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1907 Past and Present Biographies

John Gray

John Gray
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John Gray left the impress of his individuality indelibly upon the life and the character of the communitv in which he lived. His genuine personal worth. his business capacity, his enterprise and his devotion to the general good all made him a citizen whom to know was to respect and honor. As the day with its morning of hope and promise. its noontide of activity. its evening of successful and completed effort, ending in the grateful rest and quiet of the night, so was the life of John Gray, and when he was called to his final rest Jefferson and Greene county lost one of their most valued citizens.

A native of Pennsylvania, he was born in Covington, Tioga county, on the 24th of December, 1833, and when only about six years of age accompanied his parents on their removal to Knox county, Illinois. Five years later the family took up their abode upon a farm near Aurora, Illinois, and John Gray entered the public schools there, pursuing his education through the winter months. During the sum mer seasons his time was given to the work of the farm until he was eighteen years of age, when he became an apprentice at the harness making trade. Ambitious, however, for further education, he entered the Northern Illinois Institute at Henry, Illinois, in 1855, and there studied for a year. In the meantime his father had acquired some mining property near Wataga, Illinois, and on leaving school Mr. Gray of this review took charge of the plant and later bought out his fatherís interests. The financial panic of 1857 made it impossible to succeed with the mining operation, the price of coal having fallen from three dollars per ton in 1856 to a dollar per ton the following year. When he could no longer engage profitably in mining, Mr. Gray turned his attention to the harnessmaking business, with which he had thoroughly acquainted himself during his four yearsí apprenticeship, and he was carrying on business along that line at the time of the out break of the Civil war,

He was thoroughly in sympathy with the Union cause and on the 16th of September, 1861, be resolved to aid in winning victories for the government by active service in the fields. On that day he enlisted as a member of Company K, Forty-fifth Illinois Infantry, and was mustered in as first lieutenant. In the war he saw much active service and participated in many battles, including the engagements at Fort Henry, Fort Donelson and the two daysí fight at Shiloh. On the first day of that battle Captain B. F. Holcomb of his company was disabled and Lieutenant Gray then took command of the company, which lost heavily in the struggle. Of the thirty-nine men who went into the fight only thirteen returned, the re mainder being either killed or wounded. Lieutenant Gray was in command much of the time during the remainder of his term of service and actively participated in the siege of Corinth, after which he went to Jackson, Tennessee. On the Holly Springs expedition he was aid-de-camp to General T. J. McKean, a position which he occupied until mustered out of service in December, 1864, his term of enlistment having expired.

Lieutenant Gray, upon his return to Knox county, Illinois, was engaged in business there until 1866, in which year he was elected to represent the district in the state legislature. Two years later, in 1868, the family removed from Illinois to Jefferson, Iowa, and Mr. Gray established a harnessmaking business, in which he continued successfully up to the time of his death, save for the period of six years, between 1874 and 1880, during which time his atten tion was devoted to farming and fruit-raising. He secured eighty acres of land in Jefferson township, erected good buildings upon it and planted much fruit. It was an experiment and to Mr. Gray, more than to any other individual, is due a knowledge of what may be accomplished in the way of fruit culture in Greene county. At the time he turned his attention to agricultural and horticultural pursuits two great problems confronted the people of the county: 1st, Can we raise fruit here? 2d, Can this swamp and wet land be drained and made farmland? Mr. Gray gave of his time, energy and means to aid in the solution of both of those questions and to both he brought an affirmative answer. He made many experiments in the line of fruit culture and produced some fine varie ties of fruit, thus demonstrating to his neigh bors what could be accomplished. Since that time many have followed his example and have reaped a ru-h reward from their labors. Mr. Gray also imported the first tile ever laid in Greene county, drained his land and gave practical demonstration of its productiveness. In addition to his property in Jefferson township he owned farm property in Missouri, on which he engaged in the raising of fruit and other products. He likewise dealt to a considerable extent in real estate and handled much valuable property. He was one of the stockholders and the editor of the Standard, of Jefferson, in which business he was succeeded by his son Wade. He built two residences in the town of Jefferson and as the years passed by he gained a gratifying measure of success in the business world.

Mr. Gray was married on the 8th of April, 1858, to Miss Lucretia A. Smith, a daughter of Therrygood and Julia (Trickle) Smith. Her father removed from Delaware to Illinois and engaged in merchandising in Peoria county. Unto Mr. and Mrs. Gray were born six children: Frank, who died in infancy; Lester, who died in 1885 at Versailles, Missouri, at the age of twenty years, being at that time engaged in looking after his fatherís business in that state; Ward, who died in the year 1890, at the age of twenty-one years; Wade, well known in business circles in Jefferson; Fred, who died in infancy; and Percy, who is an electrician at Jefferson. Iowa. Mr. Gray is survived by his widow and two sons, Wade and Percy, and his mother also outlived him, having reached the very advanced age of ninety years at the time of his death.

In politics Mr. Gray was a stalwart democrat, active in support of the party, for he believed firmly in its principles and recognized the duties and obligations as well as the privileges of citizenship. He belonged to the Presbyterian church and his life was ever upright and honor able. being in consistent harmony with his professions as a believer in the Christian religion. He belonged to George H. Thomas post, G. A. R.. and when he was called to his final rest in 1907, the funeral services, which were held at the church and conducted by Dr. Sarchet, were under the auspices of the post. He was a man of great strength of character, of pronounced views and unfaltering in his advocacy of whatever he believed to be right. He was a man of action rather than of theory. He studied closely many problems relating to the welfare of the community, formed his plans readily in regard to these and then followed out a course which he believed would produce the best results. His word was as good as any bond that was ever solemnized by signature or seal and, while he won prosperity, there was not a single esoteric phase in his career. His path was never strewn with the wreck of other menís fortunes and on the contrary he did much that was of actual benefit to his fellowmen, especially in proving the possibilities of the county through the development of its natural re sources. There is much in his history that is worthy of emulation, while his entire life won for him the respect of his fellowmen, as in every relation be was found true to high ideals
and to the rules which govern upright, honorable manhood.


Transcribed from "Past and Present of Greene County, Iowa Together With Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Prominent and Leading Citizens and Illustrious Dead,"
by E. B. Stillman assisted by an Advisory Board consisting of Paul E. Stillman, Gillum S. Toliver, Benjamin F. Osborn, Mahlon Head, P. A. Smith and Lee B. Kinsey,
Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1907

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