Fort Gray cadets:?What if?

Have you ever been to Graysport? Have you heard of Fort Gray? Have you ever driven by Fort Gray High School? The answer to all these questions is “yes”-well, almost “yes.” This is a topic that has never been discussed in the early histories, but a careful study of the records reveals that the fort that later became Fort Frye and the settlement around it was once named after Capt. William Gray.

Compared to some of the early pioneers, Capt. Gray’s biography is fairly complete. Samuel P. Hildreth’s Biographical and Historical Memoirs includes a short sketch. Anselm T. Nye wrote a short history of Gray’s life which is now part of the Samuel P. Hildreth Collection. There are a few letters from the earliest pioneers that tell important details about his life during the Ohio Indian Wars (1791-1795). These sources can be found at Marietta College.

William Gray was born on March 7, 1761, in Lynn, Massa-chusetts. At the age of seventeen he joined as a private in the Revolutionary War. He was soon promoted to lieutenant and at the Battle of Stony Point was one of the first to scale the fortress walls. He served for three years until the end of the war.

After the war in 1785, he married Mary Diamond of Salem, Massachusetts. Their two oldest children were born at Danvers in the same state; the remaining eight children were born in Waterford Township.

Leaving his family in Danvers, Gray arrived in Marietta on April 7, 1788, a member of the original forty-seven pioneers. By May 1789 he was one of the earliest settlers who landed along the Muskingum River above the mouth of Tuttle’s Run, a small steam one half mile below Beverly. After a year his family joined him. The settlements soon formed in three distinct areas and eventually each one would be named. The names of the new settlements were determined only after some time had passed. There had to be some characteristic that made a name seem appropriate; someone had to be in such high standing that a place was named for him; or someone could just give a place a name.

At Wolf Creek Mills, for example, the name Millburgh was picked because grinding corn was the main business in the settlement. Sometimes it was written Millburg. A saw mill was added, and sometimes the name is written Millsburgh or Millsburg. The cluster of houses on the west side of the river was called the Peninsula because this was an obvious geographic feature. The area was surrounded on three sides by the Muskingum River and Wolf Creek. On the east side of the river, the flat plain above the bottom land along the river led to the name Plainfield. This land stretched from a point near the present dam down river to near Tuttle’s Run, where the original landing had been made by the nineteen men. Only part of Plainfield was ever in the corporate limits of Beverly.

William Gray settled on his 82 acre lot 24, which was part of his 100 acre donation land that he received as a member of the Second Association (the men who settled Plainfield-Peninsula-Millburgh). This land included the upper part of Plainfield (land above the dam to east of what is now Ferry Street).

In 1790 the Court of Quarter Sessions in Marietta formed Waterford Township. It wasn’t long until the names Plainfield and Peninsula gave way to Waterford. At least until Beverly was platted in 1838, both sides of the river were referred to as Waterford. It took some time for names to be considered permanent. Things changed and what seemed important at one time soon faded away as something else and another name became important.

After the Big Bottom Massacre on January 2, 1791, the Waterford (both sides of the river) settlers quickly built a fort. Capt. William Gray was selected as the commander. Hildreth wrote in Memoirs (p. 400), “By his good conduct and prudence, this fortress was preserved unharmed, although several times in great jeopardy. The situation was a very exposed one, on the extreme frontier.” On March 11th several warriors appeared at the fort, wounding Wilbur Sprague, and killing nearly a dozen cattle and driving off several others. Just three days after this attack, General Rufus Putnam at Campus Martius wrote General Henry Knox, U.S. Secretary of War, “On the 11th the Indians fired on two lads near Lt. Grays fort . . . ” The following day (15th), Putnam wrote Griffin Greene, “you have doubtless heard of the Indians wounding on[e] of (M)r. Spragues Sons at Graysport . . . ” (Waterford was added as an insert, probably later for clarification).

If the wars had continued, the fortification might have had the permanent name Fort Gray and the community Graysport. And admittedly, Fort Gray High School sounds very strange. Instead, as it turned out, the garrison was called Fort Frye and the community, many years later, became Beverly. And we like the sound of Fort Frye High School better.

William Gray died on July 12, 1812. Mrs. Gray survived him by twenty-one years. They are buried in the Waterford Cemetery. Capt. Gray’s grave is marked with a ground level bronze marker. Their children married prominent local residents and their descendants number in the thousands.

Phillip L. Crane, a Waterford resident and Marietta history teacher for 32 years, will share stories of historical events in the Lower Muskingum Valley.