The Samuel Gray Society

dedicated to preserving the history of colonial America and its people

 

As a rope maker, Gray would certainly have had a great deal of contacts at the Boston docks, and most likely traded services for ivory directly off the frigates trading there.  The SGS scrimshaw collection was funded with the purpose of showcasing this popular maritime art.


According to the obituary printed on March 12, 1770 in “The Boston Journal and Country Gazette”, Gray’s burial procession commenced from his brother’s home.  No other surviving family members are documented, and Gray is not believed to have been married or to have had any children. 


John Adams, in his argument for the defense in Rex v. Weems, described Gray and the mob gathered before the massacre as “most probably a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and mulattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish Jack tarrs...”1  In fact, Adam’s strategy for the acquittal of the British soldiers was to question the character of the deceased, including Gray.  Adams, through witness’ claims, intimated that Gray was drunk and disorderly, declaring him “in liquor” and “with a stick under his arm”. No independent verification has ever proved these claims true, and the verdict of guilt on the part of Matthew Kilroy would seem to prove the opposite of Adam’s claims.

Little is fully known about the mysterious Samuel Gray.  Various reports list him as the first man to be shot during the massacre.  Others list him shot immediately after Crispus Attucks fell first.  All accounts describe his death as instantaneous, having been shot with a musket directly in the skull by the British soldier Matthew Killroy.  What is known of Samuel Gray has been gathered almost exclusively from second hand accounts, the most famous of which come from the publication of the “Boston Gazette and Country Journal” and from the legal papers of John Adams.  To augment these documents, the SGS also holds several handwritten diaries of early members that provide more insight into this American hero.



Gray was employed as a rope maker at John Gray’s Ropewalks in Boston.

He had a well-known reputation as a brawler and tavern regular.  He was

a man who liked ale and fisticuffs, and his hearty reputation as a bare-

knuckled fighter drew many pugilists to obtain membership in the SGS. 

But diary entries believed to be written by friends and co-workers of  Gray

also describe him as an enthusiastic scrimshander and avid reader of Francis

Bacon.  In one document, Samuel’s brother M. Benjamin is stated to have

buried his brother with his favorite chip knife and a copy of “The New

Organon”.  While his proclivities for 16th century philosophy may seem

unorthodox, his fondness for scrimshaw is backed by several diaries

and by the general popularity of this 18th century art form. 

Paul Revere’s etching in “The Boston Gazette”, March 12, 1770.

  1. 1. “Legal Papers of John Adams”, ed. by L. Kinvin Wroth and Hiller B. Zobel, Volume 3, Cases 63 & 64, Harvard University Press, MA, 1965, pg. 266.

  2. 2.  Ibid., pg 266-267.

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