Tag Archives: American Revolution

Salem in the 1770s

For this year’s July Fourth commemoration, I have gathered some Salem structures built in the 1770s so we can see some semblance of the city during that revolutionary decade. Salem has quite a few extant colonial structures, but not as many as you would imagine: it has long been a city, and also a relatively prosperous place, and economic development is a major impediment to historic preservation. I try to qualify every statement that I make about Salem’s history with the caveat I am not an American historian, but my constant consideration of the city’s built landscape has convinced me that the narrative that Salem entered a prolonged period of economic decline following the War of 1812 is mythology: many, many structures were built after 1820, after 1850, after 1870. Salem is more of a later nineteenth-century city than a Federal one, though its Federal architecture remains conspicuous. As for its colonial architecture, it seems to me that there are more structures from the mid-eighteenth century rather than the later part of the century, though there was definitely a mini-boom in the 1790s. Colonial houses are found on Salem’s side streets rather than its main thoroughfares, though Essex Street, Salem’s original “highway”, features several: it is definitely the most historically diverse street in the city. There are many colonial houses in the streets around Derby Street, a neighborhood that does not have the status or the protection of an historic district, consequently debacles like this can and will happen. I found quite a few houses from the decade of the 1770s thought nothing that was built in 1773 or 1778, and no structure survives from that very busy year of 1776 either, though there was definitely one big construction project that year: Fort Lee.

1770: Federal and Turner Streets.

1770 River Street

1770 Hardy Street

1771: Federal, Summer & Turner Streets.

1771 Federal Street

1771 Summer

Turner Street

1771 Turner Street

1772: Derby Street

1772 Derby Street

1772 Derby Street 2

1774: Broad Street

1774 Broad Street

1775: Cambridge Street

1775 Cambridge

1776: Fort Lee on Salem Neck

Fort Lee

1777: Essex and River Streets

1777 Essex

1777 River

1779: Turner and Beckford Streets

1779 Turner Street

1779 Beckford

By no means an exhaustive list!

A Soldier of the Massachusetts Line

I don’t think Revolutionary War soldiers get the attention they deserve in terms of commemoration–on Memorial Day and every day. There is insufficient or nonexistent appreciation of their suffering and their sacrifice, certainly here in Salem, where our most prominent statues pay tribute to a “planter”, a diplomat, a temperance leader, Hawthorne, and a fictional television witch. There are monuments to those who served in the Civil War and World War I and II, but I’ve always wondered why the Salem men who served in the Revolutionary War have received so little recognition–beyond their individual graves, most of which do not even reference their service. Maybe that’s why. These were men who served and then came back home with little fanfare and recognition: quiet, anonymous men for the most part, with the exception of the perplexing Timothy Pickering and dashing privateers like Jonathan Haraden. Both Pickering and Haraden are buried in the Broad Street Cemetery behind my house, and I walked over there very early this morning to look upon their graves, as well as those of their comrades. By all accounts, there are nine veterans of the Revolutionary War buried in the Broad Street Cemetery, but only Pickering’s and Haraden’s graves are marked with flags.

Memorial Day 4

Memorial Day 7

Memorial Day 11

Memorial Day 10

Memorial Day 9

Memorial Day 6

Not far from the Pickering graves is a single dark stone marking the grave of Joshua Cross, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and his wife Lydia Derby Cross, both of whom died on May 24: he in 1829 and she in 1837. I have long appreciated this marker: it stands alone, in excellent condition, and it does refer to his service (but still no flag: I have planted one in past years and will this year too). According to his pension application, Cross served in the “Massachusetts Line” for only one year–from January 1776 until January 1777–and did not rise above the rank of Private, but the details of his service indicate that he might have seen some action! Here is his story, in his own words:

I, Joshua Cross of Salem in the County of Essex and Commonwealth of Massachusetts on solemn oath declare that I enlisted into the service of the late United Colonies, in the Revolutionary War, on the Continental establishment, in the month of January in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy six as a private soldier in the Company then under the command of Ensign Gould and called General Lee’s life guard, said company belonging to the____ Regiment of the Massachusetts line, under the command of Col. Little that I continued in the service of the said United Colonies until the month of January in the year seventeen hundred and seventy seven, when my term of service expired, and returned home–I have no recollection of having received my discharge in writing, and believe it was not usual at that time to give such discharges–and further declare aforesaid that from reduced circumstances I need the assistance of my country for support.

This statement gives us enough information to place Cross in Colonel Moses Little’s 12th Continental Regiment, which saw action in the Siege of Boston, on Long Island,  and at the Battles of Trenton and Princeton during his service. It’s a bit confusing, because I think our Joshua has been confused with a “Joseph Cross” in Volume 4 of Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War. A Compilation from the Archives (1898), and I know that this particular “life guard” of  General [Charles] Lee under the command of Ensign [Benjamin] Gould made it to New York but I’m not quite sure about New Jersey. But it’s quite possible that our humble Salem housewright, with no flag by his grave, served at Trenton and Princeton alongside General Washington. But you think he would have mentioned that!

Memorial Day 13

Memorial Day 5

Memorial Day 12

Broad Street Cemetery, Salem, Memorial Day Weekend 2016

A Tale of Two Salem Patriots

Timothy Pickering (1745-1829), who rose to serve successively as Colonel of the Essex County Militia to Washington’s Adjutant General, Quartermaster General, and Secretary of War and President Adams’ Secretary of State is probably Salem’s best-known “Patriot”, but during the Battles of Lexington and Concord (commemorated in Massachusetts and Maine as Patriots’ Day on the third Monday of April) he was, shall we say unengaged, while another Salem man died in the bloodiest skirmish of the day. This was Benjamin Peirce, a baker by profession, 37 years old, who fought alongside men from Danvers, Beverly, Lynn and several other communities in their effort to halt (or at least hinder) the British retreat back to Boston. As far as I can tell, he died in the violent “Battle of Menotomy”(Arlington) in and around the still bullet-riddled Jason Russell House with Pickering yet to arrive on the scene (having stopped at not one but two taverns for refreshments). And when the Colonel with his 300+ Essex County militiamen finally arrived in the area, another decision was made to disengage, enabling the British to reach Boston. I know Pickering’s actions (or lack thereof) on April 19, 1775 have been debated almost from that very date, but from a parochial perspective he clearly pales in comparison with Peirce, the only Salem militiaman to die on that fateful day. Peirce’s heroism was recognized at the time by the entrepreneurial Salem printer Ezekiel Russell, who published Bloody Butchery, by the British Troops; of the Runaway Fight of the Regulars just a few days later.

Bloody Butcheryp

Russell House Whitefield

BLOODY BUTCHERY, BY THE BRITISH TROOPS; OR THE RUNAWAY FIGHT OF THE REGULARS, with Peirce’s identified coffin in the second row, second from right, published in The Salem Gazette, from E. RUSSELL’S Salem Gazette, or Newbury and Marblehead Advertiser, Friday, April 21, 1775; the Russell House–where Peirce died–from Edwin Whitefields’s
Homes of our Forefathers (1879).

There was also an individual elegy for Peirce penned by Russell:  We sore regret poor Peirce’s death,  A stroke to Salem known, Where tears did flow from every brow, When the sad tidings come. There was, however, no coffin: Peirce was buried in a mass grave in Arlington along with some of his compatriots, excepting the Danvers martyrs who were returned to that town. No one from Salem came for Benjamin, so he is still there, in the Old Burying Ground behind the First Parish Unitarian Church on Massachusetts Avenue. I cannot find any reference (or sign) of a monument to this native son in Salem until the erection of a bicentennial plaque (under a liberty tree which appears to have not survived) by Historic Salem, Inc., in a rather odd spot–adjacent to a parking lot on Church Street.

Peirce 6

Peirce 2

Peirce 8

Peirce 10

Peirce 7

Three plaques for Peirce in Arlington–one in Salem, below,  adjacent to parking lot: while fictional Samantha gets an entire (very visible) square to herself!

Peirce 3

Peirce 5

Salem Lots

Several years ago, Bonhams Auctions held an auction of items from the Caren Archive, the largest private collection of American documents from the colonial era to the present. It was an extremely profitable event for all concerned, and so now there is a second sale coming up, and this one features several notable Salem items. The April 11 “Treasures from the Caren Archives II: How History Unfolds” auction comprises a wide variety of paper lots, among them one of the earliest English reports on the Salem Witch Trials, a 1777 financial document in which the Widow Sarah Putnam agreed to finance the Salem privateer Pluto during the American Revolution,  the “preliminaries of peace” negotiations that brought the Revolution to a close as reported by the Salem Gazette, Andrew Jackson’s 1834 State of the Union address, also reported in the Gazette, and a list of the Salem donors who contributed to William Henry Harrison’s successful presidential campaign in 1840.There’s also a great mezzotint image of Major-General Israel “Old Put” Putnam made in 1775 by Salem printer Joseph Hiller, based on a painting by Benjamin Blyth–very similar to the portrait of John Hancock this very pair produced in that same year.

Selling Salem 1693

Selling Salem Putnam 1795

Salem Gazette 1783 Preliminaries of Peace

Salem Gazette 1834

Selling Salem 1840

Salem Lots from the upcoming Bonhams Auction of items from the Caren Archive: Memoirs of the Present State of Europe, or the Monthly Account of Occurrences Ecclesiastical, Civil and Military. Vol II. No 1 [-12]. London: printed for Robert Clavel and Jonathan Robinson and Samuel Crouch, 1692-93;  BLYTH, BENJAMIN. 1746-1786. The Honble Israel Putnam Esqr. Major General of the United Forces of America. Salem, [MA]: printed by Joseph Hiller, [1775]; Salem Gazettes from 1783 and 1834; A handwritten list of 47 Whig subscribers offering to contribute funds to the campaign of William Henry Harrison, Salem, June 1840.

The two items that interest me the most are the 1693 London periodical and (oddly enough), the list of William Henry Harrison campaign donors. 1693 is very late in the history of the European Witch Hunt, and you would expect English reactions to the Salem trials to run along the lines of those backward, superstitious colonials, but this correspondent is not quite so condemnatory. He does however express the emerging enlightened mentality : In my opinion a Rational person, who is not Convinced of the Matter by his own Eyes, ought to suspend his judgment and to remain in a kind of Skepticism, until Experience shall receive farther illustrations from Experience. The Harrison document is interesting not because of the 47 names of Salem men listed (familiar prominent names) but because it sheds light on campaign finances in the mid-nineteenth century: the money went not to the production of hand-bills or newspaper advertising, but to defray the expenses of the Whig celebrations of the Fourth of July ensuing in addition to the cost of the collations…..” . Firecrackers and food (and drink), no doubt.

Three Hancocks

If I were to participate in the Outings public art project featured in my last post, the image that I would convey from the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum to the streets of Salem would be a small mezzotint of John Hancock made by Salem engraver-silversmith Joseph Hiller after a John Singleton Copley painting from the early 1770s. There are actually two of these Hiller prints extant (at least), and I would love to see them side by side (I guess I can!). The Peabody Essex print is actually the second state: the Shepard Fairey-ish image in the collection of the National Museum of American History is an earlier impression. The Hiller prints were made about 1775, after Hancock has assumed the role of President of the Continental Congress, as is a third print after Copley rendered by the British engraver William Smith: the smuggler patriot was now famous on both sides of the Atlantic. I think there is an interesting comparison to be made here: the close-up, unframed impressions of the American Hiller are more intimate and immediate than Smith’s version, even though the latter’s techniques seem to have stood the test of time a bit better.

Hancock PEM Hiller


Hancock Smithsonian 2

Joseph Hiller (1746–1814) after Copley, The Hon. John Hancock, Esq., ca. 1775. Inscribed lower left border “Jos. Hiller fecit.” Mezzotint with watercolor, 9-7/8 x 7-7/8 inches. Courtesy, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem; and The Hon. John Hancock, Esq., ca. 1775, National Museum of American History; William Smith (1750-1825?) after Copley, The Hon. John Hancock, Esq., ca. 1775, National Portrait Gallery.

I think I’m drawn to these images because Hancock has always been one of my favorite founding fathers: certainly the one with whom I had the earliest and most immediate connection because of his still-standing wharf and warehouse in my hometown. Later on, when I moved to Massachusetts and became interested in preservation issues, the images and story of his martyred mansion became the cautionary tale. And I must admit that his portrayal by the British actor Rafe Spall was just about the only thing that kept me watching the History Channel’s Sons of Liberty miniseries a few months ago.

Hancock Copley Portrait MHS

Hancock broadside 1777

Two more Hancocks. The source: John Singleton Copley’s portrait, c. 1770-72, Massachusetts Historical Society; a Salem-printed broadside from the end of Hancock’s term as president of the Continental Congress and “the first year of American Independence”, National Portrait Gallery.

My Dear Girl

I am absolutely charmed by the physical appearance of a recently-preserved “lost” letter from Paul Revere to his wife Rachel dated a few weeks after his famous April 1775 ride. Its existence has been known for some time, and it was published as a transcription in Elbridge Henry Goss’s Life of Colonial Paul Revere (1891), but the actual document had been presumed lost until very recently, when a box was donated to the Paul Revere House in Boston which included the letter, in a long-folded condition that showed its age. Now digitized and preserved by the Northeast Document Conservation Center and returned to the house to which it was first delivered, the letter is a visible symbol of the power of primary sources: it is one thing to know what a document says, it’s quite another to see the author’s handwriting. It’s much more intimate (and powerful), especially if the expression includes an endearment like “My Dear Girl” and proceeds to details like a request for linens and stockings. At the end of the letter Revere includes a note to his son, informing him that “It is now in your power to be serviceable to me, your Mother, and your self” and signing off  “Your loving Father, PR.”

Revere Letter


Revere House 1930s

The Letter at the Northeast Document Conservation Center website, where you can see a sequence of images illustrating the preservation process; Paul and Rachel Revere and two 1930s images of their house: an etching by W. Harry Smith, Smithsonian Institution, and a linoleum engraving by Stanley Scott for the Federal Art Project, Boston Public Library.

Resistance and Retreat in Salem, 1775

The American Revolution did not, of course, begin with a single “shot heard round the world” but was rather the result of a simmering opposition developing in Massachusetts from at least 1770. A singular event in this intensifying insurgence occurred here in Salem on this day in 1775: while referred to alternatively by historians as the “Salem Alarm” or the “Salem Gunpowder Raid” (the subtitle of Peter Charles Hoffer’s recently-released book, Prelude to Revolution), its more popular designation is “Leslie’s Retreat”.

The reference is to the British Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Leslie, who was dispatched by General Thomas Gage–who had proclaimed Massachusetts in “open rebellion” just weeks earlier–to Salem in search of the cannons and powder he suspected was there. Indeed, there were 17 cannons in the shop of blacksmith Robert Foster, who had been commissioned by Colonel David Mason of the Massachusetts Committee of Public Safety to affix them to carriages in preparation for the inevitable conflict. On a chilly Sunday, Leslie and his men (about 240 fusiliers from the 64th Regiment) disembarked from their ship in Marblehead and commenced the 5-mile march to Salem towards Foster’s foundry, located on the bank of the North River just across what was then a drawbridge. The alarm went out, and by the time they got to Salem Leslie and his men faced a large, angry, armed crowd and a raised drawbridge. A tense standoff of several hours ended with a compromise which was really both a defeat and a retreat for the British: the bridge was lowered, enabling Leslie to fulfill his orders and inspect the foundry, but he went no further–and the cannons were long gone. No blood was shed, with the exception of that of one Joseph Whicher, pricked by a British bayonet. There are many indications that this was considered a momentous moment–in its own time and after. A few months later–and across the water, The Gentleman’s Magazine reported that the Americans have hoisted their standard of liberty at Salem.

Leslies Retreat Repulse of Leslie feb 26 1775 Bridgman

Leslies Retreat map EIHC

PicMonkey Collage

Lewis Jesse Bridgman, “The Repulse of Leslie at the North Bridge, Sunday, February 26, 1775” and sketch of the scene, from Robert Rantoul, “The Affair at the North Bridge, Salem, February 26, 1775”, Historical Collections of the Essex Institute 38 (1902); Some of the major players:  Colonel David Mason on right, a Gainsborough portrait of Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Leslie upper left, and the Reverend Thomas Barnard of Salem, lower left, who by all accounts negotiated the retreat.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Leslie’s Retreat was a heralded historical event, marked by addresses, commemorations, and compilations of source materials that we draw from now, including  Charles Moses Endicott’s Account of Leslie’s Retreat at the North Bridge on Sunday Feb’y 26, 1775 (1856) and Rantoul’s 1902 article, cited above. Such interesting characters (and large crowds) emerge from these accounts:  Sarah Tarrant, a Salem woman who openly mocked the British troops, the equally rebellious militia captain John Felt, and the “Paul Revere” of the event, Major John Pedrick of Marblehead, whose role seems a bit mythological to say the least (see much more about this particular gentleman and his role here). Pedrick’s role in carrying the alarm to Salem was certainly romanticized by the Marblehead folk artist J.O.J. Frost in his 1920s (?) painting, Major Pedrick. To the Town of Salem, to Give the Alarm, which went up for auction at Skinner a couple of years ago. I can’t resist adding a photograph from the collection of the New York Historical Society Museum & Library of the original enlarged painting in the hands of a gentleman identified as “Colonel Leslie” but whom I suspect is the artist.

Frost Pedrick

Leslie and Frost Painting

At present, I do not think Leslie’s Retreat is either revered or even remembered: perhaps Professor Hoffer’s book will bring it back into our civic consciousness. Many of the streets in the vicinity of the standoff are named for its participants: Mason, Felt, Foster (no Tarrant), but the widening of North Street, the multiple replacements of the bridge, and the damming of the river have created a landscape that would be unrecognizable to any of these people–and not a particularly reverent one. What remains to remind us of Leslie’s Retreat? A weathered memorial, a dog park, and a restaurant.

Leslies Retreat 004

Leslies Retreat 001

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