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.

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Saturday, February 20, 2021

“Leslie’s Retreat” Commemorations, 21 Feb.

On 21 Feb 1775, Dr. Benjamin Church secretly told Gen. Thomas Gage that “Twelve pieces of Brass Cannon mounted, are at Salem, & lodged near the North River, on the back of the Town.”

Gage was hunting for the brass cannon of the Boston militia train, which had disappeared from armories under redcoat watch the previous September. He therefore ordered Lt.-Col. Alexander Leslie to lead an expedition to Salem on Sunday, 26 February.

That mission got the name “Leslie’s Retreat,” which shows how well it well for Lt.-Col. Leslie. It’s an episode in many books, including The Road to Concord. I’m pleased with two contributions to the story:
  • showing the event through the eyes of nine-year-old Samuel Gray.
  • debunking the familial claim that John Pedrick was crucial to spreading the alarm; he was actually a Loyalist at the time.
In recent years, Salem has revived the celebration of Leslie’s Retreat, not as a period reenactment like some others but as a community event. Unfortunately, the pandemic makes all such events harder.

This year, the Leslie’s Retreat coalition has various ways to commemorate set up for Sunday, 21 February, all designed for safely distanced households.

2:30-2:45 P.M.
City-wide Bell Ringing
And general noise-making.

3:00-4:00 P.M.
Bridging the Divide: Civil Conflict, Violence, and Negotiation in 1775 & Today
An online conversation among historians Robert Allison, Peter Charles Hoffer, and Chenoh Sesay, Jr., moderated by Diana Dunlap. Register to listen here.

As People Choose
Traveling the Leslie’s Retreat Trail
There are two routes mapped, 3.0 and 5.3 miles long, which individuals and families can walk or run when the weather is amenable. One could even award oneself a badge.

As for Lt.-Col. Leslie, he was promoted to general in 1776 and saw action in many campaigns of the war, ending up as the last British commander of Charleston, South Carolina.

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