Capt. S.L. Gray of the whaling ship James Murray sailed out of New London harbor with his crew, wife Sarah, and 16 year old daughter Katie and into legend and folklore. As the story goes, the whaling ship James Murray was engaged by the Confederate ship Shenandoah off the coast of Guam in the Pacific. Captain Gray was mortally wounded in the action but the James Murray was able to flee and escape further wrath from the enemy vessel. (Some say the Captain died not of battle wounds but of diphtheria) Sarah Gray would not hear of the traditional method of a burial at sea for her husband. Sarah had a different idea. She had the crew open a barrel of rum, place the body of Captain Gray in the rum filled barrel and resealed it. When the ship returned to New London, the cask with the body still inside was shipped to Lebanon Connecticut. With Captain S.L. Gray still in the barrel, rum and all, he was buried as is, in the Liberty Hill Cemetery. There is also a mystery concerning Mrs. Gray. Five sons and daughters all died before or around their second birthdays under mysterious circumstances. The belief was that Sarah had some sort of responsibility for their deaths. The eldest daughter Katie was always on the ship with her father at sea which would have kept her safe. Katie died only 4 years after her fathers death. The widow Gray lived for another 20 years after her husbands death. All are buried on the family plot in Liberty Hill. The inscription on Capt. Gray’s headstone reads Capt. S.L. Gray – died on board ship James Murray – near the island of Guam – March 24, 1865 – Age 51 years, 4 mo.
From the intersection of routes 87 and 289 at the end of the green in Lebanon, take route 87 north 1.5 miles to find the cemetery on the right. From the intersection of routes 66 and 87 in Columbia, take 87 south 4.3 miles to find the cemetery on the left. There is some parking available off the shoulder of the road in front of the cemetery.
Go east through the main gate down the center isle of the cemetery to a
big tree stump on the left. Take a bearing of 100 degrees and go 18 steps to
Capt. S.L. Gray’s tombstone. Here you can view the stones of Gray and his
children. Captain Gray’s inscription on the stone is facing a stone wall.
Follow that stone wall left to the corner of the wall. At the corner, look 2
feet to the left and find a flat rock on top of the wall which has a rounded
white rock sitting on it. Just lift the white rock and the rock under it to
find a hollow which has the letterbox. Please remember to place the white
rock on top again when leaving.