Sarah Prince Gill was the daughter of Reverend Thomas Prince, the rector of Old South Church, Boston. Well-educated and committed to a life of Christian piety, she believed in personal and political independence and initially resisted marriage as a state in which ?Men?s [brains] increase in Proportion to the Decrease of the Women?s.? Six years older than her spouse, she accepted Moses Gill?s proposal reluctantly, believing God wanted her to assume the responsibilities of a household.
Copley portrayed Rebecca in a wooded landscape, a setting that acknowledges her contemplative personality and complements the handsome interior in which her husband is presented (risdmuseum.org)
Sarah Prince Gill, a model of eighteenth-century evangelical piety, was a diarist, a letter writer, and a leader in the female religious circles of Boston. As was often the case, even among influential women of her day, she published nothing during her lifetime. Manuscripts of her personal diary and meditations remain, however, revealing daily events and her spiritual life; and ten of her devotional exercises were published with the funeral sermon preached at her death in 1771. Her letter-journal, addressed to Esther Edwards Burr, is not extant, but Burr's responses have survived and present a picture of the lively letters that must have occasioned them. Gill was considered a leader and exemplar in religious circles, exerting powerful influence among family and friends, in her church, through her correspondence, and in regular prayer-group meetings with other women.
Sarah Prince was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1728, the daughter of the Reverend Thomas Prince of Boston (1687-1758) and Deborah Denny Prince, a recent immigrant from Suffolk, England.
GILL, Sarah Prince
Born 1728, Boston, Massachusetts; died 5 August 1771, Boston, Massachusetts
Daughter of Thomas and Deborah Denny Prince; married Moses Gill, 1759
Sarah Prince Gill grew up in an extremely religious family. Her father, a champion of evangelical Protestantism, was minister of Boston's Old South Church and was instrumental in introducing the Great Awakening to Boston in 1740. Evangelicism often liberated women because it maintained that graceful souls were equal regardless of class or sex, and because evangelicals were encouraged to share their pious reflections and religious experiences.
Some of Gill's religious meditations were published posthumously as Devotional Papers (1773). Gill and Esther Edwards Burr kept a letter-journal from 1754 to 1757, but only Burr's letters survive. They encouraged each other to write and even to publish their thoughts and experiences as models for other women. Gill also kept a daily journal of thoughts and meditations, parts of which survive in manuscript form. Because few other avenues of written expression were open to 18th-century women, we must look to these religious diaries for details of women's lives during this period.
Gill's journal includes her reflections on proper conduct for religious men and women-she advises industry and thrift as well as piety-and provides a view of the spiritual and emotional struggles of a colonial woman. As a Christian woman who found it difficult not to complain of her lot in life, she was tortured with fears of "backsliding." Her struggles intensified in 1759 when she married a merchant, later the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, and became mistress of a large house, mother to Gill's two sons, and hostess for her husband's business and political contacts. She feared her husband's piety might be secondary to his interest in material well-being. A few months after her marriage, Gill confided to her journal: "I have been the subject of mixed dispensations since I came to housekeeping…tried with lameness, with froward ungovernable ungodly Servants…but the greatest trial of all is the unsettled malloncholly state of the church I belong unto."
At her death in 1771, Gill was eulogized not only as a pious woman but also as a patriot. She and her husband had been part of an intellectual circle of early republicans which included John Adams. Gill and her women friends formed prayer groups, to comfort and support each other in times of trial and loneliness and to encourage each other in charitable works. Prayer groups of the 18th century were precursors of the women's organizations of the 19th century involved in moral reform and abolition. More important, the writings of these women catalogue the frequently successful attempts of colonial women to define their own talents and activities independently of the men who ruled their social and political world. The papers of Sarah Prince Gill are in the collection of the Boston Public Library.