‘Shivered into atoms’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The aftermath of the Civil War continued to affect Regina Shober Gray[1] and her family, sometimes in surprising ways. The question in October 1865 was how to provide for the diarist’s mother-in-law’s Southern family, represented by her sister Eliza and sister-in-law Matilda Clay. Amid the worries about Lizzie Shober’s health and a neighbor’s accident, Mrs. Gray found solace in the “little stranger” expected by her friend Emily Curtis.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 15 October 1865: Aunt Eliza Clay[2] has accepted an invitation from Cousin Ann Wallace to spend the winter with them in Newark. Mrs. Clay[3] and her children will pass it in Savannah – Joe [Clay][4] will be married this fall and join his housekeeping to his mother, but what under the sun he has to be married on, is a puzzle. Their negroes are gone – the plantation they will probably recover, but the house and outbuildings are burned to the ground.

No northern man or woman would think it right to marry, until some prospect of support opened up for them. But as Wm. Gray and Horace [Gray][5] each offer Aunt Eliza $10,000 to aid the family to rebuild and make a new start – perhaps according to Southern ideas Joe may be justified in inaugurating his start by a wedding! But it strikes friends here-away as a queer way. I wish my Mother Gray[6] would give her sister Eliza an invitation for the winter; it would be much more fitting from her than from Cousin Ann; and after all we northerners can afford to bury the hatchet surely – however much Southern friends may have disappointed and exasperated us. But the old lady, Southern born as she is, is loyal even to bitterness, and cannot forgive as yet.

Beside we have had to forgive & forbear with a most absolute and undeniable secessionist and Southern sympathizer in our sister E.G.

But of course she will invite her for Ellen’s[7] sake – and we shall have her here I hope – and at W G’s too no doubt. I love and respect Aunt E – and though amazed and disappointed that a woman of her good sense and right mindedness could become a secessionist, am ready to make every allowance for the pressure of public opinion all about her – and for the demoralizing influence of slavery, on even the best and purest of the governing class. Beside we have had to forgive & forbear with a most absolute and undeniable secessionist and Southern sympathizer in our sister E.G., and she certainly has no such excuse for her amazing wrong-headedness as Aunt E, [her] strong affection for whom alone blinded her to all the moral & political bearings of the question and to all the glorious issues dependent upon the success of the loyal North!

I am reading Irving’s Conquest of Grenada[8] aloud to the little boys,[9] and they are delighted with it – and specially pleased to recognize their favorite heroes from Spanish ballads, in the real history; also Morris & I are reading “Dickens ‘Child’s History of England’”[10] – a very good compendium and pleasantly told.

The little boys have got up a baseball Club, which interests them greatly.

Sunday, 22 October 1865: The news from Philad. is disheartening. Lizzie [Shober][11] is still very ill and wasted to skin & bone – very weak and unable to retain any beyond a teaspoonful of beef essence or wine-whey on her stomach. I feel very anxious about her lest she should sink into typhoid – poor girl, she has had such a suffering summer!

[His] horse became unmanageable at the approach of a rail road train & rushed on the track directly in front of the engine – the carriage was shivered into atoms…

Our beloved physician there, Dr. Evans, met with a fearful accident last Tuesday; driving with his wife & a friend, his horse became unmanageable at the approach of a rail road train & rushed on the track directly in front of the engine – the carriage was shivered into atoms – every one thrown yards away and strange to say, though terribly shaken, agitated, & bruised – not a bone broken, a joint dislocated or even a scratch to draw blood! a most wonderful & merciful escape – even the horse was uninjured.

Our neighbour Mr. Merriam[12] fell on the stairs a few nights since, breaking a glass spirit lamp & burning himself badly on the head & hand – has [been] very ill ever since from fever – though the burns are doing well; but the case gives my husband a world of anxiety. I wish he did not feel the anxieties of his practice so keenly…

We have been working hard at dress-making all the week – and I in intervals have been braiding an infant’s blanket for Emily Curtis’s[13] expected little stranger. It will really be quite a beauty in its way – and I am quite satisfied with it.

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] Dr. Gray’s aunt Eliza Caroline Clay (1809–1895).

[3] Matilda Willis McAllister (1818–1869) married Miss Clay’s brother Thomas Savage Clay in 1836.

[4] Matilda Clay’s son Joseph Clay (1838–1914), who married Mary Eliza Herndon on 13 November.

[5] Dr. Gray’s brothers William Gray (1810–1892) and Horace Gray (1821–1901).

[6] Mary Clay (1790–1867), who married William Rufus Gray in 1809.

[7] Mrs. W. R. Gray’s daughter Ellen Gray (1830–1921).

[8] Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada (1829) by Washington Irving (1783–1859).

[9] Presumably Mrs. Gray’s younger sons Reginald (1853–1904) and Morris Gray (1856–1931).

[10] A Child’s History of England (1851–53).

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

[12] Charles Merriam (1803–1865) died from his injuries on 27 October.

[13] Mrs. Gray’s close friend Emeline Matilda Adams (1823–1883), who married Caleb Agry Curtis in 1864 and was expecting her first child at the age of 42.

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.

7 thoughts on “‘Shivered into atoms’

  1. I can’t begin to tell you how much I am enjoying and learning from this remarkable diary. Thank you for taking the time to transcribe it so carefully and for sharing it with all of us. I look forward to next week.

  2. I’ve been researching my Daniel D. Ward brick wall. One line that I’ve looked at many times that I don’t think is mine would be Ebenezer Ward and Mary Gray with a son Michael. I wonder if this is your line? If so, I would surely like to visit with you.

  3. I love all the insight these entries give. Life was difficult back then but was faced with courage and much contentment. I would LOVE to know what our children, grandchildren, great and great-great grandchildren will say about us and the way we lived 50 or more years from now. Thank God Ms. Gray wrote all this down. It is such a treasure.

  4. Where in the South was “the old lady” (“Mother Gray”?) born? And what brought her to the North?

    1. Background for why “Mother Gray” married a northerner:
      Joseph Clay Jr., her father, left the south to become a Baptist minster in Boston in 1807. (He went to Princeton, became a federal judge, then converted to become a Baptist in 1804. He preached up and down the whole Atlantic coast, very popular, until called to the First Baptist Church of Boston in 1807). He died of cancer in 1811.

      His widow, Mary Savage Clay, and children: Thomas, Ann, and Eliza were young. She stayed after he died, living in Medford, near her daughter Mary, until Thomas finished Harvard around 1820 or 21. Mary Clay then took the family back to the plantation lands owned by her husband and father-in-law. Thomas became head of the family. He bought more land and more slaves. He also was part of a small group of Southern plantation owners who joined together in an association to promote the moral treatment of slaves. Thomas wrote a tract explaining how to be a Christian role model of compassion, provide education and a doctor, give them small acres of land, allow them to make money (after work) if they had a trade/skills others paid them for. His sisters, who never married, Eliza and Ann, who never married, regularly taught classes to slaves on their plantation and others nearby. Eliza took over managing the plantation (with 200 slaves) even though she was deaf from a childhood illness. She fled hours before Sherman burned the plantation houses to live on the plantation of Joseph Clay, her nephew, in southwest Georgia during the summer months after the war. The rest of the family had proceeded her there. See “Shades of Gray” if interested written by Carolyn Clay Swiggart.

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