Boston Massacre Historical Society


Samuel Gray

Samuel Gray was the first man fired upon in the Boston Massacre. He was mortally shot by Private Matthew Killroy after calling out “God damn you, don’t fire!” when the violence erupted.

The most commonly known fact about Gray is that he worked as rope maker and was a notorious street agitator. John C. Miller in his book about Sam Adams, mentions Gray as “one of the hardiest brawlers employed at Gray’s ropeworks in Boston”

He worked at a business called John Gray’s Ropeworks. It is unclear if he was related to the owner or just had the same last name. Just days before the Boston Massacre, rope-makers were involved in a series of fights with British regulars. On March 2nd, private Patrick Walker was beaten and cut during a fight that occurred while he was passing thought the ropewalk, supposedly unprovoked. Another account tells a different story about a series of fights between soldiers and workers when each side progressively brought in more backup. The fights started because locals were angry with the soldiers seeking employment at the rope works. British Army paid miserable salaries and it was a common practice for soldiers trying to make extra money on the side. Among those involved in the fights was Samuel Gray.

What is a “rope-maker” anyway?

In our days rope making sounds like a strange occupation, but in colonial America it was an essential part of life in the big sea port like Boston. Rope making business also known as ropewalks was one of Boston’s earliest industries. The first of them was established in 1642. The most renowned rope-making company was called Plymouth Cordage, it was founded in 1824 and became world-famous for its product. The US Navy was among the customers. The early ropes were made by hand using cotton, dogbane, jute, leather, hair and other natural materials. The process was modernized in early 20th century with the invention of nylon. Today most ropes are made in factories from petroleum-based synthetic fibers.



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