Saturday, July 4, 2015

Preventing Tyranny: Patriotism at Salem 1775

Please understand – I do realize that the soldiers in the photographs you are about to see are not wearing the uniforms that the Regulars in Colonel Leslie’s 64th Foot would have worn. There were no reenactors with that uniform around when I needed the photos for this post. But I do appreciate those in the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment who were gracious enough to pose for me in my attempt to make this story come alive. Many thanks must go out to them – and also to  Kristen, who portrayed Sarah Tarrant (the young woman in the window) - for helping me with this post. They all did a wonderful job - kudos!
I hope you feel the same:

Why is this British Regular pointing
his musket at this young lady?
Read on to find out…
For this week's posting I have such a great patriotic story for you - a pre-Revolutionary War occurrence that involved soldiers and citizens. But there's one problem: no matter how hard I tried, I just could not write of the incident very well. And because the story is such a great and important one in American history, I feel its significance cannot be overstated and should be known; it has been buried under the sands of time long enough.
So...after reading and re-reading the story, then attempting to write and re-write it in my own words, I came to the conclusion that the best way for me to present this historical piece is to take it directly from the best source: a section out of the book Paul Revere's Ride by David Hackett Fischer, an author who has brought the times of our colonial past vividly to life through a number of books, and I feel the readers of Passion for the Past will enjoy this immensely, for through his writing style history does come alive.
There is just no improving on Mr. Fischer's telling of the incident. 
And it may make you feel just a little prouder of our forefathers & foremothers and what they did for our liberty.
It certainly did me---and I hope it does for you.
With that being said, please keep in mind that whatever you read in italics in today's post comes directly from Fischer's book.
I took the liberty of accenting the author's words with pictures; some are original paintings from the time depicting the major players and of the incident, while others were taken by me by posing living historians and adding a little computerized trickery.
Anyhow, without further ado, may I present, in author David Hackett Fischer's own words, a true story of a country unknowingly on its way to becoming an independent nation - - - - - - - -
To begin with, let's give you a little backstory showing a couple of events that occurred that lead up to our main story:
General Thomas Gage
In the late summer of 1774, General Thomas Gage was the most powerful man in America. In addition to his military duties, King George had appointed him Royal Governor of Massachusetts, with orders to reduce the restless province to obedience and peace. Parliament had armed him for that task with special powers such as no Royal Governor had possessed before.
The people of Boston were angry. They complained that General Gage was trying to enslave them and responded with anger. Gage deeply disapproved of the folkways of New England. Town meetings in particular, which the Whigs of Boston regarded as the palladium of their liberty, appeared to Gage as instruments of "democraticall despotism." (He) advised London to abolish town meetings altogether. What New Englanders saw as their ancestral rights were seen by Gage as anarchy.
They tarred and feathered Royal officers and burned His Majesty's ships to the water's edge. Now Gage had found out that some of these New England  people were making threats against his own person!
But Gage did not believe that the troubles in Massachusetts would spread throughout America. He felt the colonies might "talk very high, but they can do nothing. Their numerous slaves in the bowels of their country, and the Indians at their backs, will always keep them quiet."
A plan of General Gage was to remove the weapons from the people. He planned a series of missions against the arsenals and powderhouses of New England----enough to make it impossible for the people of that region to make a determined stand against him. (But) it could only succeed by surprise. If (the people of Massachusetts) learned in advance of General Gage's intentions, his strategy for stopping the movement toward war could start one instead. 
Early in the morning on September 1, 1774, General Gage actually did seize the largest stock of gunpowder in New England, which was stored in a magazine called the Provincial Powder House located six miles northeast of Boston. All 150 barrels stored there were removed by Gage's Regulars and brought to Boston.
The people were caught entirely by surprise. Rumors began to fly across the countryside that the Province had been "robbed of its powder," that the Regulars were marching, that war had begun...
All that day church bells tolled in towns. At dusk, great fire-beacons were set alight, burning brightly across the open countryside...
 Angry mobs formed on the 2nd of September, and several thousand men gathered in Cambridge, where they forced several notable and prominent Loyalists, including William Brattle, to flee to Boston and the protection of the military. Boston newspapers published a letter from William Brattle in which he protested that he had not warned Gage to remove the powder; Gage had requested from him an accounting of the storehouse's contents, and he had complied.
Mob rule continued and Boston Whigs rejoiced in the dramatic turn of events and spread the news to other colonies.
General Gage was amazed by the rising of the countryside against him, and astounded at the anger he had awakened in New England. He began to think defensively. He ordered the town of Boston to be closed and fortified. The inhabitants were ordered to surrender their weapons, lest they rise up against the garrison.
The people of New England vowed never again to be taken by surprise, and people like Paul Revere formed a committee, "for the purpose of watching the movements of the British soldiers, and gaining every intelligence of the movements of the Tories." (a Paul Revere quote)
Despite of the rabble, the British command decided to strike again. Imperial officials were ordered to stop "the importation thereof into any part of North America," and to secure the munitions that were already in the colonies. And they tried in New Hampshire in December, only to be defeated once again by the people who were, by the way, warned of the march by Paul Revere (Revere had made numerous rides before and after his most famous ride to Lexington on April 18/19, 1775).

Now for our story:
Colonel Alexander Leslie
February 27, 1775 was a quiet Sunday in Marblehead, Massachusetts, and the countryside was silent and peaceful. The Regulars (the British troops of the 64th Foot commanded by Colonel Alexander Leslie) waited patiently until the people of Marblehead went to their meetinghouses for their afternoon sermon. Then, between two and three o'clock in the afternoon, Leslie ordered his men into action. His Regulars quickly formed on a road near the beach.
Colonel Leslie gave the order to advance, and the long red column went swinging into its march toward Salem, five miles away. It was their plan to, once again, remove all munitions and cannons. The Regulars were confident that nothing could stand in their way, and decided to announce their presence. The fifes and drums of the 64th Foot suddenly shattered the stillness of the Sabbath with a raucous rendition of Yankee Doodle.
The soldiers had already been observed by several men of Marblehead, who sprinted to their meetinghouse and sounded the alarm. Whig leader Major John Pedrick decided to warn Salem, but he could get there only by the road the Regulars had taken. He mounted his horse and rode slowly past the Regulars, politely saluting Colonel Leslie, whom he had met before. Leslie returned the salute and ordered his regiment to "file to the right and left and give Major Pedrick the pass."
When out of sight, Pedrick put spurs to his horse and galloped on to Salem. He went to the home of Colonel David Mason, who ran into the meetinghouse, where the congregation had gathered for the afternoon service, and shouted as he came down the aisle, "The Regulars are coming after the guns and are now near Maloon's Mills!"
Bells began to ring and drums beat "to arms" throughout the town. The people poured out of their churches and ran to save the guns.
The people pulled together and hid their cannon and other weapons and ammunition throughout different locations in the area.
Meanwhile, the British troops were on the march. To delay them, a party of townsmen hurried to a bridge between Salem and Marblehead and frantically ripped up some of the planking to delay the Regulars. Colonel Leslie's column was forced to halt while a party of soldiers repaired the structure...and crossed into Salem center, where they halted for a moment in Town House Square.
The townspeople watched as several of their Tory neighbors came forward. One was seen "whispering in the Colonel's ear." Then the British column started off at a quick-march, straight toward the cannon, with a large crowd of Salem men and boys walking beside them.
In their path was a drawbridge over an arm of the sea called North River. Just as the soldiers approached it, the men of Salem raised the drawbridge from the north side. There was no other way to cross. The troops were forced to halt at the bridge.
Colonel Leslie hurried forward and demanded to know why the men of Salem dared to obstruct the King's highway. They replied the road belonged to them. The British commander "stomped and swore and ordered the bridge to be lowered at once," threatening to open fire if he was not obeyed. Militia captain John Felt warned him, "You had better be damned than fire! You have no right to fire without further orders! If you fire you'll all be dead men."
The crowd began to grow.
Several Salem men sat provocatively on the raised edge of the open drawbridge, dangling their feet and shouting defiantly at the Regulars, "Soldiers! Red Jackets! Lobster Coats! Cowards! Damnation to Your Government!"
While the Salem men gathered at the head of the British column, the Marblehead Regiment was mustering behind its rear. They were as stubborn and independent as their Boston cousins, and feared no mortal power on earth---least of all the red-coated Regulars who had invaded their town. The men of Marblehead moved into strong positions along the Salem Road, and prepared to fight.
It was a sharp wintry New England day. As the Regulars stood waiting in their ranks, some began to shiver in the damp cold. The men of Salem taunted them. One shouted across the river, "I should think you were all fiddlers, you shake so!"
In the river near the bridge were three large sailing scows called gundalows. Colonel Leslie ordered his troops to seize them. The Salem men moved more quickly. They jumped into the boats and smashed their bottoms to keep the Regulars from using them. The soldiers ran to stop them, threatening to use their bayonets. A Salem man named Joseph Whicher rose up before them and defiantly tore open his shirt, daring the troops to attack. An infuriated British soldier lunged forward and "pricked" the American's naked chest with his bayonet.
The mood of the crowd began to change. They closed in around the soldiers, who pushed them back with bayonets. Suddenly, a man dressed in black moved through the throng toward Colonel Leslie, and spoke to him in a voice that demanded to be heard.
"I desire you do not fire on these innocent people."
"Who are you?" said Colonel Leslie.
"I am Thomas Barnard, a minister of the gospel, and my mission is peace," the clergyman replied.
The two men spoke of ways to thwart the imminent danger. In the meantime, Whig leader Benjamin Daland had galloped to Danvers with the news of the Regulars. Now he was back again, and many others with him. By five o'clock militia were streaming into Salem from as far as Amesbury, twenty-five miles to the north.
As more men poured into town, the Salem minister proposed to the British colonel a cunning Yankee compromise---the bridge would be lowered if the Regulars promised on their honor to march only to the forge about 100 yards beyond. If they found no cannon they were to turn around and go back. 

~"Retreat of Colonel Leslie": note the draw bridge in the center while minister Thomas Barnard speaks with Colonel Leslie~ (from the Stories of Ipswich website)

Colonel Leslie was willing to accept those terms, knowing he could accomplish nothing more at that late hour. The people of Salem were happy to agree, knowing that the cannon were safely removed.
The drawbridge came creaking down. The British soldiers marched solemnly across it, found nothing, and turned to march back again. 
As they started their retreat, a window flew open in a house by the road....
Young Salem nurse, Sarah Tarrant, has had just about enough of these British Regulars thinking they can just come to their town and take whatever they wanted.

But she notices the Regulars on the march, tail between their legs, returning from whence they came, and they were marching right past her home!

Miss Tarrant thrust out her head. "Go home," she screamed at the Regulars, "and tell your master he sent you on a fool's errand, and has broken the peace of our Sabbath."
She added contemptuously, "Do you think we were born in the woods, to be frightened by owls?"

This phrase was a common expression of the time that was meant to indicate that the speaker was accustomed to danger and could not be easily frightened.
A frustrated Regular raised his firelock and took aim at her head.

Sarah said defiantly, "Fire, if you have the courage, but I doubt it."

He did not pull the trigger but continued marching on
Sarah watched as the British troops were escorted out of town by a vast crowd of men from Salem and Danvers and many other towns.
As the column crossed into Marblehead, the men of that community also came out of their positions and joined the procession, marching in mock-cadence beside the British troops.
When they learned that the Regulars had left empty-handed, many shared a sense of triumph that made the Imperial cause seem not evil but absurd. An American journalist commented, "It is regretted that an officer of Colonel Leslie's worth should be obliged, in obedience to his orders, to come upon so pitiful an errand." Even Loyalists were appalled by what had happened.
General Gage confessed that the mission had been a mistake. Worse than merely a defeat, it was received by both sides as a disgrace to British arms.      

It would only be less than two months later, on April 19, that, with tensions mounting, General Gage would try once again to confiscate Americans arms and munitions
And that would begin the Revolutionary War.
My daughter, on the right, with Kristen. They are inside the home from the above photographs here.
This story makes me proud, makes me laugh, and it makes me want to raise my fist high into the air and cheer loudly for our patriot ancestors 240 years after the fact! I had never even heard of this historical occurrence in Salem until I read Mr. Fisher's book. 
Such a shame...for this telling of the people pulling together to fight for what they believed in should be in every book of early American history. And there are so many more stories of this type that need to be heard.
American history showing the greatness of her people. We need more of this.

By the way, the gun you see in a few of the above photographs was not pointed at Kristen. I took the pictures from an angle that gives that impression.
So no worries.

Here is another reminder of David Fischer's book: very few books have taken hold of me in the way Fisher's Paul Revere's Ride has, and I would put it in my top 5 of all-time favorites.
Yes, top 5!
Fisher puts flesh on the bones of not only Paul Revere, but on the general populace of the colony of Massachusetts of 1774/75, and, in its 344 pages, he very effectively brings to life the times in a very vivid manner
He has done his research----oh yes he has!----nearly every incident herein is factual and is well-documented and sourced.  
If you like the little story in this week's post, then you can just imagine how great the rest of the book is.
As we are at the beginnings of celebrating the sestercentennial of our country's birth, it's my hope that we continue to recognize the strength and bravery of the founding generation.

Until next time, see you in time...

Other postings of mine you might enjoy:
With Liberty and Justice for All

In the Good Old Colony Days

Colonial Travel and Taverns

Cooking on the Hearth: The Colonial Kitchen

Faces of History - Original Photographs of Revolutionary War Veterans

Paul Revere: Listen My Children...

History in the Movies


1 comment:

Heather Sheen said...

Enjoyed it as always!