Today, the Lexington-Concord Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers when nearby Salem was invaded by British soldiers who were repulsed after a bloodless showdown at the North bridge on February 26, 1775.
From the Account of Leslie’s Retreat at the North Bridge in Salem, on Sunday Feb’y 26, 1775 by Charles Moses Endicott, published in 1856:
Extracts from an Account dictated by Mrs. Story, the mother of the late Judge Story.
In the year 1774 some of the most influential men in the colonies received information that Gov. Gage had received orders and was determined to disarm the colonists by seizing their arms and ammunition.
Many persons who were friendly to Great Britain, were determined to resist all acts of usurpation and tyranny on the part of the crown.
They did not believe the Governor would attempt to enforce this order, but were very watchful and jealous of every movement made by him.
Some Tories in Salem gave Gov. Gage notice that there were some cannon and military stores in a certain place in Salem which they pointed out and described.
On the 26th February, 1775, the Governor ordered from Castle William, Lieut. Col. Leslie with the 64th regiment in a transport, to land at Marblehead, and from thence to march to Salem and seize the cannon and munitions of war.
His orders were peremptory — he landed his troops upon Marblehead neck in a very quiet manner, expecting not to be discovered, or his movements suspected in such an obscure spot; but he little knew the jealous watchfulness of the Americans; by the time their feet touched the land a man went into the town of Marblehead who saw them land, and the alarm was immediately given by a dozen men running to the door of the new meeting house and beating the alarm signal agreed upon, and crying out, “To arms — to arms!”
A person, on the watch, saw the soldiers come out of the neck lane [in] single file, [form] upon Bubier’s plain, and then march to Salem, playing “Yankee doodle.”
Mrs. Story also states that after the draw was lowered, Col. Leslie and his men passed over and advanced upon the road the number of paces agreed upon, wheeled about, the music playing the old fashioned tune of “the world’s turned upside down,” and marched to Marblehead neck, whence they embarked.
Extract from a Manuscript Memoir of Col. David Mason, written by his daughter.
In the summer of 1774, he [Col. Mason] was one of a committee to prevent any tea being brought into the town, [of Salem] or being sold, and I remember a large chest being smuggled into the town by a colored man, that was taken from him and brought to our house and put in my mother’s chamber closet for safe keeping over night, and taken away the next day by the school boys, and burnt in the public square to their no small amusement.
As a specimen of the feeling that prevailed among the female lovers of liberty, my mother was in feeble health, and could take but little nourishment excepting tea, and my father fearing she would suffer much in her health if deprived of it, proposed to procure her the liberty of using it; but she said no! she would rather suffer any inconvenience than that it should be said, she was enjoying a privilege her husband was appointed to take from her friends and neighbors.
Early in the autumn of this year there was a committee of safety appointed, by the legislature of Massachusetts, to make private preparation for the gathering storm that they foresaw was soon to burst upon their heads; and he was from this time actively engaged in collecting military stores for the use of the country; and in November, 1774, received the appointment from this committee as Engineer, with a fixed salary, which I have often heard him say, was the first military appointment in the revolutionary war.
After this he purchased a number of iron cannon of a Col. Derby, of Salem, as I find the painting of seventeen carriages for these guns accounted for in his memorandum book, from which I take many of these notices and facts.
Among other accoutrements wanted for these guns were flannel cartridges, which must be sewed very smooth and of course done by females.
My father fearing to let more into the secret than was absolutely necessary, engaged my mother though in very feeble health, to cut out five thousand of these cartridges, and set my sisters and myself to make them, and we were often locked up in a chamber for fear some of our prying mates or neighbors should find out the nature of our employment: and undoubtedly the first instruments for the defense of our National liberty were made by my sister and myself.
In preparing carriages for these guns my father had employed a Capt. Foster to do the iron work, who had a shop on the north side of Danvers river, which skirts the North side of the town of Salem, over which was a draw bridge.
In the progress of the work he had also employed an “old countryman” in whom he had great confidence, but who it proved soon after was not worthy of it.
About the last of February, they had got a number of the carriages done, and the guns mounted, when this man came to him on a Saturday afternoon and requested his pay for his work, stating he had some pressing necessity for the money; accordingly he paid him his due.
The man then went directly to Boston and gave information of what was going on under my father’s directions, to Gov. Gage, who immediately ordered Col. Leslie to embark with his regiment from the Castle, and land at Marblehead, and from thence march to Salem and take possession of these guns, in his Majesty’s name.
Accordingly they landed at Marblehead about 12 o’clock the next day, being Sunday; but for reasons not known he did not get information till about 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon, when two of the selectmen came to him with the intelligence that these troops, 300 in number, were marching into the town; and it was supposed it was to take possession of his guns;— which he no sooner heard than he was
immediately upon his horse, and at the place of deposit to secure his treasure.
The alarm was now given in the town, the bells were ringing, the drums beating, and the people in a state of great agitation.
The troops had met with some little obstruction by the people breaking up a bridge about half a mile from the town.
This however they soon repaired and marched into the public square with all their martial music, and colors flying, to the great terror of the women and the children, if to no others.
In the meantime my father was busily engaged in securing his guns; — it fortunately happened that near to these shops there was a piece of thick oak wood which was covered a considerable depth with dried leaves, there being no snow on the ground at the time.
The guns were buried under these leaves, and the carriages otherwise supposed to be secured.
After this was done he rode into the street where the troops had halted, and found Col. Leslie conversing with a young Tory lawyer, who pointing with his cane in such a direction as he knew must lead him to the bridge.
Seeing their maneuvers he immediately returned to his post and with a number of others concerted measures to defeat their enterprise.
They were now coming towards the bridge in full glee while the people in sullen silence stood prepared for them, and the instant Col. Leslie set his foot on the first half of the bridge my father ordered the other half to be drawn up, presenting him a chasm of forty feet, it luckily happening to be low water.
On finding his progress arrested in such an unexpected manner the Colonel stamped and swore, ordering the bridge immediately to be lowered; but that was all he could do, as there was no one disposed to obey him, but his own troops, and it was not in their power to do it.
He then ordered some soldiers to get into several boats that lay in the river, and pass over and let down the bridge; but as soon as this was perceived to be their design several young men who were the owners, sprung into them, and with axes knocked out the bottoms.
This occasioned something of a scuffle and several were slightly wounded; but the time not being come for open hostilities to commence they took no other way to force their passage over the bridge.
As all now seemed to be at a stand, not knowing what would next take place, my father mounted a ladder at the top of the draw and addressed Col. Leslie, with whom he was personally acquainted, and advised him to desist, as there were expresses gone out, and in a few hours there would be a thousand men on the ground, and probably his men would all be cut to pieces, should they once fire upon the people.
He replied that he had orders to pass the bridge, and he would do it, if it cost him the life of every man he had; but if he would order the bridge to be let down he would give him his word and honor to go over and re-pass it without molesting any person or property.
My father then consulted with the people, and advised them to let him pass over, as he had full confidence in Col. Leslie’s honor.
Accordingly the draw was let down and they marched over ten or twelve rods and returned in the same order and back to Marblehead as rapidly as they could without running.
For the failure of this enterprise, Col. Leslie was tried by a court-marshal and cashiered, but was afterwards restored to his former rank.
The Lexington-Concord Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an image, circa 1906, of the monument to the efforts at Salem’s North Bridge on February 26, 1775.