Tag Archives: Revolutionary War

Receptive Reenactments

I do not think that most professional historians care for reenactments of past events, primarily because of their belief that people in the present can never truly “reenact” the past and so any attempt to do so will lead inevitably to trivialization. There is also a general disdain for battle reenactments, which seem to dominate such endeavors. I share those views, but I also see a lot of positive aspects of communities coming together to explore various aspects of their past. I think activity is important, especially for the generation I’m teaching now, whose engagement in the past seems confined to video games. I was fortunate to grow up around reenactments of the more “festival” type, so I don’t associate period dress-up with formations necessarily, and here in Salem I’m an enthusiastic supporter of any attention to any event that does not revolve around profiteering from the tragic events of 1692. Looking at reenactment trends, it appears that we’re moving away from big battles and towards progressive social movements: suffragists, labor actions, protests. There are attempts to capture the spirit of the past in more engaging “pop-ups”, rather than by slavish devotion to every little stitch: just contrast this New York Times article about the diminished ranks at Gettysburg with this blog post on events celebrating Chicago’s more colorful past. Even though I am having real difficulties with the writing of PBS’s Victoria this year, I did like Lucy Worsley’s recreation and reenactment of Victoria and Albert’s 1840 wedding, which was all about the details: dress, venue, menu, CAKE. BUT Worsley was able to take all those details and weave them into something that had lasting significance: the reinvention of the British monarchy in the nineteenth century through big majestic events. Obviously we are still affected by royal weddings today.

Reenactment Cake

Leslie’s Retreat (which happened on this date in 1775), is a perfect event for reenactment as it involves both a military maneuver and social protest against that maneuver, is a local event that can be tied into a much larger context, and must be played out with both words and actions. Despite the weather, the third annual enactment went off very well on Sunday: instead of taking it outside and down to the riverside, everything happened in the confines of the First Church. Even though his role is mythical, Major Pedrick warned the congregation of the imminent arrival of the British, they marched, the compromise was reached, and the reception began.

Reenactment 2

Reenactment 10

Reenactment 1I am not showing you Major Pedrick because he should not have been there!

Reenactments can trap you in their details if you are not careful. Even though it was largely irrelevant to the day’s discourse, I became fixated on the logistics of the British soldiers’ landing and march. So off to Marblehead I went, to see the two referenced landing locations, very near to one another, and then their possible routes to Salem. There I also saw the Marblehead plaque marking the occasion, which (like the account of Samuel Roads in my last post) seemed to imply that the story was all about Marblehead!  Well there you have it: there are at least two sides to every story, so you might has well just aim for the spirit of the occasion.

Reenactment 3

Reenactment 8

Reenactment 9

Receptive Reenactment

Reenactment 5

Reenactment 6

March Map 1776 2 Des Barres

Thanks to Tom P. for leading me to what I think are Homan’s Cove and Lovis’s Cove, the landing places referenced in the sources. From there I presume that the British marched through the town of Marblehead (on what streets I do not know) and then to Salem along the above road on the 1776 Des Barres map (Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library).


Reports of Leslie’s Retreat

This weekend brings the third annual commemorative reenactment of “Leslie’s Retreat” to Salem, an enthusiastic event that I think everyone enjoys because of its non-commercial, non-1692 focus: at least I do! The reenactment marks an event which might have sparked the American Revolution weeks before Lexington and Concord, if shots had been fired; it was nonetheless a notable occurrence of an armed (and potentially very dangerous) resistance. In late February of 1775 General Thomas Gage, the military governor of Massachusetts, got wind of a store of cannon in Salem and dispatched Lieut. Col. Alexander Leslie and 240 soldiers of the 64th Regiment by ship from Boston to Marblehead on the 26th (a Sunday!), with instructions to march to Salem and seize them. There’s a lot of whispering and distrust in this story as the “Tory” and “Patriot” sides do not seem firm, but several Marblehead patriots rode ahead in Revere-like fashion and warned the people of Salem, and thus “the Sabbath was disturbed”. By the time the soldiers arrived in Salem a crowd had assembled in the vicinity of the (old) North Bridge, as across the North River was the blacksmith’s shop where the cannons were being affixed to field carriages. A prolonged standoff ensued with the drawbridge raised, during which the cannons were moved west, several ending up in Concord, I believe. The bridge was lowered so that Colonel Leslie could fulfill his orders, but it was too late, and so he and his troops turned around and marched back to Marblehead, their ship, and Boston. I’ve written about this event several times (here and here), there’s a nice narrative of events here, and the most insightful accounts are on J.L. Bell’s brilliant blog Boston 1775 (I especially like this post but check this one out too, and this one), so there is no need to go into any more detail, but there are three issues I’d like to raise, two “open” and one relatively new (I think, maybe not, not my period!), all from newspaper accounts written in the weeks after Colonel Leslie’s retreat from Salem.

Leslies Retreat Collage

Leslies Retreat Newport Mercury

Leslies Retreat March 15 Masthead

There is some back-and-forth, especially in the first few weeks after the Retreat, but for the most part the papers are essentially publishing the standard story first published by the Essex Gazette. There are so many details to this story, however, that it’s notable what is put in and what is left out. So here are my “outstanding” issues, in the form of a question and two comments.

How many damn cannon(s) were there in Salem?  I can’t lock down the number (and I know “cannon” is plural but I think I have to use cannons here). Apparently General Gage had received reports that old ships’ cannons were being converted in Salem and eight additional cannons had been imported from abroad, while the Essex Register’s report on the Retreat included the assertion that twenty-seven pieces of cannon were removed out of this town, in order to be out of the way of the robbers. I’ve read (and quoted) seventeen cannons, nineteen cannons, and twenty cannons. I think we’ve go to go with the eyewitness account cited by J.L. Bell, in which Samuel Gray, who was nine years old at the time, went into the smithy on the day after and asked how many cannons had been there the day before and was told twelve; understood they were French pieces, and came from Nova Scotia after the late French war; were guns taken from the French; does not know to whom they belonged previous to being fitted up on this occasion. TWELVE. Gray’s remembrances were in response to interviews that Charles Moses Endicott conducted to produce his Leslie’s Retreat; or the Resistance to British Arms, at the North Bridge in Salem, on Sunday, the 26th of February of 1775, which was first published as a separate Proceeding of the Essex Institute in 1856.

 (The remembrance and reconstruction of what became known as “Leslie’s Retreat” enable us to see how Salem’s history was collected, preserved and interpreted by the Essex Institute, one of the founding institutions of today’s Peabody Essex Museum. Contrary to the claims of the PEM leadership: yes, the Essex Institute DID function as a historical society, and that’s why its historical collections, including its publications and historical manuscripts and texts assembled in the Phillips Library, constitute an important archive of Salem’s history, and no, no institution is fulfilling that role for Salem now, so the decisions to end the Institute’s interpretation and collection missions and remove its archival collections from Salem will have far-reaching consequences. These decisions were made by Mr. Dan Monroe, and since he has announced his retirement it is time to consider his legacy—and this is a truly momentous one.) Sorry–the spirit of RESISTANCE overwhelmed me!

Back to the question of the cannon(s): for some reason Endicott goes with 17 in his account, which has become classic, but he includes Gray’s number in his footnotes, clearly giving some credence to his claim. I don’t know why we can’t believe the boy: certainly his would have been a crystalline memory.

Major Pedrick was a Tory! None of the contemporary reports of the events of February 26, 1775 mention Major John Pedrick as the “alarming” figure who rode ahead of Leslie’s troops to warn the citizens of Salem of their imminent arrival, nor does Endicott. That’s because his role was made up after Endicott’s account. Pedrick was in fact a wealthy Tory who would not have been motivated to play such a conspicuous role at this time; he came around a bit later but anonymous Marbleheaders warned Salem on that Sabbath day. Again, I am relying on J.L. Bell’s succinct analysis of the “myth” of Major Pedrick, which has been perpetuated in the most recent scholarship as well as our reenactment. I was also inspired by Bell’s post to look around and see what else was made up about our event, particularly in the “creative” Marblehead accounts of the later nineteenth century. Samuel Roads Jr.’s History and Traditions of Marblehead (1880) turns Leslie’s Retreat into an all-Marblehead affair: Pedrick is prominent, of course, along with an entire Marblehead Regiment that came to Salem to take up with Leslie’s troops. Not a single Salem name is mentioned in Roads’ account, but we do hear of one Robert Wormsted, one of the young men from Marblehead,—who afterwards distinguished himself by his daring and bravery,—[and ] engaged in  an encounter with some of the soldiers. He was a skillful fencer, and, with his cane for a weapon, succeeded in disarming six of the regulars. Wow. No mention in Endicott of this cane-wielding Wormsted—or Pedrick—but Marblehead folk artist J.O.J Frost seems to have cemented the latter’s place in history in his early twentieth-century painting Major Pedrick. To the Town of Salem, to Give the Alarm.

Leslies Retreat Frost Courtesy Skinner Auctions; note the anachronistic photo inserted on the right.

“Anniversary History” was alive and well in 1775: Even in the standard reports of Leslie’s Retreat published in the week after, I couldn’t help but notice the juxtaposition of what had just happened in Salem and the imminent fifth anniversary of the Boston Massacre. Side by side we can read of Leslie’s “ridiculous” expedition and “an Oration, in commemoration of the Massacre, perpetuated in King-Street, on the 5th of March, 1770, by Joseph Warren, Esq.” and several reports made the connection between the two, which occurred on successive sabbaths. Dr. Warren actually spoke on March 6, 1775, and I wish he had referenced Salem, but he did not. Nevertheless, you can really feel the drumbeat of rebellion when you read the New England papers published in March of 1775: there are lessons to be learned and anecdotes to be memorialized. The editors of the Newport Mercury were also thinking historically when they opined that as our brave ancestors used to carry their implements of war with them to their places of worship during the Indian wars, perhaps our brethren of the Massachusetts Bay have good reason to make use of the same precaution at this day. I also can’t resist adding another eyewitness testimony here, from a “True Son of Old Ireland” who was on the spot, as well as my very favorite photograph of the First Reenactment of Leslie’s Retreat, two years ago: these guys played their roles really well.

Leslies Retreat Lessons Learned Newport Mercury March 6

Essex Gazette March 7 1775 Leslies Retreat

Leslies Retreat best photoThe Newport Mercury of March 6, 1775 and the Essex Gazette of March 7, 1775; Lt. Colonel Leslie (Charlie Newhall!!!) exasperated and outflanked two years ago.

Commemorating Leslie’s Retreat on February 24:  Reenactment at 11:15-11:30 for Redcoats (meet at Hamilton Hall) and Patriots (meet at the First Church). Reception afterwards at First Church.

A Staged Reading of Endicott’s Leslie’s Retreat at the Pickering House by Keith Trickett, 3pm: https://pickeringhouse.org/events/special-leslies-retreat-performance/.

Toast the Retreat and Salem’s Resistance at O’Neill’s Pub on Washington Street from 4-7pm.

And coming in April: the Resistance Ball at Hamilton Hall: https://www.hamiltonhall.org/full-event-calendar/2019/2/1/resistance-ball


Topsy-Turvy

I find myself these days full of feelings of dissent and resistance but looking for more whimsical ways to express the same, as you can’t be strident all the time. It’s boring, and exhausting. So a flashing reference caught my attention, to a dinner party in Baltimore in February of 1777 attended by two of the most strident people in history: John and Samuel Adams of Massachusetts. The next day, John noted in his diary [II, 434]: Last evening I supped with my friends, Dr. Rush and Mr. Sargeant, at Mrs. Page’s, over the bridge. The two Colonel Lees, Dr. Wisherspoon, Mr. Adams, Mr. Gerry, Dr. Brownson, made the company. They have a fashion, in this town, of reversing the picture of King George III in such families as have it. One of these topsy-turvy kings was hung up in the room where we supped, and under it were written these lines, by Mr. Throop, as we are told: Behold the man, who had it in his power/ To make a kingdom tremble and adore, Intoxicate with folly. See his head Placed where the meanest of his subjects tread. Like Lucier, the giddy tyrant fell; He lifts his heal to Heaven, but points his head to Hell.

George III

King George III by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, National Trust, Uppark

Well I like this “fashion”, and can certainly think of one or two people I’d like to turn upside down at the moment. I’m sure we all can. Apologies to my British friends: I couldn’t find an image of a Baltimore dining room with a topsy-turvy portrait of King George, so I simply turned him upside down myself. But we must note that like so many of their revolutionary sensibilities, the new Americans were simply following a British example: in this case the “world turned upside down” sentiments of the English Revolution in the previous century. The leader of that revolution, Oliver Cromwell, was himself turned upside down when an Indian monarchist of the Victorian era purchased his portrait and displayed it topsy-turvy in a delayed protest of the regicide: the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery followed suit when it acquired the portrait, and Tate Britain when it exhibited it. Another topsy-turvy ruler is Philip V of Spain, whose portrait is traditionally upended in the Almodí Museum in Xàtiva, in retribution for the burning of the city at the close of the War of the Spanish Succession.

Topsy Turvy Tate cromwell_for_web_0

Robert Walker (in the style of), Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

Topsy Turvy King 2

The first Bourbon King of Spain, Philip V.

Later in the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, the upside-down, topsy-turvy motif was mostly used in a satirical or critical way, the point having been established: “it is monstrous that the feet should direct the head” (in the words of my favorite queen, Elizabeth I, to make up for turning George III upside down) or something’s not right here. There was also a two-sides-of-the-same-coin message in some topsy-turvy images, as well as a general sense of we’re being tossed about/PLAYED. That’s how I feel.

topsy turvy collage

TOpsy Turvy Economy 1979 Jean-Michel Folon Smithsonian NPGTopsy-turvy “Talons” Kaiser Wilhelm I and Emperor Napoleon III, 1878, Victoria & Albert Museum; the Topsy-turvy Economy, 1978, Jean Michel Folon, Smithsonian/National Portrait Gallery.


Soldiers of the Revolution

For the past couple of years, the focus of my Memorial Day remembrance has been the Revolutionary War soldiers of Salem, a rather forgotten lot when compared with their fellow veterans of more recent wars. There are seldom flags marking their graves this weekend, and rarely do their headstones even refer to their service. I wander through the old burial grounds of Salem looking for age-appropriate candidates, and then consult the (digital) volumes of Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War when I get home. Last year I featured the Revolutionary War veterans of Broad Street Cemetery: this year I am focusing on Salem’s third-oldest cemetery, the Howard Street Burial Ground. Howard Street is primarily known for its associations with a spectral Giles Corey and as the resting place of a host of Salem sea captains (including a few famous privateers), but there are at least ten notable Revolutionary war veterans interred in this sacred space as well, and probably more: there are many damaged and “time-washed” stones in Howard Street, rendering them into potential tombs of unknown soldiers.

Soldiers Unknown

Soldiers Unknown2

Soldiers Unknown3

But then you get lucky, and run right into the well-preserved headstone of Stephen Wood (1747-1841), a “soldier of the Revolution”: I just love that simple, succinct, reverential phrase. Wood fought at the Battles of Bunker Hill, Saratoga, Princeton, and White Plains with the 6th Massachusetts Regiment and lived, as you can see, to be 94 years old.

Soldiers Wood

The original marker of the most famous “soldier of the Revolution” buried at Howard Street, Colonel Samuel Carlton, was presumably too humble for his family, who replaced it with a more stately edifice in 1898, inscribed with his impressive service at Ticonderoga and Valley Forge. The Reverend William Bentley noted his death in 1804: He was born in Salem in the next house to that which he died in Union Street. His parents were from Andover in this Country. He was bred to the seas & was a Master of a Vessel till the war, when he engaged in the Northern army & had a Lieutenant Col’s. commission under Col. Brewer, in the campaign of 1777. He was sick & returned home & for the last 14 years was unable to make any use of his lower extremities. He was a very cheerful man, original in his expressions, & capable of drawing attention in his conversation. He has left numerous descendants. No man ever endured so much with greater patience.

Soldiers Carlton

Then there is Captain John Collins, another master mariner who joined up in 1780 and served until the end of the war, Mr. Charles Richardson, yet another simple “soldier of the Revolution”, the long-lived trio of Ebenezer Burrill (1755-1826), William Prossor (1750-1842), and Captain Henry Tibbetts (1762-1842), all “revolutionary pensioners”, Jonathan Archer, and Scottish-born Captain John Melvill, who signed up in May of 1775 and served in Captain William Blackler’s Company, part of Colonel John Glover’s Regiment. I am confused about the stark marker of Moses Townsend, dated 1828: there were two Salem Moses Townsends, father and son, who served in the Revolutionary War: the elder was a prisoner of war in the infamous Mill Prison near Plymouth, England, where he died in 1777; the younger lived until 1843. Could this be a memorial to the senior, buried over in Old England, or another Moses Townsend entirely?

Soldiers collage

Soldiers Townsend

Just a few steps away from the Howard Street Burial Ground is the grave of General Stephen Abbott (1749-1813), safely guarded within the confines of St. Peter’s graveyard with its adjacent Sons of the American Revolution marker. Abbott is a rarity among Revolutionary War soldiers in that he is always remembered, more for the fact that he was the founder and first commander of the Second Corps of Cadets in 1781 than his earlier service with General Washington. Salem’s claim as the founding place of the National Guard is based on that unit, and so every year at First Muster time guardsmen gather to lay a wreath at Abbot’s grave site, in Abbott Square. I imagine that there were more SAR markers in Salem at one time, in Howard Street, Broad Street, and elsewhere: were they “lost” over the years? Could we obtain replacements?

Soldiers Abbott

Soldiers Abbot 2


Remembering Dr. Warren

I have never been a formal student of memory and memorial culture, but the process, expressions, and artifacts of remembrance have fascinated me from the time that I was a little girl, growing up just down the street from the Justin Smith Morrill Homestead on the Justin Smith Morrill Memorial Highway (which we knew just as the road to South Strafford) in Strafford, Vermont and then moving to the equally past-focused town of York, Maine. Here in Salem, memorials are all around me, and some I take notice of on a regular basis while others escape my attention–why? I’ve been thinking about the distinction between individual and collective memorialization for some time: in the past, initiatives seem to have focused on the remembrance of individuals while we focus on the event, or the collective victims and/or participants related to that event. This seems like a basic divide between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and it was really driven home to me as I walked around Savannah last week. Savannah is a city of statues as much as it is of squares: these two distinguishing features go hand in hand. I did not take a precise inventory, but those statues erected to the memory of individuals definitely made a firmer impression on my memory, although sometimes (as in the notable case of Forsyth Park) you can see both, side by side.

Confederate and McLaws Statues Savannah

The Confederate War Memorial and Lafayette McLaws Statue in Forsyth Park, Savannah.

Today marks the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, at which over 350 men died, and many, many more were wounded: more British than American. It was truly a Pyrrhic victory for the British, and therefore ultimately inspirational for the Americans, as was the tragic death of Dr. Joseph Warren, prominent Son of Liberty, President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, the man who enlisted Paul Revere and William Dawes to put out the word that the British were indeed coming, and newly-commissioned Major General, who nonetheless engaged in the battle as a private soldier with a borrowed musket. Warren was shot in the face by his assailant and thrown in a mass grave by the British after the battle, but his body was recovered months later by Revere and his younger brother John, a Salem doctor, even after his martyrdom had been established by John Trumbull’s iconic painting, The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775. The Doctor Patriot has been memorialized in many ways: through the naming of towns across New England and the United States, streets (I’m not sure about Warren Street here in Salem), statutes and statues. The first Bunker Hill Memorial was a Warren Memorial, erected by his Masonic brothers; it was replaced by the 221-foot-high obelisk commemorating the entirety of the battle in 1843. But Dr. Warren did not retreat from the field entirely: an adjacent exhibit lodge was built in the late nineteenth century to house his statue, one of several in Boston. While I certainly would not want to displace the statue of Colonel William Prescott that stands before the Bunker Hill Monument, I would also like to see Dr. Warren there, outside, although maybe that would spoil that stark individual vs. collective aesthetic of the site.

Warren by Trumbull MFA

Warrens Death 1775

Warren Memorial Bunker Hill 1794

Bunker Hill Monument BPL 1920

Bunker Hill Monument and Prescott

Warren Statue by Dexter

Warren Statue Roxbury

Warren Tavern

John Trumbull’s Death of General Warren, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Frontispiece to the H.H. Brackenridge play The Battle of Bunkers-hill: a dramatic piece, of five acts, 1776, Library of Congress; Masonic Warren Memorial on Bunker Hill and present day Bunker Hill Monument in 1920, Leslie Jones, Boston Public Library, and today, with Colonel William Prescott “on guard”; Photograph of the Masonic Warren Statue by Henry Dexter, Southworth and Hawes, 1851, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Warren Memorial Statue on Warren Street in his native Roxbury, before it was removed to West Roxbury by a street widening project (Roxbury wants it back), Leslie Jones, Boston Public Library; the Warren Tavern in Charlestown, built as a “memorial” of sorts to Warren in 1780.


Weekend Redcoats

There was a brief British occupation in Salem this past weekend as a joint collaboration between the Salem Maritime National Historic Site and Minute Man National Historic Park brought Redcoat reenactors to Derby Wharf.   On Saturday, General Thomas Gage and his troops arrived and made camp, in commemoration of then-Governor Gage’s short-lived attempt to move the capital of the Massachusetts colony to Salem (away from very agitated Boston) in the summer of 1774.  This plan was unsuccessful, and the resistance to it set in motion the events of the following year.  Gage wasn’t in Salem for very long.  The 2011 Redcoats departed on Sunday afternoon.

Tents for the troops.

Drills.

Lunch.

On guard.

Rachel and the Redcoats.  SSU history major Rachel Kaye and British officers in front of General Gage’s tent.

  General Gage at rest.



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