J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, September 26, 2020

“No such order as Mr Gridley alludes to”

Scarborough Gridley didn’t just write to Elbridge Gerry seeking back pay in February 1784, as I quoted yesterday.

Gridley first went to the president of the Massachusetts Senate to ask for his help. That man was Samuel Adams (shown here). This is why Gridley’s letter to Gerry is in the Samuel Adams Papers at the New York Public Library, of all places.

Adams’s political estrangement from John Hancock was at its height, so he was probably quite open to Gridley’s complaint that the governor had failed to carry out his duty to send an inquiry to Gen. George Washington about Gridley’s military role. (In 1789 Hancock and Adams reconciled and ran as a ticket, so Adams was Hancock’s lieutenant governor and successor.)

Adams had been in Philadelphia in 1775, when Gridley was cashiered out of his father’s artillery regiment, and 1776, when Gridley claimed his father brought him back on as an assistant while fortifying Boston harbor. So the senate president wasn’t up on the details of the younger man’s career.

On 25 February, Adams wrote from Boston to Gerry, then representing Massachusetts in the Congress, which was convened at Annapolis.
Inclosd is a Letter to your Self from Colo. Scar Gridley. It seems he applied to this G[eneral] C[ourt] some time ago for Depretion of his pay while in the Service, upon which the Govr. was requested to write to G W to make known to him the Rank held by Mr. Gridley & [missing text] but the Letter has never been written.

I advisd him to write you on the Subject, & hope you will excuse my giving you the Trouble. As you are now near the Place of Residence of General Washington, perhaps it may not be inconvenient to you to write to him, in doing which you will gratify & oblige Mr. Gridley.
On 18 March, Gerry wrote to Washington, then retired:
By the last Post I received from the president of the Senate of Massachusetts a Letter, inclosing the papers herewith transmitted, & requesting me to write to your Excellency on the Subject. As I have no other Knowledge of the Matter, than what is derived from Colo Gridley’s Letter & the Resolve accompanying it, I can only say, that when your Excellency is at Leisure, if You think it expedient to make any Observations on the Subject or Answer to the Resolve, & should inclose them to me, I will direct them to Colo Gridley.

I flatter myself with the Hopes, that since your Retirement from publick Life, You have not only enjoyed, Health, peace & Competence, but likewise the pleasure of seeing all your Friends in the same happy Circumstances.
On 31 March, Washington wrote back from Mount Vernon:
I have examined my Letter and orderly Books but find no such order as Mr Gridley alludes to, in his letter of the 21st of Feby, to you.

If his Father, or himself ever received such orders they are no doubt to be produced, and will speak for themselves. Mr Gridley never reported himself to the Chief Engineer (Genl [Louis Lebègue] Duportail) nor has he ever been returned to me by him, or any Senior Officer in that department that I remember as one of the Corps—in the Service of the United States—It is not in my power therefore, from any recollection I have of the circumstance he speaks of—or of his Services—to certifie anything on which his claim can be founded.
According to Gridley, his father had told Washington about his appointment in 1776 and the commander-in-chief had approved it. But there’s no mention of that in the published correspondence of the two men.

The nearest hint of a new army job for Scar Gridley was his court-martial panel’s statement that “they do not consider him incapable of a Continental Commission, should the General Officers recommend him to his Excellency”—which the general officers never did.

Gerry returned Gridley’s letter with Washington’s response in a note to Adams dated 2 April. Adams replied simply: “Your Letter of the 2d relating to Colo. Gridleys Affair came to hand. I am obligd to you for the Care you have taken.” And that was the end of that.

One detail that stood out to me in this exchange is that Adams, and then Gerry, referred to Scarborough Gridley with the title “Colonel.” Gridley was a major when he was removed from the Continental Army in 1775. Some paperwork hints that in the summer of 1775 he and his father tried to get him the rank of lieutenant colonel, but that didn’t go through.

So when and how did Scar Gridley start introducing himself to people as a colonel? Then again, if he really had managed to collect a few years of pay and rations as an assistant engineer in the Continental Army without any commander knowing it, he had a lot of audacity to call on.

Scarborough Gridley died in 1787 at the age of forty-eight at his parents’ home in Stoughton.

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