Major James Gray, Dep. Commissary – General of Issues
James Gray was born October 8, 1749 in Newburyport, Massachusetts. In 1768, he came to Epsom, New Hampshire and was employed by the town to teach school. The mother of Mr. Gray was with him when he first came to town, and she was also employed as a school-teacher.
In July, 1769, he married Jane Wallace, who died a few years after their marriage. Subsequently he married Susannah Parsons of Newbury, Massachusetts, daughter of Reverend Moses Parsons and sister to Judge Theophilus Parsons.
James Gray was appointed as Sergeant Major of Colonel John Stark’s 1st New Hampshire Regiment on April 23, 1775. He served in this capacity during the Battle of Bunker Hill. On November 8, 1776, Sergeant Major James Gray was commissioned as a Captain with duties as a Company Commander in the 3rd Regiment, New Hampshire Continental Line.
He commanded the 2nd Company Company of the 3rd New Hampshire through the many engagement it fought in during 1776 and 1777. It is very fortunate that many of Captain Gray’s letters and papers have been preserved for posterity.
A letter to his wife detailed:
“CHARLESTOWN (No. 4), May 18th, 1777.
“My Dear Susie: As I would not, if possible, let any opportunity of writing to you pass unnoticed, therefore I embrace the present by the post to Exeter, viz. : Mr. Waldo. I arrived here last Tuesday at night, as you will find by my Journal, transmitted to your Father; but it was attended with some difficulty, the roads being so excessively miry and my horse taken sick that I was obliged to walk a considerable part of the way ; but at present am very well. I expect on Tuesday next to take my departure for Ticonderoga, to put my baggage upon my horse & travel through the woods, which journey is eighty miles from here. When I left Exeter I forgot my Coffe pot and thought not of it until I got to Keene, so that I am now at a loss how to make use of my coffee. Since I came here I have heard from my Brother, by Mr. Tucker, who left him about a fortnight since in good health and high spirits. Capt. McClary has been very ill here, but has marched since through the woods.
“My Love and duty to the family. The reason of my putting my Baggage upon my horse or going on foot is because the wagon cannot get through the woods.”
We find not only letters to his wife, but also his father-in-law:
“TICONDEROGA, June 26, 1777.
“Hon. Sir: The last letter which I sent you by Col. Little I hope came safe to hand. I have now the pleasure, by Dr. Conner, of Exeter, to write a second. The Wednesday after the date of my first I set of from No. 4 for Ticonderoga. Our wagon not being able to carry our Baggage through the woods, I was obliged to load mine upon my horse and venture my body upon my Legs through to my Journey’s end, which, perhaps, may be said to be no small risqué. However, after a tedious Journey, I arrived at Ticonderoga, distance from No. 4 eighty miles, the 28th of May. Nothing worthy of observation has occurred to me since I cam e into Camp until the 17th instant, at which time the Camp at Ticonderoga was alarmed by the report of small arms at about half a mile distant from the Line, in the woods, which proved to be a party of Indians, about thirty in number, which lay in ambush for us and had then fired upon some of our men as they were returning from duty into Camp, three of which were killed and one carried off by the Savages, upon which a scouting-party was immediately sent in pursuit of them; but so precipitate was their retreat that we could not overtake them; but in their hurry to Crown Point they were met by a party of Rangers, eleven in number, who readily gave them fire. The Indians returned the same, upon which three or four rounds were exchanged, when the Commander of the party of Rangers, Lieut. Little, received a wound in the arm & was obliged to retreat with the loss of three men. The next day a scouting-party came upon the same grounds, where they found one Indian dead and took another who could not keep up with his party; him they brought into Camp and now have him confined.
“Sir: If I am not to tedious, I would observe that those four men who were killed and taken belonged to one Company and one mess, and the fifth, who was the only one left of the mess, was the next day standing with his gun loaded in his hands, leaning his chin upon the muzzle of his gun, when it went off, as he was talking with is Brother, and drove the whole charge through his head, dashing his brains through the side of the house by which they were standing.
“I have just received news from Ticonderoga that the British Troops are landed at Crown Point; this I believe to be depended upon as a fact, so that we are now preparing for Battle.
“Gen. St. Clair has the Command of the Troops in this department. We have fit for duty about 3000 men and about 1000 unfit for duty, by reason of disorders that are incident to Camp life.
“The 18th I was ordered, with my Company, to take command of this post, where we are to keep Garrison within the stockade. How long we shall remain here I can’t say. I will endeavor to write again by the post who goes and comes through this Garrison.
“A letter, sir, would be very acceptable.
“My Duty and respects to all.
“REV. MOSES PARSONS, Newbury Falls.
“To be left at Mr. Davenport’s Tavern.”
For a small period of time during the Saratoga Campaign, Captain Gray kept a journal:
“Sunday, 6th July 1777, – Retreated from Sheensboro’ & lost all my money, Baggage, &c. Lodged in the woods at Night.
“Monday, 7th, – Got into Fort Ann at 6 in ye morning; everything in the utmost confusion; nothing to eat. At 11 o’clock A.M. was ordered to take the Command of a party upon a scout and marched with 150 men besides 17 Rangers; had not marched from Garrison into the woods more than half a mile, after detaching my front, Rear and flanking Guards, when we met with a party of Regulars and gave them fire, which was Returned by the enemy, who then gave back. I then pursued them with close fire till they betook themselves to the top of a mountain. At the foot of this mountain we posted our selves and continued our fire until 6 P.M., when a reinforcement of 150 more joined me; but night approaching obliged me to return with my party to Garrison, after finding one of my party killed and 3 wounded, and three of the enemy killed by our first fire.
“Tuesday Morning, 8th, – Myself, with Capt. Hutchins, with the same number of men, marched to the aforesaid mountain and attacked the enemy very warmly. The engagement lasted about 2 hours, at which time the Commander of yo Garrison sent Colo. Ransleur with a small party of militia to reinforce us. We then advanced (firing) up the hill, where we found the enemy’s surgeon dressing a Capts Leg. Those, with two of their wounded soldiers, we took and sent in, and a number of our own people, men & women, who were the day before cut off by the enemy, we retook. At last, finding out ammunition gone and none to be had in Garrison, ordered off my wounded and some of the dead, and formed a retreat. Much fatigued when I returned and found no refreshments, neither meat or drink; immediately a Council was called and the prisoners who were retaken brot upon examination, who gave information that an express just arrived before we made this second attack and gave the enemy intelligence that a reinforcement of 2000, with Indians, were near at hand to join them, at which time they were to make a general attack upon us. It was then determined upon to retreat to fort Edward, after setting fire the Garrison. Accordingly, the wounded were sent off, except one, who was one of my own Company; him the Surgeon thot proper not to order off, that he would soon expire, or that if he was likely to live, the enemy, when they took possession, would take care of him. This I knew not of till we were ordered to march, at which time I turned back alone (my Company being gone) to the rear of the Army, where I found him. I then picked up a tent & fastened it between two poles, laid him upon it, and hired four soldiers to carry him. I took their four guns with my own and carried them to fort Edward; this was about 3 o’clock P.M.; rained very hard; distance from fort Ann to Fort Edward, 14 miles; arrived at Fort Edward at 10 in the Evening; no Barracks nor Tents to go into; therefore laid down in the rain and slept upon the ground; the fatigue of this day I believe I shall always remember.
“Colo Ransleur, wounded; Capt Weare, wounded; Ensign Walcutt, killed; Isaac Davis, a sergeant in my company, killed. Our loss is the two skirmishes about 15; the Enemy’s unknown.
“Wednesdy 9th, – I found my self very much indisposed, having no cloths to shift myself with & nothing to eat or drink, but walking about to make myself warm. Upon parade I met Capt. Peters (a Dutchman), a gentleman I never had seen but once before; he seeing me in my helpless situation took me to his tent, gave me a dram, then ordered some warm breakfast for me. Here I refreshed. He then procured barracks for my Company and furnished with Blankets to lodge on. I then sent my wounded men off to Albany. Applied for kettles for my Compy, but in vain; obliged to mix our flour in our hats and bake it upon Chips before the fire and broil our salt beef upon the coals.
“Thur. 10th, – Confined to my barrack; sent for a Doctor – none could attend – no appetite to food.
“Frid. 11, – Applied by an officer to Gen. Schuyler to go down the river to recruit my health; could not obtain it.
“Sat. 12th, – Gens St. Clair, Poor, Patterson & Termo arrived. Gen. Nixon’s Brigade marched into camp in the Evening. Gen1 Poor, having heard that I was sick, came with Colo Long & Maj. McClintock to see me and gave me liberty to go to Saratoga to recruit.
“Sun. 13th, – Set off on horseback and rode to Fort Miller, where I met with Col. Scammell, then proceeded to Saratoga, but the inhabitants being alarmed by the Tories, who every night were plundering houses, were moving off; therefore, I was obliged to ride until 12 at night before I could get a lodging. Lodged at Mr. Van Vaiters.
“Mondy 14th, – Set off and well to Still Watter; could get no entertainment; rode to ‘Half-Moon.'”
Upon the above return is the following:
“BILL OF LOSS.
During the Continental Army’s encampment at Valley Forge, Captain Gray is listed as continuing in the command of his Company. In a letter to his wife Susan dated December 24, 1777, Captain Gray wrote:
“since I wrote last, we have had several skirmishes with the Enemy but no general action — the Enemy remain in their strong holds at Philadelphia, from whence they send foraging parties; who plunder & pillage everything in their way, without discrimination.
In this State we find a people who are, (generally speaking), the most unfriendly of any we have passed through; insomuch that we are put to the disagreeable[sic] necessity of taking our necessary support from them, by armed force — I wou’d choose that this might be kept under the roses — Our Army tho’ in a poor situation, seem to surmount every difficulty with uncommon patience, firmness & fortitude — subject to order and anxious for Actio[n.] Thus much may suffice for the present —
As to myself, I have been very well ever since I join’d and as ragged for some time as a Bear —
On June 1, 1778, he resigned his commission. Thereafter, James Gray was appointed by Congress as Deputy Commissary General of Issues for the Northern Department on October 19, 1778. This appointment also came with a Major’s commission. Poor Health forced Major Gray to again resign in November of 1780.
He went back to Epsom and purchased land that would become to be known as “Gray’s Hill.” Major Gray was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1788, and was also town clerk, selectman and representative.
Major Gray died January 10, 1822. He is buried in the McClary Cemetery in Epsom, New Hampshire.
Sources: Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army, (Baltimore, 1914), 258; United States Continental Congress, Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Volume XVIII, 1780, (Washington, 1910), 1059; Duane H. Hurd, History of Merrimack and Belknap Counties, New Hampshire, Part 2, (Philadelphia, 1885), 911; “To George Washington from James Gray, 10 January 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 24, 1 January–9 March 1780, ed. Benjamin L. Huggins. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016, p. 73.]; “From George Washington to James Gray, 9 March 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 24, 1 January–9 March 1780, ed. Benjamin L. Huggins. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016, p. 684.]; Tombstone of Capt. James Gray; Selected Wartime Service Records of Major James Gray.