top of page

The Gray dog and the white lamb: a family link between Redruth & Wisconsin

Ornaments of animals are infrequently seen outside older buildings in the UK; before laser-printed plastic shop-fronts were possible, they indicated to all that here was an established and thriving business. Many have been removed, but Redruth has a distinctive Lamb and Flag ornament over a former coffee house in Alma Place, the foundation stones of which were laid in 1879 (ref.1). In Mineral Point, Wisconsin - where many Cornish people relocated to work in the lead, zinc and copper mines (ref.2), and with which the town is twinned - a grey dog stands watch above a 19th century building that is now in use as a café. The links are deeper than first meet the eye: though separated by more than 3,800 miles, both Redruth and Mineral Point feature prominently in the family history of the Gray family.

John Gray was born in the Plain-an-Gwarry area of Redruth to a miner and his wife in 1817. He was the couple’s third child, and their only son. He married Susan Thomas of Falmouth in 1843, and emigrated to the USA the following year, with his wife and a daughter, Susan, born in 1843. He established a small general store in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, to support his growing family; the couple had eight more children, born between 1846 and 1866; seven daughters and one son.

John Grey's wife, Susan, must have sent favourable reports of life in Mineral Point back to her family in Falmouth; in 1848, Susan's father, Samuel Thomas - then aged 66 - and one of her brothers, Richard, emigrated to the USA and settled in Mineral Point. Presumably, Susan's father was widowed by this time, as there is no mention of her mother in the immigration records. They brought their skill of stone masonry with them, and built many fine edifices in the area, including the Gundry's family home (built in 1868), which is the building now known as Orchard Lawn. Mary Reed Gundry and her brother, William P Gundry, continued to live here until they passed away, in 1934 and 1936, respectively. The destruction of their house was halted when a group of local citizens pooled finances to purchase the property, and founded the Mineral Point Historical Society (ref 3), which continues to this day!

A careful look at the OPC (Online Parish Clerk) website (ref. 4) shows that Susan's elder brothers were twins: Sampson Thomas was the elder, born on 3rd January 1817, and the second twin, Richard Sampson was born the following day! The boys were baptised three months apart - Sampson in March, and Richard in June - perhaps suggesting that either Sampson was significantly smaller (and weaker) than the other, and baptised early in case of an early death, or that Richard was the smaller boy, and was kept quietly at home, until he was strong enough to be taken for baptism. In any case, both survived to adulthood: Richard Thomas passed away in Mineral Point aged 69, and Sampson probably passed away in St Mewan (near St Austell), in 1894. Curiously, on the headstone of Richard at Mineral Point, his age at death is given as '69 years, 10 months & 19 days', which, when subtracted from the date of his death, gives his brother's birthdate - 3rd January - not his own!

Migration from Cornwall to the Americas was gaining pace from the 1830s onwards (ref. 5), so perhaps other Cornish people were already living in Mineral Point when John and Susan settled there in 1844. A year later, John most likely made the acquaintance - or already knew - another Cornishman who came to the town, Joseph Gundry from Wendron. Joseph came, it would seem, on a 'reconnaissance mission, to explore the possibilities of emigration: he

had left a fiancé, Sarah Perry, and a young son, born in September 1843, in Cornwall when he travelled to Wisconsin in 1845. He must have worked in the town, or elsewhere in the area, over the next 18 months; OPC records show that he returned to Cornwall in autumn 1847 to reunite with Sarah and their son, Joseph Henry Gundry. He and Sarah wed at Wendron church (near Helston) in early 1848, before emigrating to the US together with their son later that year. Nine more children were born to the couple over the next eighteen years.

At least one of Joseph’s brothers, John Gundry, travelled to the US after him; the route that John took – leaving Falmouth in April 1848, is documented in a diary online that I came across by chance through a Google search.

John travelled over 7000 kilometres in 58 days, from Falmouth to Milwaukee! (ref. 6), then stayed in/around Mineral Point with his brother and his family for around 1 year and 9 months. After this time - in spring 1850 - he set off westwards, travelling for around 4 months to reach Placerville, California to mine for gold. He stayed in the California area for just over a year before heading back to the UK. His diary documents encounters with American Indians, wildlife and stark scenery. I hope to make his travels the topic of a future blog.

In 1850, John Grey formed a business partnership with Joseph Gundry and the general store in the high street of Mineral Point expanded. The fine stone building that stands today, ornamented by the 'gray dog' was completed in 1867 (ref 2) and the renown of the general store must have grown: the business was passed on to the next generation of Gundry and Gray descendants, on the deaths of John Gray (in 1897) and Joseph Gundry (in 1899).

Mineral Point, WI, is twinned with Redruth, Cornwall, and active exchanges still occur between inhabitants of the two towns, perpetuating the historical commonality of their origins, and encouraging reflection on the fascinating global communities of the past. And the white lamb of Redruth is now used as a symbol for the town's library service and town council: a larger version of that on the coffee tavern can be encountered in the library building next door, attired in varying outfits throughout the year!


References include:

ref. 3 and: Mineral Point - where Wisconsin began. Leaflet pub. 1994

ref. 4 OPC database -

ref.6 (click on the ‘Gold Rush - John Gundry’s diary’ text).

bottom of page