The family of Robert K. Gray;
A quaint old letter; Stone family request
By William M. Talley and Willis A. Koffroth & Linda Thompson, Guest contributors
(use the "Contact Us" form to comment on Dr. Talley's columns)
Earlier this year Willis A. Koffroth of Manhattan Beach, Calif., sent me a
beautiful book on the history of the Koffroth and related families, one of them
being the Gray family and another being the Dawney family, both of Lewis
County. The book is co-authored by Linda Thompson.
I was in contact with Mr. Koffroth many years ago when he was doing some
research on the McCann family. We ceased to exchange letters many years
ago. To make a long story short, I mentioned this to my friend, Clyde Mowery,
who knows Mr. Koffroth and has been in contact with him for quite some time.
Clyde put us in touch with one another again. So after I started communicating
with Mr. Koffroth he sent me a copy of two of his books, the last one being
Voices from the River.
The following material on the Gray family has been taken from Mr. Koffroth’s
book and some of it is simply paraphrased.
Robert Gray was born on the Susquehanna River in Northumberland County,
Penn., in 1796, and when he was seven years old his family moved west to the
South Branch of French Creek in Erie County in the northwestern corner of
Pennsylvania. French Creek increases in size as it makes its way down to the
Allegheny River and then joins with the Monongahela at Pittsburgh to form the
Ohio River. Young Robert was fascinated with flowing water and with anything
that would float on it. We don’t know if these two Robert Grays were related to
Captain Robert Gray, the famous explorer who discovered the mouth of the
Columbia River, but both Robert Gray Sr. and Jr. spent their lives on rivers.
Young Robert K. Gray quickly became an expert at being a ship’s carpenter
and his son, Robert K. Gray Jr., became a skipper of steamboats on the Ohio
and Mississippi waterways.
Both men, father and son, were described as rugged, physically large, hard-
working men, but were probably very modest. Robert K. Gray Sr. left nothing in
writing that can be found and only a fragment of a letter written by Capt. Robert
Gray Jr. to his wife, Isabella, during the Civil War managed to survive.
The genealogy of this family is as follows:
Robert K. Gray Sr. born 1796 in Northumberland County, Penn., died March 10,
1849, in Concord, Lewis County. He married on Dec. 16, 1829, at Portsmouth,
Scioto County, Ohio, Louesa Irvin (Ervin), born December 1813 in Kentucky,
died Oct. 19, 1888, in Vanceburg.
Their children were:
(1) Sarah Jane Gray, born 1834 in Vanceburg
(2) Robert K. Gray Jr., born 1837 in Vanceburg, married July 25, 1863, in
Portsmouth, Scioto County, Ohio, Isabelle Jane Dawney, who was born in 1842
in Maryland (daughter of James Dawney and Isabelle Day)
(3) Anna Maria Gray, born 1841 in Vanceburg, died 1917 in Vanceburg; married
first to Mr. Dawney about 1859, and married second to James W. Patton in 1877.
Patton was born in 1849 in Kentucky.
(4) Deborah Gray, born 1843 in Vanceburg, died Dec. 14, 1883, in Vanceburg.
She married on Sept. 2, 1861, to John Dawney, who was born 1839 in Maryland
and died at Stout’s P.O., Adams County, Ohio.
(5) Mary B. Gray, born 1845 in Vanceburg, died July 27, 1922, in Lewis County,
married James T. Findlay Carney, who was born in Campbell Co., Ky., and died
March 21, 1914, in Lewis County; son of David L. Carney.
The parents of Robert K. Gray Sr. were among the thousands of Scots-Irish
who came to America in the 1700s from the Ulster Counties of Northern Ireland.
As Mr. Koffroth points out in his book, these people were known as soon as
they left their boats as the Scotch-Irish, but a Scotsman will tell you that Scotch
is a fermented beverage and not a person. Some historians have lamented
that they are more properly “Anglo-Irish” since they were originally from the
border counties of Northern England, and not Scotland. Among those Northern
British Borderers that were transplanted at various times in Northern Ireland
were members of the clan named Gray. The counties forming the border
between England and Scotland are Northumberland, and when the Grays came
to Pennsylvania they first settled in Northumberland County, Penn.
For over 350 years the tribes of both Scotland and England feuded
continuously among themselves. There were frequent occurrences of robbery
and blackmail; raiding, arson, kidnapping, murder and extortion. The people of
the area came to be known as the Border Reivers. Among the notorious
families were the Armstrongs, Grahams, Irvines, Nixons and the Grays -- just to
name a few.
The Quakers and the Pilgrims may have left Europe for religious motives, but
the reasons for the immigration of the Scots-Irish in the 1700s was economic.
Conditions were severe with widespread famine and starvation. The ships that
carried them across the Atlantic were often owned by greedy entrepreneurs
who loaded them down beyond capacity, thus the mortality rate was close to
that of the slave ships. It is not known the year of the Grays’ immigration.
The Scots-Irish were noted for being free-wheeling individualists, with a
reputation of being rebellious. They were not good servants and hated taking
orders and most of them did not care for the discipline of more developed
communities. The wilderness appealed to their adventurous spirit. While
German immigrants became “wedded to the soil” the Scots-Irish were more
likely to push on to new and unexplored areas.
In Northeastern Pennsylvania, the Gray family chose Union Township for their
home. William and Matthew Gray were two of the earliest settlers, and it is
possible that Matthew Gray was Robert Gray Sr.’s father. The forests were
heavy and many sawmills were erected. The unlimited wood supply gave rise
to shops that made furniture, barrels, wagons, broom handles, and even
cheese boxes. This area provided opportunity for Robert Gray’s future as a
shipwright, or ship’s carpenter. A history of the area states that in 1809 and
1810 flatboats were built in the township and were floated down French Creek
to Waterford, where they would be loaded with cargo. Waterford was a port of
entry for goods going up or down the Ohio River. It may have been Waterford
where young Robert Gray had his first glimpse of the Ohio River.
The Grays, like other families, grew their own food, did their own weaving, and
hunted for their fresh meat. They cooked on open fires and the women made
all of the family’s clothing. Most of them kept an ample supply of whiskey on
hand. All the homes were made of logs laid on top of the other with crevices
filled with mud. It was rare for families to have glass windows. The heat came
from fireplaces that consumed tremendous amounts of wood. The schools and
churches were primitive.
The Gray family reached Erie County, Penn., about 1800.
Robert K. Gray Sr. presented himself to the army recruiter at the age of 16 on
July 1, 1813. It is not likely that Gray realized why the country was fighting the
British. Many reasons were given for the war, but the one that outraged most
early settlers was the matter of British sailors kidnapping Americans from their
ships. Recruiters were supposed to accept only those men between the ages
of 18 and 40, but this rule was habitually ignored (e.g., Robert K. Gray at 16) as
long as the person was able bodied.
Robert Gray, according to his military papers, was over six feet tall, with a fair
complexion, gray eyes and fair hair. He had a high degree of native
intelligence and outstanding leadership skills.
The 17th Regiment of Kentucky was assigned to the army of the northwest,
including the states of Ohio, Indiana and the territories that became the states
of Michigan and Illinois. How and why Robert ended up in a Kentucky unit is
not known. Kentuckians paid a great cost of lives in this war. The Adjutant
General of Kentucky recorded nearly 2,000 deaths of Americans during the War
of 1812 and 60% were Kentuckians.
Robert K. Gray was in the battle of Ft. Stephenson, just south of present-day
Toledo, Ohio. This was a decisive battle. The British lost 120 men and it proved
disastrous for the British because the Indians gave up their future support of
the British army. After the battle of Lake Erie, Gray's unit was sent to Buffalo,
near his home town in Erie on July 2, 1814. Later, Gray’s unit went into winter
quarters near Erie and were there when the war ended in December, 1814.
While many of the Kentuckians marched back to their homes, Gray stayed with
his unit and marched south to Chillicothe, Ohio, and remained on duty until his
discharge in the summer of 1815.
Chillicothe, on the west bank of the Scioto River, is a Shawnee word meaning
“gathering place”. It became the capital of Ohio and came to be known as an
“army town”. British prisoners of war were held on the outskirts of Chillicothe
and because the prisoners were considered “bullish” it was called Camp Bull.
Capt. Gray may have been involved in guard duties there.
He was released from the army on June 9, 1815, at the age of 19. His discharge
was given by order of Brigadier General Duncan McArthur, who later became
governor of Ohio.
Notwithstanding the invention of the steamboat, many flatboats still carried
tons of goods down the Scioto to Portsmouth, and Gray became
knowledgeable of the river and its trade. The steamboat was coming into its
own, but flatboats continued to carry goods to Maysville, Cincinnati, Louisville
and other towns south. Robert Gray soon saw the advantages of moving to
Portsmouth to find employment in the boat and trading industries. Ohio was
building many miles of canals.
The Erie Canal, which began at Cleveland, headed south down to Portsmouth.
Irish men worked as day laborers on this canal and these Irish immigrants died
by the hundreds from “swamp mist diseases” -- malaria and yellow fever. The
route became known as the “Irish graveyard”. Those who died at the
southernmost part of the canal were buried in the old “Canal Cemetery” in
West Portsmouth. The gate of the cemetery opened onto the canal and old
timers recalled barges, draped in black, pulling up to the gate to deliver the
remains for burial.
[The Irish fled Ireland to come to the U.S. for a better life, but, alas, many of
them died while working on projects like the Erie Canal, the Irish Channel in
New Orleans, and the Lachine Canal in Montreal.]
Portsmouth became the home town of Robert K. Gray some time before 1829,
about the time of the invention of the canal boat. These boats had to be
fashioned in a certain way in order to travel the 300 miles of this canal. Many of
the boats were made in Portsmouth.
In 1829, the independent 33-year-old bachelor, Robert K. Gray, began to long
for a family life. On December 9, 1829, in the bustling town of Portsmouth he
married 16-year-old Louesa Ervin (or Irvin), who had been born in Lewis
County. Robert and Louesa may have found the city too rowdy and by 1834 they
had moved to the Kentucky side of the river to the town of Concord about 30
miles down river from Portsmouth. One of the first persons to buy lots in
Concord was a John Irvin.
Many other veterans of the War of 1812 settled in Lewis County, one of them
being Arthur Stevenson. Robert may have also served with William McCann,
Thomas Pool, Maj. John Doyal and William McGinnis (ancestor of the late Dr.
Bertram), veterans of that war. Gray may have been attracted to Concord also
because a resident there, William Cummings, was an expert boat builder
having turned out many flatboats as well as steamboats -- John Hancock,
Clendel and the Elk. Cummings was the pilot of the first steamboat that sailed
from Concord to Charleston, W.Va.
At the time Robert and Louesa lived in Concord it was a thriving town, being a
strong competitor of Vanceburg. It was here that Robert and Louesa raised
their four girls and one boy, between 1834 and 1845. Robert K. Gray died in
1849. Robert’s wife, Louesa, was 17 years younger than her husband and found
herself to be a widow of 36 with five young children. By 1852, Louesa had
married John Parker, who died before 1880, and thereafter she supported her
family by working as a seamstress. Louesa died in 1888 at the home of her
daughter, Mary. She was a member of the Vanceburg Christian Church.
The obituary of Mrs. Louesa Parker appeared in the Vanceburg Times, Oct. 27,
1888, as follows:
“Died, Mrs. Louesa Parker, member of the Vanceburg Christian Church, Oct.
19, 1888, about 3 p.m., at the home of Mrs. J.F.T. Carney. She married R.K. Gray
in 1829 and had eight children (six daughters and two sons). All of them are
dead except two daughters, Mrs. Carney and Mrs. Patton. Three years after the
death of Gray, she married John Parker, and they had one son, who with his
father has since died. Mrs. Parker was buried in the Vanceburg Cemetery.”
(Note: The number of Mrs. Parker’s children given in the obituary differs from
that of other accounts.)
Robert K. Gray Jr., in his youth, was fascinated by watching all the boats on the
Ohio River and especially the ferry that crossed from Vanceburg to Sandy
Springs, Ohio. His interest in working on the river increased as he grew older.
In December, 1845, when he was eight years old the steamboats “Delarck” and
“Martha” at Concord sank and both boats were a complete loss. Shortly after,
in 1846, the “Raleigh” and the “Lawrence”, both loaded with newly-milled flour,
crashed head on just below Concord and sank in shallow water. Presumably
young Robert saw the effects of these disasters and maybe the danger enticed
him to make a career of river boat piloting irresistible. No doubt his father’s
stories of how the Indians called the Ohio la belle riviere (the beautiful river)
and the Iroquois especially called it Oyo, the great water. So it came to be
called the beautiful river Ohio. This 13-year-old boy must have been filled with
dreams and saw that his work was cut out for him.
After the death of Robert K. Gray Sr. the family moved from Concord to
Vanceburg. The children took advantage of what education was available -- a
graded school had been opened in Vanceburg. The marriage of the Gray
children’s mother to John Parker (a cooper, barrel maker) who was a steady,
reliable person and he served as a model of values for the children.
Robert came to know the different groups of workers on steamboats: officers,
cabin crew and deck crew, and there were different officers -- captain, clerk,
two pilots, two engineers and a mate. It was Robert’s dream to move to the
upper levels where there was better pay and greater permanence and
security. We don’t know much about Robert’s early days on the river.
By the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Robert had made his home in
Portsmouth, which became a center of military activity on the Mason-Dixon
Line. The boat yards where his father had worked had been turned into a yard
to make gunboats.
Robert K. Gray Jr.’s sister, Deborah, married John T. Dawney on September 2,
1861. John Dawney served in the Union army in the Civil War.
Robert became quite concerned on a Sunday in 1862 when a Rebel raid was
reported in his hometown of Vanceburg. He was concerned about his mother
and sisters. A rumor spread that a Rebel band of 1,200 was heading straight for
Portsmouth. Portsmouth sent out a large number of Union troops to the
Kentucky side and they went down river to Vanceburg, but found that the story
was a gross exaggeration. The “attack” in Vanceburg had been made by only
about 20 hungry and tired Confederate cavalrymen, who had entered the city
in search of food. They were promptly captured.
[Note: We believe that it was at this time Jordan Gulley was assassinated by
the Rebels near the place where the old depot and the Depot Museum now
Robert K. Gray Jr. and Isabella Jane Dawney were married on July 25, 1863.
This was Isabella’s second marriage, having been married briefly to James A.
Miller on July 25, 1863. It is believed that the marriage ended in divorce or
Robert K. Gray Jr. (born 1837) and Isabelle Jane Dawney were the parents of
the following children:
(1) Ida Bell Gray, born 1862 in Kentucky.
(2) Louesa Gray, born June 26, 1864, in Portsmouth and died March 3, 1924, in
Marysville, Union Co., Ohio; married in Columbus to Richard Cornelius Oct. 31,
(3) Sarah Jane Gray, born 1868, in Portsmouth, Ohio; married George Dexter.
(4) Alice Bell Gray, born April 12, 1871, in Portsmouth and died April 12, 1871.
The Gray family lived on Front Street in Portsmouth during the Civil War, only a
block or so from the present Boneyfiddle district. Today the large levee and
flood wall obscure the view of the river that the Grays enjoyed.
Robert Gray was an officer on one of the transports and combatant vessels
carrying Union troops and supplies down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. In
addition to the hostile acts of the enemy, the boats had to watch for the
dangers of snags, low water and fire. Many steamers were sunk by rebels.
In 1863 Robert Gray mailed Isabella a letter from Smithland, Ky., and explained
that he was on the Doane No. 2 on his way to Nashville, and that he would get
somebody to replace him when he returned to Louisville. It was fortunate that
he did leave the Doane No. 2 because it burned when it was attacked at
Johnsonville on the Tennessee River in November 1864.
In the letter Robert told Isabella that if she became lonely or apprehensive to
go down to Vanceburg and stay with his mother until he returned. There was
reason for apprehension because the Confederate General, John Hunt
Morgan, had crossed into Indiana and was headed for southern Ohio and by
July 13 he was near Cincinnati and heading east.
The mayor of Portsmouth realized that the city was in danger and put the city
under martial law and suspended business. All roads leading into Portsmouth
were blocked with troops and gunboats. It has been estimated at least 12,000
Union soldiers were ready for the assault on Portsmouth, but, fortunately, it did
not materialize. The Confederates crossed the Ohio and moved up the Scioto
where many of them were captured. Morgan was incarcerated in the Ohio State
Penitentiary for a period of time.
An old letter
Jerry Bloomfield, of Vanceburg, has brought us an old letter he found many
years ago in an old, abandoned house on Quick’s Run. There is no date or
address on the letter, which begins on the second sheet, page two. We judge
by the style of writing and the colloquialisms that it was probably written by a
woman named LISETTA ROBINSON sometime between 1860 and 1880. Much of
the letter deals with Ms. Robinson’s religious efforts through prayer to help
her friend who seems to be in very difficult circumstances. She says: “I have
prayed that every vestige of doubt might be destroyed. O, how earnestly I
have prayed -- for you and your benighted [i.e., unenlightened] husband and
your poor -- poor -- old mother.”
”15 Jan., My sympathy and commiseration for you and family is very great and
God knows how I wish to help you more, have had no opportunity to solicit
orders for work or to get other help, except one who flatly refused to give any
help but argues that every county is supposed to see to the relief of its own
poor. We ourselves are very poor and heavily in debt but I will send you this
dime and pair of wool hose, which my son bought for me; he got two pairs for
me. I send you one pair, not knowing in what other way I could help you this
For many lines the writer goes into a religious discourse quoting numerous
scriptures. She then says: “Is the neighborhood in which you live thickly
settled? Who brings your mail? Who does the homework when your poor old
mother is sick, too?”
“Well, I sincerely hope and trust that when this reaches you, it may find you
much relieved of the mental anxiety about your husband and that conditions
generally may be much improved --
“Very sympathizingly, your friend, Lisetta Robinson.”
We can see that Ms. Robinson is well educated and very religious, but we
would like to know more about her and the person to whom she wrote this
The Stone family
Diana D. Igo (email@example.com) is seeking information on the Ezekiel
Stone family. There was an Ezekiel Stone in Lewis County in the early 1800s
and he and his wife are buried in the old Stone Cemetery at Thor, but the dates
of Ms. Igo’s Ezekiel do not match with those of the Lewis County Ezekiel.
She says that her cousin, Ruth Sorrell Nunley, is seeking an obituary of an
ancestor, Rev. Ezekiel Stone, born 1776 in North Carolina and listed in the 1860
census of Lewis County, aged 84, with his wife, Edith “Edy” Duncan Stone, age
80. Both Ezekiel and Edy died some time after the 1860 census.
These ladies would like to determine if the Ezekiel Stone of North Carolina
died in Lewis County, Ky. Ezekiel Stone was an early Baptist minister and
mentioned in several books.
It is believed that a certain William Stone was the father of this Ezekiel Stone of
Perhaps some of our readers who have traced the Stone family may be able to
help these ladies.
|News and information for Lewis County, Kentucky!
Dr. William Talley