J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How the Grays Remembered Their Baby Boy

This is a mourning ring on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society in an exhibit called “In Death Lamented: The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry.”

The M.H.S.’s blog explains:
This ring, part of the MHS collections, commemorates John Gray, the infant son of John and Mary Otis Gray and nephew of political writer Mercy Otis Warren.

John died at only six days old. The ring has a design of three joined enameled scrolls and a gold foil skull under a square crystal. The inscription that runs around the outside of the band reads, “J:GRAY OB·17·SEP 1763·Æ 6D,” meaning “John Gray died 17 September 1763 aged 6 days.”

Less than two months after the infant’s death, his mother died as well, and a ring was made in her memory.
The surviving John Gray was the wealthy owner of the rope factory where ropemaker William Green and Pvt. Patrick Walker got into a fight on 2 Mar 1770, leading to the Boston Massacre. Gray leaned toward the Crown, but wasn’t active in politics. He remained in America through the war instead of leaving like his brother Harrison Gray, the royal treasurer.

The exhibit can be viewed for free from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M., Monday through Saturday, until 31 Jan 2013. On 15 November, jeweler Sarah Nehama and Anne Bentley of the M.H.S., the co-curators, will offer an free tour of the exhibit, talking about individual pieces. On 7 December Bentley will highlight the items from three particular families over the decades. Nehama has written a handsome full-color catalogue that would make a fine holiday present for your favorite Goth.


John L Smith Jr said...

Some sources I have say the same rope-maker John Gray had possibly instigated a fight with a redcoat earlier in the day of the Boston Massacre, and then (the sources say) was killed during the massacre later that evening. Have you ever heard those (erronious) stories about Gray?

J. L. Bell said...

One of the ropemakers involved in the fight on 2 Mar 1775 and some subsequent fights (regulars actually staked out his home at one point) was Samuel Gray. He was in the front of the crowd at the Boston Massacre, not apparently threatening the soldiers but enjoying their discomfort, and was shot in the head. Some witnesses claimed that Pvt. Matthew Kilroy, who was also in the ropewalk fight, poked his bayonet into Gray's brains.

Some authors have mixed up this Samuel Gray, who was a manual worker, with John Gray, his wealthy boss. Or assumed that the two men were related. But no one who's studied the Massacre has found any comment at the time about them being from the same family, so I think their shared surname was just a coincidence.

John L Smith Jr said...

Thank you for clearing up the Gray matter question I'd had, J. L.!