Salem, Mass. had been a cause of constant distress to General Gage, Military Governor of Massachusetts. Salem had opened their ports to merchants that had been locked out of the Boston port by the Port Bill of 1774, and had organized the meeting of the Mass. Provincial Congress, under strict orders to the contrary from Gage. He learned in February that they had amassed a group of 19 cannons, and were building carriages to transport them. Knowing that the provincials were arming themselves, possibly again st His Majesty's troops, he decided to destroy these arms.
On Saturday February 25, 1775. Gage ordered Colonel Alexander Leslie with his 250 men of the 23 regiment (Royal Welch Fusiliers) to sail to Marblehead, and march to Salem and destroy these armaments. The ship arrived at Marblehead on Sunday, and the column marched to Salem as fast as possible during the Sunday service in an attempt at secrecy. It failed.. The Alarm riders bravely rode to Salem, and the cannons were brought to the opposite side of the Salem Forge.
When Leslie marched into Salem he found all the cannons on the other side of the Forge, along with Militia led by CPT David Mason. The drawbridge had been drawn up, and most of the ships stove-piped so that the British could not get across. Eventually the showdown was broken by a British sympathizer who negotiated the deal that the militia would lower the bridge, and let Leslie's men cross. But Leslie's men could march no more than 150 yards from the Forge, by this time the cannons were well away from there. Keeping his word, Leslie showed his force and marched across the bridge, and then turned and marched back to Marblehead.
There are several significant events that transpired that day:
- Due to the Unity of the Command of The British troops, no shots were fired.
- Gage showed his desire to destroy military arms. But he would not be able to get another chance at secrecy with all the spies that would be looking for similar actions later.
- The British learned that the Provincials would not fire upon His Majesty's Troops. At least that's what they believed.
- The Minutemen, and the Militia from the neighboring towns had just started to arrive at Salem when the British troops were leaving. This encouraged the Militia that their communications system worked, and that they could raise a substantial force quickly enough to repel a British assault.