GIVING THANKS: JOHN GRIDLEY’S PRAYER BILL

John Gridley’s Prayer Bill. “John gridley and his relations desires to Bless god for his goodness to him in returning from captivity to his friends again.” (Medfield Historical Society)


By Roberto O. Flores de Apodaca - Posted at the Journal of the American Revolution:

Housed in the Medfield Historical Society is a rare collection of prayer bills containing the prayers of thanksgiving from Massachusetts soldiers and their families during the American Revolution. These commonplace slips of paper include fascinating stories and spiritual requests of ordinary Continental soldiers. One of these late-eighteenth-century prayer notes was written by a veteran named John Gridley. In his prayer bill, Gridley and “his relations” expressed their “desires to Bless God for his goodness to him in returning from captivity to his friends again.” This prayer of thanksgiving contained no particulars describing his “captivity” or how exactly the “goodness” of God was manifested toward him that elicited such a devotional response. Missing from extant genealogies and lists of voters, Gridley and the story behind his prayer note could have lingered in obscurity. Fortunately, however, Gridley’s wife Anna filed a pension application on his behalf in 1843, which filled in the details behind the creation of his prayer bill. Analysis of Gridley’s service in the war and his resultant prayer note provide insight into this Revolutionary soldier’s communal piety and the background of how churches supported their soldiers’ spiritual life during the war.[1]

The only information on Gridley’s background comes from his military records. Based on his pension application, Gridley was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts in the year of 1754 into an unknown family. By April 19, 1775, he was residing in Medfield and joined a company of minutemen under Capt. Sabin Mann. Surviving muster rolls of Gridley’s militia company confirm this first enlistment, in which he was documented with eighty-two other soldiers who marched to Cambridge. Too late for Lexington and Concord, Gridley began combat at Bunker Hill under Capt. John Boyd in Col. John Greaton’s Massachusetts regiment. After this battle, he volunteered to march to Quebec under Col. Benedict Arnold and was among those who fought and were taken prisoner during the Siege of Quebec on December 31, 1775. Gridley continued as a prisoner, enduring much hardship until September 1776; the prisoners in Quebec were put on ships in August and sailed to New York, where they were released by the British at returned to their countrymen in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, in September.[2]

Gridley’s own narrative of his military service was quite extraordinary. Written in 1818, and preserved by his wife, most of Gridley’s statement focused on the hardships he endured on his march to Quebec and his subsequent imprisonment. The journey began in difficulty as he and fellow soldiers “sayl’d” the Kennebec “up, over, and under carring places,” that is, carrying places or portages. It did not take long until their batteaux was “distroy’d” and he was forced to continue the trek by land, all the while suffering “every[thing] but death,” even “the beasts of the wilderness.” It was only “by the assistance of God” that he and his fellow soldiers persevered to St. Roch’s village, in the vicinity of Quebec. The same religious perspective that animated Gridley to write his prayer bill after the war clearly remained with him into 1818, when he recalled his treacherous journey to Quebec.[3]

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