The Grays in the Highlands Part 1: The Memories of Thomas Gray

Skibo Castle, Scotland

Chapter 2 of The Gray Clan gives us insight into the area of Scotland which is claimed to be the homeland of Thomas and Mary Gray. When reading this chapter, and the book in general, we need to do so with the eyes of a skeptic. While the book was compiled with the best of intentions and the best information available in the 1930s-1950s, we don’t have record of all of their sources. In genealogy, you don’t trust someone else’s tree and information unless you can see the source work and confirm it yourself.

The information included on the descendants of Thomas’ eight children I believe to be true. When you start getting into the family connections on the other side of the pond, I begin to have niggling doubts. The first time I picked up this book after inheriting it, I thought, wow, my kids are descendants of the owners of a castle and a true Laird! Then I started reading up on Skibo Castle, its history, and its Gray inhabitants and the doubts began. My hunch is that there are elements of truth to the family stories, but that Thomas was not heritage heir of Skibo Castle. I think he could have likely been relations of those Grays or felt a strong connection to the estate. More on this in coming posts.

Chapter 2 is about ten pages in length and contains a lot of information that would be overwhelming in a single blog post. I am transcribing and breaking this information up into four posts over the coming weeks and adding my research notes and thoughts. The research is ongoing. If you read something here and have corrections or additional information, I am all ears! It’s going to take the work of a clan to solve the mystery of where Thomas Gray was born and lived!

This first part of Chapter 2 contains information on pages 2-5. The content centered in italics is the original text from the book. I’ve tried to keep the text, spellings, grammar and punctuation as close as possible to how it was originally written. My notes and research will appear below it and start with [KG].

Here are links to the other published portions of this series:
The Grays in the Highlands Part 2: Leaving Their Beloved Skibo, Scotland

If interested, I’ve created a document where you can view/read the full text of Chapter 2 without my research notes.

Said old Thomas Gray, “Our Race ran strong. For many, many Centuries. We came into Northern Scotland with the Normans. We held our homes, because we loved them, and the Mountains were so rough and full of sly caves which made defense easier. Don’t think we did not fight, and fight with valiant courage, there were many calls when the ‘watch-fires’ would flare and the urgent call would sound. Then we drappit everything and hasted, well knowing that many brave lads would never return, but we drove back the invaders and held our homeland.”

(Away back in the Roman occupation of Northern Brittany, now known as Scotland, there came an invasion of the Celtic & Aryan people. We are interested in the section North of the Firth-o-Forth. These invaders soon gained predominance over the Romans, non-Aryans, the combined people occupying most of the Country North of the Forth and Clyde estuaries, called Caledonia by the people of Rome, the inhabitants termed Caledonians. The descendants of these people were later called Picts, and were the predominant inhabitants in North Britain at the beginning of the 6th Century. The Firth-o-Forth formed in Pertshire by the junction of two streams-Duchray & Dhu-abt, one mile West of Aberfoyle, from the River flows East, forming for a considerable part of its course the boundaries of Stirling and Perth. Winding on, a series of curves, known as Links of Forth and expanding soon into the Firth-o-Forth, a very important Harbor, the country rising North of this, in high Mountains, with much grazing land within, almost every glen has its Lake, and every Mountain hollow filled with a stream of water, or a Spring. Truly an ideal place for a strong determined group of people to hold forth and defy invasion or capture.)

[KG] It’s important to note here before going into the next paragraph for those not familiar with the geography of Scotland, the Firth of Fourth and Perth are in the southern half of Scotland. Skibo in County Sutherland is in northern Scotland and reading on to the next paragraph it could seem as if tHess were the same place.

The group of people long after known as ‘Grays’ lived here for many centuries, the old land seat known as far back as 980 A.D. Much later known as ‘Skibo’-this comprising a very large section, in Mr. Andrew Carnegie’s time covered over 33,000 acres. The description of this ancient home and the nostalgic longings for the ‘auld hame’ filled the days of the lonely old man, Thomas Gray, Sr. and gives us our most authentic facts concerning the truth of the Gray claims. This coupled with Court Records and family records taken from old Bibles, etc. prompt us to give this story to the world. We do so, uniting the best of his tales, without apologies, to known History.

[KG] From the research I’ve done so far the Grays did not come to the area known as Skibo, County Sutherland or County Ross until circa 1456. The Grays were feued the land (Skibo) by the Earl of Sutherland in 1560. I believe the 980 A.D. date may refer more to the Grays coming to the Perth and Stirling areas of Scotland.

The Scottish Antiquary, Vol. VIII, IX gives us a very fine early story of the Grays of Skibo descendants from Lord Gray of Foulls, who was Andrew Gray, Lord Gray, only son and heir of Sir Patrick, Master of Gray. He died Feb. 1513-14. He had married as second wife, Elizabeth, daughter of John Stewart, Earl of Athole. Their son was Patrick Gray. (The first wife, name unknown) had a son John Gray. It seems that through the Stewarts, the Bishops of Caithness secured a hold upon the Estate. This History runs through many generations, the account of which may be read in prominent Libraries, we find that Sir Patrick, Master of Gray who died in 1513, was twice married, his son Andrew Gray was, (Lord Gray of Foulls.)

[KG] You can now read the account of Gray of Skibo and Over Skibo from The Scottish Antiquary online.

The records run along for the next 200 years, seeming to be copied from what we might call Court Records. Giving Titles, many names, some dated and some not. But with the account of Robert Gray, the seventh of Skibo, baptized at Dornoch 1731, not stating when he died, the narrative of the succession of the lines of Grays seem to have a definite break in the years between 1731 and the time old Thomas Gray came to the “New Westmoreland” settling in 1792.

[KG] I have yet to come across these records in my research. It’s on the search list! We do know, however, that Skibo passed out of the heritage lines of Grays in 1744 or 1745. Wikipedia (for whatever it’s worth) does mention Robert Gray as the last heritage owner of Skibo. I’ve found bits and pieces on Robert’s family line, but no mention of a son (heir) named Thomas. More research to do on him, could he have been a grandson of Robert’s heir? Not sure the dates would work out right for that. It is interesting to note that they lost the ancestral home around the time of the Jacobite rising of 1745 and Battle of Culloden. I would love to find sources and see if this was related to the political upheaval during that time period.

There is a break, here, in the story confirming the family stories, and perhaps due to the political and religious persecutions prevalent at that time. If we had the account of Robert Gray’s death, the Seventh of Skibo, we might come quite a bit nearer to 1792, it was close to the time of the bitter persecution which arose and resulted in so many leaving Scotland for-Ireland-and more friendly shores.

[KG] The Highland Clearances following the Jacobite rising of 1745 most likely account for our ancestor’s emigration (again, this is a hunch). Since they were able to emigrate as a family of six before 1800 it indicates that they must have had some wealth and weren’t of the poorest crofters.

Said old Thomas: “The Grays were gentlefolk, above the average or common folk, their men were chosen for the King’s guard on account of their height. I guess the King wanted to hide’ Here the old man chuckled. “They had a gift of song which came to some with a most powerful voice. They were forced to leave the old Castle home, rather than to compromise with conscience.”

Again and again he would repeat, like the refrain to a loved song, “Mother Mary (Mary James Gary) died and was buried by the steps of the old White Oaks Springs Church-Brick-, a child by her side. Bury me the same way; no big stones; just a row of creek stones around the grave, like Mother’s.”

Said he; “The Grays were good warriors, when they knew themselves to be in the right, they were tall, well built, broad of shoulder, small at the waist, tapering, like a good wrestler.” And, speaking again of the gift of song in the families, he would say; “Guess auld Tammas-the-Rhymer must hae been ane ‘o’ ours.” Then his grief would come over him and he would say; “Mother Mary was sick such a great pain. They buried her by the steps of the old Brick Church, that she loved, at White Oaks Springs. Young William, a gentle lad by her side. ‘Bury me the same way’ just like mother.”

His memories of the ancient glories of Scotland, and the regret that it was torn asunder were strongly mixed with the hard experiences of the years in the land of his adoption. Education common to that day, was principally the need to read and write and figure, with some little advancement. The word of mouth, from elder to youth, was sufficient to keep History-and-love of Country, alive and glowing, but as ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ he was far from being illiterate. Women were taught to write their names and read their Scriptures, not much more.

How he received the information, we know not, but he could tell the early History of his native land, knew that the remains of a great Military Camp or Post, was located beside the Tweed, before the day and death of St. John, The Divine. The Caledonian Ruler was Calgacus. (A.D. 81) The first notice of Newstead Abbey was 190 A.D. A great fortified Camp there was called Trimontium. They had Celtic customs, then, the culture was far above the savages. Pits existed there for 600 years. The Kings being succeeded, not by sons, but, by the sons of the Ruler’s Mothers, sisters or Aunts. His oft-repeated words; “How can we do our part in the future, if we do not find the strong foundation in the dealings and doings of the past.”

He recalled the Salmon fishing, the trout streams, the old moat around the castle, the old stone ‘prayer-house’ built by the waterfall Achinduich, which was built in the occupancy of the Grays. Whether before the fall of Castle or during the period in which they lived in isolated parts of the Estate, was never disclosed, not remembered.

[KG] I’m guessing the fall of the castle they refer to here is 1744/1745 when they lost their heritable rights to Skibo. This is a good 16-17 years prior to Thomas’ birth. The fact that it’s mentioned that “they lived in isolated parts of the Estate” makes me believe that Thomas was not born at Skibo Castle itself, rather somewhere on the grounds of the estate (a vast area including several villages). I have doubts regarding the waterfall Achinduich. In a County Sutherland genealogy group I asked about this waterfall and was told by another genealogist who lives in the region that Achinduich was part of the Skelbo estate, not Skibo.

His traditional descent of the Family traced the race as far back as 960 AD when the Normans made invasions in Northern Scotland. A group of hardy men settled in the section north of Dornoch Firth and Lock Shin, shut in and protected by the natural Mountains of that section, they resisted invasions and held possession forcibly. Following definite History after 1060, we know that family names were not used until some time after that, he knew that our people were Grays, who owned and held the Skibo section, now owned and held by the Heirs of the late Andrew Carnegie.

The land or holdings then comprised what is now known as Sutherland County and much of, perhaps all of Caithness. The Leader of the group was ‘Laird’ or Lord Gray, his men ‘Gray’s men’ who lived in Villages and settlements nearby, holding common interests, and fighting each others battles. In a measure, this is responsible for the great number of Grays coming from Scotland.

[KG] The first sentence of the second paragraph is almost definitely incorrect if they are referencing Skibo. I have yet to come across any documentation that Skibo was the seat of Sutherland and/or Caithness, especially not during the years of the Grays. Skibo would have been part of the Earl of Sutherland’s holdings, but the Grays would not have been “Laird” of that entire area. As far as I can tell from my research, they would have been landowner or held the “tack” for the Skibo estate area circa 1560-1744. I don’t know that the Grays of Skibo would have been referred to as “Laird” or Lord Gray. I’m still researching and learning about the heirarchy of the clans, estates and landownership in Scotland during that time period. Here are two articles to learn more about the Highland clan system:

The only traces of the Skibo Castle that remained, when Mr. Andrew Carnegie, the Steel Magnate of Pittsburgh, PA bought these holdings, was the ancient Yew trees, the remains of the hedge, certain geological traces of the moat that surrounded the Castle, these with the old stone ‘Prayer-Chapel’ (this was restored by Mr. Carnegie, its location not far from Bonar Bridge, where there is a waterfall of great beauty,) in the Scottish Antiquary, Vol. VIII. IX named before, we find some items on the Grays of Skibo and over-Skibo in the Parish of Creich, Sutherlandshire, Scotland. Stating that the holdings were divided through the marriage of one Andrew Gray to Elizabeth Stewart whose generations were responsible for the Estate passing into the hands of the ‘Bishops of Caithness’ Mr. Carnegie may or may not have bought all of the Caithness Estate.

[KG] Again, this ‘Prayer-Chapel’ near a waterfall is mentioned, however this time as being close to Bonar Bridge which is approx. 6 miles from the first location mentioned. The location of Bonar Bridge is known to be within Skibo estate grounds to that time. It is more likely that this is the location of the waterfall. Would love to find out if there is a waterfall near Bonar Bridge and if this prayer chapel or its ruins do still exist.

Thomas Gray, the Poet Laureate, was also of our race. Though born in England, son of a certain Phillip Gray. And his wife, Dorothy Antrobus Gray. In his Life History we find, p. 438 of the Appendix, a note telling us that, quote: ‘Sir Egerton Brydges informs us that Grays Arms are the same of those of Lord Gray, of Scotland, who claims a relationship with him, (Masons Memoirs, Vol IV. VV.) and as the present Earl Gray’s” –Mitford.

[KG] I’m hesitant to claim this Thomas Gray (Thomas the Rhymer) yet. The claim seems tenuous based on the Gray Arms and that Lord Gray, of Scotland, claims a relationship with him. I think we must first verify that we are truly relatives of the Grays of Skibo first.

Stay tuned for Part 2. Would love to hear your thoughts and comments!