In 1850, William Gregory Was a Wealthy Saline Farmer

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 09/12/2016 - 01:19

In 1850, William Melville Gregory of Saline was doing well as a farmer. With his farmland worth $3,200, he was a wealthy man.

The census shows he was also doing well with his family in 1850. At age 46, he and his wife, Sophia were raising six children between the ages of seven months to 14. A hired hand was living in the home.

Ten years later, in 1860, the Civil War was gripping the nation. That year, Gregory had quietly hired an African-American to work on his farm.

Gregory could afford to hire anyone he wished. As the census-taker arrived at his home July 11, 1860, Gregory reported his farm land as being extremely valuable-- $6,000. He stated that his home and farm animals were valued at $1,000.

That was a fortune in 1860.

Gregory was living in Saline Township, age 56, with his wife, Sophia; she was 46. His children ranged in age from eight to 24.

His two sons, Augustus, 22, and James, 20, were the right age to help with the farm chores.

The Gregory farm demanded lots of farm labor. The hired man, William King, 24, was born in Arkansas. He probably had his work cut out for him. Gregory was interested in raising cattle and sheep, and at times he bought farm equipment and horses.

The 1860 census-taker was required to mark “b” for anyone who was “black.”

(The census only included “Free” inhabitants, so if there were slaves in the area, a census taker would not count them at all.)

Very few people in this census count had a “b” next to their name, besides William King. Several pages away from the Gregory family, the census shows George Cleveland, 37, and Eliza Cleveland, 53. They were born in Virginia and Kentucky, respectively. Both were marked “b.”

Elsewhere, this same census-taker marked a whole family as being “mulato.” The mother, Tempest Smith, was living in downtown Manchester with her three children, all marked on the census form as “mulato.”

The records I have seen do not say how long King worked on the Gregory farm, or how he got there. Having heard about escaping slaves who fled north looking for freedom before and during the Civil War, it’s nice to think that perhaps George King escaped bondage by working at a Saline area farm.

Finding this photo of William M. Gregory was a miracle. I was browsing around at the Bentley Historical Library in Ann Arbor and stumbled across several photos of Saline people, including this one. Considering this photo has survived more than 130 years, it is in excellent shape.

Tapping into the census records and death records, it turns out Gregory was born March 23, 1804 in Renssalaer County, NY. His parents were Uriah Morehouse Gregory and Lucretia Ely.

His children included Lucretia, Augustus, James, Mary, Frances, Edward, and William.

The 1880 census was the last one to list Gregory, who was listed at age 76. He was living with his son James.

Besides his elderly father, James Gregory, 39, had his wife, Martha, 33, and six children in the household, along with a (white) hired man.

William M. Gregory died April 3, 1884 in Saline, at age 79. He is resting at Oakwood Cemetery along with others from his family.

Thanks to the Saline Area Historical Society; Washtenaw Genealogical Society; Find a Grave; and Ancestry.

Martha Churchill is a local historian and the author of several published books about local history. She can be reached

Martha Churchill's picture
Martha A. Churchill
BA in Journalism and Anthropology at UM in 1973. Law degree at Cooley Law School in 1979. Member of Milan City Council since 2004. Practicing attorney. Genealogist since 2001; local historian since 2006. Free-lance writer.