Saturday, September 12, 2015

Dr. Benjamin Church Jr. and Moses Gill Selected to Escort George Washington from Springfield to Cambridge

   From the Journals of the Third Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, Monday, June 26th, 1775:

Resolved, That Doct Benjamin Church and Mr Moses Gill, be a committee to repair to Springfield, there to receive Generals Washington and Lee, with every mark of respect due to their exalted characters and stations; to provide proper escorts for them, from thence, to the army before Boston, and the house provided for their reception at Cambridge; and to make suitable provision for them, in manner following, viz: by a number of gentlemen of this colony from Springfield to Brookfield; and by another company raised in that neighborhood from there to Worcester; and by another company there provided, from thence to Marlborough; and from thence, by the troop of horse in that place, to the army aforesaid: And [to make suitable provision for] their company at the several stages on the road, and to receive the bills of expense at the several inns, where it may be convenient for them to stop for refreshment, to examine them, and make report of the several sums expended at each of them, for that purpose,  that orders may be taken by the Congress for payment of them: and all innkeepers are hereby directed to make provision agreeably to the requests made by the said committee; and that General Ward be notified of the appointment of General Washington, as commander in chief of the American forces, and of the expectation we have, of his speedy arrival with Major General Lee, that he, with the generals of the forces of the other colonies, may give such orders for their honorable reception, as may accord with the rules and circumstances of the army, and the respect due to their rank, without, however, any expense of powder, and without taking the troops off from the necessary attention to their duty, at this crisis of our affairs.
           N.B. The Congress' explicit prohibition on the discharge of gunpowder even in the meager amount needed to fire a salute to the incoming Commander-in-Chief.

   One can only assume that Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr was selected as one of the two members of the committee to escort General Washington because he presumably had met Washington on his recent visit to the Continental Congress and because of his stature within the Provincial Congress and New England; not to mention his long standing membership on the Committee of Safety. I doubt that anyone in the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, other than Church, had ever met Washington.

   Moses Gill was one of the younger sons of John Gill who, along with his partner Benjamin Edes, published The Boston Gazette, that staunch Whig newspaper. He was born on January 18, 1734 in Charlestown, Massachusetts and he became a hardware merchant operating out of Boston. In 1759,
he married Sarah Prince, the daughter of Thomas Prince, the pastor of Old South Church, a Harvard graduate and well known clergyman and historian who was a friend of Jonathan Edwards and a prominent figure in the Great Awakening that swept the colonies in the late 1730s and early 1740s. Although Thomas Prince was a clergyman, he was wealthy, lived in a large house on Washington Street that once was the home of Gov John Winthrop and possessed a large library. Thomas Prince helped Jonathan Edwards with his publication projects and supported him personally and professionally throughout his turbulent career.

   Deborah Prince, the English born wife of Thomas Prince, was a close friend of  Sarah Pierpont Edwards, Jonathan's wife, throughout her life. The Edwards family frequently visited the Princes in their Washington Street home and Sarah Prince started a girlhood friendship with the Edwards' daughter, Esther, that would mature into a life long friendship. Esther eventually moved away and married Aaron Burr, Sr., the second President of Princeton College. Among their children was the future Vice-President and duelist Aaron Burr
Esther Edwards Burr

   Religion and literature were at the center of Sarah Prince's life and very early on she started keeping a spiritual diary. She maintained a life long correspondence with Esther Burr which Sarah kept secret from her family. One historian* characterizes this correspondence:

Sarah Prince shows herself to be well read, articulate, interested in all things cultural and committed to spiritual self-examination and growth. Although their letters detailed news of family, friends and domestic life, the correspondents are most impassioned when they express their religious concerns.
   Sarah Prince had little time for domestic pursuits and was not interested in her mother's interests and activities. She married Moses Gill at the very advanced age, for her day, of 31 years and married a man five years her junior. There is no indication that she found any joy in married life and one historian speculates that the marriage was due to the fact that, because of the recent deaths of family and friends, she found herself alone in the world and had a need for companionship.**

   That Moses Gill married above himself there is little doubt.

   Upon Thomas Prince's death, Sarah inherited her father's extensive land holdings in Princeton, Massachusetts, about 50 miles west of Boston in Worcester County. Gill was a very successful merchant and that, along with his wife's inheritance, allowed him to retire at the age of 33. His 1764 Copley portrait reflects that prosperity.  Gill probably moved to Princeton in 1767 since town records indicate that he brought three "Negro servants" (slaves) with him. But Gill thought enough of his slaves that he bought expensive gravestones for their burial in the graveyard of the First Congregational Church.( All three gravestones  can be seen in the cemetery this day.)
Gravestone of Flora, Negro Servant of Moses Gill.
Flova on the stone is incorrect.

   Sarah died childless in 1771 and the following year Gill married the very wealthy, 45 year old spinster, Rebecca Boylston, heir to her father and her brother, Nicolas Boylston, a Loyalist who died suddenly in August 1771. Moses and Rebecca  had a childless marriage but adopted a son of one of Moses Gill's brothers when he died. Copley painted Rebecca Boylston Gill twice and Nicolas Boylston three times.

   Gill didn't enter into politics until late in the struggles between the colonists and Britain, being elected to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in 1774 where he assumed the position of Chairman of the Committee of Supply, a reason, perhaps, of his selection, along with Church, to escort George Washington to Cambridge. At the time of his selection in June 1775, his father, John Gill, had elected to remain in Boston under British occupation. His newspaper was no longer being printed and the war forced the dissolution of his partnership with Benjamin Edes. In fact, John Gill was imprisoned by the British for 29 days in September 1775 for "printing treason, sedition, and treason"

   Gill continued to serve in the Provincial Congress and then in the Massachusetts House after Massachusetts adopted its new constitution. Moses Gill also served as Judge and Chief Justice in the Worcester County Court of Common Pleas and was Chief Justice during the Quock Walker trials. Quock's owner died, having promised him his freedom, and Quock was passed on to the deceased owner's wife. When she remarried, her husband abused him. Quock sued for his freedom." There were several trials, two civil and one criminal, and the decisions went both ways; but in 1781 Quock Walker won. Without going into detail, the Walker cases established the basis for ending slavery in Massachusetts on constitutional ground
View of Moses Gill's Princeton home by Samuel Hill, probably executed in 1792. The home is no longer extant.

   Moses Gill continued to serve in the State Legislature. being re-elected annually. He tried several times to be elected Governor of Massachusetts but failed. He did, however, manage to serve several terms as Lieutenant Governor and ,upon the death of Governor Increase Sumner in 1799, became acting Governor for several months. Gill once again became a candidate for Governor but died on  May 20, 1800.

   It is very difficult to get one's hands around Moses Gill's beliefs and politics and one can find no contribution he made to the Revolutionary cause except for his service in the Provincial Congress and the state legislature. He was a wealthy man and managed to preserve that wealth
Granary Burying Ground, Boston.
Moses Gill is buried here and has no gravestone.
throughout the Revolution primarily because his land holdings were outside of Boston and, as far as I can determine, did not offer any of his fortune to the revolutionary cause. The historian John Barry perhaps sums up Moses Gill the best when he spoke of his tenure as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts. One gets the impression that it really pretty much sums up his political life.

[He] was esteemed as an ardent patriot, and a sincere friend to the liberties of the people.  He was a gentleman of respectable talents, and discharged the duties of his office with commendable diligence.

Sarah Prince Gill by John Singleton Copley, 1764


Moses Gill, miniature
by John Singleton Copley, 1759
Given by Moses to Sarah Prince as a wedding present.

Moses Gill by John Singleton Copley, 1764.

Moses Gill by John Singleton Copley, 1764.

Nicolas Boylston by John Singleton Copley (1770)

   * Those interested in learning more about Sarah Prince Gill and the lives of religious, intellectual women during this period should consult: "The Silent and Soft Communion: The Spiritual Narratives of Sarah Pierpont Edwards and Sarah Prince Gill," by Sue Lane McCulley, Dorothy Zayatz Baker, University of Tennessee Press, 2005.
   ** The Boston Public Library has a copy of Sarah Prince Gill's manuscript journal as well as a catalogue of the books in her father's library now in the collections of the Boston Public Library.

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