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The Contributions of the Grayson Family
to the American Revolution

By John D. Sinks, Fairfax Resolves Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution
12 November 1995

 

Benjamin Grayson, a wealthy merchant who immigrated from Scotland and made his home on this site, Belle Air, married Sussana Monroe. Benjamin died long before the Revolution. The records of the American Revolution, however, do mention all three of this sons: Benjamin, Spence, and William.

 

Benjamin Grayson apparently died during the Revolution. The Loudon Co. Court Booklet recorded receipt 690 pounds of beef valued at £11-10 that was credited to his estate. Where he is buried is unknown.

 

Spence Grayson was born about 1734, making him about two years older than his prominent brother, William. Spence Grayson married Mary Elizabeth Wagener, daughter of Dr. Peter Wagener and sister of Col. Peter Wagener, County Lieutenant Fairfax Co. during the Revolution. Well before the Revolution, Spence Grayson felt called to the ministry and went to England to study theology. He returned to Virginia in 1771 and became the pastor of Cameron Parish in Loudon Co. Because he was a licensed minister, Spence Grayson did not hold many of the civil positions one would expect of a man with his financial standing and family connection in the 18th century. In May of 1777 he was commissioned as Chaplain in Grayson’s Additional Continental Regiment. Monthly muster rolls exist for Grayson’s Additional Regiment from December 1777 through June 1778. The November roll states of Spence Grayson, “Not yet joined, it not being known whether there are to be Brigade or Regimental Chaplains.” Later rolls are more terse: “Not yet joined” or “Not jointed.” In fact, there is no evidence in the muster or pay rolls of the regiment that Spence Grayson ever joined the regiment. He retired from Continental service on 22 April 1779, when the regiment was consolidated with Gist’s Additional Continental Regiment. Spence Grayson continued to support the Revolution after his military service ended. The public service claims of Loudon Co., Va. show that he provided 275 pounds of beef valued at £4-11-8 and 287 pounds of beef valued at £4-15-10. Spence Grayson removed to Prince William County, where he served as the pastor of Dettingen Parish in the 1780’s. He died in December 1798.

 

William Grayson was born about 1736. He was by far the most prominent of the Graysons in military and civil affairs. William was educated at the College of Philadelphia (now University of Pennsylvania). He continued his studies at Oxford University. He was very much influenced by the Scottish economist Adam Smith. After graduating from Oxford, William Grayson studied law at The Temple in London. He returned to Virginia about 1765 and commenced to practice law in Dumfries. He married Eleanor Smallwood, sister of William Smallwood, a future Major General of the Continental Army and Governor of Maryland.

 

William Grayson became involved in Revolutionary activities soon after returning from England. When the Stamp Act was passed, a number of prominent citizens met at Leedstown in Westmoreland Co. to consider articles of association that had been drafted by Richard Henry Lee. The document affirmed allegiance to King George III and intent to preserve the laws and good order “as far as is consistent with the Preservation of our Constitutional Rights and Liberty. It went on to state that it was the right of every British subject, including Virginians, to have trial by peers and to be taxed only by a body in which he is represented. The articles asserted that Stamp Act violated these principles. The signatories would seek to prevent the execution of the act and that those who attempted to support the act would be subject to “immediate danger and disgrace.” William Grayson was among the 115 men who signed the articles.

 

William Grayson also served on Revolutionary Committees. The inhabitants of the Town of Dumfries unanimously voted on 31 May 1774 to invite all freeholders of the county to meet at the court house on 6 June on measures to be taken in response to “the unconstitutional Act of Parliament lately passed by which the Town of Boston and its Ports & Harbours are to blocked up by an armed force...” At the meeting William Grayson was one of nine men appointed to the Committee of Correspondence. On 19 Dec. 1774 the freeholders of Prince William County elected William Grayson and twenty-four others to the Committee of Observation. This Committee was formed in response to the 11th Resolution of the Continental Congress, which called for every county, city, and town to appoint a committee “to observe the conduct of all persons touching this association,” and break off dealings with those who did not adhere to the principles of association.

 

William Grayson’s military career began in 1774. During the fall, the younger members of the gentry throughout Virginia began to organize companies independent of the colonial militia. Their ostensive purpose was to prepare for war with the Shawnee Indians, but in fact they were creating a military power should the conflict with Great Britain require use of force or threat of force. The gentry of Prince William County organized the Independent Company of Cadets on 11 November 1774. William Grayson was elected Captain. “Aut liber, aut nullos” was adopted as the company motto. The Prince William company soon had an opportunity for action. Governor Dunmore had the powder removed from the magazine at Williamsburg on the night of 15 April 1775, outraging citizens throughout the state. The independent companies from Fredericksburg, Fairfax, and Prince William rendezvoused at Fredericksburg on 24 April 1775 to march on Williamsburg. Col. George Washington asked the men to return home, and unlike the Independent Company of Hanover, did so. The Hanover company, under Capt. Patrick Henry, marched to Duncastle’s Ordinary where they accepted an offer that the government pay £330 for the powder. Governor Dunmore issued a proclamation that Patrick Henry and others had engaged in rebellious practices. A special committee for Prince William County met on 22 May 1775, found the action of Henry and others proper and justified, and passed a unanimous vote of thanks. William Grayson was one of eighteen present at this committee meeting.

 

It was becoming obvious that Virginia needed a centrally organized military instead of independent companies operating in a local, uncoordinated fashion. In June of 1775 the Third Virginia Convention ordered the Independent companies to disband and created 16 military districts from which minute battalions of 500 men each would be raised. Prince William County, Fairfax County, and Loudon County formed the Prince William District. William Grayson was commissioned Colonel of the Prince William District Battalion of Minute Men and the first captains received their commissions in October. The battalion saw service in the field in the Norfolk and Hampton area in late 1775. Grayson resigned his commission on 21 March 1776 to join the Continental Service.

 

William Grayson’s service in the Continental Army commenced on 21 June 1776. He became Assistant Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief, George Washington. On 26 August 1776 he became Lt. Colonel and Aide-de-Camp to General Washington. As a successful lawyer, Grayson was well prepared for staff work. Still, it was not a command. As 1776 drew to a close, two opportunities for a command presented themselves.

 

The Virginia House of Delegates created regular troops for local defense that were distinct from Continental troops. On 19 December 1776 William Grayson was commissioned to command the 1st Regiment, Virginia State Line. Grayson declined this commission in January for another opportunity which, as a member of Washington’s staff, he knew was developing. In December 1776 Washington pressed the Continental Congress for additional troops. On 27 December 1776 Congress a resolution:

That General Washington shall be, and he is hereby vested in full, ample, and complete powers to raise and collect together, in the most speedy and effectual manner, from any or all of these United States, 16 battalions of infantry, in addition to those already voted by Congress; to appoint officers for the said battalions; to raise, officer, and equip three thousand light hors; three regiments of artillery, and a corps of engineers, and to establish their pay....

 

This gave Grayson an opportunity for command. On 11 January 1777 Grayson was commissioned Colonel of Grayson’s Additional Continental Regiment. The unit was raised at large in Virginia and Maryland and assigned to Brigadier General Charles Scott’s Brigade. The regiment participated the actions in Northern New Jersey in the summer of 1777 when Gen. Howe unsuccessfully attempted to draw Washington into a general engagement. The regiment was also with the main army for the Defense of Philadelphia, when Howe landed at the Head of the Elk, outmaneuvered and badly defeated Washington at Brandywine, and then marched into Philadelphia. The regiment was in winter quarters at Valley Forge, where the army received training that brought it to par with European armies.

 

William Grayson’s last battle was the last major engagement in the North and perhaps the longest major battle of the war. Gen. Henry Clinton abandoned Philadelphia in preference for a base in New York. Washington tried to catch him on the march in New Jersey. Brigadier General Charles Scott commanded a detachment of 1,500 men trying to annoy the British left flank, leaving Grayson in command of not only his regiment but the balance of Scott’s Brigade. Both elements were in the Major General Charles Lee’s Division. On June 28 1778, Grayson marched at 6:00 A.M., leading Lee’s division, in the direction of Monmouth Courthouse. Clinton had left a large rear guard at Monmouth. Action began sometime after 8:00 A.M. Lee saw an opportunity to cut off the rear guard and so informed Washington. Clinton saw the danger and marched troops back to Monmouth. Grayson’s Regiment was roughly in the center of the American line. Scott and Maxwell mistook a movement by Lafayette to be a retreat and withdrew their own forces. As British pressure increased, Grayson and Col. Henry Jackson had to withdraw. About noon Washington heard cannon and rode forward to discover the army retreating in varying degrees of disorder. His famous confrontation with General Lee soon followed. Washington organized a line of defense as the temperature soared to about 100 degrees. Clinton launched repeated attacks on different parts of the American line throughout the afternoon with no success. About 5:00 P.M. he withdrew a short distance. Both armies occupied part of the battlefield that night, a criterion for considering the battle a draw. That night Clinton slipped away towards New York, his original destination.

 

Lee sent Washington several heated letters and requested a court martial. Washington obliged. Grayson, who was on friendly terms with Lee, was assigned to sit on the court martial but was removed to testify for the prosecution. Grayson’s testimony was not especially damaging to Lee and relations between the two remained friendly enough that Lee remembered Grayson in his will.

 

The strength of the army was down after the winter of 1778-9. William Grayson himself went on furlough and retired from the army effective 22 April 1779. That day Grayson’s Additional Regiment was consolidated with Gist’s Additional Regiment under the command of Colonel Nathaniel Gist.

 

William Grayson’s Revolutionary service was far from over. On 7 December 1779 he was appointed as a Commissioner on the Board of War and served as one the active members of the Board until he resigned on 10 September 1781. Local records also document Revolutionary service. The Prince William Co., Va. Court Booklet credits him with supplying 4 beeves valued at £20; the Loudon Co. Court Booklet credits him with providing 350 pounds of beef valued at £5-16-8.

 

The post-Revolutionary services of William Grayson are well documented and available in both pamphlet and book-length works. In brief, William Grayson served as a member of the Continental Congress from 1785 to 1787, where he supported the Land Ordinance of 1785. He opposed the Constitution in Virginia’s Constitutional Convention on the grounds that it created a federal government that was too strong. He and Richard Henry Lee were elected to Congress as Virginia’s first U.S. Senators. Throughout his political career, Grayson was appointed to important committees and was effective in reaching compromises. He was in ill health by the time Congress adjourned on 29 September 1789. He died here at Belle Air, the home of his brother, on 12 March 1790.

 

We are gathered today to honor two officers of the Continental Line. One was a clergyman of the Episcopal Church who had great social influence on the community. Although his political activities were restrained by his position, we have clear record of his support of the Revolution. The other was a lawyer who took stands in support of the rights of Virginians a decade before the outbreak of the War. He was politically active in support of the Revolution, took up arms when war came, led his troops in major battles, and served an important position on the Board of War. After the Revolution, he became a significant political leader who was prematurely removed from the national scene by death. We are grateful for the contributions of these two patriots.

 

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*This paper was the basis for a talk given on November 12, 1995 at the Grayson family crypt at Belle Air in Woodbridge, Virginia. At that time the Fairfax Resolves Chapter S.A.R. the dedicated of SAR Revolutionary Grave Markers in honor of William Grayson and Spence Grayson and the Col. William Grayson Society C.A.R. place a wreath in celebration at the tomb of their namesake in honor of their twenty-fifth anniversary.

 

 

Selected Bibliography

 

Alden, John Richard. General Charles Lee: Traitor or Patriot? Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1951.

 

DuPriest, James E., Jr. William Grayson: A Political Biography of Virginia’s First United States Senator. Prince William County Historical Commission, Manassas, Va.: 1977.

 

Grayson, John B. “Grayson Family (Additions),” Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine, V (1924), pp. 195-208, 261-268.

 

Grayson, Frederick William “The Grayson Family,” Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine, VI (1925), pp. 201-202.

 

Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, April 1775, to December, 1783. Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, Md.: 1982.

 

Hume, Ivor Noel. 1775: Another Part of the Field. Alfred A Knopf. New York, New York. 1968.

 

Nehring, Marilyn. William Grayson: An Overview of the Life of One of Virginia’s First United States Senators. Historic Dumfries Virginia, Inc., Dumfries, Va. 1978.

 

Sanchez-Saavedra, E.M. A Guide to Virginia Military Organizations in the American Revolution, 1774-1787. Virginia State Library, Richmond, Virginia 1978.

 

Van Schreeven, William J. (compiler), Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence. Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission and University of Virginia Press. Charlottesville, Va. 1973.

 

Ward, Harry M. Charles Scott ad the “Spirit of ‘76’.” University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, Virginia 1988.

 

Wright, Robert K., Jr. The Continental Army. Center of Military History, United States Army. Washington, D.C. 1983.

 

Loudon County, Virginia Court Booklet.

 

Prince William County, Virginia Court Booklet.

 

 

 

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2017 Fairfax Resolves Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution