Bidwell Lore: Barnabas’ In-laws, the Gray Family

Bidwell In-laws: The Gray Family

Welcome to week 19 of Bidwell Lore! Last week, we introduced you to the most well-known of Reverend Bidwell’s children: his son, Barnabas. This week we want to tell you a little about his wife Mary Gray’s family and their local connections.   

If you wander to the west end of the “Old Section” in the Stockbridge Town Cemetery you will find gravestones belonging to Colonel James Gray, Jr., and his wife, Sarah Spring Gray, in-laws of Barnabas Bidwell, nestled among other Bidwell gravestones. To follow is a portion of the Gray family tree.

Sarah Williams, the older sister of Ephraim Williams, Sr., married John Marsh of Hadley in October 1718. After his death, she married James Gray, Sr., a weaver, of Hadley, and they had two sons, James and John Gray.  In February of 1749, James Gray, Sr., and his wife, Sarah Williams Gray, sold their land in Hadley. In October of that year, they purchased 200 acres from Col. Ephraim Williams, Jr., at the north end of Stockbridge, described as running from the north end of the Great Pond (Lake Mahkeenac) to the north line of the town (Lenox), now the property of Tanglewood.   Col. Ephraim Williams, Jr., died in battle in 1755 and willed 50 acres to his cousins, James and John Gray.  This land was at the north end of the great pond of Stockbridge and abutted the land owned by their father, James Gray, Sr.

Above is a portrait of Sarah Spring Gray, believed to have been painted by Joseph Steward around 1795, that currently hangs in the Museum parlor.

The Panopist and Missionary Magazine United, Conducted by an Association of Friends of Evangelical Truth [1] for the year ending June 1, 1810, provided the following: “A Sketch of the Life and Character of Mrs. Gray:  Mrs. Gray (Sarah Spring Gray) daughter of Mr. Henry and Kezia Spring of Watertown, where she was born, February 25th 1737. She married February 5th 1761 to James Gray, Esq. of Stockbridge, in which town she resided from her marriage to her death, and during the sixteen years last years of her life in the family of her son in law Barnabas Bidwell, Esq. For more than forty years she sat under the ministry of her friend Rev. Stephen West [2] D.D. Her life was chequered with vicissitudes. Col. Gray, her husband, having served in the Revolutionary War, as Commissary General of the United States for the Northern Department, was obliged, by declining health, to resign that office, and quit the service. After a long and painful sickness, died of consumption, August 25, 1782 [3]. By the circumstances of the times, his engagements in the army and his premature death, his affairs were so deranged, that his estate proved insolvent, and his widow was left quite poor and destitute. In the midst of this trial, her oldest daughter, Mrs. Sarah Hunt, a beautiful and lovely woman, in the prime of her life, fell into decline. Mrs. Gray tended her in her last sickness, and closed her eyes, February 20th 1788. Her daughter Mary Gray, who in the meantime resided with her Uncle Dr. Marshall Spring was married to Mr. Bidwell and she became a member of their family, and enjoyed every attention and accommodation, which her heart could wish. But earthly joys are short lived. In February 1808 she was called to mourn Mrs. Bidwell’s death. Satisfied with life, and humbly confiding in the mercy of God, through the atonement of the Savior, she waited with patience and pious resignation for the expected call from the eternal world, and on 26th October 1809, she died of apoplexy.”  

Above is a portrait of Mary Gray Bidwell, believed to have been painted by Joseph Steward around 1795, that currently hangs in the Museum parlor not far from the portrait of her mother.

Mary Gray Bidwell was born 28 May 1764 in Stockbridge, Mass., the daughter of Col. James Gray, Jr., and Sarah Spring Gray. Little is known about Mary Gray Bidwell’s early life, but either due to her father’s insolvency, his illness, or his premature death, Mary was taken in by her mother’s brother, Dr. Marshall Spring, and resided with his family in Watertown, Massachusetts. It seems likely that under his care she was able to receive an education that would not have been available in Stockbridge. In January 1768, James Gray, Jr., Esq., sold to Dr. Marshall Spring, of Watertown, Massachusetts, fifty-two acres of land in Stockbridge, on the road from the meeting house to the great pond for L100. No evidence was uncovered to suggest that Dr. Spring ever lived in Stockbridge.
Dr. Marshall Spring (1741-1818) was Sarah’s brother and helped to bring his sister’s family to Stockbridge. He graduated from Harvard in 1762 and studied medicine under his mother’s brother, Dr. Josiah Converse. Dr. Spring “was of high professional repute and eminent as a wit.” While completely a Tory, when he arrived at the Battle of Lexington he devoted his best skill and care to the wounded, earning the admiration and appreciation of all. At the election of Jefferson, he joined the popular party. He married first Mary, widow of Dr. Barnabas Binney, son of Barnabas Binney, a prominent merchant of Boston. There was one child, Marshall Binney Spring. Married second, 1797, Hannah Lee of Cambridge, Mass. His son, Marshall Binney Spring, married Eliza Willing of Philadelphia, granddaughter of Thomas Willing, 1st President of the 1st Bank of the United States.

Barnabas and Mary’s home in Stockbridge, as it looks today.

The Rev. Richard R. Eliot, Minister of the Gospel, married Mary Gray and Barnabas Bidwell in Watertown on February 21, 1793.  Yet their Berkshire connections were already forged. In 1792, Barnabas purchased a house on Main Street in Stockbridge from Timothy Edwards, son of the Rev. Jonathan Edwards. Barnabas had also studied law under Theodore Sedgwick in Stockbridge, and Mary Gray Bidwell’s mother Sarah Spring Gray was a first cousin of Abigail Williams Sergeant Dwight, whose daughter Pamela Dwight married Theodore Sedgwick. Pamela’s children knew Sarah Spring Gray as Aunt Gray. Sarah Spring Gray and Mary Gray Bidwell frequently socialized with the Sedgwick family and maintained a close friendship and family ties despite the political differences between Theodore and Barnabas.

 Mrs. Sedgwick was the daughter of General Dwight and Abigail Williams Sergeant Dwight, who was the daughter of Ephraim Williams, Sr. Theodore Sedgwick was incredibly accomplished and what follows is just a summary of his illustrious lifeA Delegate, a Representative, and a Senator from Massachusetts; born in West Hartford, Conn., May 9, 1746; attended Yale College; studied theology and law; admitted to the bar in 1766 and commenced practice in Great Barrington, Mass.; moved to Sheffield, Mass.; during the Revolutionary War served in the expedition against Canada in 1776; member, State house of representatives 1780, 1782-1783; member, State senate 1784-1785; Member of the Continental Congress 1785, 1786, and 1788; member, State house of representatives 1787-1788, and served as speaker; delegate to the State convention that adopted the Federal Constitution in 1788; elected to the First and to the three succeeding Congresses and served from March 4, 1789, until his resignation in June 1796; elected as a Federalist to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Caleb Strong and served from June 11, 1796, to March 3, 1799; served as President pro tempore of the Senate during the Fifth Congress; elected to the Sixth Congress (March 4, 1799-March 3, 1801); Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sixth Congress; judge of the supreme court of Massachusetts 1802-1813; died in Boston, Mass., January 24, 1813; interment in the Sedgwick Pie, Stockbridge Town Cemetery, Stockbridge, Mass.

Research for this article was conducted by Rick Wilcox with editing by Heather Kowalski

[1] Congregational Church

[2] Rev. West’s wife Elizabeth was James Gray’s first cousin and Ephraim Williams Sr.’s daughter

[3] Revolutionary War ended by treaty in 1783. British troops surrendered in October 1782

Next week we will talk about The Elms, the Stockbridge home of Barnabas and Mary