A Home for Ten
In this small space, Selina Norris and Thornton Gray made a home and raised two boys and six girls while enslaved. According to family tradition, they were married in Arlington House’s family parlor, the same room where Robert E. Lee and Mary Custis wed. The Gray daughters worked in the mansion along with their mother. The children slept in the loft where there was not enough room to stand up straight. Selina Gray worked in the mansion as the head housekeeper and personal assistant to both Mary Fitzhugh Custis and Mary Custis Lee. Thornton Gray cared for the Lees’ horses. During the Civil War, he cut doorways into the smokehouse and end room, turning the whole building into a residence for his family.
Fancier Clothes and Shoes
The Grays and other families who worked in the mansion may have had access to better clothing than most enslaved African Americans who lived at Arlington Plantation.
The children often did the cooking. They placed all the ingredients into a single pot which simmered over the fireall day while the parents worked.
Enslaved children worked from a young age and could play with toys in their limited free time. During excavations of the slave quarters, archeologists found a piece of a porcelain doll.
The Key to the Cellar
As Union troops took over Arlington, Selina Gray protected the estate’s treasures. When the Lees fled Arlington House in 1861, they hid many of the house’s precious George Washington objects in the cellar. Mary Lee entrusted the cellar key to Selina Gray, the family’s enslaved housekeeper. When Mrs. Gray saw that federal soldiers had broken into the cellar, she approached Union General Irvin McDowell and gave the key to him. We do not know why Mrs. Gray made this choice. Perhaps she wished to preserve the valuable items. Maybe she worried how the Lees would react if they returned. Whatever her reasons, her actions saved many priceless objects.
“...she had been entrusted by her mistress with the key of one of the cellar rooms, and that some time back this room had been broken into and was now open… she wished to be relieved of the responsibility of having the key.”–General Irvin McDowell