When Americans think of our War for Independence, it is common for us to say that the first blood shed was at Lexington Green in April of 1775. However, a little known confrontation between Colonial Militia and British soldiers took place several weeks earlier in Salem, Massachusetts where blood was shed. If it had not been for a wise and biblically minded pastor, more would have been shed also. This providential event could help us to understand what is necessary in dealing with the conflicts we might have today.
Salem was founded by Roger Conant in 1626 as “Naumkeig” but was renamed “Salem” by Pastor Higginson in 1629 as he pondered Psalm 76:2 – “in Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion.” The name was prophetic, for Salem became known for the peaceful resolutions of conflict throughout its history. Pastor John White in England, the “father of Massachusetts”, had stated that the settlement of Salem, as well as others in the New World, “would be a bulwark against the kingdom of Anti-Christ.” The devil never forgot that goal for one of the conflicts that overshadows and masks Salem’s destiny is the Witchcraft Trials of 1692. However the initial resolution of a more self-governing form of church government modeled after the Pilgrims in contrast with some of the Puritans in Boston laid the groundwork for a legacy that would arise again at the time of the Revolution.
In early 1775 the strategy of the British, as it has been throughout all time by tyrants, was to disarm the colonial citizens. Tories who were loyal to the King were constantly letting the British know where the ammunition and arms were being stored. The Committees of Safety formed by the Colonies were spying on all movements of the British military as well. The British formulated a plan to send Colonel Leslie with 140 soldiers hidden below the deck in their ship to land and get the ammunition in Salem. Leslie was to land his soldiers at Marblehead and march into Salem on a Sunday when virtually everyone was in church. Thankfully the secret mission was spotted and the alarm sent out.
Major John Pedrick, once a Tory and a friend of Colonel Leslie, was told about the troops who had landed in Marblehead. Previously, his three daughters had turned his heart from the King to the cause of liberty. His oldest was being wooed by Major McGrath of the British. When McGrath berated the Colonial Militia, she told him “When you draw your sword against my countrymen I hope it will be the last day of your life!” She hoped that her resistance to his advances had not revealed the Pedrick’s true loyalties. Fortunately, however, all seemed well when Major Pedrick met the troops crossing a bridge and Colonel Leslie let him pass to warn the countryside!
Pedrick arrived in Salem as the church service was in progress. Church services would often last three hours in the morning, and then another three hours in the afternoon with a pre-prepared lunch held in between in honor of the Lord’s Day. When he arrived, the afternoon service was in progress. When Pastor Bernard came, he asked Pedrick how he might help. “Leslie is coming to take the store of ammunition,” said Pedrick. “The militia are hiding it as we speak,” replied the Pastor. “Pastor, delay them as long as you can and we’ll make sure the draw bridge is raised so they can’t cross the river. I warn you, Leslie will demand that the bridge be lowered in the King’s Name – but this road is private.”
When the British arrived, Pastor Barnard stood in the road in front of the raised drawbridge. The eyes of several teenagers could be seen who had climbed up on the raised bridge and were looking at the scene. “Who are you and why do you obstruct our path?” said Leslie to the preacher. “I am Pastor Barnard, a minister of the gospel and of peace,” he replied, reminding him that his actions were on the Lord’s Day. “Lower that drawbridge! I have my orders to cross it! This is the King’s Highway,” Colonel Leslie demanded. Pastor Barnard explained that the road was not built by the King, but rather by private individuals. Upon recognizing that his secret mission was well known and about 40 militia had drawn up on the other side of the river ready for battle (most of whom had been in church only a few minutes before), Col. Leslie was reluctant to give any further commands.
Then one of the British soldiers spied a few boats along the banks of the river. Seeing this, the captain of the Militia asked whose boats these were and whether permission was granted to destroy them in the name of liberty. The permission was granted and a scuffle ensued where the first blood of the Revolution was shed over the destruction of the boats. At this point Pastor Barnard recognized that unless something was done quickly, a full scale battle might ensue with much loss of blood.
“Colonel Leslie” he said, “I think we can bring this confrontation to a peaceful resolution. You have your orders to cross this bridge and you wish to retain your pride.” Seeing him nod, Pastor Barnard continued, “We have our rights that we will not give up.” Then he said, “I have a proposal to make. We will lower the drawbridge and allow your troops to march across if you do an about face before our militia and return from whence you came. In this way, we retain our rights and you retain your orders and your pride.” Colonel Leslie, after consulting with his officers, agreed and the bridge was lowered. The British crossed, did an about-face, and marched away.
The Bible tells us if at all possible, “As much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). Though there will be times when we must fight and resist, it is a priority that we first seek peace. Daniel did so in Babylon, and Jesus made it clear that our attitude must be one of being a peacemaker (Matthew 5:9). May God give us wisdom, as He did Pastor Barnard, to bring resolutions and avoid further conflict if at all possible!