Corporal Zachariah Gray may have been the oldest enlisted man in the First Maryland Regiment when the regiment fought at the Battle of Brooklyn. At the time of his enlistment on February 3, 1776 Gray was forty-five years old, significantly older than most other enlisted men. While age and demographic information for the entire regiment is largely incomplete, the average age of a soldier Captain Edward Veazey’s Seventh Independent Company was twenty-four (Read more about the demographics of Veazey’s Company here). Gray’s reasons for enlisting at such an advanced age are unknown, but patriotism, financial need, or a combination of both, may have been motivating factors.
Gray was fortunate to survive the charge of the Maryland 400, but he did not make it back to the safety of the American lines and became a prisoner of the British. British treatment of enlisted prisoners was notoriously harsh, but Gray did not have to endure a long captivity and returned to Maryland by the end of 1776.
Upon his return to Maryland, Gray composed a short and poorly written will. Like other soldiers, it is likely that army life and the terrible realities of combat compelled Gray to compose his will (See will of Edward Sinclair, and will of Captain Daniel Bowie). Gray’s will was very simple and bequeathed everything to his wife Comfort, and upon her death, to his son Zachariah.
Although Gray was somewhat literate, his incorrect spelling and penmanship is indicative of the education available to the son of a modest planter. While Gray’s literacy was limited, the fact that he had any literacy probably played a large part in earning him the non-commissioned rank of corporal.
Undeterred by the events of 1776, Gray returned to the army sometime after January 1777. Unfortunately for Gray, the writing of his will proved prescient. Sometime before September 1777, Gray’s unit engaged in a skirmish with the British near Brunswick, New Jersey and Gray died in the ensuing combat. Gray’s bequeathed property was not enough to meet the needs of Comfort and her five small children; in 1777 the Council of Safety paid her money for subsistence, and in 1778 and 1779 she also received money from Baltimore County.
1. Will of Zachariah Gray, Baltimore County, Register of Wills, Wills, Original, Box 16, Folder 10 [MSA C 437-19].
2. Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, January 1-March 20, 1777, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 16, p. 379.