Leslie’s Retreat in Essex Gazette, 1774

Description of British attempt to capture cannons in Salem, known as Leslie’s Retreat. This dispute with the British predates and foreshadows the conflict at Lexington and Concord by 2 months.

From the Essex Gazette,

Salem, March 7th. We hear from Danvers that last week one quarter part of the trainband soldiers of that town [enlisted] themselves as minutes men, [agreeable] to the recommendation of the Provincial Congress.

Last Friday night twenty seven pieces of cannon were removed out of this town, in order to be out of the way of robbers.

The count published last week in this paper and republished in the Spy, of the march of the 64th regiment [in Draper’s true account it is called a detachment of the 64th regiment: But we are informed only 15 or 20 of the men remained at the Castle] is in Mills and Hiicks’s paper said to contain several [falsehoods]: In the hurry and alarm there might be a misapprehension in some things; but there was no mention to detract from Col. Leslie’s courage, honor or prudence; or deviate from the straight path of truth; but to establish the latter we are constrained to make a few remarks on Draper’s account, and on that republished by Mills and Hicks. The latter declare “they are [authorized] to say — that the Colonel never ordered any part of the troops to fire, but that he was not prevented from giving any orders he should have thought necessary, by the threat of the townsman” — as they say was insinuated in our account. — The townsmen and [???ers] of the inhabitants, men of undoubted veracity, shall say they are absolutely certain that the Colonel talked about firing on the people : and the townsmen (who stood within two yards of him) declares that the Colonel, turning two an officer near him, expressed himself in this manner — “You must face about this division (or company) and fire upon those people. This, and this only, occasioned the townsman to make a reply (with a loud boise, for his resentment was kindled by the order to fire) in these words, as exactly as he can now recollect, “fire! You had betted be damned than fire! You can have no right to fire without further orders.” We added, in our account — “The company neither fired nor faced.” — Whether it were prudence, or want of orders, or disposition, or any other motive that prevented an act so manifestly unjustifiable as this would have been, we could not tell : — We related a simple fact, that “The company neither fired nor faced.”

Mills and Hicks go on, “Nor is there that least truth in what is inserted of the Colonel’s having pledged his honor, as he absolutely insisted on going over the Bridge” — No other answer to this will be required than the declaration of the clergyman referred to in Draper’s account. These are his wo[rds] — “Concerned for the welfare of my townsmen, [?] addressed Col. Leslie, and desired the soldiers under his command might be restrained from pushing their bayonets. He told me they were much insulted, and intimidated to me his determination tot pass over the Bridge; but concluded with saying — if the inhabitants would lower the Bridge, he will give his word (and I am pretty certain) his honor that he would not march abo[ve] fifty rods” — For the sake of those who are strangers to the clergyman, we add, that he is a gentleman of unimpeached veracity, virtue and honor, and universally respected by the inhabitants for his manly, prudent and judicious conduct on the occasion.

The declaration that “no half-brother of a mandamus [councilor], or any other person, in Salem, whispered or spoke to Col. Leslie while he was in the town of Salem” is very extraordinary. Even Draper admits that the clergyman conversed with him, — But we know that at least two other persons spoke to him; though in a strain somewhat different from that attributed to the half-brother. Tis a fact that the half-brother was in the front of the regiment, whispering or talking with an officer, who the inhabitants naturally concluded was the commanding officer of the regiment; for at that time Col. Leslie was known to very few. This half-brother afterwards walking with one of the inhabitants (while the soldiers were on the Bridge) they had some conversations, to this effect — “Tis all over with them” — said the half-brother : What is over, said his companion? — He replied “The Bridge is drawn up :” What then, rejoined the other? The half-brother then whispered “they were going after the cannon.” —It must be granted that these circumstances (especially when connected with others known to the inhabitants) might very justly raise their suspicions in any measure guilty, we wish his innocence may appear.

In Draper’s recount tis said the troops under Col. Leslie “landed at Marblehead at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.” This is a palpable falsehood : They arrived in Salem soon after four; and as the distance between Salem and Marblehead is about for miles and an half, they must have been at least an hour in marching.

It is said also that the commanding officer received intelligence “that some trucks were seen going out of Salem that morning.” This [???] doubt: However, the inhabitants saw none ’till he and his troops were just entering the heart of the town.

‘Tis said also that the people, discovering Col. Leslie’s intentions to ferry a few men over in a [gondola] as soon as it could be got afloat, jumped into her, and with axes cut through her bottom. That “Col. Leslie seeing this, ordered a party to drive them out of her. Some of the people however having obstinately refused to quit her, that soldiers were obliged to use force.” – Strange language this – a gentle [????] of [?l?uately] refused to quit his own [gondola] — And notwithstanding the hurry and bustle, that other [gondola] was not scuttled ’till leave was expressly given by the owner: Yet for doing it the blood of the inhabitants must be drawn. We did not know till now who gave this violent order and are sorry to find it was Col. Leslie. The people suspected, not deserved, his intention to ferry over his men in the [gondolas]; and could not conceive that the soldiers had any other right to interrupt their work in cutting the bottoms, than the right [c?ar??], which frequently regards neither law nor property, when standing in the way of their designs who wield them.

The minds of the people are not likely to be soothed by such actions as we have been speaking of. We have been cautioned to avoid hypocrisy – without hypocrisy it may be said that the serious are justly offended that an uproar and disturbance were occasioned on a day of public worship; and even whilst one congregation were assembled. But this Sabbath-day expedition well agrees with proclamations for the encouragement of piety and virtue.

Col. Leslie’s ridiculous expedition, on the 26th [?]lt. occasioned such an alarm, that the people of all the neighbouring towns, as well as those at thirty or forty miles distance were mustering, and great numbers actually on their march for this place, so that it is thought not less than 12 or 15,000 men would have been assembled in this town within twenty-four hours after the alarm, had not the [precipitate] retreat of the troops from the Draw-Bridge prevented it.

Capt. Leighton arrived yesterday from Virginia with 1000 bushels of Indian corn, and 90 bushels of wheat, for the poor of Boston.


Newspaper excerpt, Essex Gazette (March 1775). America’s Historical Newspapers. Courtesy of Boston Public Library.