Sarah Thomas Gray
Birth & Death Dates Unknown — Appears in a Records 1793-1829
The Reverend Mase Shepard of Little Compton’s Congregational Church joined Fortune with his second wife Sarah Thomas. Mase recorded the marriage with the town of Little Compton and describes the couple as “Blacks.”Little Compton Vital Records, Vol. 2, p. 14. Sarah had a least one child at the time of their marriage, Elizabeth Thomas, born around 1777. Elizabeth joined the Gray family as an older step-sister to Sabina and Mahala. She later married Primus Collins, another free black man like her step-father Fortune, in 1799.Little Compton Vital Records, Vol. 2, p. 34.
Fortune Gray never legally owned the Little Compton land where he lived with Sarah and their daughters. Mase Shepard held the deed and allowed Fortune and his family to settle there, perhaps in exchange for rent, or labor or perhaps even as a gift. Fortune may have built the house himself, possibly using materials recycled from his home in Tiverton, a very common practice at the time. The family may also have moved into an older house already standing there. We get a sense that the quality, style and size of the house matched those of his white neighbors because just a few years later Sarah and Benjamin Pearce accepted the home as a gift from her father and chose to live there.
Sarah Gray also appears in the estate account for Right Pearce being paid for work she performed, perhaps nursing care, near the end of his life in 1829.Little Compton Town Council & Probate Records, Book 6, p. 9.
There are no death nor gravestone records in Little Compton for Fortune Gray, Sarah or Mahala. This is not surprising, as there are so few birth or death records for people of color in Little Compton until the mid-1800s.
Marjory Gomez O’Toole, Executive Director, LCHS
First published in “If Jane Should Want to Be Sold: Stories of Enslavement, Indenture and Freedom in Little Compton, Rhode Island,” by the Little Compton Historical Society, 2016.