Education

The Syphax Family

The story of the Syphax family, whose name traces back to African royalty, is one of anything but defeat. Despite the oppression of slavery and racism, theirs is a legacy of great prestige, accomplishment, and perseverance.
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Life of Gray Family

Selina Norris Gray was born and raised a slave at Arlington House, the Virginia plantation of George Washington Parke Custis. Custis, the adopted son of George Washington, also owned her parents, Leonard and Sally, along with X other individuals.
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Harry W

The Gray family has another claim to historic preservation: Harry W. Gray, Selina and Thornton’s son, built a house in Arlington County that is now a National Historic Landmark.
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Restoration of Arlington House
During major restorative efforts to Arlington House from 1929 to 1930, the Gray family made another important contribution to the history of Arlington County and the nation.
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Conclusion

The legacy that began with Selina Gray and continued through the lives of her children remains a source of inspiration. The transition from slavery to freedom was difficult for all African Americans, and those living near the nation’s capital faced special challenges. Like other newly emancipated slaves, the Grays continued to reside near their antebellum home. Unlike most freedmen, however, the members of this family had been owned by people of unusual historic significance–the Lees, the Custises, and the Washingtons. The Grays understood this fact, but they also understood their own place in history and acted accordingly to preserve it. In the process, they contributed to the distinctive black heritage of Arlington, Virginia.

Works Cited

  • “Arlington County Historical Notebook.” Vertical File, Biography – Gray, Virginia Collection, Arlington County Central Library, Arlington, VA.
  • Baker, Annie and Ada Thompson. Personal Statement. 5 March 1930. Vertical File, Arlington House Library, Arlington, VA.
  • Benjamins, Cynthia R. “Detached Italianate-Victorian Townhouse.” The Journal (20 Apr. 1990).
  • Byrne, Karen. “The Remarkable Legacy of Selina Gray.” CRM 4 (1998): 20-22.
  • Department of Community Affairs Planning Division. Historic District Plat, the Harry W. Gray House. Vertical file, Biography – Gray, Virginia Collection, Arlington County Central Library, Arlington, VA.
  • Gillem, Martha Gray, George H. Mitchell, Jr. and Cecelia G. Mitchell. “Deed of Gray Property, Lot 50B of Gray’s Subdivision.” Arlington County, VA, Deed Book 1882, page 203, 13 Dec. 1976. Vertical File, Biography – Gray, Virginia Collection, Arlington County Central Library, Arlington, VA.
  • Gillem, Martha Gray. Interview. 1963. Vertical File, Biography – Gray, Virginia Collection, Arlington County Central Library, Arlington, VA.
  • Gillem, Martha Gray. “Last Will and Testament of Martha Gray Gillem.” 23 Feb. 1952. Vertical File, Biography – Gray, Virginia Collection, Arlington County Central Library, Arlington, VA.
  • Gray, Harry W. “Last Will and Testament of Harry W. Gray.” No. 151. 1 Oct. 1913. Vertical File, Biography – Gray, Virginia Collection, Arlington County Central Library, Arlington, VA.
  • Gray’s Subdivision and Harry W. Gray House. Map. Arlington County Historical District Notebook, Vertical File, Biography – Gray, The Virginia Collection, Arlington County Central Library, Arlington, VA.
  • Harry W. Gray Estate. Map of gardens. Arlington County Historical District Notebook, Vertical File, Biography – Gray, The Virginia Collection, Arlington County Central Library, Arlington, VA.
  • “Harry W. Gray House.” Arlington VA Historical Society 24 Nov. 2002
  • “Historic Arlington Days, Oct. 9& 10.” Northern Virginia Sun (30 Sept. 1982): 8. “Inventory of the Slaves at Arlington Belonging to the Estate of G.W.P. Custis.” Alexandria Court Records, Will Book (7 January 1858). Vertical File, Biography – Gray, The Virginia Collection, Arlington County Central Library, Arlington, VA.
  • National Park Service. “Welcome to the Robert E. Lee Memorial” (28 Nov. 2000). Arlington House History (24 Nov. 2002).
  • National Park Service. The African American Story at Arlington House: The Gray Family. Vertical File,Arlington House Library, Arlington, VA.
  • National Park Service. Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial: Official National Park Handbook. Washington, DC: GPO, 1985. Vertical File, Historical Buildings Arlington House, Virginia Collection, Arlington County Central Library, Arlington, VA.
  • Nelligan, Murray H. The Story of the Robert E. Lee Memorial. Burke, VA: Chatelaine Press, 2001.
  • Netherton, Nan and Ross. Arlington County in Virginia: A Pictorial History. Norfolk, VA: The Donning Company, 1987.
  • Ramirez, Constance, Chairman, to Cdr. Richard Storwick (28 Mar. 1983). Vertical File, Biography – Gray, The Virginia Collection, Arlington County Central Library, Arlington, VA.
  • Silberfarb, Marcia, Historic Preservation Coordinator, to Cdr. and Mrs. Richard Storwick (29 Oct. 1987). Vertical File, Biography – Gray, The Virginia Collection, Arlington County Central Library, Arlington County, VA.
  • Syphax, Emma and Sarah Wilson. Personal Statement (6 Dec. 1929). Vertical File, Arlington House Library, Arlington, VA.