Salem, MA Military History
“Salem has a rich military history that stretches all the way back to the Seventeenth Century, and continues on today. Salem’s designation in 2013 as the birthplace of the National Guard, and Salem’s privateer connections get most of the military heritage attention, but there is much more to this story.
Salem Common was “Ye Olde Training Field” when Captain John Endicott organized the first training day to drill settlers in 1630. In 1637 the first militia muster was organized by the Massachusetts Bay Colony Court.
Today we know Winter Island for its beach, boat ramp, and beautiful lighthouse. Originally named for King William, the original fort dates back to 1643-1667. It was renamed for Salem’s Colonel Timothy Pickering in 1799, and became a Coast Guard Air Station in 1935.
Six weeks prior to the “shot heard around the world on Lexington Green,” British Colonel Alexander Leslie retreated from a gathering of angry citizens on Salem’s North Bridge. Leslie and the 64th regiment had been sent by the British governor general of Massachusetts, Thomas Gage, to seize Colonial cannons and gunpowder in Salem. Leslie’s Retreat is considered by many to have been the first armed resistance of the American Revolution. Learn more about Leslie’s Retreat in this article from The Boston Globe.
Salem Privateers made a name for themselves during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Privateers were privately owned vessels that had government permission to capture enemy vessels during wartime, and during the Revolutionary War alone Salem sent out 158 privateers that captured 444 prizes (enemy ships), more than half the number taken by all the Colonies during the war. Today you can sail aboard a replica Salem Privateer, Schooner FAME, out of Pickering Wharf.
Include the Pickering House on Broad Street in your visit to Salem, and you will be exploring the birthplace of Colonel Timothy Pickering, who was an officer in the Continental Army and Quartermaster during the Revolutionary War. Pickering’s career went on to include Adjutant General of the Army, Secretary of State, and Secretary of War. Pickering, who was known for his unwavering integrity, lack of prejudice, devotion to justice, and commitment to service, is buried in the Broad Street Cemetery.
Glover’s Regiment claims Marblehead as its home, but Colonel John Glover was born on St. Peter’s Street in Salem. A good friend of General George Washington’s, Glover’s Regiment ferried Washington across the Delaware River, and Glover’s Schooner HANNAH was the first commissioned ship in the US Navy.
Salem mathematician and navigator Nathaniel Bowditch wrote “The New American Practical Navigator.” Known as “The Bowditch,” a copy of this book was been onboard Naval and Coast Guard vessels since the War of 1812.
Residents and visitors still remember when two US Naval Submarines were docked at Derby Wharf, used as training vessels during World War II.
Salem’s military connections continue today, most notably in newly-elected Congressman Seth Moulton, who served in the Marine Corps in the Iraq War.
Armory Park, adjacent to the Salem Regional Visitor Center, pays tribute to more than 365 years of military heritage in Essex County and includes a timeline tracing the history of the citizen soldier and the Second Corps of Cadets.
Material for this feature was provided by Bonnie Hurd Smith, Nelson Dionne, Schooner FAME, and SethMoulton.com.