Ray Family

My Grandma Cross was born a Vessels in Kentucky. Her mother, known as Granny Vessels, was born Sarah Catherine Ray. The Ray family is a prominent ancestor line in our family.

The Rays also started in Maryland in the early years, before the Revolutionary War. In the late 1700s they moved to Kentucky. There was a large group of Catholics, many families, mostly our ancestors, that moved from Maryland to Kentucky. Why did they move? Many reasons, it turns out.

The Rays also had lots of land in Maryland, grew tobacco on plantations, and had slaves. Many of our ancestors were Catholic, and Maryland was a place of religious tolerance. But, when we were colonies, the British monarchs sometimes hated Catholics and sometimes tolerated them. Often, the Catholics were double taxed for the only reason that they were Catholic. It was a financial hardship to be Catholic. Also, Catholics were often prohibited from having public office; to be elected or to hold any public office meant to take an oath denying the pope and the Catholic faith. This goes back to Henry VIII who wanted a divorce, the pope said no, so Henry started his own church and called it the Church of England, sometimes called the Anglican church. To this day, the monarch is the Head of the Church of England. No pope, no one else ever, will tell the sitting monarch what to do when it comes to religion. Also, to this day, if a prince or princess is in line for the throne, if they marry a Catholic, they are disinherited and are no longer in line for the throne. No monarch can have any affiliation with the Catholic church. There is much hatred there. Which is why Maryland as a colony of religious tolerance was so appreciated.

Also, the British tried to swing a deal to sell Maryland tobacco to France, but the deal fell through. But Britain still enforced a monopoly on the Maryland tobacco, after all Maryland was a British colony. If the tobacco plantations could sell their tobacco to the highest bidder, they could make more money on the open market, but Britain prohibited that.

So, the Rays, and many of our other ancestors, left Maryland for Kentucky for many reasons.

Some of these pressures were relieved when America won the Revolutionary War. But many of our ancestors already had it in their mind to move to Kentucky. Several of our Ray ancestors had already made several trips to Kentucky in the late 1700s, and sometimes even owned land in Kentucky while still living in Maryland. Some were surveyors, who determined whose land belonged to whom. In Maryland, the land was pretty much all eaten up by the large tobacco plantations and there was no more available land. In Kentucky, there was abundant land available.

The trip from Maryland to Kentucky was a long and winding journey. No interstates, no freeways, no railroad. They went by land, with sometimes unmarked roads, to Pittsburgh. This took 5-9 days. From there they got on a flatboat to travel down the Ohio River to Kentucky. This took another 9 days. Right about Louisville they came to “the falls” and the boat could not travel downstream any more do to a rocky falls area, which is a big reason Louisville exists where it does. They then travelled, by land or by flatboat, on smaller rivers, inland from the Ohio River, to the part of Kentucky where our ancestors lived for generations in Kentucky, and where Grandma Cross, born Virginia Vessels, was born.

Lots of other researchers have been stumped by who was the immigrant ancestor who came to America. Our earliest Ray ancestor is William Ray, my 8th great grandfather. He died in Maryland in 1760. Other details are unknown; don’t know when or where he was born or where he came from. His son was also William Ray, he was born in 1705, likely in Maryland, and died in 1782, also in Maryland. But where did they come from? That’s the next research question to answer.

This kind of research is fun, and I’m learning a lot about our ancestors!

I have full source citations on my ancestry.com online tree. Go to my contact page and shoot me an email, and I can invite you to my tree.

Maryland Ancestors

This is an edited copy of an email I sent to my family.

I went to Salt Lake City for a week long Institute on doing genealogy research. I learned a lot, and my skills have definitely improved! In addition, I did lots of research at the Family History Library in Salt Lake, and found many great things. Mostly I found stuff, saved the documents and images and PDF files to a USB jump drive, and am slowly analyzing data and putting it into the family tree as I go.

Here’s some stuff I have focused on so far.

Dad’s mother’s maiden name was Vessels, born in Kentucky. Our ancestors lived in Kentucky for many generations, and before that were in Maryland for many generations. Most of these groups of families were very strong Catholics, and books have been written about their migration from Maryland to Kentucky.

Britain sent people to “the colonies” including Maryland for reasons of financial gain and profit. Maryland was used to grow tobacco. Many of our ancestors were “planters” and their land deeds and wills show that. A farmer works on a farm. A planter works on a plantation. With our ancestors, the word plantation is used a lot. So is the word slave and slavery. When America won the Revolutionary War, British loyalists were kicked out and America confiscated the British lands. Then, the manor lands of the Brits were sold to Americans. Some of our ancestors already owned some of these plantations, some bought the land after the Revolutionary War. Many of these families fought in the Revolutionary War. There are notes that they “took an oath” before a named person, and this oath was to deny loyalty to England and the King, and to swear allegiance to Maryland and the United States.

There are many church records of the times, most of which I have not delved into yet. But our ancestors were deeply Catholic, and there are many Jesuit records indicating a date of baptism, for example, or a marriage, or other church activities.

Many of the men worked as a tobacco inspector at the warehouse. I imagine there was a large tobacco warehouse, to dry and cure the tobacco, or perhaps to store it before shipping to England and Europe. Tobacco was their cash crop. Tobacco was their commodity.

The wills tell a lot. It is common for our ancestors to bequeath a plantation or part of one to their children. Often this includes giving a slave or group of slaves to their children. One widow, who became the matriarch of the family tobacco business after her husband’s death, in her will leaves one son 1,000 pounds of tobacco, another son gets 3,000 pounds of tobacco, and another son gets a slave.

There was a migration to Kentucky, which I have barely scratched the surface on. Kentucky is also known for growing tobacco, so perhaps they moved there after generations in Maryland and their farms got smaller with a will dividing the land among several sons over generations. Maybe there was more land in Kentucky. Have not confirmed this.

What is now Kentucky was actually considered part of the Virginia colony. Kentucky became a state in 1792, after the Revolutionary War. One ancestor was a delegate and helped write the Kentucky State Constitution.

One of our ancestors was so strongly Catholic, and living “on the frontier” so to speak, that he wanted a Catholic priest in their new area. He is documented as taking $75 in his pocket and travelling to Baltimore, speaking to church officials to get a priest to Kentucky to say Mass and serve the very Catholic community. The $75 was to pay the expense of sending a priest to them. A priest did travel to Kentucky, and with no church building yet, the first Mass was said in his home with many of his Catholic neighbors attending.

Another ancestor in Kentucky donated land to build a school for the children.

Analysis of findings: it is never my business to judge people or their lives. Today, we do not appreciate or approve of slavery.  Tobacco is known for its damaging effects, but in its day I’m sure they viewed it in the same light as coffee. It’s a crop to plant and grow, and then you process the harvest to create a product that people will pay money for. Tobacco was a commodity. The woman who left thousands of pounds of tobacco to her children (that was just one example, they all did something similar) was giving a commodity that was traded. It would be like today leaving a stock portfolio or gold or diamonds. It was a traded commodity and was worth money. They were passing on their wealth, the fruits of their labor, to their offspring.

Our ancestors were in Maryland in the late 1600s, just after Plymouth colony was started with the landing of the Mayflower, but before the Revolutionary War. More ancestors arrived in Maryland in the early 1700s. Many fought for Independence in the Revolutionary War. They owned plantations that grew tobacco, which was a thriving commodity as demand for tobacco was growing in Europe. Some worked as an inspector in the warehouse to ensure the tobacco was stored property and was in good condition. If the tobacco goes bad, they and their reputation all suffer. They owned slaves to grow their tobacco on their plantation. In the late 1700s, after the Revolutionary War, many of them moved to Kentucky. The community our ancestors was in was strongly Catholic, so much so they paid the expenses of a priest to come to newly formed Kentucky before it was a state so they could have Mass and the services of the clergy. They donated land for a school. They built the community in Maryland when it was British manor lands, and in Kentucky they built the frontier into a thriving community. Our ancestors helped make this country what it is today.

So far, I have found no records of the Vessels family in the parts of Maryland I’m looking at. I do know the Vessels family was in New Amsterdam in the 1650s. Holland sold New Amsterdam to the British, who renamed it New York. So, we have Vessels ancestors in New York City before it was New York City! The Maryland stories above are for surnames Abell, Greenwell, Cissell, O’Bryan which became Bryan, Drury and Mills, and was focused on St. Mary’s County, Maryland.  There is more research to do.

Below are some links to websites that helped form a picture of how this worked. But the actual people and their documents such as wills and land deeds are in the online tree at ancestry.com.

When I do more work with big news on this or another branch of the family tree, I’ll send more stories by email.





If anyone has any link to the families above, I encourage you to locate The Ray Book: A Family of Central Kentucky, 1705-1993 by Ann Tyson Sipes. It is a published genealogy with sources and was an invaluable research tool and finding aid.

I have full source citations on my ancestry.com online tree. Go to my contact page and shoot me an email, and I can invite you to my tree.