“What’s in a name? a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
Fashion in naming our children is whimsical and changes often. Reusing names from family history is a perennial favorite. When I was young, saints were in vogue and still maintain a small, but avid, following. In the sixties and seventies, there was a wave of inventiveness. I knew children named Morning Star, Apple (the record company, not the tree or fruit), Oak and multiple lovely little girls named Meadow, then a Brook and an Autumn, both wonderful kids. I read recently that some of the old “virtue” or traditional spiritual based names were making a small comeback like Faith, Grace, Charity and Joy, but the old Puritan virtue names remain infrequent: I have met very few folks named Chastity, Prudence, Patience, Temperance, Honesty, or Humility, all of which were common in years past. Last week, I found a new one: Pardon Gray.
Looking for new walking trails to explore, we discovered the Pardon Gray Preserve in nearby South Tiverton.[i] Pardon Gray, his wife Mary and several of their children are buried on the property in the old family plot thirty or forty feet square and encompassed by a rough stone wall. Part of the original Pocasset Purchase from Plymouth in 1676[ii], the 230-acre property abuts the 550-acre Weetamoo Open Space trails; it is a lovely mix of open fields, century old stone walls and rolling hills covered partly with a once common, but now greatly diminished Coastal Oak Holly forest. The Pocasset people fished and hunted this environment near the Sakonnet River for centuries. During the Revolutionary War, Colonel Pardon Gray’s farm supplied much of the food for the 11,000 strong garrison of the Continental Army in nearby Fort Barton that was defending the mainland from the sizable British stronghold on Aquidneck Island. The Gray family is still well established in South Tiverton and adjacent Little Compton. The Gray Country Store remains open and Gray’s Ice Cream at Tiverton Four Corners is still the best for twenty miles around.
Other than his supply of the troops and namesake of the preserve, Pardon himself is not known to me. His name, however, has magnificent potential. “Pardon” connotes a forgiving spirit, a harmonious disposition, and a willingness to let go of grudges and forgo anger, righteous or otherwise. I do not know if Colonel Gray had such a kind and gentle spirit. I suspect when it came to the Redcoats in Newport, perhaps not. But his name is wonderful.
“Your true name has the secret power to call you.” Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration
Are we living in a time burdened with a radical lack of pardoning, of forgiveness? Has holding grudges, especially cultural, moral, political, or ideological grudges, become a badge of honor? We label those with whom we disagree as Commies or Nazis or demonic. Compromise is not possible when our debate is with evil itself.
Reasons for the un-sorry situation in which we find ourselves are complicated and have been sculpted over centuries. To oversimplify, which is all we can do in a short blog post, our political opinions and ideologic worldview have become not just what we believe, but how we identify ourselves. Such disagreements are not something that we should avoid with friends and family at Thanksgiving to keep the turkey peace; they are something we defend to the death because they define us. Disagreement is no longer merely uncomfortable, it is deadly, for such dissent from our personal orthodoxy is an attack on our being- an assault that negates not just what we believe to be true, it negates who we are. Those are hard to forgive and impossible to forget.
In Dr. Carl Trueman’s new book, “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self,”[iii] the post-modern age is revealed as the age of “therapeutic” man. As some reviews have stated, this book is a “mountain top” experience not for the faint of heart that helps us to comprehend the centuries of philosophical evolution that has created an environment in which we are so deeply embedded that we accept without question that this is how things are. We have made slow and inexorable decisions as a culture to abandon objective truth and shared standards which we must learn and a reality to which we must conform so that we understand our existence and evaluate our place in it. More than moral relativism, the basis for agreement or rational debate has been left behind, and in its place a confusion of jumbled and conflicting subjective ‘values’ based on our emotions. We no longer discover truth and how we relate to it; we create our own: our own self drama that we star in, direct, write, and perform such that the drama is what we have become.
Dr. Trueman wrote, “The triumph of the therapeutic represents the advent of the expressive individual as the normative type of human being and of the relativizing of all meaning and truth to personal taste.” We are self-defined and judge ourselves and others by subjective criteria. In place of agreed upon objective principles to which we all generally agree, the foundations of our beliefs and how we see our world has shifted, a tectonic adjustment beneath our feet that is unacknowledged and ill understood.
We could use an intervention from Colonel Gray, an old insight that Pardon and forgiveness is more than polite discourse, it is a prerequisite for mutual respect as human beings and the first necessary step towards healing our ills.
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” St. Teresa of Calcutta
[ii] From the Sakonnet Historical: Before Europeans arrived, the Pocasset people fished and farmed along the eastern shore of the Sakonnet River in what is now Tiverton. Forests, swamps, and streams provided fresh water, game, wood products, berries, and winter shelter. In 1651, Richard Morris of nearby Portsmouth purchased the Nannaquaket peninsula from its native inhabitants. There is no evidence of Morris settling here, so he may have used the peninsula to grow crops and graze animals. In 1659, Morris’ claim was recognized as legitimate by Plymouth Colony, which at that time included the Tiverton area as part of its holdings.
Strapped for cash by King Phillip’s War (1675 – 1676), Plymouth sold a tract of this land in 1679 for £1100 to the Proprietors of Pocasset. The “First Division” of the Pocasset Purchase created thirty large lots, with the northernmost edge close to the present-day Fall River-Tiverton border and the southern boundary at the Tiverton-Little Compton line.
Edward Gray (1667 – 1726) held nine shares along the southern boundary of this purchase. The 237-acre tract now known as Pardon Gray Preserve passed to Edward’s grandson, Pardon Gray (1737 – 1814), who farmed the property. During the Revolutionary War, Pardon Gray became a Colonel in the Rhode Island militia, and he was placed in charge of the local commissary, which he ran from his home. Colonel Gray supplied 11,000 militia and Continental troops stationed at Fort Barton prior to the Battle of Rhode Island in 1778. Marquis de Lafayette briefly used a house nearby as his headquarters.
[iii] The Rise and Triumph of Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism and The Road to Sexual Revolution. Dr. Carl Trueman, Crossway, Wheaton, IL. 2020