Like most African Americans, my family roots in the United States began in slavery. My great-great-great-grandfather, William Thompson, was born in King George County, Virginia, in or around 1800. William spent most of his life as a slave on the Spy Hill Plantation which was owned by Thomas B. B. Baber. While serving on this plantation, William met and married Mildred McGruder. They had ten children, one of which was my great-great grandfather, Joshua Thompson, who was born in or around 1831.
Joshua's first marriage, which possibly occurred sometime before or during the Civil War, was to an unidentified slave woman. Not long after their marriage, this woman died and left Joshua with a small son, Walter, to raise. Joshua remained a widower for many years until he met Eliza Stuart.
Eliza Stuart, whose parents were Spencer and Ellen Stuart, was formerly the slave of Thomas Stuart and Emma Baber Garnett. The Garnetts made their home at an estate known as Shirland in Westmoreland County, Virginia, which lies southeast of King George. After the deaths of Mrs. Garnett's husband and father: the former a casualty of the Civil War, the latter due to illness, she moved back to her childhood home of Spy Hill and brought her domestic servant, Eliza, with her. The moment Joshua saw Eliza he knew that his days of being a widower were over. He and Eliza married on August 3, 1872. On August 20, 1879, Eliza gave birth to a baby girl and named her Mary Frances Thompson. This child would one day become my great-grandmother.
Westmoreland County was also the place where my great-grandfather, George Allen Gray, spent most of his childhood. George Allen's father, Cornelius Gray, was from Caroline County which lies southwest of King George. Cornelius's parents were George and Lucy Gray. According to family legend, Cornelius was a fugitive slave who found refuge with a remnant of Native Americans in the area and married a woman of Native American ancestry. Her name was Alethea Garnett, who went by the name of Lethy. Lethy's parents were Albert and Linda Garnett, also from Caroline County. Lethy and Cornelius were married on September 12, 1868. Lethy gave birth to George Allen on September 24, 1872. Unfortunately, 10 months later, she became one of the victims of the Wawaset tragedy that occurred at Chatterton's Landing in King George on August 8, 1873.
Despite growing up without his mother, Allen (as he was called), was nurtured by a loving father who taught his son the tenets of self sufficiency and an unwavering faith towards God. And just like his father, Allen became a land owner and one of the first African American entrepreuners in King George County. He was an outstanding citizen in his community.
George Allen Gray and Mary Frances Thompson met through their mutual affliation with Good Hope Baptist Church, the first African American church in King George County. They were married by Rev. Zachariah Gainey on Decemeber 29, 1898. Allen built a house on the land he purchased in the Shiloh Distict. It was this house which echoed the cries of his and Mary Frances's fifteen children. Ten of those children survived to adult age, one of which is my grandmother, Frances Louise Adele Gray James, born May 4, 1923. The eldest offspring, Iola Beverly of Washington, D.C., celebrated her 103rd birthday on September 6, 2002. She remained healthy and vibrant until her death on July 23, 2003. Remainding survivors are: Lillian Martin, Rosa Lee Hennigan, and Frances James.
The Thompson and Gray Family bloodline continues to flow from every corner of the United States. We have made contributions in numerous areas including: religion, science, art, literature, education, business, military and civic service. The legacy of self determination resides strong within us and will lead us onward!
- Eliza Stuart Thompson (574 KB)
This is my great-great-grandmother, Eliza Stuart Thompson, who was born in slavery around 1848. She died a free woman in 1938.
- The Rite of Return (4100 KB)
This is a side of my family which I have yet to meet. They are the descendants of John Washington and Amelia Thompson, who was my great-great-grandfather's sister (Joshua). The Washington's now reside in the District of Columbia. They visited the Spy Hill Plantation in June 2006. I was thrilled to learn of their visit and the newspaper article written about the event which I obtained from Ruth Taliaferro, the Garnett/Baber family historian. I was also thrilled to see the names of my great-great-great-great grandfather, Billie McGruder and my great-great-great-grandparents, William and Mildred Thompson, appear in a 2006 newspaper article! This is what this endeavor is all about--keeping alive the stories of our ancestors. For more on this see the article below, "The Breathe of My Ancestors." Update: On April 22, 2008 we held a family reunion with this side of my family in Baltimore. We had a great time!
- Joshua Thompson (473 KB)
This is my great-great-grandfather, Joshua Thompson, who was born in slavery around 1831. He died a free man in 1912.
- Mary Frances Thompson Gray (53 KB)
This is my great-grandmother, Mary Frances Thompson Gray, the daughter of Joshua and Eliza Thompson, who was born August 20, 1879. She was a miracle child as her parents lost 2 previous daughters who were also named Mary (Mary E. 1877 and Mary G 1878). Both of these baby girls died of whooping cough during infancy. Mary Frances, however, lived to be in her 70's. She was indeed a miracle. Read her story below titled Loving Mary Frances.
- The Yellow House (71 KB)
My heart aches over the fact that I do not have a picture of my great-grandfather, George Allen Gray; however, this picture of the yellow house, which was drawn and painted by my grandmother, provides an alternative glimpse into the person he was. George Allen built this house in the early 1900's. For more on this read the story below titled Back Down Home.
- Spy Hill Plantation Cemetery (58 KB)
This cemetery is the resting place of my ancestors, those who died in slavery as well as those who died in freedom. It is an appendage to the original slave cemetery located a short distance up the road. The first slave remains were buried here in 1848. After the Civil War, it became a segregated cemetery. The lone headstone was placed there in 1943. All other graves are simply marked by wooden stakes. For further information scroll down to the story Slavery Up Close and Personal.
- Good Hope Baptist Church (44 KB)
This was the first African American church in King George County. It was built by former slaves of Spy Hill and other neighboring plantations. The church began meeting at a brush habor in 1868. The first building was built in 1872, but was torn down and rebuilt in 1892. My great-grandparents, George and Mary Frances Thompson Gray were married here on December 29, 1898. The building has undergone many renovations since that time. I remember when it was a simple white and green one room sanctuary. Now it has beautiful brick overlay, a finished basement with kitchen, two annexes and a baptismal pool. This church served as a sanctuary for my family during the nadir of racism and jim crow. It stands as a testament to God's faithfulness and unwavering love. For more information on Good Hope, scroll down to the story Loving Mary Frances.
- The Breath of My Ancestors (12 KB)
The following is an essay I wrote for a graduate school creative nonfiction seminar. It is an experiential piece which grapples with the tensions that often arise when viewing ones past from an African instead of a Western worldview. Coyright 2004. All rights reserved.
- Loving Mary Frances (17 KB)
Story telling was a central part of my childhood experience. My mother, grandmother, older aunts, uncles and cousins told wonderful family stories which instilled values and a strong sense of pride in who we were. The following story is about my great-grandmother, Mary Frances Thompson Gray. Although she passed away several years before I was born, from an early age, the memories of her, which have been passed down through family members,have had a tremendous influence on my life and helped shape me into the woman I am today.
- Should Christians Celebrate Kwanzaa? (16 KB)
This essay was written by invitation of Carlotta Morrow who asked me to outline what I believed were the weaknesses of her argument against Christians celebrating Kwanzaa. Initially, this was going to be a short email sent to our discussion group, however, it became much longer than first anticipated. I decided to publish it here on my home page as the salient discussion concerns remembering the past, particularly remembering our ancestors. Should Christians celebrate Kwanzaa? This essay answers this question from a practical and scriptural viewpoint.