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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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Richard Gridley: “become very obnoxious to that corps”

A lot of the research we rely on about Col. Richard Gridley, first commander of the Massachusetts and then Continental artillery regiment, comes from Daniel T. V. Huntoon, a writer in the late 1800s.

Huntoon was from Canton, Massachusetts, the town where Gridley settled a few years before the war when it was still part of Stoughton. Huntoon was, like Gridley, a Freemason.

Huntoon wrote and rewrote several articles about Gridley and included a long section on the colonel in his history of Canton. He argued that Gridley—whom he called a major general—deserved a bigger monument, and eventually the town installed the impressive grave marker shown here.

One document that I don’t see quoted in any of Huntoon’s writings about Gridley is the minutes of the conference at Gen. George Washington’s headquarters on 23 Oct 1775. Along with the general and his aides were Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Lynch, and Benjamin Harrison, delegates to the Continental Congress. Those men had all been meeting with representatives from Massachusetts and other New England governments, but they saved some topics for a smaller group.

Item 14 on their agenda said:
Very unhappy disputes prevailed in the Regiment of Artillery. Colonel Gridley is become very obnoxious to that corps, and the General is informed that he will prove the destruction of the Regiment, if continued therein. What is to be done in this case?

That as all Officers must be approved by the General, if it shall appear, in forming a new Army, that the difference is irreconcileable, Colonel Gridley be dismissed in some honourable way; and that the half pay [pension from the Crown] which he renounced, by entering into the American Army, ought to be compensated to him.
The notes of that meeting were published in the mid-1800s and available to Huntoon. He quoted other documents that appeared in Washington’s papers and American Archives that complimented Gridley. But if you read Huntoon’s several articles, you’d never know that Washington thought removing Gridley from command was the only way to avoid “the destruction of the Regiment.”

I’ll be discussing Washington’s management challenge this Thursday at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site at 6:00 P.M.

(Photo above from the Canton Citizen, whose 2011 article about Gridley relies too much on Huntoon’s writing.)


rfuller said...

Huntoon may have been covering up for his antecedent "ring-knocker" Richard Gridley, but by extension, wasn't he also covering up for Richard's feckless, cowardly son Scar Gridley? Was Scarborough Gridley a Freemason too?

J. L. Bell said...

In his history of Canton, Huntoon was forthright about Scarborough Gridley’s failings at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and suggests his appointment as major was due to “parental partiality.” Huntoon was more anxious to distinguish between them than to take on the lost cause of rehabilitating Scar Gridley’s reputation.

Scarborough Gridley was a Freemason as of 1771, in the St. John’s Lodge where his father was second-ranking member.