Texas Archival Resources Online

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Descriptive Summary

Biographical Note

Scope and Contents

Arrangement

Restrictions

Index Terms

Administrative Information

Description of Series

Series I: Legal notes, ca. 1841-1858

Series II: Lectures, speeches, and family document, 1852-1859

Series III: Texas Historical Society documents, 1870

Woodson Research Center, Rice University

Guide to the Judge Peter W. Gray papers, 1841-1870



Descriptive Summary

Creator Gray, Peter W., 1819-1874
Title Judge Peter W. Gray papers
Dates: 1841-1870
Abstract: The Judge Peter W. Gray papers include extensive handwritten documents on several of Gray’s early Texas district court cases, lectures, speeches, and official documents concerning the creation and organization of the Texas Historical Society. Court cases relate to murder, slavery, counterfeiting, the legal nature of circumstantial evidence and self defense; the notes related to these cases are generally Judge Gray’s direction to juries. The speeches include a speech given by Gray at the Democratic Convention in Austin in 1852 for the nomination of Sam Houston for the presidency.
ID MS 417
Extent 0.25 lin. ft. (1 box)
Language Materials are in English.
Repository: Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University, Houston, TX

Biographical Note

Peter W. Gray was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia in 1819 and moved to Texas in 1838. Gray worked in his father’s law office in Houston, Texas before he became a captain in the Army of the Republic of Texas. In 1841, Gray was appointed District Attorney of the Houston district by Sam Houston. He ran for city secretary in 1840 but was elected alderman in 1841 and became a member of the board of health. In 1846, Gray was elected to the first Texas States Legislature where he authored the Practice Act which is the first piece of legislation regulating the court system of the State of Texas. In 1848, Gray founded the Houston Lyceum which eventually became the Houston Public Library. Henderson Yoakum’s History of Texas was published with the financial support of Gray. After being elected to the State Legislature in 1854, Gray served as judge of the Houston district. Gray was a states rights Democrat and fully supported succession. He also served as a delegate to the states Succession Convention. During the Confederacy, Gray served as a representative of the Houston District in the Congress of the Confederacy. After serving in many important positions in the Confederacy, peace brought Gray back to Houston where he practiced law privately and built his firm into one of the largest in the nation. In 1874, Gray was appointed associate justice of the Texas Supreme Court and served there until he became fatally ill with tuberculosis. Gray died later that year.

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Scope and Contents

The Judge Peter W. Gray papers include extensive handwritten documents on several of Gray’s early Texas district court cases, lectures, speeches, and official documents concerning the creation and organization of the Texas Historical Society. Court cases relate to murder, slavery, counterfeiting, the legal nature of circumstantial evidence and self defense; the notes related to these cases are generally Judge Gray’s direction to juries. The speeches include a speech given by Gray at the Democratic Convention in Austin in 1852 for the nomination of Sam Houston for the presidency.

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Arrangement

This material has been arranged in the following series:
Series I: Legal notes, ca. 1841-1858
Series II: Lectures, speeches, and family document, 1852-1859
Series III: Texas Historical Society documents, 1870

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Restrictions

Access Restriction

This material is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish materials from this material must be obtained from the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University.

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Index Terms

Subjects (Persons)
Gray, Peter W., 1819-1874
Houston, Sam, 1793-1863
Subjects (Organizations)
Texas Historical Society
Subjects
Judges - Texas.
Slavery - Texas
Courts - Texas
Law - Texas
Trials (Homicide) - Texas
Murder - Texas
Public prosecutors - Texas

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Judge Peter W. Gray papers, 1841-1870, MS 417, Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University.

Acquisition Information

This material was donated by J. Sears McGee, 1991.

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Detailed Description of the Collection

 

Series I: Legal notes, ca. 1841-1858

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1 State vs. Williams et al, 1841
The defendants of this case are accused of counterfeiting money. Gray is going through the three charges that the jury must consider concerning the defendants and giving them the lecture on how the evidence must prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendants are guilty before they give their ruling.
State vs. R and D.E. Mills
The defendants of this case are the owners of a bank in Galveston that is being accused of printing currency illegally. Gray states that the defendants were clearly associated together in business and were forging checks and making illegal withdrawals from the bank. Also the defendants are accused of giving preferential treatment to some customers, namely altering their actual credit in a favorable manner.
State vs. James H. Mitchell
James Mitchell is standing trial for the murder of Francis Sadler. Gray briefly discusses the definition of circumstantial evidence and why it is not admitted into the court as proof positive of any wrongdoing. The defendant was acquitted.
State vs. John W. Hall, 1855
The defendant is being indicted for the murder of George A. Longtaft in Liberty County. The defense is trying to for manslaughter because they claim that Hall was under the influence of liquor at the time and did not have control over his actions.
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2 State vs. William Garrett, 1855
William Garrett is accused of murdering Matthew Newman and the prosecution is seeking manslaughter. William Garrett is however acquitted because the jury found the killing to be justifiable or excusable under the circumstances.
State vs. Nathan a slave, October 13th, 1855
The judge begins “the prisoner though a slave is entitled to a fair and impartial trial as if he were a white citizen”. The slave is accused of killing George Thomason. The jury was to not only assess whether the slave was guilty of murder with malice, but also whether his owner helped him to evade arrest to avoid possibly losing his property. The jury convicted the slave of first degree murder.
State vs. John Baker, April 18th, 1857
John Baker has been indicted for the murder of Benjamin Stuckley in Grimes County. The judge gives a brief overview of the definition of self defense and why the defendant’s initial admission is immaterial to the trial. The verdict is not guilty.
State vs. M. M. Leach, November 3rd, 1857
Leach has been indicted on charges that he murdered Isaac Cox. The judge gives a brief overview of what constitutes manslaughter and self-defense respectively. The verdict given by Judge Gray “Murder under Code Manslaughter-Self Defense”.
State vs. Liccinda
The indicted stands accused of having killed a girl that is missing, named Susan. Judge Gray discussed with the jury that no charges can be fully assessed without knowledge of the child’s condition and location. The Judge gives no verdict.
State vs. Sloan, June 16th, 1858
It seems that Sloan has been accused of stealing Spanish cigars from a general store. The Judge’s verdict seems to say that there are not enough facts for a fair trial and sentencing.

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Series II: Lectures, speeches, and family document, 1852-1859

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3 “Copy of the Will of Grandma Stone”
The Will of Milly Stone, Judge Peter W. Gray’s grandmother. Gray apparently wrote the official document for her and signed it at the end. The actual document is fairly standard, Mrs. Stone left the majority of her belongings to her daughters and granddaughters.
Peter W. Gray’s speech to the Democratic Convention, at Austin, January 8, 1852
Gray reviews Sam Houston’s political life from his political service at the municipal level in Tennessee to his fight for “freedom from political oppression” in Texas. The brief biography contains letters from political mentors such as Andrew Jackson himself. Also Gray includes a letter of Houston’s to one of his political adversaries whom he appointed to a high position in the government of Texas. The speech ends with Gray’s nomination of Sam Houston as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. The speech was given to the state Democratic Convention not at the national democratic convention.
Address to Citizens of Houston by Peter Gray on the African Slave Trade, May 30, 1859
Initially Gray demonstrates his opinion on whether or not Judges should involve themselves in political issues. He patently denounces those who deny judges the right of citizenship based on their public service. Gray states that he along with all other judges are able to separate their political tendencies from their impartial stances in court. Gray then gives a lengthy article by article description and history of states rights and the constitution. Gray also briefly discusses the Articles of Confederation and the various reasons for that governments collapse. The purpose of Gray’s discussion is to reaffirm the state’s pro-slavery stance in the upcoming election, while vehemently denying that the issue is a political question, offering rather that it is a fundamentally moral issue free from political bias. The rhetoric employed by Gray is a common argument made throughout the southern states, arguing that the dissension between Southern Democrats and Northern Democrats, Republicans, and Free Soilers is based not on slavery but the issue of the states’ right to choose. Gray is awkwardly poised as a Pro-Slavery Democrat opposed to the continuation of the slave trade. He explains his position by arguing that by allowing the slave treaded to continue slave owners would appear to Northerners as insecure about the justice of slavery. By continuing the slave trade, says Gray, slave owners would be destroying the credibility of the institution on a national level furthering the national opinion against the continuance of slavery. Gray’s pro-slavery anti-slave trade stance was a common platform for many Southern Democrats of the time. Often these Democrats would try to steer political rhetoric away from the hotly contested issue of slavery and towards states rights and popular sovereignty.
“There is no Liberty without Law” Lecture given by Peter Gray before the Houston Lyceum February 28th, 1853
Peter Gray gives an intelligent discussion of the strengths of the United States’ government. He begins by informing the reader of the many subtle differences between liberty and freedom and the way each word was used in antiquity; namely in the republics of Greece and Rome. Then Gray begins to dissect our government by branch beginning with the Executive branch and discussing similar organs in other governments. Throughout his discussion of both the Executive branch and the Legislative branch, Gray marginalizes their combined importance in protecting the right of the average citizen from tyranny. Gray suggests that the revolutionary aspect of the United States’ government is the individuals right to hold the government accountable for damages and infringements on the charter of the government: the Constitution. Gray then proceeds with a lengthy discussion of the Judiciary and its supreme importance to our government and individual liberty and freedom in the United States. Gray cites interesting examples from Britain and France such as Richelieu, Napoleon the Great, Napoleon III, The Directory, The Reign of Terror, Oliver Cromwell, and several British common law cases that embody the difference between the British limited monarchy and the American democracy. The essay is 49 pages long in script from the period. The actual document is in pristine condition and represents the writings of the educated southern gentry in the antebellum period in United States history.
“There is no Liberty without Law” Lecture given by Peter Gray before the Houston Lyceum February 28th, 1853 -- abbreviated version
This document is an abbreviated version of the “There is no Liberty without Law” lecture. This document is also handwritten. The subject discussed in the lecture does not include the broad range of subject reached in the previous lecture. This lecture seems to pertain mainly to the definition of social liberty and its relation to the United States government.

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Series III: Texas Historical Society documents, 1870

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4 Texas State Historical Society transcript of meeting, May 21st, 1870
The document mentions several persons involves with the proceedings and the names of the organizational officers present. The back of the documents features lists of names that seem to represent different committees of the Historical Society.
Minutes of the Second Meeting of the Texas State Historical Society May 23rd, 1870
The document contains a list of the people that attended the meeting and a general overview of the proceedings.
Constitution or Articles of Organization of the Texas Historical Society May 23rd, 1870
The document is an original draft of the official constitution of the Texas Historical Society. The constitution contains directions for organization and protocol for various situations. It also includes procedure for the appointment of officers and official within the society.

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