We tend to think of a bright line dividing North and South during the Civil War, but in families like the Grays of Boston there were a number of living connections between the two regions. Mrs. William Rufus Gray, the diarist’s mother-in-law, was a member of the Clay family of Savannah, and during the war her younger sister and other family members resided in Georgia, near the South Carolina line.
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 3 February 1865: We have had news of the destruction of Aunt Eliza’s plantation and the burning of the homestead by [Major General William Tecumseh] Sherman’s army. We cannot but feel sorry for her – but as a military measure it was perfectly justifiable. The place had a powerful rebel battery planted on a bluff commanding the river – 4 miles below was Fort McAllister, on Matilda Clay’s brother’s place; when that was taken by assault, all the places on the Ogeechee [River] up and down were burned and destroyed. Continue reading ‘In the dead of night’→
The Civil War was drawing to a close, but there remained much suffering in store for Regina Shober Gray and her circle:
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 12 February 1865: Tomorrow Huntington Wolcott goes off, as Lieutenant, to join his regiment, and enter on his new career. He is only 19, and leaves an indulgent and affluent home, a life of the most sheltered & cultivated refinement, for the rude privations of camp life. God protect him, the brave lad, morally and bodily.
He is but 8 or 9 months older than my Frank; how thankful I felt when the war broke out nearly 4 years ago that my boys were all too young to go – but now, it lingers on so wearily & yet so necessarily, that I often think I may yet have to send my treasures in faith & trust as so many brave hearted mothers have done ere now. Dr. Gray however says Frank’s college course must be finished first – then will be time enough for him to think of the army if needed – now, he has not the physique for it either – and is only 18 last fall too. Continue reading ‘The flower of our manhood’→
Even as she followed the last weeks of the Civil War in the press during the winter of 1865, Mrs. Gray found time to contribute to her daughter’s happiness:
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 12 February 1865: Mary [Gray] is in a state of very happy excitement because her father has withdrawn his prohibition against round-dancing. It is very inconsistent I suppose and all that, but I have long felt a question about it; whether the old fashioned prejudices of her parents ought to enforce themselves to her exclusion from a pleasure all her young friends were allowed, and enjoyed so highly.
She enjoys dancing the “German” as much as any one – but has never remonstrated against our decision, and gave it up 2 or 3 years ago without complaint. Then several other girls of her set said they were not to dance it – and it seemed as if she would have plenty of companionship in abstaining, but one after another they have all concluded to dance it and she was left almost alone – and it does make a great difference in a young lady’s enjoyment of society: it sets her completely apart from the dancing and makes a wall-flower of her at once, for there are never more than two or three square dances of an evening. Continue reading ‘The difference it makes’→
The month of January 1865 brought further deaths to Mrs. Gray’s circle, but also allowed her a welcome respite in visits to local galleries to see the latest paintings.
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 15 January 1865: …Dr. Gray has just come in (noon, Jan. 15) with news of a great public loss – the death of Mr. Edward Everett this morning. We have not heard what his illness was – but probably apoplexy. He spoke at the Savannah relief meeting this week, and has been arguing his own case against the Mystic Water Works – seemingly well as usual. We have no such orator left as he. A man of wonderful eloquence and as wonderful erudition; with a celebrity not merely local, but national, and world wide. He held among other high public offices that of Minister at the Court of St. James. Last week died in Philad[elphia] Mr. George M. Dallas who also held that office.
Thursday, 19 January 1865: …To-day (Jan 19th) was Mr. Everett’s burial-day. His death is felt a great public loss. We have no such golden mouthed orator left – no one in any way competent to fill his place. Continue reading ‘Broad, high foreheads’→
[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 8 March 2016.]
When researching a family, one can quickly become focused on names, birthdates, and death dates. It is easy to get caught up on going as far back as possible until reaching the metaphorical brick wall, and being left with a “well, what do I do now?” mentality. Seventeenth-century immigrants can be incredibly difficult to trace and track, but learning about them in public records can help add meaning to and information about their lives. Continue reading ICYMI: Middlesex County court records→
Early in the new year of 1865, Regina Shober Gray had news to report on her son in Philadelphia and on sad situations closer to home:
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 8 January 1865: A bitter cold day – thermom. at 6 this a.m. A warm profuse rain all Friday night turned into a storm of hail, snow, & sleet yesterday – and a clear, cold winter moon was shining out when we retired for the night last evg. Sam [Gray] and I have been housed for some days with severe colds – and I have been busy sewing with the dressmaker &c. all the week.
We hear good accounts from dear Regie [Gray]. His cough scarcely troubles him at all – and he is very happy. They are doing tout leur possible to make him contented. A gymnasium and workroom are fitted up in the attic for him, the yard is flooded nightly for his slides. Continue reading ‘Every thing the world can offer’→
I have tried to make it a point in my blogs to give heartfelt thanks to indexing efforts of the New England Historic Genealogy Society (NEHGS) volunteers whenever we bring a new or updated collection online. Several people have asked me exactly how volunteers fit in the indexing process. Answering this question requires a little perspective on what is involved in creating one of our databases.
Typically, the first step is scanning images from the original source materials. The volunteers come to the library here in Boston. Then, using a flatbed scanner or 35mm camera-based book scanner, the volunteer captures every page in the book. A critical part of this phase is to take care that the images are clear and that no pages have been inadvertently skipped. This seems straightforward, but when you are processing a few hundred pages extra vigilance is required. Continue reading Acts of genealogical kindness→
Regina Shober Gray often used her final diary entries for a year to review the previous twelve months. At the end of the year 1864, death was much on her mind, with the recent loss of her brother John; another close friend, generally noted in the diary as Miss Jones, had died the previous winter.
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 25 December 1864: A splendid Christmas day – but oh – how sad such days become to us, as life wears on, and our paths are more and more strewn with wrecks of lost hopes and “loves where death hath set his seal.” It is all I can do to keep back the tears to-day – to seem cheerful for the children’s sake. The past year has carried away 2 most precious friends, and all future life is shadowed with a sense of “retrieveless loss.”
In this diary entry Mrs. Gray depicts some of the economic forces on an upper-class Boston family, one dependent on the largesse of wealthier family members. Her brother John Bedford Shober had died in November, survived by Mrs. Gray, several unmarried sisters, and a younger brother:
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 18 December 1864: The business firm will go on at present under the old title – “Shober & Co.” – though Antony Kimber being the elder of the surviving partners has the right to insist on the appearance of his name, if he choose to – more especially as he is the more experienced business man, and largest capitalist of the two.
Dear John’s will was just what we all knew beforehand – all the property but $10,000 left to his devoted sister Mary, expressly left in trust for the use of his unmarried sisters, to keep up an affluent home for them; this has been for years the darling object of his life. Continue reading ‘Generosity and magnanimity of character’→
Philadelphia, Sunday, 4 December 1864: One week to-day since our precious brother died – died to earth with all its torturing pain, its long drawn weariness and waked to peace and rest – “the rest that remaineth to them that love the Lord” in Heaven.
He was seized with convulsions on Friday p.m. about 6 o’c. and they lasted with intervals of two or three breathings – and once of 2 hours, till about 3 p.m. on Sunday, when he sank, with a few sobbing breaths, ever fainter and fainter into the everlasting stillness … Continue reading ‘Business without change’→