J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email


Thursday, February 23, 2017

“Retreat and Resistance” in Salem, 26 Feb.

On Sunday, 26 February, Salem will have a “fun and informal reenactment” of the confrontation between Patriots and redcoats across the town’s North River on that date in 1775.

Lt. Col. Alexander Leslie had orders to lead his men from the 64th Regiment of Foot across the river and search Robert Foster’s smithy. But locals, led by David Mason, had raised the drawbridge over the river, blocking the redcoats.

A crowd gathered around the soldiers. Militia units mustered in nearby towns. There was some tussling, some swinging of hatchets, some poking with bayonets. A soldier pricked Joseph Whicher’s chest—enough that Salem historians have claimed the first blood of the Revolutionary War was spilled that day.

Eventually the town’s civilian leaders and Lt. Col. Leslie found a compromise, brokered by Anglican [nearby meetinghouse] minister Thomas Barnard. Mason lowered the drawbridge. Leslie marched his men across it, far enough that he could say he had fulfilled his orders, and then they turned around and went back to the ship awaiting them in Marblehead.

During the stalemate at the bridge, Mason’s confederates had moved all the cannon he had collected for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress out of Foster’s workshop and into a nearby woods. Those cannon were being mounted on carriages for battlefield use. Within a week, they were moved on to Concord, where a larger British force came looking for them in April.

The commemoration on Sunday starts with two gatherings:
  • 10:30 A.M.: The First Church of Salem Unitarian-Universalist welcomes everyone for a service that will end with a warning that the redcoats are coming, just as happened in 1775. That will be about 11:30, when folks can also arrive at the church yard to join the congregants in heading to the bridge.
  • 11:00 A.M.: Folks representing the British army will meet at Hamilton Hall with fifes, recorders, and slide whistles. They will walk up to a mile (weather depending) to recreate the soldiers’ approach from Marblehead.
  • 11:45 A.M.: At the corner of Federal and North Streets (Murphy’s Funeral Home), Lt. Col. Leslie and militia captain John Felt will dispute whether the bridge must come down and what the soldiers must do. People are invited to observe and shout surly comments.
  • 12:00 noon: At the end of the reenactment, everyone will be invited into the First Church for an hour of warmth and refreshment.
The 26 Feb 1775 confrontation was part of the larger competition for artillery pieces described in The Road to Concord. On Friday, 7 April, I’ll speak at the Salem Athenaeum about that town’s many crucial connections to the Massachusetts arms race. General admission will be $15, for members $10, and for students with ID free.

Folks in the region are organizing other talks and events in the coming weeks about Leslie’s Retreat and the surrounding conflict. I’ll share more news of those as they come near.


Pamela Filbert said...

The Rev. Thomas Barnard was Congregational (eventually Unitarian), not Anglican, per the online history of The First Church in Salem and other sources.

J. L. Bell said...

My mistake. I think I got the wrong idea from Barnard being an addresser of Hutchinson who had to repudiate that address in May 1775, and references to him as leading the North Church instead of a meeting, as that congregation was probably called in his time. (And perhaps also from mentions of the other Thomas Barnard of the period.) Thanks!

Chris Hurley of Woburn said...

I attended yesterday's community reenactment in Salem. The Rev. Jeff Barz-Snell, current Minister of First Church, with great enthusiasm portrayed the Rev. Thomas Barnard Jr. of the then newly splintered North Chh. of Salem. The people of Salem (est. 200+) had fun and learned some history.

Pamela Filbert said...

I'm glad that you made that mistake, though, because thereby you helped me discover that the Rev. Thomas Barnard, Jr. is my 2nd cousin 6x removed. I recognized the Barnard name and did a little sleuthing. He and I are both descendants of Edward Martyn, Capt. of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company in 1715. Since your blog is about the start of the Revolutionary War, it might be worth mentioning that Edward Martyn owned the Ochterlong-Adan House in north Boston (which stood at least until the late-19th century, and vied with the Revere house as the oldest in the area); legend has it that Paul Revere stopped by this house just before rowing across the river for his famous ride, seeking something to muffle his oars.

Edward Martyn's daughter Sarah was married to the Rev. John Barnard, son of a Rev. Thomas Barnard, father of another Rev. Thomas Barnard, and grandfather of THE Rev. Thomas Barnard, Jr. of Leslie's Retreat fame. The Rev. John Barnard had another clergyman son, the Rev. Edward Barnard...who married his first cousin Sarah Cary, daughter of Mary Martyn (my 6x great-grandmother). Mary Martyn Cary's grandson the Rev. Thomas Cary studied with his uncle Rev. Edward Barnard...which is why the Barnard connection popped into my mind.

An uncle of the Rev. Thomas Cary, Nathaniel Cary, was a merchant and appears on lists of public office holders in the 1770s along with John Hancock and John Singleton Copley...until he was run out of town for unpatriotic and unpopular trading practices! A letter from Abigail Adams to her husband mentions the incident, after which Nathaniel Cary fled to Nantucket to join his younger brother. Nathaniel Cary was also an addresser of Hutchinson, but he appears never to have repudiated it, and the whole Cary crew were Congregationalists from their arrival in Charlestown around 1635 until some became Unitarians around 1800. The Rev. Samuel Cary, son of the Rev. Thomas Cary (above, who studied with the Rev. Edward Barnard) was minister at King's Chapel...which changed from Anglican to Unitarian, further adding to a lot of confusion about what denomination ministers were! Capt. Thomas Cary, nephew of Nathaniel Cary and first cousin of the Rev. Thomas Cary, brought back the bell which stands in the gold-domed tower of the 2nd Congregational/Unitarian Universalist Church on Nantucket...yet another "switch-hitting" congregation.

These things are all VERY confusing. Even the official history of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company got some details about Edward Martyn and the Rev. John Barnard messed up. The historian conflated two Rev. John Barnards, claiming that Edward Martyn's son-in-law was the Rev. John Barnard of Marblehead, when they were actually two different ministers about eight years apart in age.