Wexford's Thomas Gray: Rebellion of 1641's Siege of Fort Duncannon

Irish loyalties in the Rebellion of 1641 were intertwined between religion and the destabilization of English politics. "The Catholic  landowners desire to recover their lost land was one main reason for the rebellion. The rebellion started eleven years of war between 1641-52 in Ireland and was one of Ireland's most destructive in loss of life and material destruction. The rebellion also irrevocably changed the course of Irish history." [1] 

Above, Fort Duncannon  Wexford, Ireland. Photo: Hook Tourism, New Ross, Ireland

The Irish Rebels began to attack the castles and forts in county Wexford in the fall of 1641. Some of the castles and forts in the county held out against the Irish.  "Duncannon Fort located on the Hook Peninsula in County Wexford, was the strongest and most significant of the outposts." The construction work on Duncannon fort began in 1587 and work continued in the following decades. Duncannon was not prepared for war in 1641 with a shortage of soldiers, provisions and munitions.  In the first week of January 1642  the fort only had enough supplies for three weeks. The Irish also lacked supplies, artillery and munitions at the start of the Rebellion. "Attempts to supply the fort  Duncannon with gunpowder overland failed when the men entrusted to transport the supplies appropriated them for the rebel cause.  Lord Esmond adopted a restrained attitude towards the rebels until he received reinforcements at the fort.  Richard Greene in a deposition complained Lord Esmond released Irish prisoners, admitted rebel commanders and priests into Duncannon and did not prevent raids against Protestants in the area." [2]

A variety of complex factors persuaded the inhabitants of Wexford to enlist to attack Duncannon. " Friendship, blood and  tenancy were major reasons for men to enlist. The gentry in the baronies around Fort Duncannon recognized the dangers the fort posed to them if left under the control of Lord Esmond. If reinforced from the sea the garrison could inflict considerable damage on their estates. The arrival of fresh English troops under Captain Aston And Captain Weldon led to a number of sorties into the surrounding area in March 1642." [3] 


Many Protestants from Wexford and other counties fled to Duncannon to seek safe passage to England. Soldiers and supplies arrvived from England in late 1641 and early 1642 to Duncannon.  "Sir Laurence Esmond was the governor, he was a big asset with over fifty years military experience in Ireland and Europe. Both the Irish and English recognized Esmond's importance in the defense of the fort. The Irish referred to him as "an old crafty fox." [4] 

At Christmas in 1641 about 1000  Irish insurgents were surrounding the fortress of Duncannon . The two most prominent rebel's at Wexford were Thomas Rossiter and William Browne.  They both came from Forth and recruited their companies especially from Forth and Bargy. They had made Shelboggan, a few miles from Duncannon, their  headquarters.  Most of the Irish were scattered in small groups in rudimentary notifications or camps.   William Esmond a leader in the Rebellion provided Thomas Gray with a fowling piece and purchased twenty muskets, three cases of pistols and a firkin of powder for the use of the parish of Rathaspick." [ 5] 

I believe this Thomas Gray is my ancestor who was the originator of the Gray family of Wexford.  Thomas Gray was a servant from Rathaspeck and was about nineteen years old in 1641 at the start of the Rebellion. When Thomas Gray was thirty years old he gave a deposition regarding William Esmond dated 1-6-1653. Gray describes how near Christmas in 1641 he received a fowling piece from William Esmond  his master and attended a rebel rendezvous at Shelboggan along with other servants.  Thomas Gray's position as a tenant and servant may not as been as humble as it sounds. Gray's fellow servant was Richard Edmond, most likely a relative of William Esmond. 

Examination of Thomas Gray re William Esmond; The following deposition was signed by Thomas Gray in 1653 and is located at Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland. Thomas Gray about nineteen years old at the start of the 1641 Rebellion from Wexford is classified as a Rebel and taking part in military action.

Thomas Gray aged 30 examined concerning William Esmond saith that he Thos Gray lived at the beginning of the war at Rahaspeck neere to the said Mr Esmond's house and that about Christmas after the rebellion he this Examinant was required to meet at a rendezvous at Shielbaggan within 2 myles of Duncannon forte and had from the said William a fowling peece to carry to that rendezvous and saith that Richard Esmond,  John Jepson and Garrett Slatter all servants to the said William Esmond went with this Examinant being armed to Shielbaggan  aforesaid with others of the said Esmond's tenants and that he did see the said William Esmond at Johnstowne not far from Duncannon fort where some of the Irish forces lay about Christmas.  And this Examinant further saith that John Jepson servant to WE had a brown guelding of the said William Esmond to goe forth as a trooper in the behalfe of the parish Rahaspeck to joyne with the Irish against the English and that the said WE paid for the said horse by the said Parish" [6]  Dated and signed by Thomas Gray on  1-6-1653.

The depositions listed below are by John Murroe and James Grant. Thomas Gray is described as carrying a musket during the march on fort Duncannon.  Thomas Gray was in Captain Thomas Rossiter's company of Irish soldiers. "The very first time that the Irish marched within sight of the fort was on St. Stevens day and they were within a shot of a cannon.&nbspThe depositions taken in the 1650's were focused on what happened to cause the Rebellion, the identities of those involved and their fate or current location." [7] 

Deposition Transcription: John o Murroe being sworn saith Concerning the said William Esmond

Upon the wholl matter That hee did see the said William Esmond with the Irish forces that laye before Duncannon within the first of year of the wars on horseback with his sword, some of his servants attending him that service with their Armes the names of which seruants hee nowe remembers not, more than one Thomas Gray who carryed a Muskett. He also saith That Peter Esmond sonne to the said william Esmond did march in a Ranke with the Irish forces against the said fort of duncannon & within shott thereof of a Cannon, the very first tyme that the Irish marched within sight of the said ffort which was on St Stevens day." Sworne before vs 6o January 1653 [8] 

Deposition Transcription: James Grant of Maglas being sworn & examined concerning the aforesaid William Esmond 

That he this examinant was a soldier under Capt Thomas Rossiter against the fort of duncannon from Twelfe daie 61 where hee Contynued till a weeke befor Easter following, In which tyme hee sawe the said William Esmond, with horse & Armes & his  two seruants Thomas Gray & Rich: Esmond in Armes also & marching in the said Rossiters Company, & saith that about the begining of March 61 the English of the ffort sallyed forth & the Irish forces & they skirmished one with the other & the said William Esmond on his horse did then engage with the Irish against the English." Sworne before vs 6o Jan 1653 " [9] 

William Esmond fortified house Wexford, Ireland [Castles of Leinster: Hilltown, Wexford - Mike Searle]

William Esmond of Johnstown, County Wexford, made no attempt to go to the safety of his uncle, Lord Esmond's, garrison at Duncannon   Many of the local English settlers from the barony of Forth did flee to Fort Duncannon.  Many of the prominent men of the barony had gone to Duncannon with Lord Esmond. William Esmond declined the chance to join the Protestants gathering in the fort. On 21 December 1641 William Esmond was in a meeting in the town hall at Wexford and it was voted to raise 800 townsmen as part of the proposed 2000 - 2300 strong county force.  From that time on his role and that of his sons John and Peter became more public. In 1642 William took the oath of association and became a county councillor in February or March of that year. John Esmond served served in the county troop of horse led by Captain John Roche, and Peter Esmond served in the local forces. [10]

One set of depositions of the Rebellion of 1641 dealt with William Esmond of Johnstown near the garrison of Duncannon in County Wexford. The investigation revealed evidence against Esmond which showed that he had not fled to the Fort Duncannon  for protection. This was only a minor charge in comparison to more serious charges. According to William Stafford deposition - William Esmond had been a Confederation county committeeman. He had also willingly contributed and probably organized financial and arms levies and actively assisted the Confederation's forces at the siege of Fort Duncannon  while it was being defended by William's own uncle Lord Esmond. [11] 

In the deposition given by William Stafford in 1653, he stressed that William Esmond  had not taken goods belonging to Protestants for private gain. Stafford was able to detail some of the seizures made by Esmond in the council's name. He cited the one-third of Nicholas Codd's goods seized in 1642 by troops acting under Esmond's orders. Codd was one of William Esmond's former neighbors. This action was confirmed by Nicholas Stafford, who added that Esmond had also taken goods belonging to Adam Walker.  Peter Esmond was also accused of similar activities by witness Nicholas Stafford: of seizing Sir Arthur Loftus cattle and sheep while serving at the siege of Duncannon. In a deposition of Robert Browne of Knockingales, he states that Peter Esmond son and heir of Williamm Esmond was present at Duncannon the day before Christmas day 1641 and with others brought from ye said forte a prey of cowes and sheep.  [12] 

The Irish needed food and supplies to support the troops during the rebellion. "The rendezvous for the Irish Forces was to be at Shielbaggan about two miles from the Fort Duncannon and Peter Esmond son and heir of William Esmond of Johnstown claims to have been the first to have distinguished himself in pillaging for the Rebel forces. The Examination of Peter Hooper concerning Peter Esmond thrid son and heir to William Esmond of Johnstown Esq. Peter came to the said forte Duncannon to his grand uncle the Lord Esmond and there received from Lord Esmond a certain number of musquets were given him to defend the Castle of Sladd but he distributed them among the Irish forces.  Peter Esmond's sister Eleanor was the wife of Robert Redmond of the Hall and this close family tie accounts that Peter Esmonde dwelt in Slade Castle at the outbreak of the rebellion. Castle Slade was not attacked in 1642.  In 1642 the English party under Captain Aston were defeated at the old mansion house of Redmond Hall." [13] 


Castle Wexford, Ireland  built by the Esmond family  [Teagasc website]

"Martin Codd's son Nicholas, who succeeded him, was not only a Protestant but a Cromwellian as well. At the outbreak of the rebellion in 1641, he fled to Wales with others, leaving his house, goods and corn in the charge of his brother William Codd. William Esmond, who was one of the Confederate leaders, and others came armed with muskets and forced themselves into the house and seized a third of Nicholas Codd's corn for the use of the Irish. The Clougheast, Ballyumphane and Garrylough Codd families remained Catholics and having participated in the Rebellion of 1641, were all dispossessed. James Codd of Clougheast was a captain in the Confederate army in Rossiter's regiment and was killed at Duncannon in 1643. "[14]   In an article written by Sir David Goodall  " A Divided Family in 1798: The Grays of Whitefort and Jamestown" Robert Gray in a marriage settlement dated 8 October 1733 married Catherine,  daughter of Nicholas Codd of Castletown. [15]

The deposition below is given by John Jepson who like Thomas Gray was a tenant and servant of William Esmond. Thomas Gray most likely also remained at his master's house for at least two years during the Rebellion. Jepson states his master gave him relief and entertainment as his servant. [16]

The Examination of John Jepson or Jefson aged 30 concerning Wm Esmond Saith he was servant to the said Wm Esmond at the beginning of the war and knoweth that his Master bought for himself and the use of the Parish 20 musquets 3 cases of pistolls and 1 firkine of powder in the said first year which armes were by his said Master on all occasions delivered out to his servants and others for the Irish against the English and that the said William Esmond  was several times before Duncannon with the Irish forces in Armes and that Peter Esmond son and heir of the said William Esmond was then at and against the said forte and he this Deponent heard that the said Peter had a share of the Cowes and sheepe taken from before the forte and saith that he this Deponent being at the fight neere Rosse where the Irish Armie was routed and being forced to fly came to his said Master's house who did there receive him and give him relief and entertainment as his servant in which condition he continued for two years after as a retainer in the said house till Whit Sunday last The Deponent also testifies that William Esmond  provided him with a horse and armes and told him that he should have pay from Rahaspeck Parish as a soldier in the Irish Army Deposition dated 26 Dec 1653. [17]

In 1660  William  Esmond's land was restored to his sons. "To Peter Esmond and Francis Esmond sons of late William Esmond of Johnstowne county of Wexford restoration to their father's lands and estate in Wexford 21 January 1660. " [18]   

There were many descendants of Thomas Gray of Rathaspeck that had military careers both for the Irish and English. Nicholas Gray the Irish Rebel participated in both of the Irish Rebellions of 1798 and 1803. Nicholas Gray was also involved in the War of 1812. Joseph Gray his brother was a magistrate and Captain in the Wexford Militia in 1798.  Thomas Gray another brother was also a Captain in the Wexford Militia.  John Gray a Captain in the Wexford Militia on July 27th, 1813  married Alicia Margaret Vaugh of Castlerea, County, Roscommon. Loftus Gray served in the 95th Rifle Brigade.  Loftus Crosier Gray served  on the Union side in the U.S. Civil War.  

.Some of the descendants of Thomas Gray,  became military physicians. Assistant Surgeon Nicholas Loftus Gray on January 22nd, 1858 was in the 13th 1st Somersetshire Prince Albert's Regiment of Light Infantry.[19] Married June 12 , 1860, at Cape town South Africa, Nicholas Loftus Gray Esq. LRCSI 13th Light Infantry third son of  Nicholas Gray Esq. Tennsey park Kilkenny to Mary Ethel fourth daughter of the late Henry John Mant Esq. of Bath and Shrub hill house Box, Wiltshire, England. [20] Henry Loftus Nicholas Gray, eldest son of the late Nicholas Loftus Gray, M.D.  M.R.C.S. on June 27, 1890 married Laura Kate, third daughter of Frank Hall, Esq. of Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia.[21]  

John Gray son of the late Nicholas Gray, formerly of Parsonstown King's County, Ireland, left for Australia about 1870. [22]  David Mellifont of Mardyke, County Cork married Sophia Ann Gray in Cork  1804. Sophia was the youngest daughter of  Nicholas Gray deceased Whitefort Co Wexford.[23 ]   Sir David Goodall who was instrumental in negotiating the Irish Peace Agreement was a descendant of the Goodall-Gray families of Wexford, Ireland.

This marriage article was printed in the Quebec, Canada Chronicle: Married on Thursday the 1st of February, 1877 at Rathaspeck, by the Rev James Reed, rector of Wexford, Henry Brown, Esq.  of  Rathjarney county, Wexford, brother of Captain Brown and grandson of the late Lieutenant Brown, R. N. to Kate Sophia, youngest daughter of the late Captain James Atkins, R. N., of Rose Rock, Wexford and grand-daughter of the late Captain Joseph Gray, of Jamestown House, county Wexford, and great grand-daughter of the late Major Crosier and grand-niece of Captain John and Thomas Gray of Wexford and Wicklow militia and of Lieutenant-Colonel Loftus Gray of the rifle brigade.[24 ] The daily dispatch. Richmond, Va. 1850-1884, April 6, 1877

Joseph Gray the son of  Nicholas Gray of Jamestown was admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland  and  promoted to Staff Assistant Surgeon dated 28th August 1862.[25]  The Naval and Military  appointments of Feb15, 1873 - Staff  Assistant Surgeon Joseph Gray promoted to be Staff Surgeon.[26]  This article is titled " Killed While Hunting" Surgeon Major Joseph Gray, of the Army Medical Staff, eldest son of the late  Major Nicholas Gray of Jamestown House County Wexford, Ireland and brother of Mrs. George Arthur Perrin, of this city [Victoria, Australia]  was accidentally killed near Dublin while hunting with the Ward Union hounds. A horse struck him in the abdomen and with internal hemorrhage setting in, he died two hours later. Mr and Mrs. Perrin have the sympathy of their friends in their bereavement.[27]

The house known as the Gray Whitefort House of Co. Wexford can be viewed on the website of Tarquin Blake, "Abandoned Ireland." There are several photos of the house but it is in very poor condition.  Joseph White built the Whitefort House sometime in the 18th century.  Joyce Sophia married Nicholas Gray in 1768 and the property passed to the Gray family.[28]

1. The Eleven years war 1641-52 - A brief overview by John Dorney

2. The 1641 Depositions and the Irish Rebellion edited Annaleigh Margey, Eamon Darcy, Elaine Murphy

3. The 1641 Depositions and the Irish Rebellion edited Annaleigh Margey, Eamon Darcy, Elaine Murphy

4. The 1641 Depositions and the Irish Rebellion edited Annaleigh Margey, Eamon Darcy, Elaine Murphy

5. The 1641 Depositions and the Irish Rebellion edited Annaleigh Margey, Eamon Darcy, Elaine Murphy

6. History of the Town and County of Wexford: From the Earliest.... Volume 4 by Herbert Francis Hore

7. 1641 Depositions Trinity College Library Dublin, Ireland

8. 1641 Depositions Trinity College Library Dublin, Ireland

9.Depositions Trinity College Library Dublin, Ireland

10. The Civil Wars Experienced: Britain and Ireland, 1638-1661 by Martyn Bennett

11. The Civil Wars Experienced: Britain and Ireland, 1638-1661 by Martyn Bennett

12. The Civil Wars Experienced: Britain and Ireland, 1638-1661 by Martyn Bennett

13. History of the Town and Country of Wexford: From the Earliest - Volume 4

14. A History of the Wexford Codds

15. A Divided Family in 1798: The Grays of Whitefort and Jamestown  by Sir David Goodall

16. History of the Town and Country of Wexford: From the Earliest - Volume 4

17. History of the Town and Country of Wexford: From the Earliest - Volume 4

18. Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Marquess of Ormonde, K.P. - Part 1 by Great Britain Royal    Commission on Historical Manuscripts 

19. The Mauritius Almanac and Civil Service Register

20. The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle, for the year - Volume 209

21. The Brisbane Conrier Thursday July 10, 1890 - Trove - National Library of Australia 

22. The Law Times, Volume 101  1896-Law

23. Mellifont- Gray  Marriage Article provided by David Coffey

24. The daily dispatch. Richmond, Va. 1850-1884, April 6, 1877

25. The Lancet

26. The Medical Times and Gazette 1873

27. Victoria Daily Colonist, Thursday, January 5th, 1888 - Victoria, Australia

28. The Abandoned Ireland website by Tarquin Blake

Views: 1270

Tags: Australia, Britain, Genealogy, History of Ireland, Military History, United States

Comment by Joe Gannon on June 16, 2017 at 9:13am

An interesting bit of trivia: the dock that is seen at the top of the photo in that aerial shot of the fort in the approximate spot from which King James II embarked for France after the defeat at the Battle of the Boyne. 


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