‘Hand over hand’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Regina Shober Gray[1] 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.”

My darling brother[2] – the playmate of childhood and the faithful friend of mature life. Ingenious and full of resources as a boy. Many a time have Mary [Shober][3] and I burnt our fingers holding his stiff paper moulds for cannon, while he poured in the melted lead – and helped plant his batteries after they were hardened – and many a domineering elder brother’s reprimand we got if we made any mistakes, for he had all a boy’s distrust of girls’ powers – but we took it all in good part, for we were very proud of him – his standing in school, his drawings, the beautiful paper toys he would make – hay wagons, ploughs, carriages, horses, oxen, dogs all cut out of pasteboard exquisitely.

His renown as an athlete was wide spread – there was no one to equal him in those things – his skill, power, & dexterity were a wonder.

Then in later life, he was so handsome, so finely formed, so remarkable a gymnast and sportsman. The best shot in Philad[elphia] – facile princeps in that, and all manly exercises. His renown as an athlete was wide spread – there was no one to equal him in those things – his skill, power, & dexterity were a wonder. He would go up a long ladder, hand over hand, with 2 fifty sixes[4] tied to his feet! Raise himself by one hand, and go over a vaulting bar &c &c. And of late years, since he put away all such feats, with other youthful things, and took up life’s serious duties, no merchant in Philad. has been more respected for probity, honour, good judgment, and courtesy than my brother John. What a loss his death brings to all of us, no words can tell!

A rich, rare woman; a friend such as life gives not twice to any.

The other friend that time has taken away from me this past year, is dear Miss Jones[5] – faithful and true and well beloved. I do not get used to her loss – I feel it just as keenly now, as at its first stroke – I shall till time shall be no more for me. Those who were privileged to claim her friendship, must feel all after life darkened by its loss. A rich, rare woman; a friend such as life gives not twice to any.

Our precious little Regie [Gray][6] left us on Friday at 5 p.m. for Philad. escorted by Lawrence Sprague[7] – and yesterday p.m. we had a telegram announcing his safe arrival there – a great relief to know it too!

I hope he will be contented to stay a long time – and give the change of air a full trial – I cannot but think it will do him much good – and I am sure it will help my poor sisters[8] through their sad winter. But we miss the little fellow sadly here – it takes away a great deal of the life of our home – the giving up of Regie, with all his restless energies, his eager affectionate impulses, and frequent caresses. I shall be homesick for him, if he is not for me!

Continued here.


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

[2] John Bedford Shober (1814–1864) had died in November.

[3] The diarist’s older sister Mary Morris Shober (1816–1873).

[4] A metal weight.

[5] Anna Powell Jones (1807?–1864) had died in January.

[6] The diarist’s third son, Reginald Gray (1853–1904).

[7] William Lawrence Sprague (1849–1884), a friend of Regie’s brother Sam Gray.

[8] Mrs. Gray’s other sisters, all then unmarried: Elizabeth Kearney Shober (1821–1865), Susanna Budd Shober (1823–1898?), and Sarah Morris Shober (1825–1918).

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 “‘Hand over hand’

  1. I continue to enjoy the diary of Mrs. Gray. It makes me wish I had a diary to leave my family. It is a novel of real life.

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