Thornton Gray was a slave on Arlington Plantation during the Lees’ time at the house. He was the son of Mount Vernon slaves. He was married to Selina Gray by an Episcopal clergyman in the family parlor, the same room in which Mary Custis married Robert E. Lee. However, while the ceremony took place, marital unions between slaves were not legally binding at this time.
Thornton and Selina had eight children. The family occupied the west end of the south slave quarters behind the mansion. Thornton helped care for the family’s horses and may have served as a second carriage driver. According to his family, Thornton was three quarters American Indian.
Thornton was one of the slaves who petitioned Congress for land at Arlington. The slaves believed that Mr. Custis had promised they could stay after they were set free, but the US Government forced them out of their homes. Their petition failed and they had to move. After the war, Thornton and his family settled near Arlington in Green Valley. Thornton and his daughters operated a produce business in Washington DC, for many year.
Paper, L 18, W 12.5 cm
Arlington Reference Collection, Courtesy of Henry Gray Gillem