Captain George Gray and “Fort George”
Fort George is a tree-filled, fenced-in, park-like area about the size of four building lots in the 1200 block of Floyd Street. It is a memorial to Revolutionary War Captain George Gray and his wife, Mildred Rootes Thompson Gray. Their farm, now called “Fort George,” originally consisted of 200 acres. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, descendants donated the remnant that remains today to Christ Episcopal Church for the preservation of the family burial site. The DAR held patriotic ceremonies for several decades in the twentieth century, and later the Fort George Neighborhood looked after the property. The Toonerville Neighborhood Association bought Fort George from a private entity in 2009 and arranged for a ground penetrating radar survey which revealed the probable location of the graves of George and Mildred Gray.
New information about Captain George Gray’s life and military service has recently emerged, making inscriptions on markers in the park outdated. First, due to an error in the christening records of the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Stafford County, Virginia, his correct birthdate was discovered only a few years ago by a certified genealogist. Secondly, his actual Revolutionary War service records are now digitized on the Internet and can be read from any computer. These two sources confirm that George Gray, instead of being an established middle-aged planter at the time of the Revolution, was an adventurous youth with few financial resources. He became one of the few mounted troops known as the Continental Dragoons and used up his money just supporting himself and his horse during the war.
Born in 1756, George Gray was only fourteen when his father died and not yet twenty when he entered the Third Virginia Regiment in 1776. His second cousin, James Monroe, was a lieutenant in a different company of the same regiment. In 1777, Gray joined the newly organized Continental Light Dragoons, or mounted troops. First a lieutenant and then a captain, he patrolled, scouted, carried messages, and harassed British soldiers. He was with Washington for the crossing of the Delaware and the winter at Valley Forge.
In mid-1779, Captain Gray resigned, citing a lack of money. Two years later, he married Mildred Rootes Thompson, who had an inheritance through her father’s first wife from the estate of former governor Spotswood. Although Gray received warrants for 4000 acres of western land in Kentucky, he probably sold them. Kentucky records do not show that he ever finished the process of first surveying and then patenting land under these warrants.
Instead he and Mildred remained in Culpeper County until 1798, when the couple and their ten children finally moved to Louisville, where two more children were born. The Jefferson County deed book recorded George Gray’s lease of two 100-acre parcels about two miles south of the river which are visible on several maps from the mid-nineteenth century. One area, surrounded approximately by Kentucky, Preston, Woodbine and First Streets, has faint outlines of buildings near the part that eventually became the present-day Fort George. The other acreage, east of Preston Street, adjoins the first.
In George Gray’s day his property was known simply as a farm. On July 4, 1817, he “prepared a dinner” for the public at his farm to celebrate “the anniversary of American Independence” according to the Louisville Correspondent newspaper. Two years later, he chaired the committee in charge of arrangements for several large events occasioned by the visit of his relative, President James Monroe, and General Andrew Jackson. Activities apparently began late on June 23 with the arrival of the dignitaries at Gray’s farm. From there the Louisville cavalry and infantry escorted the entourage into town. The Louisville Public Advertiser wrote up long accounts of banquets, programs, speeches and toasts.
Captain George Gray died on December 26, 1823, and was buried “at his late residence in the country” two days later. Major General Winfield Scott, who had just arrived in Louisville, was a pall bearer. The funeral procession included military men, the Masonic fraternity, family, friends and citizens. A public dinner several days later honored the veteran, a charter member of the Virginia Order of the Cincinnati “as true as steel to his country, and an honest man.”
Contributed by Susan Price Miller