Selina Norris Gray, the daughter of Leonard and Sally Norris, was a second-generation Arlington slave. Selina Norris and Thornton Gray were married by an Episcopal clergyman in the same room of the house where Mary Custis had married Robert E. Lee in 1831. While the church recognized the marriage, the union of slaves was not legally binding. Slaves, as property, could not enter into legally binding contracts. Selina and Thornton would have eight children and raised their family in a single room in the South Slave Quarters.
Selina was the personal maid of Mrs. Robert E. Lee and the two enjoyed a very close relationship. In 1861, under the threat of union occupation, the Lee family evacuated Arlington and Mrs. Lee left the household keys, symbolizing authority, responsibility and her trust to Selina Gray. Locked away inside Arlington House were many of the “Washington Treasures.” These pieces were cherished family heirlooms that had once belonged to Mrs. Lee's great-grandmother, Martha Custis Washington, and President George Washington.
The United States Army assumed control of the Arlington Estate on May 24,1861. Later, U.S. Army officers occupied the house. When Mrs. Gray discovered some of the treasures had been stolen, she confronted the soldiers and ordered them "not to touch any of Mrs. Lee's things." Gray alerted General Irvin McDowell, commander of the United States troops, to the importance of the Washington heirlooms. The remaining pieces were sent to the Patent Office for safekeeping. Through Selina Gray's efforts, many of the Washington pieces were saved for posterity.
Last updated: January 27, 2017