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William Grayson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Grayson
William Grayson (1740-1790).jpg
United States Senator
from Virginia
In office
March 4, 1789 – March 12, 1790
Preceded byConstituency Established
Succeeded byJohn Walker
Personal details
Prince William County, Virginia
DiedMarch 12, 1790 (aged 53–54)
Dumfries, Virginia
Political partyAnti-Administration
Spouse(s)Eleanor Smallwood
Alma materUniversity of Pennsylvania
Military service
AllegianceUnited States United States
Branch Continental Army
Years of service1776-1779
CommandsGrayson's Additional Continental Regiment
Battles/warsAmerican Revolutionary War

William Grayson (1736[1][2] – March 12, 1790) was a soldier, lawyer, and statesman from Virginia. He was one of the first two U.S. Senators from Virginia, and belonged to the Anti-Federalist faction; he was also the first member of the United States Congress to die while holding office.

Early life

Grayson was born in 1736 to Benjamin and Susannah (Monroe) Grayson at Belle Aire Plantation,[2] in what is now Woodbridge, Virginia. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, and received his degree in Law from the University of Oxford and was knowledgeable in Latin, Greek, and English history [3]

Family ties

Through his mother Grayson was a cousin to James Monroe. His wife was Eleanor Smallwood, a sister of Maryland Governor William Smallwood. They had four sons and a daughter. A grandson, William Grayson Carter, became a Kentucky state senator; another grandson was Confederate General John Breckinridge Grayson.

Spence Grayson's son John Robinson Grayson (born in 1779 at Belle Aire), was captured near the Occoquan River from the brig Polly, operated by Lund Washington. Impressed into the British Navy, upon his release in 1800, John Grayson became a captain in the United States Navy. In the War of 1812, Capt. Grayson commanded a squadron of gunboats off Georgia, where he settled.[4]

Return to Virginia

Grayson practiced law, principally in Prince William County, Virginia. The county seat was at Dumfries, Virginia, not far from Grayson's home as well as Belle Aire Plantation, which his brother Spence Monroe Grayson (1737–1798) inherited in 1757.[4] On the other side of the Occoquan River lay Fairfax County, Virginia, and Grayson was also familiar with leaders of that county, especially George Mason and George Washington, a neighbor and friend. Spence Grayson was ordained an Anglican priest in England in 1771, and served as rector of Cameron and Dettingen parishes in Prince William County and both brothers socialized with Rev. Scott of Pohick Church as well as Mason and Washington who were members of that church's vestry.

American Revolution

Grayson was involved in the political prelude to the Revolution in Virginia. He was on various Committees of Correspondence and military preparedness.[5] He was also acquainted with Richard Henry Lee who he served alongside as the inaugural United States senators from Virginia.

In June, 1776 became an assistant secretary to George Washington, and was promoted as an aide-de-camp to Washington in August,[6] which came with the rank of rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In January, 1777, William Grayson recruited a regiment for the Continental Army known as Grayson's Additional Continental Regiment, and served as its colonel (and Spence as its fighting chaplain). The Regiment was attached to General Charles Scott's Brigade and saw frequent action in late 1777 in the Philadelphia Campaign, notably in the delaying skirmishes in Northern New Jersey, the Battle of Brandywine and the Defense of Philadelphia.[6] In the winter of 1777-78, he led his troops to Valley Forge,[7] where they suffered privations, and emerged in the spring with considerably fewer men fit for service. On June 28, 1778, Grayson was central to the Battle of Monmouth. In Scott's absence, Colonel Grayson took temporary command of the brigade, which was in the vanguard of an assault as part of Charles Lee's Advance Guard. Grayson and the brigade were in the center of the battle in 100 degree heat, and held a far superior force to a stalemate, when Lee took personal command of all of his forces, while Grayson himself returned to Washington's field command. General Lee badly misunderstood intelligence he was receiving, and the line broke into a disorganized retreat. Subsequently, Lee was court-marshalled by Washington, and Grayson, as one of the key officers at Monmouth, had to testify at the proceedings.[6] In 1778, William Grayson served on a commission dealing with war prisoners. In 1779, he resigned his military commission to serve on the Congressional Board of War.

In 1781 he returned to Dumfries to practice law. Like many Continental Army officers, he was an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati. He was also elected as a member to the American Philosophical Society in 1780.[8]

Post-War career

Grayson was a delegate to the Confederation Congress from 1785 to 1787. He helped to pass the Northwest Ordinance, including a provision that forbade slavery in the Northwest Territory.

As an Anti-Federalist, he joined George Mason, James Monroe, and Patrick Henry in opposing ratification of the proposed new United States Constitution at the Virginia Ratification Convention in 1788. In that Convention, Grayson argued that the proposed constitution was neither fish nor fowl—neither strong enough for a national government nor decentralized enough for a federal one — and thus eventually would either degenerate into a despotism or result in the dissolution of the Union.

Grayson experienced the inflation caused by Virginia and other states issuing paper fiat currency during the Revolutionary War. He later wrote to James Madison that:

The Ancients were surely men of more candor than We are; they contended openly for an abolition of debts in so many Words, while we strive as hard for the same thing under the decent and specious pretense of a circulating medium. Montesquieu was not wrong when he said the democratical might be as tyrannical as the despotic, for where is there greater act of despotism than that of issuing paper to depreciate for the paying debts, on easy terms.[9]

United States Senate

Although the Anti-Federalists lost the battle in opposition of the new Constitution, Patrick Henry, Virginia's leading Anti-Federalist, rewarded Grayson by arranging his election to the first United States Senate. Grayson served from March 4, 1789 until his death on March 12, 1790. He and Richard Henry Lee were the only members of the first Senate who had opposed ratification, and so they were unhappy when the Bill of Rights omitted any provisions making serious corrections to the division of powers between the central government and the states. Grayson continued to believe that the Philadelphia Convention had struck precisely the wrong balance.

Death and legacy

Grayson died in Dumfries on March 12, 1790, the first member of the United States Congress to die in office. He is interred in the Grayson family vault at Belle Aire.[10] The original mortuary vault was destroyed during the American Civil War. It was rebuilt, encased in concrete and buried by the Daughters of the American Revolution in the early 20th century.[11]

Grayson County, Kentucky, the city of Grayson, Kentucky, and Grayson County, Virginia, were all named for the senator.[12][13]

See also


  1. ^ "COL William Grayson (1736-1790) - Find A Grave..." Retrieved 2020-06-02.
  2. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-05-04. Retrieved 2007-08-23.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Baker, Lucy. "William Grayson and the Constitution." American Spirit Daughters of the American Revolution May–June 2010: 45. Print.
  4. ^ a b "Prince William Co VA Genealogy: Belle Aire Plantation". Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  5. ^ John D. Sinks (12 November 1995). "The Contributions of the Grayson Family to the American Revolution". Retrieved 18 April 2021.
  6. ^ a b c Sinks 1995.
  7. ^ Heitman (1914), 11
  8. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 2021-03-31.
  9. ^ McCarthy, Daniel (2010-03-04) A Weekend With Douglass Adair, The American Conservative
  10. ^ "William Grayson's Grave Marker". Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  11. ^ "WebCite query result". Archived from the original on October 20, 2009. Retrieved 23 January 2015. {{cite web}}: Cite uses generic title (help)
  12. ^ The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, Volume 1. Kentucky State Historical Society. 1903. p. 35.
  13. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. p. 142.

Further reading

  • Kevin R. Constantine Gutzman. "Grayson, William". American National Biography Online, February 2000.
  • Kevin R. C. Gutzman, Virginia's American Revolution: From Dominion to Republic, 1776-1840 (Lexington Books, 2007).

External links

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
 U.S. senator (Class 1) from Virginia
March 4, 1789 – March 12, 1790
Served alongside: Richard H. Lee
Succeeded by
This page was last edited on 3 March 2022, at 01:10
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