General Asahel Gridley
Legal Cohort of Abraham Lincoln
Thomas Boslooper, PhD.
With the revival of studies of Abraham Lincoln following the discoveries in the summer of 1993 of caches of his papers in various building in Illinois there has been along with the renewed interest in Lincoln studies a perceived need for re-evaluation of his legacy.
What is presented in this document is data on the life of General Asahel Gridley of Bloomington, Illinois, who was one of fourteen lawyers who was associated with Lincoln. This fact is hardly known since many biographers of Lincoln make no reference to Gridley and others refer only to bizarre incidents in the Lincoln-Gridley relationship.
Most startling is the revelation in one biography of Lincoln by Dr. Robert H. Browne that General Asahel Gridley was the man who engineered the nomination of Abraham Lincoln as the Republican candidate for the presidency at the Convention in Chicago in 1860. Although there are more than forty references to Gridley in Browne’s book on Lincoln along with detailed accounts of their dealings with each other, there is no recognition of this either in other biographies of Lincoln or in the traditions about Gridley in his home town, Bloomington.
The failure of historians to recognize Dr. Browne’s two volume work Abraham Lincoln and the Man of His Time. 1901 and 1907, may stem from two sources: the tradition established by them that Judge David Davis was primarily responsible for Lincoln’s nomination, and the obscurity of Dr. Robert H. Browne. Since historians have not been able to identify him, he, along with Gridley, have been dismissed from Lincolnians.
Currently Asahel Gridley is a forgotten figure in Bloomington. A statue of him present by his daughter in 1931 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his arrival in Bloomington and which stood in the center of the Rotunda of the Court House has been moved down the center of the Rotunda of the Court House has been moved down a side hall into a dimly lit area where he stands unnoticed and unrecognized. What was the Court House is now the McLean County Historical Society.
This is ironic, since what was once the Court House is now the McLean County Historical Society, and General Asahel Gridley was among the principal contributors to the history and development of McLean County and Bloomington, Illinois.
At his death in 1881 he was the sole resident of Bloomington who had lived and worked there continuously for fifty years.
Asahel Gridley was responsible for making McLean a large county.
He was instrumental in starting McLean County’s first newspaper, first bank, and first telegraph office.
Asahel Gridley managed to have major railroads come to Bloomington.
Gridley took over Bloomington’s failing Gas-works and successfully managed it for the benefit of the community.
He was a benefactor of three churches: Baptist, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic.
He was a leader of the Abolitionists’ cause and in the formation of the Republican Party in Illinois.
Lincoln worked with Gridley in Gridley’s office in Bloomington, and when Gridley gave up his law practice, he turned his office over to Lincoln. Meanwhile Lincoln was a frequent guest of General Asahel and Mary A. E. Gridley.
He was recognized as one of the leaders in development of Central Illinois, McLean County, and Bloomington.
Asahel Gridley was well reported on in The Good Old Days in McLean County (1874), The History of McLean County (1879) and in his Obituary in January of 1881.
How could such a man have been forgotten?
Out of research on this question come these observations.
- A lore developer about him that was perpetuated among the populace that he was a coward, profane, unreligious and greedy. This lore was perpetuated by journalistic accounts of his life without regard for the historical context and facts of his life.
- No biography based on historical investigation has been written on the life of General Asahel Gridley to counteract the lore perpetuated by popular gossip and journalism.
- Since historiography is selective and political, General Asahel Gridley being late in life a non-political figure was overshadowed by men of high political profile such as David Davis who was Judge of the Eighth Circuit Court District of Illinois, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the U.S., and a United States Senator.
- The negative popular lore on Gridley was established in 1979 by the publication in The Illinois Magazine of an article by Alice M. Schlenker. Schlenker made little use of historical accounts, and although she is known to have made a casual inquiry in Kirksville, Missouri about Dr. Robert H. Browne, she took no note on Browne’s account of Gridley from his biography on Lincoln.
- Dr. Robert H. Brown has been overlooked by historians as a biographer of Lincoln and thus as a source for an historical perspective on General Asahel Gridley.
- Brown commented in the “Preface to the Second Revised Edition” of his biography of Lincoln (1907) on “the widespread and generous reception of his work” (First Edition, 1901) and spoke of “volumes which he (Browne) expects will soon be published.” These were to be books on the Civil War. Browne died in 1909. The books were not published. Subsequently since Browne’s two volumes work on Lincoln turned out to be his sole publication, he was soon forgotten as an author.
Consequently, the establishment of the identity and credibility Dr. Robert H. Browne becomes basic to the restoration of General Asahel Gridley as a key figure in the development of Central Illinois, McLean County and Bloomington, Illinois.
Dr. Robert H. Browne will be seen as a young man with an excellent background and education, a close associate of both Gridley and Lincoln, an organizer of the Republican Party in Illinois, a man with an earned degree from the Rush Medical College in Chicago, a practicing physician in Mahomet, Illinois, an Assistant Surgeon and Surgeon through the Civil War, a physician in Champaign, Illinois and Kirksville, Missouri, a Missouri State Senator who was behind legislation that furthered the cause of education, and an organizer of a Masonic Lodge, a post commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and an organizer of the Methodist Church in Kirksville, Missouri. He will also be seen to have been a courageous man who served in the Civil War even while suffering from a disability, and who maintained his political and medical career with the same disorder.
This document intends to provide historians with the identity and credibility of Dr. Robert H. Browne and at the same time with data that will help to restore General Asahel Gridley as a man who should be well remembered in Bloomington, Ill., McLean County, Ill., the State of Illinois, as well as in the history of this nation.
During the year 1993 Mr. Doug Williams of Mid-Illinois Title Services, Inc. in Bloomington began the restoration of this building to its original state - - as it was when the building was the McLean County Bank, founded by Asahel Gridley. This work will be completed in the fall of 1994.
Possibly this document during the same year 1994 will help to bring General Asahel Gridley out of the shadows and out from the sidelines and restore him to his proper place as a central figure in his community, his country, his state, and his country.
(1810 - 1881)
Asahel Gridley was born on April 26, 1810 in the vicinity of Casenovia, New York, the son of Asahel and Elizabeth Percival Gridley. Asahel’s father, Asahel Gridley, Sr., was born in Kensington, Conn. On 30 March 1765 and married Elizabeth Percival of New Durham, Conn., who was born on 11 April 1766. Asahel, Jr.’s father died when he was four. His mother died when he was fifteen. He was educated in a little red brick schoolhouse and then at the Pompey Hill Academy in Casenovia, N.Y. He walked five miles to school.
Asahel Gridley’s heritage is long and distinguished. His earliest known ancestor, Albertus Greslet, was of Viking background and came to England with William the Conqueror in the Norman Conquest and fought in the Battle of Hastings in 1066 C.E. In the division of land following the Norman Conquest Albertus Greslet came to be in charge of manors in Blackburn and was later assigned Manchester. He also held lands in Norfolk, Lincoln, and Suffolk. From the 11th to the 14th centuries his direct descendents were known as “the Barons of Manchester,” and one of which - - Robert De Greidley - - was one of the barons who pressured King John into producing the Charter of Liberties and was present on June 15, 1215 at Runymede for the signing of the Magna Carta.
By the time fourteen generations had passed Thomas Gridley was born on 10 April 1612, the son of Thomas Gridley and Elizabeth Clarke, at Ashen in Essex.
In 1633 Thomas Gridley (b. 1612) came from Braintree in England to America to Dorchester, Mass. on the ship “Griffin” when he departed from Boston with Rev. Thomas Hooker’s company to found Hartford, Conn. However, Thomas Gridley left Hartford briefly for Windsor in 1637. He returned to Hartford and was one of the proprietors of Hartford in 1640. Thomas Gridley is considered to have been a Founder of Windsor and a Founder of Hartford, Connecticut.
On September 29, 1644 Thomas Gridley married Mary Seymour (1620 – 1689+). Thomas and Mary had three children: Samuel, b 26 Nov 1647, Thomas b. 1 Aug 1650, and Mary b. 29 Sep 1652. Following her husband’s death in 1655 Mary Seymour Gridley married John Lanchton (Langdon) of Farmington.
The sons Samuel and Thomas became prominent in Farmington, together running a general store and blacksmith shop.
Asahel Gridley was a descendent of Thomas Gridley, Jr. (1650 – 1742) and his wife Elizabeth Clark (ca. 1633 – 1695), Thomas Jr. and Elizabeth had eleven offspring, the fifth of which was Samuel Gridley (1666 – 1772) after whose second marriage to Rebecca Chamberlain (1686 - ?) he moved to Kensington, Conn. Where son clement Gridley (1732 – 1822) was born. Clement married Sarah Hubbard on 25 Dec 1755. Following the Revolutionary War, Clement and his wife moved with their eight children to New York State and settled in Manlius, a few miles northwest of Casenovia, N.Y.
Asahel Gridley, Sr., (1765 – 1814) was the fourth child of clement Gridley and his wife Sarah Hubbard. Asahel Gridley, Jr., (1810 – 1881) was the fourth child of Asahel Gridley, Sr., and his wife Elizabeth Percival (Appendix III). His elder brother Timothy (1690 - ?) became renowned for farming at Fayetteville, N.Y., a tradition which has been maintained by his descendents at the same site until the present day. Timothy’s son Daniel Webster Gridley had son Timothy and grandson Timothy, both of whom were physicians. The latter Timothy had a son Timothy who currently is an international business entrepreneur and resides in Connecticut. Asahel’s younger brother George Washington Gridley (1817 -1861) distinguished himself by establishing a 30,000 acre ranch with 20,000 sheep north of Sacramento, California, a tradition which his sons carried into Idaho. The town of Gridley, California now is at the original ranch-site. Outside the town two hundred plus acres remain farmed by a descendent of Asahel Gridley’s brother George Washington Gridley. Descendents of George W. are currently numerous in Idaho and in the San Francisco Bay area of California. Several are in the real estate business. (See p. 97)
At the age of 10, Asahel Gridley quit school at the Pompey Hill Academy, presumably because he hated it, and went to work in a dry goods store. He was industrious and saved his money. At the age of 21 he decided to seek his fortune in the west. In 1831 he received a $1500 inheritance from his father, and a friend gave him a horse. He headed westward to Chicago, where he was offered one of the finest pieces of property in the area in exchange for his horse, but water and swampy land seemed to be everywhere, so he kept on going until he came to the rich, black soil of what is now Bloomington, Ill., which at the time consisted of little more than a crossing of Indian trails. Gridley arrived in Bloomington on October 8, 1831. One tradition has it that Asahel came to Bloomington at the urging of his sister. There he set up a mercantile business. In the early years he rode on horseback to St. Louis and purchased all kinds of supplies at the famous Warburton & King House. Occasionally he wagoned his goods from St. Louis to Bloomington, and at other times his goods were shipped by steamboat from St. Louis to Pekin, Ill. and then wagoned on to Bloomington.
Eventually Asahel made visits twice a year to Philadelphia and New York City to purchase goods. Jesse Fell wrote: “The ordinary way of travel to and from the East at that time was by steamboats on the Illinois, Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to Pittsburgh, and thence by stage across the mountains to Philadelphia and New York. Not infrequently the whole trip there and back, particularly in the winter season, was performed by stage. It was my good fortune to accompany the General during one of these winter trips by stage, and I shall never forget the hilarity and sport of that memorable trip. We had in company a Missourian as distinguished for his geniality, mirthfulness and fund of anecdotes as the General himself, possibly even more so, and we were never and a loss for something to relieve what would otherwise have been not only a cold but tedious, monotonous trip.”
Asahel was in business with Ortogrul Covell from 1831 – 1838. Ortogrul was the husband of Juliette Enos, who was born in Onondaga County, N.Y. on 28 Jun 1818(?) and died on 29 Apr 1863 in Bloomington. Ortogrul and Juliette were married in 1837. He was born in 1809 and died 23 Sep 1846. Following Ortogrul’s death Juliette on 4 Oct 1848 married Capt. Simon Brown. Juliette has sons James (b. 1840),), George F. (b. 1844), and Charles V. (b. 1846) by Ortogrul Covell.
For eight years Gridley and Covell sold hardware, queens ware, groceries, medicines, liquor, salt, iron nails, harness and saddles, and everything farmers needed. Gridley’s store was one of the first three in Bloomington, the others where owned and operated by Allin and Merritt L. Covell. Allin’s store was at the corner of Main and Front streets. Gridley’s store was on the opposite corner. Deerskins, coonskins and wolf-robes were important articles of commerce. In the stores these articles along with beeswax and honey were the most common payment for purchases made by the farmers.
According to Jesse Fell, Gridley’s customers extended over the whole county, then embracing nearly double the territory it covered at the time of his writing. Fell also mentioned: “The ordinary mode of doing business at this time was on credit, the people paying their store bills annually on Christmas, or on the first of January.”
In his early days in Bloomington Asahel Gridley resided with James Allin and his family. The community had its “formal” beginning on July 4, 1831, at which time lots were sold. The lots had been laid out in June. Upon Gridley’s arrival in Bloomington, he purchased a lot for $51 from someone who paid $60 at the July 4 bidding. Proceeds of the land sale on July 4 amounted to $3000, which was used to build the courthouse on land which James Allin donated. On March 6, 1832 Gridley bid $339.75 for the erection of the courthouse, which was built according to contract, and accepted by the Court in December of 1832.
“Between Allin and Gridley commenced an active acquaintance and friendship…for the next thirty years or more, took such a prominent part in the fortunes of this thriving town, as well as in those of the whole county. From the very first year of its existence he (Gridley) has been one of the foremost in all enterprises that promised the good of Bloomington. Being of an active, sanguine temperament, quick to perceive, he has generally been a leader in all undertakings – giving liberally of his means, arguing with the doubtful, pushing forward the slow and timid, carrying every one onward with his magnetic enthusiasm until success should crown the effort. Bloomington owes this gentleman a debt of gratitude that should be remembered to its latest generations.”
During that same year, 1832, Asahel Gridley served as a grand juror.
Shortly thereafter Asahel Gridley served at First Lieutenant of Company I, a cavalry company of Capt. Merritt L. Covell, and under the command of Major Stillman, during the Black Hawk War of 1832. Abraham Lincoln was a Captain of another company in the Black Hawk War. Gridley saw action; whereas, Lincoln did not. Each received an honorable discharge. Gridley’s reputation in the Black Hawk War, however , was later tainted by his citizens from McLean County who reported that in a battle in the Black Hawk War 275 men from McLean County against 40 Indians Gridley was reputed to have sent out the cry that they were surrounded by a thousand Indians. There was a panic, a rout, a defeat and what became known in history as Stillman’s Run. The story was spread that Gridley was the first to retreat, return home and proclaim himself the sole survivor.
Ezra Prince, a Bloomington Lawyer, who wrote an account of Stillman’s defeat for the McLean County Historical Transactions in 1899 used as a principal source for his questionable account which led to the demeaning of Asahel Gridley’s character John W. Rhodes, who had been First Lieutenant of Company II and who had taken no active part in the Stillman episode. Rhodes was the source of the story that Gridley was the first to return from Stillman’s Run, to claim the men had been surrounded by a thousand Indians, and to claim that he Gridley had been the sole survivor. Gridley was branded a coward. In another account by Sergeant David Simmons the engagement on the Rock River was described as a wild retreat and a dastardly rout in which Gridley was no hero.
The official record of the Black Hawk War, however, depicts Gridley as a hero who was the first to sound the alarm of impending danger and was cited for his being a true soldier at the point of great crisis.
The record in The History of McLean County (p. 266), quoting from a “History of Illinois” indicates that all of Major Stillman’s men “for years afterward…were made the subject of thoughtless merriment and ridicule, as undeserving as their expedition was disastrous.”
Asahel Gridley’s own account of the situation is worth noting. Gridley stated that his company from McLean County consisted of fifty-six mustered men. He went on: “The volunteers in Stillman’s Battalion numbered just 206 men. The men were very anxious to go and clean out the Indians, and not wait for the regulars. So we went on and came up with the Indians, six or seven hundred strong, a little way on the other side of what is now called Stillman’s Run. I cannot say much about the fight, but this, and that is, we got most beautifully whipped in the fight with the Indians. We only lost one man from this county, and his name is Joseph Draper; he was in our company. After the fight we returned to Dixon, thirty miles distant, the best way we could. Soon after the battle, we were sent back to this county and mustered out of service.”
In 1836 Gridley took a trip back east and sold in Philadelphia between $20,000 and $30,000 worth of lots in Bloomington. He also married Mary Ann Enos, described by Fell as an “accomplished lady” and being from a superior family and by others as being the most beautiful woman in Bloomington. He had met her on a previous visit. Their marriage took place on March 18,1836 at the Third Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a ceremony conduct by the Rev. Riddle. The church had been built at Third and Ferry Streets in Pittsburgh in 1834, but on June 1, shortly following Asahel and Mary’s marriage and their move to Bloomington, the bells on the church tolled disaster, the church was destroyed by fire and all records lost.
Mary Ann Enos was born in Onondaga Hollow, Onondaga County, New York on March 18,1818, the daughter of William C and Clarissa Barney Enos. Early in his career William C. Enos was known to have been a Sea Captain. By 1820 he had moved his family to Jefferson County, Indiana, where daughter Caroline was born 18 Mar 1824, to Louisiana where son Albert G. was born in 1830, and by the early 1830s he had established himself in business in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he was an Alderman. Asahel and Mary probably met at the time of one of Gridley’s trips East when he made stops in Pittsburgh and also knew of the family when they resided in Onondaga County, N.Y.
From 1839 to 1841 Gridley served as McLean County Treasurer, and from 1840 – 1842 he served in the lower branch of the Twelfth General Assembly as State Representative. During that time, when county lines were being drawn, Gridley, along with Jesse Fell and Merritt Covel saw to it that McLean County became one of the largest in the state.
Gridley himself described his campaign for election to the legislature in 1840. “Welcome P. Brown was my opponent. In that memorable campaign, we got up a monster procession and went from here to Peoria. We had a large canoe, hewn out of a tree and put on wheels, and in it we had twelve of the soldiers of the war of 1812. The canoe was drawn by twelve horses. We stopped in all the towns on the way – Mackinaw, Tremont and others – and had meetings there, and they were good ones, too. Everybody turned out…”
Jesse Fell made a telling commentary on that campaign. During the procession to Peoria a stop was made in the town of Washington where Judge David Davis, Dr. John F. Henry, Jesse Fell himself, and others made speeches. All of those men were accustomed to giving public speeches. Gridley was not. Fell described: “I called on the General. He immediately responded, and though wholly unprepared, made a speech that for clearness, point, and telling effect, was inferior to nothing we had heard during our trip. I slept with him that night, and have good reason to know that that was a turning point in his history. This effort had roused him to a consciousness of power in a new direction.”
On January 9, 1841 at the Illinois Legislature, Lincoln was aware that a resolution had been presented by his friend Asahel Gridley. The “Illinois State Register” on January 22, 1841 referred to it as “a burlesque petition” that had been presented by Gridley, a Whig, whit reference to a speech by Alpheus Wheeler, Democrat of Pike County. John A McClernand, a Democrat of Gallatin County, offered a resolution condemning the petition and its presentation by Gridley as insulting to the House. Lincoln expressed that he would be sorry to see a resolution of this kind pass, calculated to wound the feelings of him who had presented the petition. He hoped the resolution would be so modified. Mr. Lincoln then moved to strike out that portion of the resolution requiring the petition to be returned to the member presenting it. Thus, Lincoln acted in behalf of Asahel Gridley.
Henry C. Whitney, another friend of Lincoln, recalled Lincoln’s reaction to Gridley’s use of the English language. Whitney recollected how in the McLean circuit court Gridley roasted the city government of Bloomington in a speech made in a misdemeanor case. Whitney presumed that Gridley being one of the two wealthiest men in Bloomington was prejudiced against the city government because of high taxes, and “Grid” seized this occasion to abuse the government without stint or limit.
Whitney described how Lincoln enjoyed, in certain moods, language stripped naked, using language which would have reflected a brilliant carnation luster on the pages of Decameron or Rebelais. Whitney went on: “Lincoln was entranced by reason of the wit and extreme radicalism of the language used. “We were sitting together, and a broad grin suffused his countenance for nearly an hour. He would turn to me and whisper, every few moments: ‘Don’t he dew that well?’” According to Whitney, that sort of thing suited Lincoln. Whitney concluded with the observation that he never heard coarse language in a court in session.
In a case in Bloomington in which Asahel Gridley faced the opposing counsel of Kersey Fell, Fell’s brother-in-law Franklin Price reported that Gridley “raved and cantered around in great fury, and declared that he would take Mr. Fell into the courthouse yard and kick him around the square…”
Another story had it that Gridley even stood on street corners under the influence of liquor and cursed every prominent man in town. One of his friends, William Flagg, who in 1848 and ’49 was among the foremost inventors of improved reapers, became fed up with his accusation and sued him for slander. Gridley’s lawyer won an acquittal for him with the unusual defense: “If anyone else had said such things, he would be guilty of slander, but everybody knows that General Gridley talks that way all the time.” Gridley’s lawyer was Abraham Lincoln.
“Because of Gridley’s caustic criticisms, for years many prominent people refused to speak to him on the streets of Bloomington.”
Although Gridley was sharp-tongued and short tempered, brought on surely in great part by the stigma of cowardice having been placed on him during the Black Hawk War, he did acquiesce to the citizens of McLean County and accepted a demotion from First Lieutenant to private. However in 1844 the same citizens elect him Brigadier-General for the Mexican War. In this war he did not serve but through his life retained the title “General.”
Gridley formed a law partnership with Allen and Prickett. David Prickett died in 1847. Subsequently Gridley formed a partnership with Col. J. H. Wickizer. On September 5, 1856 Reuben M. Benjamin, a county judge, passed his law examination administered by Gridley and went into practice with Gridley and J. H. Wickizer.
At Springfield, Illinois on July 7, 1852 Asahel was one of three nominees for Lieutenant Governor of the State of Illinois but lost the nomination to Col. J. Morrison.
On February 5, 1853 Lincoln called upon Asahel Gridley, then a State Senator from McLean County, to introduce for him a bill to incorporate the Vermillion Coal and Manufacturing Company to the Illinois State Legislature. The Bill passed the Senate but died in the House upon adjournment.
In a letter dated August 10, 1858 Lincoln wrote to Albert Parker, Esq. in which Lincoln responded to a legal question concerning Gridley. Asahel Gridley as agent for the Illinois Central Railroad had sold the company’s land in Livingston County to settlers, taking their notes payable to himself, and was suing the purchasers, who had no assurance of deeds to their property. Parker had asked in his letter to Lincoln dated August 7, “Cannot the collection of Gridley’s noted be stayed until the parties get deeds?” Lincoln’s response to Parker was: “As to the law-question. As the consideration of the notes, Gridley will insist they were given because of his acting as agent for the makers of the notes, in purchasing the land; and I rather think this will make out a legal consideration.”
Originally a Whig and elected by the Whigs to the State legislature, Gridley later identified himself with the Republican cause in 1856, serving upon the State Central Committee during the campaign of that year, but, in 1872, he took part in the Liberal Republican movement, serving as a delegate to the Cincinnati Convention.
The closeness of the relation ship between Abraham Lincoln and Asahel Gridley is illustrating in “Lincoln Day by Day – A chronology 1809 – 1865,” Earl S. Miers, Editor-in-Chief, Washington, 1960, Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission. There are no fewer than thirty references to legal and court cases and legislative sessions in which Lincoln and Gridley participated together. In a number of the cases Lincoln argued against legal counsel Gridley. In others they argued cases together as a team. In one case on April 21, 1854 Lincoln argued a case for the Chicago & Mississippi Railroad against the McLean County Bank of which Asahel Gridley was administrator.
In a most unusual case in Urbana, Illinois on May 10, 1845 Lincoln and Gridley were appointed to defend William Weaver, a drunkard who shot David Hiltebran with a rifle for no apparent reason. The shot entered Hiltebran’s right side and he died. Weaver was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged but escaped. Lincoln is known to have hated to take cases for a defendant when he was sure the defendant was guilty, and he would try to get someone to take his place. In this instance he apparently got his friend Gridley to take the case with him, but even with their combined skills they could not get a not guilty verdict for their client.
Gridley himself said of Lincoln: “When Mr. Lincoln had a good case, he was invincible; when he had a poor case, or one in which he thought he had not justice on his side, I would rather be against him than any man I know. When he had an idea that he was in the wrong, he could not take the same interest, and I could win nine cases out of ten of that kind when Mr. Lincoln was on the other side.”
In a series of complicated political maneuvers regarding a vote on a controversial vote during a session of the Illinois State Legislature which convened in a church in Springfield, Joseph Gillespie described: “Lincoln and I, determined to leave the Hall and going to the door found it locked and then raised a window and jumped out, but not until the democrats had succeeded in adjourning. Mr. Gridley of McLean accompanied us in our exit.” The doors had been locked by order of the Speaker.
Gridley is also mentioned in Lincoln’s correspondence such as in a letter to Judge David Davis on July 7, 1856. Speaking of his own letter to Davis, he said, “Show this to Gridley and other friends, or not, just as you may judge whether it do good or harm.”
Asahel Gridley was the bitter public enemy of Judge Davis. Whitney described how Gridley was probably richer than Davis and would not pay needed deference to him. A typical exchange in court: Davis – “You don’t call that law, do you?” said the Judge. Gridley – “My clients hired me to try this case, and if we need your help, we will call on you.”
Judge David Davis was described as “a Brobdingnagian of a man, over six feet tall, weighing more than three hundred pounds.” And, “because of his autocratic ways, many lawyers around the circuit disliked and feared him.” Part of Davis’ dislike for Gridley could have stemmed from the fact that Gridley was slender and only 5 feet 8 inches tall and had the nerve to speak up to Davis, whereas most other lawyers feared him.
The hostility between them was increased by the fact that Davis for many years was pro-slavery. Gridley was an Abolitionist. “Abolitionist” was the most opprobrious epithet known. Gridley was the one who introduced the speaker on abolitionism for a mass meeting held in Bloomington’s public square at the west side of the Court House.
Gridley introduced the abolitionist Owen Lovejoy arousing the enthusiasm of the crowd “in his usual vigorous style, and caused several interruptions from some of the highly-excited auditors.” The dual effect of Gridley’s introduction and Lovejoy’s mesmerizing speech cause nearly everyone in the crowd to become ardent Republicans. Previously Gridley himself had been a Whig and had been elected to the Legislature and Senate as a Whig.
In 1870 when Dr. Etzard Duis asked Jesse Fell to do a sketch on Gridley for his The Good Old Times in McLean County, which was published in 1874, Fell, by some, was considered to be Gridley’s best friend. He concluded his sketch with comments on General Gridley’s volatile temperament. He said: “I cannot close without referring to a somewhat striking criticism – shall I call it? – in which he is accustomed to indulge towards those with whom he differs. Being of a highly impulsive nature and being utterly incapable of deceit or mental reservation he fires up with a zeal often more intense than wise. He can assail even a friend, who the very next hour he cordially embraces and perhaps renders an important favor.” He went on to add that Gridley often later admitted that he was “decidedly wrong.” Dr. Duis also spoke of Gridley as a man “of positive character.”
Judge John McClun spoke in similar fashion about Gridley’s temperament. “The General might pass a fellow citizen by for several years without speaking, and then would stop him, grasp his hand and say, ‘Here, what’s the use of us being damned fools. Let’s go in and take a drink.”
“The General” obviously was a controversial figure. His troubles stemmed not only from his reputation as a coward in the Black Hawk War, but also from having built a mansion just 17 years after having declared bankruptcy. When President Andrew Jackson withdrew federal funds from the privately owned National Bank, a ripple effect started that culminated in the Panic of 1837. Land became valueless. Soon after Gridley started a newspaper on January 14, 1837, on January 23 1837 he placed an ad on the front page:
I will give the above reward to any person
Who will cause all persons indebted to me
by note or otherwise to pay the same when
due. Punctuality is the life of business,
and to enable me to again do business, I
must collect my debts, peaceably if I can –
forcibly if I must.
Conditions did not improve and by 1842 Asahel Gridley took bankruptcy. Jesse Fell believed that Gridley’s bankruptcy which may have been looked upon as a financial failure, “I have always looked upon as fortunate, as it developed his powers in other directions, and thereby secured a higher measure of success than he could reasonably have hoped for, had he continued in his old business.”
Fell recalled a conversation he had with Gridley in the Spring of 1841. He “…seemed more thoroughly saddened in spirit that I had ever before or since known him. The question was, what he should do to repair his shattered fortunes, and to supply the wants of a growing family.” He was averse to using his experience in the Legislature to the advantage of thousands others were doing –“flocking to Washington to get some ‘fat office.’” Fell went on: “I need scarcely say I advised him to immediately qualify himself for the practice of law, and this advice, aided by similar suggestions from other quarters, may have contributed to bring about that result.” Fell went on to describe how Gridley went on to become not only a respectable but an able attorney.
By 1842 “The General” had taken up law and traveled during the early days of his law career with Abraham Lincoln over territory where they both practiced law.
Eventually Asahel Gridley along with Leonard Swett, John M. Scott and William Ward Orme were known as leading lawyers in McLean County.
Early on Lincoln and Gridley practiced law together and used to travel around the circuit together in a two horse buggy, fording streams and swapping stories, visiting the different county seats to try law cases. Lincoln was also a close companion of Judge Davis, but Davis traveled by himself in a two-horse buggy while Lincoln rode in his own conveyance, drawn by his celebrated horse “Buck.” At other times as many as eight or ten lawyers traveled together, Gridley and Lincoln among them.
Gridley is described by Henry Clay Whitney as one of a circle of fourteen lawyers of which included Abraham Lincoln and how as many as ten of them at a time would ride all day long in one vehicle, “and singing over half the way.” “When I lived ‘way down in Ole Virginny,” was named as their favorite song “for two or three terms.” “We knew only a stanza and a half, but we sung these over and over again.” Lincoln was the only member of the group who did not sing.
When he first came to Bloomington, Gridley made music in the streets. With his two friends – William Dimmitt, who played the violin, and Merritt Covel, the clarinet – and he himself on the bass drum they made the town ring with music and would go from one place to another serenading.
In 1860 seventeen years following his bankruptcy, Gridley had become the wealthiest man in town and built a hug mansion, the most sumptuous home in Bloomington. It was constructed of cream colored bricks imported from Milwaukee with French windows along the front of the residence that opened out on to a stone patio roofed over with lacy ironwork. Each window and door was surmounted by a graceful stone pediment. It was grander than most citizens had ever seen. It was built at a cost of $40,000 and is located at what is now 301 East Grove Street.
When Lincoln appeared in Bloomington at a Rally, Gridley showed his friend his home. Lincoln is reported to have remarked, “Gridley, do you want everybody to hate you?”
Mrs. Gridley in her reminisces of 1899 recounted how the sand as well as all the mechanics for building the house were brought from Chicago. A Mr. Evans of Bloomington was the overseer of the woodwork. “The woodwork has never been varnished since, so you can glean an idea of the thoroughness of the workmanship then.” She then described how the old pieces of furniture were once “show pieces” to the people of the city. A rosewood and mohair settee was conspicuous for having been brought from Pittsburgh, since it was the settee “before which Mr. Gridley and I stood when the words were pronounced ever making us husband and wife.” Furniture also included the first rocking chair and the first caned furniture ever brought to Bloomington. Over the years the Gridleys took trips to Europe at which times they collected tapestries and Cazara marble statuary and bronze statuary from Italy. One piece was that of a Roman Senator. Their paintings included works of Michael Angelo and Madame Le Brun. The center piece of their music room was the first grand piano in the city along with a cherished treasure, a music box, a facsimile of a Swiss Shalet. Dr. Schroeder was known, however, to have had the first full grand piano. The Library consisted of a collection of rare works of great literary figures and included several volumes that once belonged to Abraham Lincoln.
Other firsts included a baby carriage from New York when their first child was born and the first carriage and carriage horses and the equipage.
Mrs. Gridley had also in her possession a dozen out glass champagne glasses of the high stemmed style. She recounted how “many a time Judge Davis and his first wife, a Massachusetts lady of much refinement, borrowed those glasses, not to use as receptables for the effervescent beverage, for which they were designed, but for vases for flowers to decorate their home in honor of their guests.”
Asahel Gridley was recognized as the first millionaire in McLean County (some say Central Illinois) and was known as a man with an immense fortunce. Most of his wealth went into real estate, and he is known to have owned twenty six farms. Much of his property came to him by way of acquisitions in townships of Cheny’s Grove, Clue Cound, Dale, Dawson, Downs, Empire, Funk’s Grove, Hudson, Lexington, Dry Grove, Money Creek, Mount Hope, Normal, Old Town, Randolph, West, White Oak, and Towanda as well as in Gridley. The properties in Empire and Normal were acquired in 1835 and 1836. Most of the others were acquired in August and September of 1852. He also owned properties in Woodford and Iroquois counties. He, of course, also possessed several properties before his death in 1881, but he also acquired others such as twenty-four lots in San Diego, California.
The Inventory taken after his death listed Gridley’s holdings in Bloomington. Gridley owned his homestead and stable on Grove Street, properties at 109 and 111 E. Front Street which were occupied by two stone front stores run by J. E. Houtz & Co., 113 E. Front Street where his Gas Fixture Store was located, six lots where the McLean County Bank was located, two lots on West Front Street on which were two brick stores occupied by W. K. Dodson & Willever & Holmes, a lot on which Gridley’s Malt House was located, four lots at 106 West Front Street with a brick store occupied by I. D. Smith & Co., four lots at 110 W. Front Street where a brick store was situated and occupied by J. R. Smith & Co., four lots at 112 W. Front Street with a brick store occupied by Geo. Brand. Gridley also owned a lot known as “the Weldon lot.” In his possession were also three lots known as “the old Gas Lots,” two lots known as the “Gas Company Residence,” where the superintendent of the Gas Works lived, and eleven blocks occupied by the Gas Works itself.
During the Panic of 1873 contemporaries reported that he made rebates to his tenants.
Asahel Gridley was an outstanding attorney and was an eloquent orator as well as being a most successful pleader before the Court.
Gridley was elected a state senator and served two terms – 1850 – 1854. In the campaign for election in 1850 his opponents tried to capitalize on his bankruptcy in a publication addressed to the voters of McLean, Tasewell, and Logan Counties, listing a full account of his debts of 1842 and bankruptcy proceedings and calling him an unscrupulous and dishonest man and a swindler. The scandal sheet was six columns wide, two feet in length, and printed on both sides. However, the populace thought differently of Gridley. He won the election. As a state senator he took a conspicuous part in the two succeeding sessions of the General Assembly in securing the location of the Chicago & Alton and the Illinois Central Railroads by way of Bloomington. In the later period he was also a leading promoter of the Indiana, Bloomington & Western and other lines. In 1851, when the State of Illinois had to designate a route for a projected railroad, Gridley became an effective legislator and lobbyist, and Gridley became the agent appointed for McLean and Woodford counties to obtain the necessary land.
Gridley addressed a letter to the public which was printed in “The Western Intelligencer.”
Senate Chamber, February 6, 1851
The Senate, this moment, by a vote of 23 to 2, has passed the Central Railroad bill….This provision secures the road to Bloomington, Clinton and Decatur beyond all question, and secures the construction of the great central road through the three counties of McLean, DeWitt and Macon….I think the citizens of said counties are fortunate that by the provisions of this bill this great road is secured to them….I take this earliest opportunity to advise you, and through you to advise my fellow-citizens of McLean and other counties of the Eleventh Senatorial District, of the progress of the Legislature upon the subject of railroads, well knowing their deep and abiding anxiety therein. Trusting that my feeble efforts in their behalf may meet their approbation, I am,
Very respectfully your obedient servant,
Gridley proved to be an excellent salesman and is known to have made for himself as much as a thousand dollars in a day. He also managed to establish Bloomington’s first bank. In addition he took over the foundering Gas-Works and established that company as an integral and efficient contribution to the community.
The McLean County Bank started in March of 1853 on the site where Gridley earlier operated his store. The charter then obtained was to run for twenty-five years. His partners at the time were J. Y. Scammon and J. A. Burch, but before two years had passed, Gridley owned the entire stock. Deposits for the first five years were about $200,000. The Gas-works at a time when such a venture was extremely problematical were supplied to the town by Gridley’s own means.
In August of 1853 Gridley subscribed $50 toward putting in Union Telegraph lines into Bloomington. The first telegraph office was opened on January 24, 1854.
Asahel Gridley also has a town and township in McLean County named after him. In 1856 George Washington Kent, who had been employed by Gridley in purchasing lands for the railroads, took into partnership Thomas Carlisle, another employee of Gridley, and together they purchased Section 4 of Township 26, Range 3, and proceeded to lay out a town where a railroad was to come through. They named the town “Gridley” in honor of Asahel, and in July of 1858 transferred their entire interest in the town and in Section 4 to General Gridley, who soon came into possession of one hundred and thirty-four additional lots. The General donated two lots and $200 in 1859 for the build of the town’s first hotel on the condition that the building be worth $1,000. It was named the “Gridley House” and actually cost several hundred dollars more than was stipulated. In July of 1875 Gridley caused the plat of the town to be resurveyed and replatted so that Gridley could sell lots along the railroad. This brought about an injunction by the railroad, which was dissolved, but Gridley commenced suits in ejectments against all parties including the railroad. Gridley eventually lost his case, but the litigation cause much perplexity and no little expense and much ill-feeling against General Gridley. Gridley was accused of being a rich man who had no feelings for the rights of the poor men. Analysis of the case, however, reveals that it was probable that the courts, on full hearing, would have given Gridley the verdict, since Gridley was operating according “to the general rule of landed proprietors.”
During his financial difficulties in the early 1850’s Gridley made an expedition to California, unusual both for its purpose and perseverance. He went to borrow money from his younger brother George Washington Gridley in what later was named Gridley, California. In honor of the occasion his younger brother renamed one of his own sons “Asahel”. The overland trip on horseback from Midwest to farwest and return to Midwest exemplified the General’s unusual tenacity and stamina.
The name Asahel was carried on in two lineages of the family George Washington Gridley. Currently one of which enjoys dual residence in Hagerman, Idaho and San Diego, California, and the other lives in Burbank, Illinois.
On May 15, 1857 Asahel Gridley was one of a number of contributors of $5,000 for the building of Normal University. Gridley also drew up the form of bond or guarantee for the project.
Asahel Gridley’s stamina became legendary during the sessions of the State Senate. It was said that during the senate sessions he would ride horseback all night to Springfield, a distance of sixty miles, conduct his business during the day and ride back that night, ready to go to work in Bloomington the next morning. He made the trip twice a week.
A friendship between the like of Gridley and Lincoln was not unusual for Lincoln. Lincoln’s partner between 1852 and 1857 Ward Hill Lamon, described by Lincoln as “my particular friend,” possessed a personality not unlike that of Gridley. “A gusty boisterous, roistering, impulsive but by no means unlearned man, almost as tall as Mr. Lincoln himself, with an Irishman’s love of a brawl, and a fine, full, confident voice, he possessed a gift which he cultivated into a habit for getting into good graces, frenzied situations, and hot water.” A letter deposited in Illinois State Historical Library, written by Lamon and addressed to Gridley in 1866 expressed a bond between Lamon and Gridley. Lamon, who was a law partner from 1857 to 1861, was by Lincoln appointed Marshall in Washington, D.C. Gridley had sent Lamon a copy of the April 25, 1866 issue of the Weekly Pantagraph Bloomington’s newspaper which in turn had taken material from two other papers including the Chicago Tribune, and thus circulated a story, all of which was meant to defame and slander Lamon. Apparently the Chicago Tribune had turned against Lincoln, the story about Lincoln wanted to resign his position in Washington, and Lincoln stood by him and would not allow him to do so. A telling line came near the close of the letter: “I leave you to draw the parallel between us.”
The closeness between Lincoln and Gridley is also demonstrated in the file of fourteen telegrams and letters, now in the Library of Congress (Appendix V), send by Asahel Gridley to Abraham Lincoln in 1859 and 1860. This correspondence, in which Gridley sought Lincoln’s legal advice and counsel while Lincoln was candidating for the Republican nomination for the Presidency and while he was running for the office, gives credence to the suggestion that the two were close politically as well during the entire campaign, and Lincoln certainly may have offered Gridley and ambassadorship to a European nation.
After Lincoln became President of the United Stated he summoned General Gridley to Washington and offered him the ministership of the Office of St. James in London. When the General replied, “Impossible, I can’t go,” Lincoln countered with the offer of an ambassadorship to Russia. Gridley stood and answered Lincoln, “I appreciate this great honor, but I prefer to remain a private citizen.” Lincoln approached Gridley, placed his hands on his shoulders and said, “Well, Gridley, I guess you’re right, but I can’t think of any man I would rather send.”
The year the Gridleys moved into their mansion – 1860 – was the beginning of a series of tragedies. The Gridleys had seven children, but only four survived. Charles Skidmore Gridley was born on 14 Jan 1839 and died on 28 Jan 1848 from an infection resulting in lock jaw following a gunshot wound from a gun his father had given him. Edward was born 13 May 1850 and died in 8 Jun 1850. George was born and died in 1860. Three unnamed infants born in 1862, 1864, and 1868 were removed from their original burial sites and placed in the Gridley plot and were buried simultaneously on October 26, 1866. These were three infants of Juliette Gridley and her first husband Frederick D. Tater who were married in 1857. Another Gridley infant of unidentified parentage, Mary B., died on 25 Dec 1871 after having lived for just twenty-five days.
A friend took Edgar Lee Masters to Evergreen Cemetary to see fice of the tiny graves. He wrote a poem about them for his “New Sppon River Anthology.” The name of the parents are changed as is that of his friend, “the old maid.”
“Here we are, five of us
Children of William and Janice Poncey
All of us nameless, for none of us lived a day
Three of us died in an hour,
One in two hours, one in five.
And all our little stones are alike,
And contain nothing but dates and parentage;
And in a circle carved at the top
A passion flower bent upon its broken stalk.
Why does the old maid Zetta Tucker
Come here so often, and kneel before our stones,
And look and look?”
There is reported to have been tension of demonic proportions between the General and his wife.
During the election of 1860 when Lincoln and Douglas opposed each other for the presidency, General Gridley introduced Lincoln to a Republican rally. Mrs. Gridley put a Douglas flag on Gridley’s carriage and escorted Stephen A. Douglas to a Democratic rally. On this incident Judge David Davis commented, “Many men would not live another day with her after such an impropriety.” This incident did not effect their relationship between either Lincoln and Gridley or between the Gridleys and Stephen A. Douglass. Lincoln is known to have visited the Gridley home often enough for Mrs. Gridley to confide that “Mr. Stephen A. Douglas was the most interesting conversationalist I ever met, but Mr. Lincoln was the peer of any of those I have known.” On one occasion Lincoln was in the Gridley home to dry off after riding with Asahel from Pontiac, Illinois in a driving rain and became soaked to the skin. All that was available to Lincoln were some of Asahel’s clothes. Mrs. Gridley was known to comment: “You can imagine how abbreviated the trousers and sleeves were on Lincoln.” Everyone knows that Lincoln was considerably taller than Gridley’s 5’ – 8”.
In spite of the rivalry between Douglas and Lincoln and the obvious sensitivity of Gridley’s position with respect to Mary Gridley and Stephen Douglas and Lincoln, Gridley always thought of Douglas as a friend. “When he came here he always stayed with me, and always, up to the time of his death, we were warm personal friends. As a man, he was honorable and just.” Gridley added another note on Douglas: “He never amounted to much of a lawyer; that is to say, he never took rank with Lincoln and Baker….As a District Attorney he was not a success, and I don’t believe he convicted one case out of ten that he was interested in.”
Gridley was also reported seen by neighbors, the Cheneys, to have put his wife out of the house at night in the snow clad only in her nightgown and to have shut the door. Asahel even accused Mary of smothering the infants to death.
Personal friends were divided over whether Mrs. Gridley was a martyr to her terrible tempered husband or whether the General led a hard life with an eccentric willful wife. The death of infants could have affected the temperament of either or both.
Harold Sinclair in 1938 wrote a novel, “American Years,” a fictionalized biography of Bloomington from 1830 – 1860. General Gridley appears as General Green. General Green was “the villain.”
The relationship between the General and Mrs. Gridley was not totally strident, however. A memorandum written by Abraham Lincoln on April 17, 1861, when he was President of the United States, suggests otherwise. The memorandum concerned the appointment of Albert G. Enos. Lincoln wrote: “I have but very slight acquaintance with Mr. Enos, but, Col. Gridley who writes the accompanying letter, is my intimate political & personal friend, whom I would like to oblige.” Apparently Gridley had written Lincoln to assist in the appointment of Albert G. Enos, who was commissioned major of the Eighth Pennsylvania regiment on September 18, 1861. Enos resigned October 16, 1862. This appointment is especially significant in that Asahel Gridley’s wife was Mary Enos, who presumably influenced her husband to assist in the appointment of Albert G. Enos, her brother. After the Civil War Major Albert G. Enos died at the age of 48 of the effects of wounds suffered in the battles of Wilderness and Fair Oaks and was buried in Bloomington on 12 Feb 1872.
The name Albert Enos, Mary Enos Gridley’s brother, also suggests the source of the name of the Gridley’s first son.
There were two sons – Albert (b. 7 May 1842) and Edward (b. 13 Dec 1853) – and two daughters – Juliet (Juliette) Elizabeth Percival Gridley (b. 27 Feb 1837), and Mary (b. 1851).
They too may have contributed to the eccentricities of their parents.
In 1857 at age 19 Juliet’s wedding was the social occasion of the year in Bloomington. At age 18 she with two other young women were most responsible for raising funds for the first public library. She had her father’s leadership qualities. Since Tater was a merchant that the 1860 Census showed with a real estate value of $3,000 and personal property valued at $6,000 (some or much of which was probably Juliet’s), and the Tater’s suffered the death of three infants (1862,1864,1866), it is possible that the combined effect of Juliet’s living standard being so much lower than that to which she had been accustomed combined with the death of the infants may account for her divorcing Tater, remarrying him, and divorcing him again.
In the aftermath of the Great Fire in Chicago in 1871 Asahel and Mary Gridley joined a contingency of people of Bloomington to offer whatever help they could. The men contributed money, merchandise and clothing. The women baked and cooked. Together they filled a car and shipped the goods to Chicago.
In 1871 Mary at age 20 married Benjamin Bruce of Chicago. She soon divorced him and returned to live in Bloomington. Juliet, having divorced a second time, went to Europe to live and met and married Count Ernest Schoenrock of Switzerland. Mary met and married Frederick Bell of Rochester, N.Y. Their marriage took place on January 24, 1878. This was the occasion for a family reunion at which violent arguments exploded and Juliet and the Count returned to Europe.
Both Albert and Edward were playboys, and Asahel gave up on Albert. The General realized he made a mistake with Albert and tried to make amends with one son for what he thought he may have done to the other, by bringing Edward into his business affairs as an associate.
Nearing age 70 in 1879 Gridley envisioned many projects. That year he was a leading figure in founding a medical school. He was made President of the Board of Trustees, with head of Illinois State Normal and Wesleyan as his vice-presidents. Because of his generous contribution, the school was to be name Gridley Medical College. When Gridley died in 1881, the project died with him.
General Asahel Gridley died at 12:07 a.m. on January 25, 1881. His death came at the conclusion of many weeks of suffering following his attempt a year earlier to help put out a fire in his bank. This emergency aggravated a lung ailment, which combined with exhaustion, led to his demise. For the last year of his life he spent most of his time at home. He confessed to a friend that he was not afraid to die but wanted to live six more months so he might build three more stores on Front Street, make some improvements in the Gas Works and consolidate some land holdings. His wife aggravated him by denying him warm-underclothing for his cold extremities, lest “it would make too much in the wash.” For the last days of his life he was attended by two friends every night. His condition was reported daily in the newspaper. Dr. T. F. Worrell attended him constantly. Just before he died, his family gathered at his bedside, and he affectionately kissed them.
The General himself left directions for his funeral and burial on Jan. 27. He specified that the Masonic Fraternity should be in charge and that the funeral oration be presented by Fr. S. P. Simpson of St. Matthew’s Church. He also made the strange request that within a couple days his body by exhumed and placed in a vault. Customarily bodies of winter deaths were placed in the City Vault until Spring. Winter burials that were conducted were done with the aid of heaters placed over the grave sites to make the earth soft enough to dig. Presumably Asahel specified that his body be buried at the appointed time, removed from the cold ground and placed in the vault until Spring and then be buried once again.
Headlined of The Pantograph at his death (25 Jan 1881) read:
“HIS WORK IS DONE…Whose Career is Inseparable from the History of Central Illinois… After Life’s Fitful Fever, He Sleeps Well.” The Obituary covered three full pages. 1000 people crowded the Mansion for the service on 27 Jan 1881. Business houses were closed and 5000 citizens followed the cortege afoot or by carriage as it passed down Main Street and entered the gates of Evergreen Cemetery. One set of pall-bearers to the cemetery and another (from the Masonic Order) at the cemetery were used. The Pantograph concluded the story of the funeral (27 Jan 1881): “…and the remains of the rich banker and millionaire were left to mingle with the clods of the valley.”
Asahel Gridley was known as the oldest pioneer who lived consecutively in the city of Bloomington since the year of its first settlement. At his death he had lived in the community for fifty years.
The State of Illinois recognizes Gridley as one of the greatest of its pioneers. He was not only instrumental in the founding and development of Bloomington but also had a hand in establishing several other small towns in McLean County. He was intensely patriotic, and his time and talents were given unstintingly to the up building of the state and his home city.
Mary Gridley Bell died in the second week of November, 1943 at age 93. For many years she retained residence at both Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where she died, and at the Illinois Hotel in Bloomington. She was laid to rest in her father’s cemetery plot in the Evergreen Cemetery in Bloomington on 14 Nov 1943.
Mary Gridley Bell left no heirs, and the bulk of her estate was bequeathed in trust funds and gifts to St. Joseph’s Hospital and St. Matthew’s Church in Bloomington, the city of Lake Geneva, Wisc., and the Episcopal Church of Holy Communion in Lake Geneva. Bequests were also made to St. Joseph’s Hospital and St. Matthew’s Church in Bloomington. Since much of Asahel Gridley’s estate had been placed in trust of Mary Gridley Bell, the estate amounting to $334,720.90, all four parties who were beneficiaries of Mary Gridley Bell’s estate became defendants in a suit brought against them by Emily Gridley, the widow of the deceased Logan Gridley, son of Albert, son of Asahel, and a half sister of Logan by the name of Mrs. Irene Temple Hyde. Mrs. Hyde died in 1939 and left a portion of income property to Sarah A. Rector of Morovia, California and the balance in trust to Emily Gridley. The case was in litigation for several years and had to await a ruling by the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois.
The court’s decision was the partition of the estate so that Emily Gridley was to receive a third of the Mary Gridley Bell trust property; 5-24 was paid the estate of Logan A. Gridley, her husband; and 3/24 to the estate of Irene Hyde, who was Logan Gridley’s half sister. A third was to go to the subject to sizeable claims against the estate. The final third was to go to the estate of Mary Gridley Bell.
Beneficiaries who received additional money from the one third added to the Mary Gridley Bell estate were St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Bloomington and the Episcopal Church of Lake Geneva, Wisc., which shared alike as residuary beneficiaries under Mary Gridley Bell’s will.
There are no descendants of General Asahel Gridley. He was easily forgotten in Bloomington, Illinois. His gravesite is unknown to the citizens of the city he helped establish. Few know who first occupied the mansion named “The Oaks” by the next owners, the Humphries' family, and which eventually became an apartment building, for which the City Directory of Bloomington for 1993 listed twenty occupants. The apartment building is named “The Oaks."
The man whose statue stands at the center of the rotunda of the Courthouse in Bloomington, Illinois is virtually unknown even to those who daily pass by. However, as recently as the first week of January 1992 Bill Todtz of the McLean County Historical Society wrote an article in the McLean County Community News to call the General and the contributions he had made to the city to the attention of the citizenry of Bloomington.
Those who do remember him recall the General as an eccentric, vitriolic, and terrible tempered man. His contribution to the city, the state, and the nation tend to be
forgotten in the lore of what he was supposed to have been like as an individual and the stories that passed down about the deterioration of his own family.
Throughout his career "The General" was maligned and demeaned as a coward for having led the rout called Stilman’s Run in the Black Hawk War. That story was perpetuated by townsmen who were in the battle and in the rout with him. It is no wonder that "The General" was ill-tempered, since these same townsmen were those for whom he was trying to build a better city and state.
The legend of Asahel Gridley's cowardice at Stillman's Run was perpetuated in print many times and as recently as 1979 in an article in "The Illinois Magazine."
Official documents of the Black Hawk War, however, present a different picture of "The General."
It must be admitted that details in the official documents are disputed, such as whether there were 206 or 260 (not 275) men in the brigade. At the time Gridley was a First Lieutenant of Capt. Merritt L. Covell's company. (Gridley also served under Covell in a home-guard company and helped construct a fort near Mackinaw Timber near Lawndale.) Also, the reliability of the reports are sometimes questioned because they were written by officers who were participants. This is particularly important, since admittedly many errors of military judgment were made in the campaign against the Indians, and the officers were prone to try to cover their own errors, especially after a losing battle.
However, in a letter addressed to the “Sangamo Journal” on June 10, 1832 Andrew H. Maxfield, who was a Private in another company in Isaiah Stillman's Battalion, reported that near the beginning of the encounter with the Indians it was Lieut. Gridley who by himself scouted a group of them and gave the warning to the Battalion. Maxfield wrote of Gridley “in whom are combined the gentleman and the soldier.” He added that when the battle ensued, Lieut. Gridley for the brave
and intrepid coolness he displayed “deserves a high eulogy.” When night came “the Indians were now seen by the glimmering moon light, on three sides like swarms of summer insects. Our lines were never formed again.”
Maxfield reported that not less than 30 Indians lost their lives in the conflict. Stillman reported that the number of Indians in the battle was not known, but his Battalion was surrounded by what he called 'a whole hostile band," of which 34 lost their lives. Stillman also reported that eleven of his men were killed and five wounded. Maxfield concluded: "On the whole, our escape may be considered fortunate almost to a miracle."
Asahel Gridley came to Bloomington, Ill. in 1831 with high hopes of being a successful business man and by May 13 and 14 of 1832 found himself in one of the most controversial battles and wars in American history. That war with the Indians was designed to take care of the Indian problem from Michigan to the Mississippi River, but in dealing with the "problem with the Indians" a series of serious military and strategic blunders were made. Instead of making this a "war" sponsored by the Federal government, governors such as Gov. John Reynolds took it upon himself to be "commander-in-chief" in his state and rallied hundreds of young men into militias who were totally unprepared and undisciplined for such a venture. In addition Brig. General Henry Atkinson along with Brig. General Stillman made numerous errors of judgment and strategy in various steps in the campaign. Their problem was compounded by the lack of military readiness of their enlistees who sometimes before a battle took on a carnival atmosphere instead of military preparedness. To add to the seriousness of the situation was the amount of whiskey distributed throughout the troops and the underestimation of the determination and ability of the Indians.
Asahel Gridley is a case study in how citizens of a community come to hate the man who helped build the city for them. They were envious of his genius and hostile toward him became of their dependence on him. It is no small wonder that he lashed out at them. Some of the animosity may also have been rooted in Gridley's belief, like some other lawyers of his time, “that the dignity of the profession required that they should erect some sort of social fence or barrier between themselves and the masses” that they would meet.18
His wife, who probably herself was someone acerbic by nature, was disillusioned from the beginning not finding Bloominton, Illinois like Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
She too in addition was caught up in the demeaning of her husband by the community. He undoubtedly was not hesitant to pour out some of his vitriol on her. She apparently was high spirited enough not to hesitate to give some of it back to him.
Asahel possibly built the mansion in Bloomington for Mary, his wife, to make up for the disillusionment she first experienced in coming there along with the vision she had of being a woman of means in the midwest, the bankruptcy, and the maligning of his character by the citizens of the community. However, human nature is such that even mansions do not compensate for macabre manipulations of the human spirit.
In addition how are a husband and wife to feel as individuals or as a couple after giving birth to ten children and having six of them die -- all in the maelstrom of Asahel's
controversial position in the community?
The tragic dimensions of this life situation engulfed not only Asahel and Mary Gridley but also swept up their living children in the same turbulence from which none of them could escape. They became a family of eccentrics or what today would be called “a dysfunctional family.”
Although the tribute given to him at the unveiling of his statue in the Rotunda of the Courthouse in Bloomington in October of 1931 may be in the exaggerated terms of florid prose, it may come closer to the truth about “The General” than the legends that defamed him during his lifetime.
The dedicatory address given by Dr. John Wesley Hill may be appropriately repeated here. This is it in part.
“We are still too near the period in which Gen. Gridley thought and wrought to fully measure his oceanic soul in which the great qualities united like intermingling streams: patience without indolence, meekness without weakness, modesty without
stupidity, caution without fear, courage without rashness, justice without vindictiveness, patriotism without ostentation, reason without unbelief, and faith without superstition.”
“Born on a farm in eastern New York he experienced in youth the discipline of hardship, the poverty of the American wilderness in which the germ of manhood grows unrestrained by luxury and untainted by the poison of prodigality. His ambition could not be confined within the walls of a school, or the covers of a book. He was a student of nature and became familiar with actual things -- the forms and forces of the earth, the poem of the year, the drama of ,the season, the symphony of the forest, the call of the wild.
His character was constructed upon a colossal scale. He helped transform Bloomington from a straggling settlement into a city of opulence and power, classic shades, social pleasures, industrial development, commercial stability and enticing future.
He was a builder; he did not toy with trifles. He knew how to bend the bow of Ulysses. He thought in cosmic terms, and whether the enterprise commanding his leadership was educational, commercial, legislative or political, it was all one and the same thing to a man whose brain was unclouded, whose spirit was that of the pioneer, and whose vision was so clear and penetrating that he found every civic, industrial, social and mercantile enterprise an avenue through which to express that spirit of service which is at the foundation of human progress.
He appeared in a providential period in our national life, revolving in a rare constellation of leadership, the center of which was the first and greatest of all Americans
with whom he was a comrade in peace and war, Abraham Lincoln. To have beena ssociated with Lincoln, and to have won his friendship, to have thought and talked and walked with him, penetrating into the depths of his spiritual personality, catching the impact of his lofty purpose, the crystal depths of his sincerity, and the radiant heights of his patriotism was a rare opportunity indeed.
Study his life from the nursery of a Godly home to the chamber of his translation here in Bloomington, from childhood to manhood, the transformation from citizen to soldier, and again from soldier to the tranquil citizen, and in all this you may find whence came his greatness. It was warmed in by the lips of maternal love, prayed in by a other's loving heart, worked in by the close economics of tireless industry, worn in by sacrifices on the frontier, toil by day and by night, weary vigils at the post of duty, soaked in by snow and sleet, and rain, and mud, starved in by limited rations during the Black Hawk war, driven in by lead and steel and poison arrow and tomahawk, the presence and peril of death on the battle field.
A son, loving, thoughtful, obedient, he received the blessings of a happy mother, and the smile of Almighty God. A husband, devoted, thoughtful, faithful, pure, tender and watchful as the stars, he exalted the American home and clothed it with an undying charm. A father, absorbed in the usefulness and happiness of his children, he illustrated the strength of his wisdom, the fidelity of his devotion, and the richness and fullness of his love. A patriot, he responded to his country's call, turned aside from business' and served wherever opportunity of service was found, exalting principle above expedience, patriotism above partisanship, and the flag above selfishness and personal ambition. A soldier, untainted with blood, he has left no thought of passion, no taint of selfishness.
Gen. Gridley is the guest of honor here today. His spiritual presence is the greatest reality of this occasion.
‘Though dead he yet speaketh.' His memory hovers like some garment of light let drop from heaven! He has only gone a few paces in advance, stepped around the corner and joined the immortals who have gone before; mounted to the heights of the republic and taken his place with illustrious company of patriots and heroes -- Washington and Jefferson, Hamilton and Marshall, Lincoln and Grant, McKinley, Roosevelt and Wilson,
who are the sleepless sentinals of our free institutions.”
Although this dedication is expressed in the most effusive language typical of eulogies, it is possible that the spirit of the man was captured as he was rather than as he was made out to be.
1. "Abraham Lincoln," Roy P. Basler, Ed., Vol. 1, 1953, pp. 226-227.
2. 'Life on the Circuit With Lincoln," 1940, p. 183. The same incident was reported by Carl Sandburg in his "Abraham Lincoln -- the Prairie Years -- II," New York, 1926, p. 75.
3. Basler, ~. ~., Vol. II, pp. 189 - 190.
4. Basler, opait., Vol. II. p. 538.
5. "Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois," pp. 210 - 211.
6. Lincoln Dav Bv Dav -- A Chronolo~ 1809 - 1865, Earl S. Miers, Ed., Vol. I, William E. Baringer, 1960.
7. Abraham Lincoln 1809 - 1858, Albert J. Beveridge, Vol. I, 1928, pp. 280-281.
8. "Abraham Lincoln -- Speeches and Writings 1832 - 1858," 1989, p. 367.
9. Whitney, op. cit.., p. 78.
10 "Abraham Lincoln Association Papers," "Lincoln and the Courts 1854 - 1861," Benjamin P. Thomas, Abraham Lincoln Association, Springfield, Illinois, 1934, p. 71.
11. "Lincoln The Citizen.” P. 195.
12. From a commentary by Dr. George T. Gridley, "The Gridley Genealogy -- Asahel Gridley," 1993, p. 2 on an article in "The Illinois Magazine," July/August, 1979.
13. "The Lincoln Papers," David C Mearns, Vol. I, 1948, p. 55.
14. From article in Bloomington, Ill. newspaper at time of dedication of Statue of General Asahel Gridley, October, 1931.
15. 'Letters of Abraham Lincoln," Vol. IV, 1953, p. 336. From the Parke-Bernet Catalog 905, December 1-2, 1947, No. 275.
16. "The Statue in the Rotunda," January 8 - 14, 1992, p. 3.
17. "The Black Hawk War 1831 - 1832," Vol. II., "Letters and Papers Compiled and Edited by Ellen M. Whitney; Vol. XXXVI of "Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library," Springfield, 1973.
18. Whitney, H.C. "Lincoln the Citizen," 1907, p. 168.
19. From a Bloomington, Illinois newspaper account October 8, 1931.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Thomas Boslooper was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan on December 30, 1923. He graduated from Central High School and Calvin College in Grand Rapids, from Hope College and Western Seminary in Holland, Michigan and in 1954 received his degree Doctor of Philosophy in Religion from Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
During his professional career he has engaged in several areas of research, writing, and publication in religion and social studies. From 1981 - 1987 he was Research Associate at Columbia University, Barnard College, and Princeton University working as a colleague with a MacArthur Foundation Scholar.
Since his retirement to the Tampa Bay area of Florida he has focused on Colonial history and the development of several families from that era who had an impact on American history.
Update: Dr. Thomas Boslooper passed away January 11, 1998 in Palm Harbor Florida.