1976

Gray, Lewis and Ruby. A Family History: Gray-Avery and Related Families. Wichita Falls, TX: Nortex, 1980

Gray, Joseph F. A Genealogy of Israel Gray (1772-1846). Jefferson, ME: Personal, 1995

Lawrence, Chyrl. Gray Family Gen Forum. 24 March 2005 http://genforum.genealogy.com/cgi-bin/print.cgi?gray

Lee, Caroljo Forsythe. Merrie Olde Middlesex. Monroeville, PA: Gateway Press, 1976

Middlesex Presbyterian Church Cemetery. 3 November 2004

Pittsburgh City Directory for the Year 1815. Apollo, PA: Closson Press, 1995

Wilson, Val. “Val at BritishAncestors.com.” 21 March 2005

Last revised 12/18/17

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