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Gray, John Frederick Schiller (1840-1891)


Fred Gray, the son of prominent New York doctor Dr. John F. Gray and Elizabeth Hull-Gray, was born in New York in 1840. His two siblings died before they reached adulthood. Gray enrolled in William’s College in Massachusetts in 1858, studying science and medicine and eager to follow in his father’s esteemed footsteps. He studied in Germany at the University of Heidelberg from 1860 to 1861, but left before finishing his degree to serve in the Union army (Blalock 52).

It is likely during this time, before his service began in September of 1862, that Gray met Walt Whitman and began socializing at Pfaff’s. He is also identified as the leader of the "Fred Gray Association," a group that Ed Folsom and Ken Price characterize as "a loose confederation of young men who seemed anxious to explore new possibilities of male-male affection" (62). Other members of the group included Whitman, Nat Bloom, and Hugo Fritsch (Allen 273). For many years after, Gray and Whitman would write nostalgically of that summer in letters between them, before the “good old times” were broken up by the war. Before parting, Gray asked Whitman to remember him by a copy of Frederic Hedge’s Prose Writers of Germany, a gift from Gray’s father in which Whitman pasted pictures of Gray (Blalock 49). Whitman visited Gray’s mother in 1862, and his letters to Gray suggest that he was on friendly terms with Gray’s parents (53).

Starting out as a second lieutenant in the Twentieth New York Infantry Volunteers, Gray went on to perform clerical work as an aide-de-camp for Major-General William Farrar Smith. Smith praised Gray for his role in the Battle of Antietam. On a two-day leave following the bloody battle, Gray dined with Whitman at Pfaff’s and recounted his experiences on the front (Blalock 51). After the two friends parted, Whitman relocated to Washington, D.C., while Gray continued to climb to the rank of captain, and then of major, before resigning in 1865 (Miller 11).

Gray married Anna Howell (also recorded as “Laura”) in Baton Rouge the same year, and the two moved back to New Jersey and then New York. The couple had five children in six years: Gerald Hull, who would become a respected attorney, John F., Edward, Elizabeth Williams, and Mary (Raymond 22). Gray went on to graduate from New York’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1871 and practiced medicine with his father in New York. 1873 was the start of a difficult period in Gray’s life, as his wife died less than a year after the passing of his one year old daughter Mary. Gray’s son Edward died at the age of eight in 1877, and the doctor’s already compromised health began to decline. Placing his remaining children in academic institutions or with relatives, Gray pursued a medical career abroad in Paris, Nice, and Geneva and found his health improved by the climate. “He earned a Bachelor of Science from the Sorbonne in Paris and, on November 19, 1881, he received the Faculty of Medicine (M.D. First Class) of Montpellier, France” (Blalock 56).

Gray’s personal difficulties, in addition to his location, helps to account for his losing touch with Whitman following the war. In an 1863 letter to Hugo Fritsch, Whitman wrote of Gray: "I am contemplating a tremendous letter to my dear comrade Frederickus, which will make up for deficiencies--my own comrade Fred, how I should like to see him & have a good heart's time with him, & a mild orgie [sic], just for a basis, you know, for talk & interchange of reminiscences & the play of the quiet lambent electricity of real friendship" (CW 1:158). During a brief reunion in 1867, Whitman wrote, “I have seen Fred. Gray, Nathaniel Bloom—the dear, good affectionate young men—more kind, more affectionate than ever” (Shively 150).

ray married his second wife, Frances, in 1883, and the two moved between New York and California over the next few years. He was elected president of the Point Loma Lodge Theoscophy Society of San Diego in 1890, but his declining health and medical research prompted his final move to St. Clair Springs, Michigan. Gray died in that town in 1891 from Bright’s Disease of the kidneys at the age of fifty-one (Blalock 52). Though Whitman and Gray likely did not reunite in their later years, Whitman held onto Gray’s gift, Prose Writers of Germany, as a reminder of their time spent together (59).