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 01, 2021

“The Horse so furnished was Killed at the Battle”

Yesterday I discussed Richard Gridley’s petitions to the post-war Continental Congress to keep compensating him for the loss of his Crown pension from the previous wars.

Both Gridley and the Congress were caught in the 1780s economy, when there was a postwar depression and both Continental and state notes had lost value.

Here’s an extract from the Congress’s records on 24 July 1786, shedding light not only on the retired colonel’s financial straits but also the Battle of Bunker Hill, where he was wounded.

Samuel Osgood, Walter Livingston, and Arthur Lee were tasked with assessing a “Memorial of Richard Gridley of the State of Massachusets” asking to be paid for a very particular reason:
the Memorialist states, that in the month of May, 1775, being then acting under a Commission of the State of Massachusets, as Colonel of a Regiment of Artillery, he was furnished with a Horse and Sulky, for the purpose of conveying himself and his Surveying Instruments, to such Places as the Public Service should require, by Major Brown who was employed to provide the Army with such Articles as they might want.

That the Horse so furnished was Killed at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, and the Sulky (being kept in the Public Service ’till the Year 1780) rendered altogether useless.

That Major Browne having applied to the State of Massachusets for the payment of the said Horse and Sulky, was refused payment, and that in consequence he commenced a Suit against the Memorialist and has recovered Judgment for Fifty Pounds Lawful Money of Massachusets, which Sum he has been obliged to Pay.
I knew identifying “Major Brown” would be a challenge because that surname was so common and men’s ranks changed quickly between 1774 and 1776. Plus, Gridley’s 1986 petition might have referred to the man by a rank he attained later than the moment he discussed.

In the end, I’m guessing that “Major Brown” was Abijah Brown (1736-1818) of Waltham, who did have the rank of major in early 1775 before becoming a lieutenant colonel that fall.

I have two reasons for pointing to that Abijah Brown out of the crowd of Browns (and indeed the smaller crowd of Abijah Browns) in Massachusetts in 1775. First, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress did ask Maj. Brown of Waltham to work on supplies for Gridley’s artillery regiment. Second, Abijah Brown was a cranky, pushy man who seems like just the sort to sue a septuagenarian over a horse killed in battle eleven years earlier.

TOMORROW: Meeting Maj. Brown.

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