AMHERSTBURG FREEEDOM MUSEUM
The Growing Grayer Family – Part 1
The Grayer family’s roots in Essex County begin with William Henry Grayer Sr., who was born in Virginia in 1823. Family lore says that William’s father carried him in his arms most of the way on their flight from enslavement in Virginia, until they arrived in Detroit. They then traveled to the Colchester South area in roughly 1830. There is a possibility that a man named David Grier was William’s father/relative considering David arrived in Colchester South in roughly 1830 and lived next to David Grier’s property. David was originally from Maryland, but sadly was captured and forced into slavery in Kentucky. Once David arrived in Colchester, he lived on Gore Road. In Benjamin Drew’s book “Northside View of Slavery,” there is an interview with David Grier which tells his story. He says, “I was born free in Maryland,–was stolen and sold in Kentucky, when between eight and nine years old. In Kentucky I was set free by will, and as they were trying to break the will up, some of my claimant’s friends persuaded me to come off to Ohio. From Ohio, I came here [Colchester] on account of the oppressive laws demanding security for good behavior,–I was a stranger and could not give it. I had to leave my family in Kentucky. I came in 1831. I have cleared land on lease for five or six years, then have to leave it, and go into the bush again. I worked so about thirteen years. I could do no better, and the white people, I believe, took advantage of it to get the land cleared. This has kept me poor. I guess I have cleared not short of seventy or eighty acres, and got no benefit. I have now six acres cleared.”
Again, whether David was the father of William has not been proven fact, but it is a theory. David’s narrative says that he left his family behind, but it is certainly possible that he lied and hid details of his family’s escape from enslavement to protect them. At that time, David may not have trusted his interviewer, Benjamin Drew, and thought it best to keep certain information to himself. The connection between David Grier and William remains a mystery.
The first available record for William is the 1851 Census which lists William Grier (Grayer) as a servant in Malden Township. Ten years later, in the 1861 Census, he is listed as single and a labourer. It is not until the 1881 Census that we see William listed as a farmer with his wife Mary E. Grayer and their children: William Jr., Maria, Emnily, George, James and Sylvester Wiley, who is listed as “Selvesta” on the census. William Sr. married Mary Elizabeth (Eliza) Green circa 1862 in Colchester South Township. Mary Elizabeth was the daughter of Joseph Green and Elizabeth Hutchins and was born on October 9, 1839 in Colchester. Mary’s father Joseph Green was born in Hardin, Tennessee in roughly 1794 and he passed on September 3, 1863 in Colchester South. Mary’s mother Eliza Hutchins was born circa 1815 in Tennessee and passed away circa 1849 in Colchester South. William and Mary Elizabeth inherited the farm on lot 5 & 6 on Gore Road from Eliza’s father, Joseph Green, and the couple had several children: William Jr., George, Mariah, James, Charles, Emnily, Wiley and John.
What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps. See you next week for Part 2.
The Growing Grayer Family – Part 2
William Joseph Jr. was born in Colchester circa 1863 and on June 5, 1889, he married Ellen Saphronia Matthews, the daughter of Alma Day and Mathew Matthews, who was a minister, businessman and farmer known for establishing the Matthews Settlement in Colchester South. According to his 1906 death record, Mathew Matthews was born into slavery on March 11, 1822. The Matthews Settlement began when Mathew Matthews first purchased land in 1819. Its location is approximately five miles northwest of Harrow, Colchester South Township. It stretched from the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Concessions at the Drummond Road intersections and the area north and south of Concession #2 from Drummond Side Road to Smith Side Road. It was approximately five square miles of space. Matthews also played an instrumental role in building the settlement’s first church and school. In fact, the first church was built on his property in 1819, while the school was built near the church a few years later, in 1825. Mathew’s daughter Ellen was born on August 12, 1864 in Colchester South and at the age of 21, Ellen married William who was a 26-year old farmer. Neither had been married before. William and Ellen had eight children: Durward, Iva Geoa, Clarence, William Darwin, Mary Elizabeth, Alma Alzora, Loren, and Charles Roosevelt.
Around 1903 William separated from Ellen and moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan. After finding work and a home in Ann Arbor, William moved his children into his house. In the next census for 1910, we see William and his children listed under the same household except for Durward who had possibly started his own family at that point. The 1910 Census also reveals that William Sr. worked as a “wagon driver.” The 1920 Census lists William with a few of his children: Clarence, Darwin, Lorin, and Roosevelt (Charles) in addition to a lodger, a 52-year old woman named Alice Taylor who was a housekeeper.
Sadly, Ellen Matthews Grayer passed away on May 15, 1929 in Windsor. Several years before, William married again, the second time to Martha M. Robbins on June 1, 1922 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Martha was born circa 1871 in Kent County (Ontario). As mentioned, William and Ellen had several children (Durward, Iva Geoa, Clarence, William Darwin, Mary Elizabeth, Alma Alzora, Loren, and Charles Roosevelt). There is information available for all their children, but some information is more limited than others. According to his birth record, Durward was born on January 25, 1891, while Iva was born on January 30, 1892. That is all the information that could be found on them, but there are more documents for their brother Clarence. He was born on May 23, 1893, unless you are looking at his draft registration card for WWI which says that he was born on May 23, 1894 in Harrow. This document also states that he was a machinist who worked for C.A. Sauer Co. Inc. in Ann Arbor. In his description, he is listed as medium height and build, with brown eyes and black hair. At the time he was single, but according to his May 1925 death record, he was married. Unfortunately, his death record does not list his wife’s name. There is also a bit more information available for Clarence’s brother, William Darwin.
William Darwin was born on September 20, 1895 in Colchester South, where his father William worked as a farmer. On February 20, 1922, William Darwin married Jennie Kathleen Gaines, the daughter of Frank Gaines and Sarah Dailey, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. William Darwin was 26, while Jennie was 18. Under occupation it lists “Garage” for William, while Jennie was “At Home.” William Darwin and Jennie had at least one child, Donald William Grayer Sr. In his obituary, it says that Donald was born on December 10, 1924 in Ann Arbor and he later married Wanda M. Cooper in Adrian, Michigan. Donald worked as a bricklayer and was a member of the Bricklayer’s Union. He also served in the United States Navy from 1942-1946 and was a member of the Elks and Lincoln Key Club.
The next child of William and Ellen Grayer to be discussed is Mary Elizabeth who was born on March 30, 1897. She later married Clarence Muirhead on October 8, 1919 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Clarence was 27, while Mary Elizabeth was 22 at the time of their marriage and neither were previously married. Clarence was born circa 1892 in Lebanon, Tennessee, and was the son of Richard Muirhead and Julia Walker. Under occupation, Clarence is listed as an “Attendant” while Mary was “At Home.” The following year, the 1920 Census for Ann Arbor lists Clarence as a labourer, while the 1930 Census for Ann Arbor lists his occupation as a “Porter,” but for industry it says, “Barber Shop.” The 1930 Census also lists Clarence and Mary’s daughters: Safronia A. (age 9) and Doretta (age 7). Interesting, the 1940 Census lists Mary Muirhead as the head of the household and a cook at a fraternity house. It also lists her living with her two daughters Safronia and Doretta, but there is no mention of Clarence. Clarence and Mary separated considering Clarence went on to marry Sarah Alberta Wilson, who was previously married to William Donald Grayer in 1935. Sarah and William separated in 1939 and Sarah went on to marry Clarence Muirhead in 1953. Clarence and Sarah were together until Clarence’s death in 1962.
Mary’s sister Alma Alzora Madeline Grayer was born circa 1898-1900. On June 3, 1922 she married Roosevelt Crutcher who was the son of William Crutcher and Gertrude Meek. Neither were previously married, and the ceremony took place in Flint, Michigan. Interestingly, Alma Alzora Grayer is listed on her marriage record as “Anastasia Madeline Grayer,” the daughter of William Grayer and Ellen Matthews. Did she go by a different name or did the record taker make a mistake? “Anastasia” was 23, while Roosevelt was 20. There is less information on Alma’s brothers Loren Joseph who was born on July 6, 1900 and Charles Roosevelt who was born circa 1902.
What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps. See you next week for Part 3.
The Growing Grayer Family – Part 3
So far, we have only discussed one of William Henry Grayer and Mary Elizabeth (Eliza) Green’s children, but there are still several more to go. We’ve discussed William Jr., so the next child is George Albert who was born circa 1867 in Colchester South. He was an unmarried farmer and in his 1910 obituary was described as a well-known resident of the township. George’s sister Maria/Moriah was born circa 1868 in Colchester South and passed on October 6, 1884.
Significantly more information is available for the next child of William Sr. and Mary Elizabeth (Eliza). James Hatfield Grayer was born on August 27, 1871 in Colchester South. He grew up on the original homestead of William Grayer located on Gore Road in Colchester South and attended school on Dunn Road. In 1891 he married Mercilla (Mercy) Clingman in Colchester South. Mercilla was born on September 9, 1870 in Colchester South and was the daughter of James Milton Clingman and Nancy Ann Hatfield. It is ironic that Mercilla married a man named James Hatfield Grayer, considering her father’s first name was also James and her mother’s maiden name was Hatfield. What a coincidence. Mercillia’s father James was the son of Mary Ann Atkinson and Gabriel Clingman (the son of Samuel Gabriel Clingman) and was born in 1843 in Greenup County, Kentucky. He escaped enslavement with his parents via the Underground Railroad circa 1848. Mercilla’s mother Nancy was born on September 22, 1852 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was the daughter of Charles A. Hatfield and Mary (Mercy) Ann Conway (Mary was the daughter of George A. Conway and Nancy Hill). Mercilla’s parents, James and Nancy, married on January 12, 1868.
Sadly, Mercilla passed away unexpectedly in Detroit in 1918 while visiting her daughter Livinia/Lavena. According to her obituary, “she went to Detroit to visit five weeks ago, in good spirits. An abscess of the jaw developed, and blood poisoning set in which quickly brought the end.” Following Mercilla’s passing, James married a widow named Jenny Grayson on January 7, 1924 in Essex, but she passed away only a few years later in 1926. Jenny was born circa 1878 in Windsor and was the daughter of Stephen Holland and Helen Bartlett.
James and Mercilla had four children, but sadly two of their children passed away in infancy. They were Charles Amos who was born on June 20, 1891 in Colchester and James Arthur who was born on September 24, 1892, also in Colchester. The two surviving children of James and Mercilla were Forrest Alberta who was born on November 20, 1893 and Livinia/Lavena (mentioned above) who was born on May 29, 1895. Livinia married William Leonidas Jackson on December 14, 1918 in Chicago. William Jackson was born on October 30, 1879 in York (Toronto) and was the son of John Henry Jackson and Charlotte Josephine Williams. Livinia and William had no children and, at one time, Livinia worked as a cosmetic sales person.
What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps. See you next week for Part 4 where we will discuss Livinia’s brother Forrest and other Grayer family members.
The Growing Grayer Family – Part 4
Livinia’s brother Forrest was born in Colchester South on November 20, 1893. He married Ida Belle Chavis on November 1, 1916. Ida was born on August 14, 1900 in New Canaan, Colchester North, and she was the daughter of John Franklin Chavis (son of Wiley Chavis and Clarissa Ann Evans) and Caroline Melinda Harris (daughter of Thomas James Harris and Mary Ann Pearl). Ida’s father John Franklin Chavis was previously married to Phoebe Milton, but she passed in 1888, the same year that Ida’s mother Caroline Melinda Harris’s first husband, Albert White, passed away. Additionally, after Ida’s mother Caroline passed away, her father John Franklin Chavis married for a third time to Dianah Scott/Galloway in 1910.
Forrest worked as a farmer but was also employed at Ford Motor Company. In March 1918, Forrest’s father James Hatfield Grayer sold Forrest one acre of his fifty-acre farm on the 3rd Concession for $1. The Grayer Homestead farm had horses, cows, pigs, ducks, geese, and chickens. Forrest’s wife Ida was a homemaker, but she also helped manage the family farm and worked as a domestic in the Harrow area. Both Forrest and Ida financially contributed to their family’s income. Forrest also never drove a motor vehicle but chose to drive a team of horses using various kinds of wagons, buggies, and sleds as transportation. To supplement his farm income, during the summer months, Forrest also travelled to different farms in Harrow on Thursdays and Fridays, purchasing fruits and vegetables from local farmers. He would then rise early on Saturday mornings, drive his loaded freight wagon to Amherstburg where he sold his product, making a substantial profit. What a smart businessman. Forrest also later drove a variety of used milk wagons rather than a freight wagon which was slower. Forrest was often accompanied by one or two of his grandchildren who would assist him by going door to door with baskets of fruits and vegetables. It was a family effort.
Forrest and Ida had ten children: Thelma Beatrice (born April 12, 1918 and married Erwin Mulder); Alma Mercilla (b. October 30, 1919 and m. Floyd A. Walls); Freeda Mae (b. September 5, 1921 and m. Albert Crutchfield); Melda Elaine (b. October 22, 1923 and m. James Arthur Mulder); Floreen Winnifred (b. October 15, 1925 and m. David Daniel Johnson); Forrest Melvin (b. February 6, 1929 and married Virginia Adelaide Payne and Donna Jean Ramsey); Ethora Ann (b. February 28, 1932 and m. Robert Walker, George Mitchell and Roy Lee Cohen); Ida Margaret (b. April 18, 1934 and m. Hiram Cecil Miller and Robert Spidell Jr.); James William (b. October 12, 1937 and m. JoAnne St. Pierre, Agnes Ford and in a relationship with Sandra Rutter); Maryannette (b. December 4, 1942 and m. Lee A. Young and Alonzo McCullers).
What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps. See you next week for Part 5.
The Growing Grayer Family – Part 5
The last several pages have discussed James Hatfield Grayer and his descendants. It’s now time to discuss James’ siblings: Charles Augusta, Emnily, Wiley Sylvester and John. Charles Augusta was born on January 2, 1872 in Colchester South, but sadly passed away the next year. Emnily was born circa 1876, but sadly passed roughly 10 years later in 1886.
Wiley/Wylie Sylvester Grayer was born on March 23, 1881 in Harrow. He married Maude Louella Coates Mulder who was born on March 16, 1881 in Colchester South. Wiley and Maude married on April 13, 1900 in Detroit and lived on a farm on Gore Road on the 2nd Concession. Wiley was one of the first mail carriers in Colchester South Township in the early 1900s and delivered mail on Rural Route 2 and Rural Route 4. Wiley and Maude delivered the mail by horse buggy at first, but in 1920 Wiley purchased a car that made things easier. He delivered mail for 24 years. In his obituary, Wiley Grayer was described as “One of the most highly respected residents of the colored community of the township … In that long span of years he never missed a mail and although there was a time when the roads were so bad that he had to walk the 25 miles around the route, he saw that the rural patrons received their mail. He delivered the mail on foot, on horseback, with a horse and cart and finally with a car, and was always an efficient and reliable employee of the government. Since his illness his wife and daughters have looked after the delivery.” The couple had sixteen children: Estelle Mae (1900-1936), Mazie Luella (1902-1975), Ruby Beatrice ( 1903-1979), Virgil Sylvester (1905-1963), Olive Marie (1907), Lovedy Bernetta (born 1909), Helen Josephine (1910-1911), Wilfred (1911), Ida Evelyn (1911), Gerald (1915), Sylvanna (1916-1918), Mary (c. 1918-1922), Gladys Leone (c. 1917-1919), Violet Winifred (1916-1921), Marvin Lester (1918-1919), Kenneth (1920-2009).
Wiley and Maude’s first child, Estelle Mae was born in August 1900 and later married Walter Scott of Elmstead, in the County of Essex, on November 27, 1918. Walter was the son of Henry Scott and Mary Proctor. At the time, Walter was 19 and Estelle was 18; neither were previously married. Under occupation Walter is listed as a farmer, while it says “farming” next to Estelle, which is further evidence of the contributions of women to the family income.
Estelle’s sister Mazie Luella was born in May 1902 in Harrow and married a Mr. Myers. Mazie and Estelle’s sister, Ruby Beatrice, was born in September 1903 and later married John McWhorter. According to her obituary she was the mother of Shirley Reid of Los Angeles and Gilbert of Detroit. Ruby’s brother Virgil Sylvester was born in July 1905. He married Edna Johnson and the couple had at least one child named Everette Ernest Sylvester Grayer, who was born on November 28, 1929 in Harrow. Sadly, he passed away at the age of 5.
The next child of Maude and Wiley is Olive Marie who was born on April 16, 1907 in Colchester South. She later married Frank Walls on October 27, 1925. According to her obituary, she was the mother of Clifford of Windsor, Earl of Toronto, Irvine of Essex, Alger of Windsor, Lylie Joynier of Seattle, Freda Winston of Deroit, Larry of Essex, Sandra at home, Winston and Allen of Windsor. Olive’s sister Lovedy Bernetta/Barnetta was born on February 16, 1909 in Harrow. She later married Joseph Wolfrey Scott who was the son of Henry Scott and Mary L. Proctor. Joseph was also a farmer and a bachelor of 20 years old, while Lovedy was an 18-year-old spinster. Lovedy and Joseph had at least two daughters named Violet and Ruth, but sadly both passed in infancy. Sadly, this was also the fate of Lovedy’s siblings Helen Josephine, Wilfred, Gladys Leone, Violet Winifred and Marvin who all passed away at a young age.
Ida Evelyn Grayer married Lornie Hurst in 1932 and their union brought 11 children: Lornie Jr., Maynard, Delores, Evonne, Virgil, Carole, Wayne, Priscilla, Beverly, Larry and Calvin (See Hurst Family History). Ida’s brother Gerald was born circa 1915, while Sylvanna was born in roughly 1916 and Mary was born circa 1918. The last child of Maude and Wiley to be discussed is Kenneth. According to his obituary he was the husband of Martha Matthews and father to Yolande, Rennae and Charlene Grayer Cook. Kenneth retired from Chrysler Canada with over 30 years of service and was a member of CAW Local 444.
We have discussed all of William Grayer and Mary Elizabeth (Eliza) Green’s children except for John. Not much is known about him, but what we do know is that he was born in 1885 in Colchester South and passed away in roughly 1896 in Colchester.
What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps. See you next week for the history of another amazing family.