Gray & Slayton: please help ID picture

Unknown Gray family picture, from Hazel King

I’m looking for the family of Lillie Slayton from Danville, Virginia to see if they recognize this picture. Hazel King shared a few Gray family pictures that were unlabelled, hoping some Gray kin could help her identify the people in them. So far the pictures have all been of children and grandchildren of John Gray and Sarah Jones. It took me 10 years to find someone from Frank Gray’s family to look at these pictures. This descendant positively identified this picture of Frank Gray’s house with his family out front (Pictured below. This house is no longer standing.) I believe these two pictures go together.

Frank Gray’s house and family, Alberta, Brunswick County, VA

Frank Gray was born in Mecklenburg, VA. He was raised on a farm on Hall Rd. He married Elizabeth “Bettie” Clary in Brunswick County in 1885. Soon after Frank’s parents died (late 1890’s), Frank and 5 siblings (all except Alginon and Nannie) moved their families to Danville, VA. In 1911, Frank’s wife Elizabeth “Bettie” Clary died. Six years later, Frank married Eula Bernard. Frank had 5 children from his marriage to Elizabeth, one of which was John Robert Gray. Eula had 2 children from her previous marriage to Adrian Jeffries. Frank and Eula moved their family from Danville to a farm near Alberta VA soon after their marriage, where Frank lived the remainder of his life.

John Robert Gray was born in Brunswick County, VA in 1886. He moved to Danville, then later to Brunswick with his family. He married Lillie Slayton in Brunswick in 1910. Lillie had a daughter named Gracie Bailey from a previous marriage. Lillie and John had 3 daughters: Donna, Leona and Odell. They attended Bethel Methodist church in Alberta. John died after 10 years of marriage, (March 1920), of flu followed by pneumonia. I saw two graves without tombstones in the cemetery on Frank Gray’s old farm. Frank Gray’s grand daughter, who was there at the funeral and burial, said Frank is buried in the cemetery on his farm. John preceded his father in death. I theorize that John and his father Frank Gray are the two burials beside each other without tombstones. After John died, Lillie and her children moved in with her sister Bessie, in Danville, VA. On the 1940 Census Lillie is living with her brother Thomas Slayton.

John Robert Gray was a tobacco farmer according to his death record. John was age 24, and Lillie was age 22 when they married in 1910. I’m wondering if this picture at the arbor was John Robert Gray with Lillie, and Lillie’s parents: Henry Washington Slayton and Eliza Jane Owen. I’m also wondering if this picture was taken about the time they married, since the families didn’t live near each other. Lillie was widowed young and moved away about 1920. That could be a reason why the Gray descendants I’ve corresponded or spoken with did not recognize the people pictured. Lillie’s parents and siblings lived many years in Danville. I’m not sure if this unlabelled Gray picture by the arbor was outside of Danville or Alberta. I asked Frank Gray’s grand daughter if she recognized the picture. She pointed to the younger man and said, “he looks like he’s part of Frank’s family, but I really don’t know anyone in this picture. I think this was long before my time”, which it was. If you know this Gray or Slayton family or might know of pictures you can compare this too, please let me know. Or if my idea is wrong, & you think this looks like different people please let me know.

Tobacco-Mecklenburg’s cash crop

Gray sisters: Martha Moseley, Dolly Taylor & Nannie Kidd (from Jim Kidd)

I love this picture of 3 sisters linked arm in arm. I think they look adorable! I like to imagine from the way they look here that they were friends, and stood by each other through both good times and tough times. This is the only picture I know of, with my Virginia family on a farm. Tobacco was a huge part of their life. Peanuts, squash and sweet potatoes were also important crops. There was often a huge kitchen garden for the family near the house. They ate what they grew. Obvious to farmers, but not so obvious to me who grew up in cities and rarely saw family vegetable gardens. This picture was probably taken in Mecklenburg about 110 years ago. In the late 1890s, Nannie Gray Kidd remained in Bracey, her siblings moved to Danville, VA. Martha and Dolly (pictured) lived in Danville at the time of this picture, but as they lived in the city; I’m assuming Martha and Dolly came to visit Nannie in Mecklenburg when this picture was taken in the early 1910’s.

2007 Lindbergh Tudor

Lindbergh Tudor told me his hair was always a mess as a young boy, even in school pictures. He explained there was usually sticky tar in his hair from working in the tobacco fields and it hurt to comb that out. He also designed his wagon to work well with transporting tobacco leaves. He made spaces between slats to hold tools, which was also a good width to tie tobacco leaves to the slats. I love the inventiveness of farmers! I really enjoy meeting farmers and asking about their farms’ history.

2004 Mary Walker & sister Pearl. Farmed tobacco in LaCrosse

Mary Walker told me that as a young girl, her large family lined up in the field. The youngest children held bundles of tobacco leaves together, while the older children tied the leaves together. Teenage siblings carried the tied stalks to the wagon. They all had various jobs. They also helped and worked together with their neighbors, who were often close relatives.

I was repeatedly told that picking off hornworms and tar that stuck to them, were their least favorite part of tobacco farming; that and being exasperated with the heat and humidity . Some people told me it was their job to squash & kill hornworms to save their family crops. Those are huge, fat, scary, gross looking bugs! I’m glad I’ve never had that job!

tobacco barn

Most people I’ve interviewed from Mecklenburg told me tobacco was their cash crop, and a big part of Mecklenburg’s history and economy. I’ve heard some tobacco was hung to dry, in taller barns. I found this shorter barn pictured above near Boydton. Growing up a city girl, I’d never seen a structure like this before. I took a picture to show people and ask what it was used for. I was told the tobacco was cured differently with this type of barn. Sort of smoked dry to cure it before a lot of the crop was lost to humidity. People told me this was where Brunswick stew was big. The curing process took several days and lots of hands. People camped around the barn during this harvest and enjoyed Brunswick stew.

I’ve been asking everyone I meet for interviews about their chores when they were children. Everyone tells me farming was hard and exhausting work, even at a young age. But it was necessary for survival, to have enough food to eat, and keep the farms running. There was no big equipment, they farmed (and often still farm) with simple tools “the old fashioned way”. Not many had tractors, because they couldn’t afford it. Everyone had to work long hours with shovels, hoes, resourcefulness and as a team effort. People told me they understood why a lot of their kids and grandkids didn’t want to continue farming. They could get more money and have their finances more secure with other types of jobs. Old farms, older farming methods, and their stories are starting to disappear. So I want to preserve and share as many stories and pictures as I can find.

Do you have pictures or stories about your family farming? What were your family’s cash crops? Comment below, even if not from Mecklenburg. If you have a Mecklenburg related farming picture you’re willing to share, please let me know! I’d love to post it on this site.

tobacco barn for hanging tobacco (Brunswick VA 2006)

John Gray: his family, his land

My ancestor John Gray was born in Portadown, County Armagh, Ireland about 1810. I’ve been trying to figure out where he lived in Mecklenburg for at least 10 years. Now I know that he raised his family and farmed on Hall Rd, near Rehoboth Church, near the big curve in the road. I still haven’t found a plat, but I know I have found the area my family lived.

John’s birth year fluctuates as much as 10 years on various records. But the average record says he was born about 1810. John Gray was a linen weaver at Colonel Blacker’s estate. Large areas of Northern Ireland were going bankrupt; With warehouses full of linen, fleece and merchandise, but no one buying. Colonel Blacker wrote in his journal about these financially difficult times, the year that John Gray immigrated, in 1838. (Before the famine.) John was married to Ann Purdy, immigrated with Nicholas Purdy’s family and lived by Robert Joyce in Mecklenburg who was married to an Elizabeth Purdy. Not sure how closely they are related, but we know John was related to and lived near Purdy’s in both Ireland and Mecklenburg County, Virginia. John and his family arrived in the New York, New York port 27 Jul 1838. A year and a half later, (19 Dec 1840) he was purchasing land in Mecklenburg, VA, near Rehoboth Church in Blackridge. John remained on that same property for the rest of his life.

John Gray, his wife Ann, his daughter Elizabeth (who also immigrated with him), and a boy under the age of 5 are counted on the 1840 Census. I’m not sure who the boy is, I’ve not yet found a record for him. John’s wife Ann died sometime before 22 May 1847, when John married Sarah Elizabeth Jones. Sarah’s father James B. Jones and mother Martha Newman lived on the adjoining property.

On the 1850 Census: There’s John, his wife Sarah, daughter Martha and daughter Sarah (less than a year old). The boy from the 1840 Census is unaccounted for. John’s daughter Elizabeth was at school in Brunswick County, VA in the home of William Jones. (Not related to her step mother’s Jones family that I can see.) In 1857 Elizabeth married Washington Clary.

(This download button is for the 11×17 chart shown above)

John Gray’s children with his 2nd wife Sarah Elizabeth Jones were:

  1. Martha Ann Gray, who married William H. Moseley
  2. Sarah J. Gray, who lived to be age 16
  3. Louisa V. Gray, who married Robert J. Lynch
  4. Charles Robert Gray, who married Mattie Floyd
  5. Rebecca “Dolly” Gray, who married George C. Taylor
  6. Nannie Elizabeth Gray, who married Jimmy Kidd
  7. Frank Jones Gray, married 1) Elizabeth Clary 2) Eula Bernard
  8. *Alginon “Nonnie” Gray, married 1) Theresa India Dortch (my line), 2) Martha Dortch (sister of his first wife)
  9. Thomas Beasley Gray, married Lelia Edenbeck (half sister to Mattie Floyd. Their mother was Sarah Tudor)

These children’s births as well as Sarah Jones Gray’s birth and death date are recorded in the James B. Jones family Bible. Pictures of all of James and Sarah’s children, except Louisa, are on this site under “Gray Family Pictures”. I don’t have an exact death date for John Gray. But, he was listed as deceased when Henry Mayo bought the Jones land in 1889. After John and Sarah Gray died, their children: Martha, Louisa, Charles, Dolly, Frank and Thomas moved their families to Danville, Virginia. Alginon moved to various places as a carpenter. Only Nannie remained, which I believe is why all the siblings sold the family farm to Nannie and Jimmy Kidd.

Edwin Lambert bought the house where Nannie and Jimmy lived as a surprise for his wife Lula. When she asked him after the auction, “Who bought the house?”, Edwin told her “You did!” He bought the place where his wife grew up as a surprise for her. The other property, which is where Nannie grew up, (the Gray farm) I was unable to find out what happened until this weekend. I went to Library of Virginia to see this chancery case. They have cases from 1930, but not this case. This past week, my friend helped me find the deed. D.A. Kidd bought the land at auction and was given the deed in 1932. After several record searches, I realized DA was Adolphus Archer Kidd. The “A” was dropped on the deed. Henry Mayo’s son Tom Mayo inherited the land they purchased from James B. Jones. On the 1940 Census, I see Tom Mayo and Adolphus Kidd were neighbors and living on Hall Rd. (The Rt 620 in the far left margin). Dolphus who bought the Gray Farm was a first cousin to Jimmy Kidd (grandsons of John B. Kidd). Adolphus was son of Allen Burl Kidd. Jimmy was son of Bartlett Kidd.