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, May 08, 2021

“At the time the said Horse and Sulky was furnished”

The challenges of managing Lt. Col. Abijah Brown drew me away from the episode that initially drew my attention to him—Col. Richard Gridley’s 1786 request to the Continental Congress to reimburse him for the cost of a horse killed at Bunker Hill.

Brown had provided Gridley with that horse while they were both working for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s army in the spring of 1775. It’s unclear whether it was his horse or one he borrowed from someone else with a promise of compensation.

At the end of the war, Brown asked the Massachusetts government to give him the price of the dead horse. When the state declined, he sued Gridley for that sum, recovering damages in court. Gridley then petitioned the Confederation Congress.

Back on 14 June 1775, the Continental Congress had started the process of taking command of that army besieging Boston. That change became official at the highest level on 2 July when Gen. George Washington arrived in Cambridge and presented his commission to Gen. Artemas Ward.

British artillery fire killed Col. Gridley’s horse on 17 June—after the Congress had voted to assume responsibility for the New England army but before it could actually do so. So what did that mean for reimbursing the colonel?

The Confederation Congress appointed a committee to consider the details. Those officials were:
Those gentlemen reported:
On the above Memorial the Board observe that Colonel Gridley was not an Officer in the Service of the United States, at the time the said Horse and Sulky was furnished by Major Brown.

That by the Application made to the State for payment, it appears that the Person who furnished the said Horse and Sulky did not conceive it a proper charge against the United States.

The Board are therefore of Opinion, that the Claim of the Memorialist cannot be allowed, without establishing a precedent which would subject the General Treasury to a multitude of Claims, with which the Union are not chargeable, and submit to the Judgment of Congress the following Resolve:

That the Claim stated in the Memorial of Colonel Richard Gridley, cannot be admitted as a proper charge against the United States.
I can’t help but think that both levels of government—Massachusetts and the Continental Congress—would have been more generous toward Gridley if they had had any actual funds to spend. Because unquestionably Brown had supplied the horse for military use, and Gridley had lost it in an important battle.

But the mid-1780s was just the wrong time to ask American governments for money.

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