‘A free citizen’

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

By the winter of 1861, an American civil war loomed. Regina Shober Gray[1] – a native of Pennsylvania with Southern connections[2] – was disposed to some sort of emancipation for the South’s slaves, with due respect for slave-owners’ existing property rights, but her views (and emphases) would change over the course of the next four years.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 3 March 1861: A summer’s day – absolutely oppressive. Sorry to hear from Aunt Sarah Bradlee[3] how very sick Henry [Bradlee][4] seems. There was some talk of sending him on a long voyage, but he is too ill for that.

Took Morris [Gray][5] out for a walk as usual and so missed a visit from Ellen Gray[6] and another from Fanny [Gray].[7] Read aloud in Silvio Pellico[8] to the children. Many people would hardly consider it as Sunday reading perhaps. But it certainly inculcates the Christian graces of patience, faith, and trust in the Almighty goodness which orders all the events of life, however trying and untoward. The few allusions to sentiments beyond the age and comprehension of my young people I can easily avoid, while the great lesson of gratitude to God for the privilege of being born a free citizen of a free country, forces itself upon their minds at every page.

[Even] the most indulged favorites of the kindest master can never feel sure of their future fate…

[A] free citizen: Would God, all in this great & glorious country of ours were born free! I am just reading the autobiography of a slave woman “Linda Brent,”[9] a terrible picture; we must hope, for the honor of human nature, an exceptional one – but opening to view, such an abyss of horrible possibilities for every slave; even the most indulged favorites of the kindest master can never feel sure of their future fate, should he be removed by death, or unfortunate in affairs. No doubt most masters treat slaves reasonably well, and the slaves are often merry & contented. But death or debt may at any time remove them from his protection – and then!

[Even before Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated, on 4 March 1861, several Southern states had seceded from the Union. War broke out with the attack on Fort Sumter in April, and Mrs. Gray’s reading became focused on the daily newspapers and extras chronicling the activities of the Union forces.]

Tuesday, 6 August 1861: Took tea with Hepsa [Bradlee][10] this afternoon; Aunt Sarah B. accompanying us. Lizzie [Shober][11] and M.C.G.[12] are invited to pass next week there. Mary is so shy among strangers that she dreads going – but I am sure she will enjoy being with Nellie [Bradlee][13] when once there – and shall urge her going; she misses her usual country season, and will be better for this visit. We took tea with R.P.W.[14] last night and tomorrow we dine with Ellen & Fred [Gray].[15] Sam & Rege [Gray][16] are staying at their Uncle Wm. [Gray]’s[17] for a week – and we miss their noise not a little. We are much interested in “Tyndall’s Glaciers of the Alps,”[18] which we are reading aloud. Thursday evg. Miss Jones,[19] Ellen Gray and R.P.W. pass the evg. with us.

Saturday, 31 August 1861: Mary and Sam came in from Medford to-day with Nellie Bradlee. They went out with her on Thursday. All went to hear the “Peak family” this p.m. (Swiss bell ringers),[20] and enjoyed it much. Lizzie Shober seems quite herself again – has been able to drive out several times – and this afternoon we went to Cambridge to pay a long owing call to Mrs. J.C. Gray[21] – took Morris with us in his Zouave suit![22] Walked round Mt. Auburn [Cemetery] for ½ hour, before going in to Uncle John. Found Mrs. Gray[23] there. Regie went with Mr. Richards and Willie [Richards][24] to Malden fishing; result one shiner!! but the boys enjoyed the trip. Poor Frank [Gray][25] is suffering with poisoned eyes again – but not quite so severely as at this time last year – still his eyes are much swollen and irritated, & of course completely disabled. So Aunt Lizzie and mamma are reading aloud to him; Cooper’s “Spy” now – and then we shall take up Lionel Lincoln.[26]

Continued here.


[1] Hedwiga Regina Shober (1818–1885) was married to Dr. Francis Henry Gray 1844–80. Entries from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[2] Mrs. Gray’s father’s cousins lived in North Carolina, while her mother-in-law’s surviving siblings were based in Georgia.

[3] Sarah Fletcher Bradlee (1789–1866), Mrs. Gray’s stepmother’s aunt.

[4] Henry Bradlee (1819–1861), Mrs. Gray’s stepmother’s half-brother; he died 25 March.

[5] The diarist’s youngest son, Morris Gray (1856–1931).

[6] Dr. Gray’s youngest sister, Ellen Gray (1830–1921).

[7] Dr. Gray’s niece, Frances Loring Gray (1843–1919), who married William Adams Walker Stewart in 1874.

[8] Perhaps Francesca da Rimini (1818) by Silvio Pellico (1789–1854).

[9] Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) by “Linda Brent” [Harriet Ann Jacobs (1813–1897)].

[10] Hepsa Hall (1821–1908), who was married to Henry Bradlee 1845–61.

[11] The diarist’s sister Elizabeth Kearney Shober (1821–1865).

[12] Mrs. Gray’s daughter Mary Clay Gray (1848–1923).

[13] Ellen Marion Bradlee (1846–1930), Henry and Hepsa Bradlee’s daughter, who married Edward Nicoll Fenno in 1872.

[14] The diarist’s best friend, Rebecca Parker Wainwright (1820–1901).

[15] Dr. Gray’s brother Frederic Gray (1815–1877).

[16] The diarist’s sons, Samuel Shober Gray (1849–1926) and Reginald Gray (1853–1904).

[17] Dr. Gray’s elder brother William Gray (1810–1892), the father of Fanny Gray.

[18] The Glaciers of the Alps (1860) by John Tyndall (1820–1893).

[19] The diarist’s friend Anna Powell Jones (1807?–1864).

[20] The Peaks began their careers in Medford, in time bringing several of their children into the troupe.

[21] Elizabeth Pickering Gardner (1799–1879) married Dr. Gray’s uncle John Chipman Gray in 1820.

[22] Perhaps the uniform of the 19th Massachusetts Infantry, Company K, whose movements appeared in the Boston Daily Advertiser on 21 August 1861.

[23] Dr. Gray’s mother, Mary Clay (1790–1867), was married to William Rufus Gray 1809–31.

[24] William Bordman Richards (1815–1877) and his son William Reuben Richards (1853–1912).

[25] The diarist’s eldest son, Francis Calley Gray (1846–1904).

[26] The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground (1821) and Lionel Lincoln (1825) by James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851).

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

2 thoughts on “‘A free citizen’

  1. I look forward to Mrs Gray’s observations and comments as the Civil War unfolds. Her intellectual acumen and empathy shown so far in her diary bodes well for the “modern” reader.

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