Henry Bray

HENRY BRAY -- According to several early records and accounts (which sound more legendary than real, and whose accuracy we have not yet been able to verify from official records), our immigrant ancestor, Henry Bray, was a nephew of the famous Dr. Thomas Bray. He was apprenticed to a tailor in London, and at the age of 16 ran away to America. Some stories mention that his brother William also came to America, and some also mention another brother. If some of Henry's brothers came to America they probably did not come at the same time he did, but came over separately.

The story we have says that Henry Bray had quarreled with the tailor he was apprenticed to, and in a moment of anger hit him over the head with the tailor's "goose" or clothing iron. Fearing he had killed the man, he ran away to the docks and got passage on a ship by telling them that his uncle had arranged to pay for the voyage when they arrived in Maryland. There is actually a record in the books of the colony of Maryland, stating that in 1698 some of the money which had been raised by the church under the direction of Dr. Thomas Bray for the purpose of the establishment of libraries, was used to pay for the passage of his nephew Henry Bray. (Dr. Thomas Bray didn't arrive in Maryland until the next year.) It is possible that Henry wasn't actually the nephew of Dr. Thomas Bray, but only convinced them that he was, since he had the same last name. I have searched the parish register of Marton, Shropshire, England where Thomas Bray was born; it is written entirely in Latin. Thomas Bray, the son of Richard and Mary Bray, had some sisters, but there is no record of any brother. However, it is possible, if there was a brother, his baptism could have been recorded in another parish. But as of yet the connection of our Bray family back to England has not been definitely established. Since the colorful story about their ancestor Henry Bray had been passed down by word of mouth to all of the Bray families who lived in Chatham and Randolph Counties, North Carolina in the 1700's and 1800's, there must be at least some basis for truth in it.

A few early published accounts state in narrative that this same Henry Bray was a Patriot (one who favored local control in the government during colonial times in North Carolina, and defied English taxes and English rule) and that he lived to be 113 years old! This last claim is extremely unlikely, so it is probable that there was a father and son both named Henry, who later became confused and were thought by his descendants in North Carolina to be one and the same person.

In the World Book encyclopedia, concerning the history of North Carolina, it states that the first permanent white settlers in Carolina came from Virginia and settled in the Albemarle Sound region around 1650. In 1663 Charles II of England regranted Carolina to eight of his favorite nobles, and made them Lords Proprietors (ruling landlords) of the colony. The proprietors divided Carolina into three counties: Albemarle (along the northern coast of North Carolina, near Virginia), Clarendon, in the Cape Fear region (the southern coast of North Carolina), and Craven (in what is now South Carolina). Clarendon County lasted only until 1667. From then until 1689, Albemarle County had the only government in the North Carolina region.

The colonists of Albemarle County believed that the proprietors and governors were more interested in making money than in governing wisely. Between 1664 and 1689, the colonists drove five Albemarle governors from office. After 1691, governors were appointed to govern the entire Carolina colony, with a deputy governor for the North Carolina region. The deputy governors ruled wisely, and the colonists accepted them. The North Carolina region became a separate colony in 1712. In 1705, North Carolina's first town, Bath, was incorporated near the mouth of the Pamlico River. By 1710, settlements had spread down the coast and along the riverbanks as far south as the Neuse River. In 1729, there were still only about 36,000 persons who lived in North Carolina, mostly along the coast. But by 1775, the population had grown nearly ten-fold, to 350,000, and settlement had spread westward across the Piedmont and into the mountains.

This is where our ancestor Henry Bray settled. We do not know exactly when our Henry Bray first came to North Carolina, nor do we know what route he took; whether he had first settled in the coastal region of North Carolina for a time before moving inland. There were some Brays who were in the coastal region from the earliest times. There is also a record of a Henry Bray in Maryland who was a glazier by occupation, but records indicate that he went back to England when he was notified of the death of his father, to settle his estate, around 1720. It is possible that he later returned to America, however. There are land records beginning in the 1720's of one or more Henry Brays who owned land in the coastal region of North Carolina. There was a Henry Bray who left a will in Pasquotank County which was dated 1745 and probated in 1758. Further inland, in Orange County, the portion which later became Chatham and Randolph Counties west of Raleigh, we find Henry Bray's name in land records beginning about 1750; one or more Henry Brays were buying and selling a lot of land in the area. Later there were several individuals with the name Henry Bray living in this same area, so it is difficult to distinguish them from one another in the records. However, we know that they were all related; they were cousins, nephews, second cousins, etc. to one another, so apparently many were named for their common progenitor Henry Bray, the one who came over from England. There is a Henry Bray who died in 1794 in Chatham County, North Carolina, and he is the one who is said to have come from England and lived to be 113 years old. If so, he would have been born in about 1681, and been 16 or 17 when he ran away to America. This fits with the story which his descendants told, except that living to age 113 is so rare, even today, that it would qualify him for the world record book. Perhaps the Brays even back then were good storytellers. Henry Bray was also said to have been a Patriot, but no proof of this has been found either. There is even some indication in the records that he at first sided with the Tories when the trouble with England broke out, but the Tories in North Carolina were defeated Feb. 27, 1776, in the battle of Moore's Creek Bridge, before the British could land in North Carolina and join them. Henry Bray was too old to fight anyhow, being in his 90's during the Revolutionary period if his age was accurate. There is no record of his sons being involved in any of the fighting either, but it seems that the Brays decided to either remain neutral or else side with the Patriots, or Whigs (those who opposed the British), after it looked like the Tories would be defeated.

Throughout the Revolutionary period, scattered warfare between Whigs and Tories in North Carolina continued, and produced much bloodshed and bitterness. The whole colonial period in North Carolina had been very unstable, and these were confusing times; since the colonial government had been so corrupt and ineffective. Perhaps at first many of the western farmers felt that the British would replace this government with something better if they were victorious, and that is why many were Tories. The colonial government was seen by them as being run by the rich planters on the coast rather than the British, and it was the rich planters whom they mostly resented. It seems that the Brays' main interests, like most people, were economic and practical rather than idealistic. Since they had become large landholders, they just wanted to be on the side which would be to their best advantage, whichever it might be. In the years leading up to the war, some colonists in North Carolina had been protesting against the additional taxes that the British had placed on them without their consent, to help pay for British soldiers to come and keep the colonists in line. Protestors, called the Sons of Liberty, led demonstrations and even armed rebellions against these taxes. Meanwhile, some farmers in western North Carolina rose up against the high taxes and dishonest officials forced upon them by the wealthy eastern planters. These western rebels were called the Regulators, and perhaps Henry Bray had been involved with them in some way, but again, there is no record of the Brays having joined in the fighting. William Tryon, the royal governor appointed by the British king, needed more than a thousand troops to defeat the Regulators at the Battle of Alamance on May 16, 1771, in the county just north of Chatham.

The next Henry Bray in our ancestry was the one whose will was probated 4 January 1812 in Chatham County, North Carolina. Not much is known about him except that he bought and sold a lot of land, because land records and wills are about the only records which have been preserved. This Henry's wife's name was Sarah Yokley. His son John Bray was born about 1765 in Chatham County, North Carolina, and John's wife's name was Sally. John Bray moved to Randolph County, just west of Chatham, because the land he had been given in his father's will fell mostly in Randolph after the county was divided; but it seems his brothers and most of the family stayed in Chatham County. John Bray's will was probated 5 November 1821 in Randolph County, North Carolina.

John's son Henry Bray, who was born in 1786 or 1787 in Chatham County, married Martha ??? in about 1806. There are records of Henry and Martha selling their land in North Carolina in about 1829. Apparently they first moved to Greene County, Alabama, and then to Mississippi, where they settled in Oktibbeha County. When Henry Bray died in 1845, the family apparently sent word back to their relatives in North Carolina, because the newspaper Raleigh Register in Raleigh, North Carolina, published a notice of his death, stating that "Mr. Henry Bray of Oktibbeha County. Mississippi, formerly of Chatham County (North Carolina), died in the 58th year of his age." His widow Martha lived until after 1860. In the census of 1850 she is living with her daughter, and in the census of 1860 with her son William Stokes Bray.

Henry and Martha Bray's children were:

     **GREENVILLE ("Green") BRAY
       CASWELL BRAY(who lived in Greene County, Alabama)

Mariah and her husband moved to Texas in the 1840's, and their daughter kept a diary. In the diary she states that her grandfather's name was Henry Bray and her grandmother was Martha, so even though we don't have any official birth, death or marriage records for Henry and Martha or their children, the family connection has been well established.

According to Verne B. Bray of Lander, Wyoming, one of Greenville Bray's brothers was a riverboat gambler, who dressed very flashy and was quite well off. This was probably William Stokes Bray. The only other possibility is Greenville's other brother, Caswell Bray, of Greene County, Alabama. When William S. Bray's estate was settled after his death in 1872, his brothers and sisters were all listed as heirs, including Mariah Middlebrooks of Texas, who hired a representative or agent. The lawyers divided everything up into equal shares and then had each of the heirs draw lots. Each share had some land, some stock, shares in the railroad, and various other things.

William S., known in other records as "Stokes" Bray, had been quite wealthy and had never married, although it appears that he may have had some children by a black woman. He owned slaves before the war, and this woman, who lived near him even after being freed, was listed in the census record of 1870 as being black and her children as mulatto, and their last name was Bray. (However, there are also other black families of Brays, especially in the southern states. This does not necessarily mean that they were related to white people of the same name, but simply that they had taken the last name of their former owners after being freed.)

Information Compiled
by Karen Bray Keeley

INTERNET Adaptation
by Sandra Shuler Bray