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Origins: The Name Gray

Origins: The Name Gray

In his book “History, Records, and Recollections of Gray, Maine“, George T. Hill includes the following under the heading The Name Gray:

In 1777, conditions in New Boston were still quite primitive.  Roads and trails were barely passable for horses and oxen, and with few exceptions, the sixty or so families in the proprietary were still living in log cabins. (For a vivid description of the log cabin and life in it, one should read Good Old Times by Elijah Kellog.) However, by this time, development had reached a point where administration of the settlement by its inhabitants, instead of its Proprietors, seemed both desirable and attainable. To bring about this change, a petition for incorporation was submitted and with its approval on June 19, 1778 New Boston officially became the Town of Gray.

There is uncertainty as to why the name Gray was given to the town when it was incorporated. A number of publications state, “it was named for Thomas Gray, one of the proprietors.” and this is the generally accepted view. Although not originally a proprietor, Thomas Gray became one before the town was incorporated and letters ad- dressed to him asking for assistance indicate that he either held some executive position for the Proprietors or was one of that body who had been found sympathetic to the needs of the settlers. Also, it has been said that he won the gratitude of the townspeople by donating windows for the First Parish Church. Still, doubt has persisted, and in a history published in 1864 one finds the statement, “it was incorporated and called Gray, as it is supposed, in honor of Thomas Gray, one of the proprietors.”

Remarks bearing on the naming of the town are found in the papers of Mrs. Caroline (Libby) Doughty who was a granddaughter of Daniel Cummings, the first white male child born in the settlement. Daniel was born in 1766. Caroline was born in Gray on December 3, 1846, and she and the families of her ancestors were active in the religious societies that evolved from the First Parish Church; she was sent to school in Rhode Island and later served as Supervisor of Schools in Gray. Mrs. Doughty had a liking for local history and an excellent memory. Her recollections are not to be dismissed lightly, and the following pertinent paragraph appears in a paper that was probably first read by her before the Gray Grange in the 1920’s. This audience would have been extremely critical of material contradictory to the folklore of that era.

“There is a tradition that when the first church was built there was no money with which to procure windows, and that the Hon. Billy Gray of Boston, a wealthy generous public spirited merchant, brother of Thomas Gray who was one of the pro- prietors of New Boston, was interested in the township and hearing of this need donated windows for the meeting-house. Thus in his honor the town was named Gray.”

The author has been unable to confirm either of the above views and will leave this subject with the conclusion that the town Was either named for Thomas Gray or for one of his relatives.