Revolutionary War history

HIRAMSBURG-Nestled off the beaten path in Noble County in a small family cemetery are two headstones marking the final resting place of Private John Gray, the last surviving Revolutionary War soldier in Ohio, and the second to last in the nation.

Though Gray fought in many battles during the war, he otherwise did little that would have gained him renown.

He was born the oldest of eight into a poor laboring family near Mount Vernon, Va., and worked most of his life as a laborer. He was not a famous author or poet. Nor did he go on to further military glory after the war.

None the less, the humble man, who lived out much of his life just outside of Caldwell, was an icon, said Salem resident Nina Ronshausen, Gray’s fourth-great granddaughter.

“He was one of the last patriots to die,” she said.

When he passed away in 1868, Gray was 104 and the war was more than 80 years behind him. But more than 1,000 people came out to attend Gray’s funeral, said Ronshausen.

And it was not his advanced age or even his participation in the war itself that made Gray such an icon, she said.

“They honored Gray because he had shaken hands with (George) Washington. This was a tremendous thing for people in 1869 that Gray was someone who had known General Washington,” she said.

In fact, Gray knew the founding father, said Joy Flood, manager and curator of the Noble County Historic Jail Museum and Information Center and a member of the Noble County Historical Society Board of Trustees.

“He and George Washington were friends,” she said.

When 16-year-old Gray joined the war around 1791, he cited that connection as a reason for joining the cause.

“I lived and was born near Mount Vernon, how could I do otherwise?” Gray told James McCormick Dalzell, a Civil War soldier and author who took an interest in chronicling Gray’s life.

When the war ended, Gray returned to a life of labor, working at Washington’s mill, said Flood. In his work, Gray had several occasions to briefly converse with the founding father who he greatly admired, wrote Dalzell.

“Mr. Gray never tired of speaking of General Washington,” wrote Dalzell.

In fact, it might have been his inability to vote for his beloved leader that caused Gray to eventually leave his home in Virginia, where only property owners had the right to vote.

“The fact that he migrated west to such a dangerous place just so he could vote was so unique,” said Ronshausen.

Gray eventually made his home near Hiramsburg, about 10 miles outside Caldwell.

There, the humble cottage he built -a symbol of his hard earned suffrage -still stands.

“There is a young couple in the process of restoring it,” said Flood.

Just 100 yards from the small wooden cabin is the McElroy Cemetery, the family plot of where Gray was ultimately buried between his third wife and stepdaughter.

Gray’s original headstone reads: “The last of Washington’s companions/ The hoary head is a crown of glory.”