One of the conspicuous results of the American Revolution was the emergence of new political and military leaders whose names do not appear in the colonial records. The career of Henry Knox is an illustration of that significant transition. His Scotch-Irish ancestor from north Ireland in 1729 landed at Boston, where Henry was born July 25, 1750, the seventh of ten sons.
Receiving a good education in the schools of Boston, he was apprenticed to a bookseller. A student by nature, his position enabled him to read widely in the books of the day and to make a wide circle of acquaintances. At 18 he was an officer in a local military company of grenadiers and two years later he witnessed the Boston Massacre. In 1771 he opened his own establishment, “the London Book-Store,” which was soon patronized by the fashionable set. On June 16, 1774, he married Miss Lucy Flucher of a prominent Loyalist family in Boston.
In the controversy with the mother country he became an ardent champion of the cause of the colonies. After Lexington and Concord, he joined the patriot army and took part in the Battle of Bunker Hill. His knowledge of gunnery and engineering made him a valuable addition to the Revolutionary forces.
Upon the arrival at Cambridge of Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental army, his attention was drawn to young Knox, who befriended by John Adams on November 17, 1775, was appointed colonel of artillery by the Continental Congress. The need of siege guns to drive the British out of Boston, was clearly seen by Washington and widely discussed among the officers.
Taking to heart the embarrassment caused by the lack of artillery, the resourceful mind of Colonel Knox conceived the project of bringing to Boston from Fort Ticonderoga the cannon and stores which had been captured in New York six months previously and were not then in use. The plan was submitted to Washington, who after giving it careful study and discussing it with his officers, some of whom opposed it as to hazardous in the dead of winter, personally interviewed the enthusiastic young colonel and gave his approval.
Washington gave him the following instructions
“You are immediately to examine into the state of the Artillery of this Army, and take an account of the Cannon, Mortars, Shells, Lead, and Ammunition, that are wanting. When you have done that, you are to proceed in the most Expeditious manner to New York; there to apply to the President of the Provincial Congress, and learn of him whether Colonel Reed did any thing or left any orders respecting these articles, and get him to procure such of them as possibly can be had there. The President, if he can, will have them immediately sent hither; if he cannot, you must put them in a proper channel for being transported to this camp with dispatch, before you leave New York. After you have procured as many of these necessaries as you can there, you must go to Major-General Schuyler, and get the remainder from Ticonderoga, Crown Point, or St. John’s. If it should be necessary, from Quebec , if in our hands. The want of them is so great, that no trouble or expense must be spared to obtain them. I have wrote to General Schyler; he will give every necessary assistance, that they may be had and forwarded to this place, with the utmost dispatch. I have given you a warrant to the Paymaster-General of the Continental Army, for a thousand dollars, to defray the expense attending your journey and procuring these articles; an account of which you are to keep, and render upon your return.
Given under my hand, at Head-Quarters, Cambridge, the 16th day of November, AD 1775 ~~ George Washington”
P.S. Endeavor to procure what flints you can.”
To his wife Colonel Knox wrote on November 16, 1775
“after the most tender inquiries concerning my dear Girls Health Inform her that My horse tired before I got Marlbro where I got Mr Gilb Speakmar’s who was so polite as to offer Him with the utmost freedom I lodg’d at Barkers and arriv’d here Yesterday in the most violent N. East Storm that I almost ever knew — keep up our Spirits my dear Girl I shall be with you to Morrow night & don’t be alarm’d when I tell you that the General has order’d me to go the West Ward as far as Ticonderoga about a three Weeks Journey, don’t be afraid there is no fighting in the Case I am going upon business only. My only regret will be to leave my love who will I am sure be as easy as possible under such circumstances — Mr. Jackson will I believe go up with me. If he does not he will go up on Friday or Saturday & will bring you down to Mr. Pelhams. ~~ I am My dearest Yours Most Affectionately ~~ Harry Knox”
The Continental Congress, spurred on by John Adams and John Hancock, apparently in November 1775, had ordered General Schuyler to forward to Washington “with all possible expedition what cannon can be spared” and to send such lead as could be spared. A committee consisting of Robert Treat Paine and John Langdon, sent to inspect conditions at Fort Ticonderoga, directed that the cannon not needed on Lake Champlain for defense be immediately transported southward to Albany. The committee reported to Congress on December 23, 1775, that “Mr. Knox is gone to Ticonderoga to choose such Cannon as will be wanted at Cambridge.” It was stated also there were a “number of Iron wheels for Carriages” at Ticonderoga.
Apparently Colonel Knox left Cambrdige on November 15, 1775, made a brief visit to his wife at Worcester, and then carrying a letter of introduction from Stepen Moylan to Gouverneur Morris he hurried to New York City which he reached November 25th. The next two days he devoted to arrangements for sending military supplies to Boston.
On November 27th he wrote to Washington
“May it please your Excellency
I ariv’d here last Saturday morning & immediately made inquiry whether Col Read had done any thing in the business with which I was char’d – I found that his Stay had been short during which time the Committee that sit during the recess of the Congress Could not be gotten together so that he went away with out being able to forward the business in the least. Yesterday the Committee met & after having considered of your excellency’s Letter to them Col(o) McDougal waited upon me & gave such reasons for not complying with the requisition of the heavy cannon as would not be prudent to put upon paper – he has promis’d me that he will use his utmost influence in the Congress which meets to morrow & has no doubt of success, that 12 exceeding good Iron 4 pounders with a Quantity of Shells & shot shall be sent to Camp immediately & also he has promis’d the loan of two fine brass six pounders cast in a foundry in this city — they have six. ….. I very sincerely wish your excellency had been acquainted with this circumstance & charg’d me with a Commission to have had a number cast for the Camp — they turn out 3/9 N York currency a pound & weight 600 lb those imported from London cost 2/6 ster(g) p (lb).
If sir you should think proper to have some done & will give orders to Coll(o) Mc Dougal or some other Gentlemen of this city — the founder will execute one in two days after he shall receive the orders — & so any number in proportion — he also can cast mortars — Col(o) Mc Dougal is so obliging as to promise me in the name of the Congress that they will forward those articles with the utmost expedition I shall set out by tomorrow morning for Ticonderoga & proceed with the utmost expedition as knowing our rather diffident that I shall not be able to get any heavier than eighteen pounders — by my return to Cambe. perhaps the reasons which now operate to prevent my getting the heavyer may then cease to exist.
NYC Harbour ca 1770s
permit me to congratulate your excellency on the reduction of Montreal which surrender’d the 13th instant General Montgomery sent Cap(t) Livingston of this Colony forces with the important news to the Continental Congress he pass’d thro’ this Town Yesterday — he says that on our troops getting on Montreal side of the river twelve of the principal Inhabitants came out and Offer’d to Capitulate — they at first propos’d haughty terms but were soon reduc’d to reason & general Montgomery with about 1200 Men took possession the same day — they had no boats to carry any more over at once — 9 Vessells had sailed from Montreal the day before — in one of which was Gen(l) Carelton & Brig(d) Presscott — another had all the powder the rest laden’d with military stores of all kinds Our people expecting the flight had previously erected a Battery at a point of Land projecting from the mouth of the river sorrel — a floating Battery — the Commander of the Land Battery had orders to fire red hot shot at the Vessells. the masters of which had heard of this resolution & it had much intimidated them the master of the powder Vessell had Declar’d before he left Montreal that he would surrender on the first shots being fir’d — our troops interrupted a Letter from Quebec in which it is said “the Yankies are now at point Levi about crossing over to this city” this must have been Col (o) Arnold So that in all probability our people are now in possession of all Canada. I saw a Letter from Gen(l) Schuyler which was only in General terms giving an acc of the day of surrend which is the reason of my relating the particulars.” ~~ I am most Respectfully Your Excellencys most Obd(t) Hble Servant ~~ Henry Knox ~~ You will please Sir to give orders to Col Burbeet to get field carriages & appurtenances made for thee field pieces –“
He left New York City on November 28th on horseback, “stay’d at Albany” on December 2, rode 35 miles to Saratoga the next day, and reached Fort George (Fort William Henry) 30 miles further at 2 o’clock on December 4th.
Before proceeding to Fort Ticonderoga by water the day following, he wrote this interesting report to Washington:
George Washington THS Collection
“Fort George Dec(r) 5 1775
May it please Your Excellency
I arriv’d here Yesterday and immediately got ready to go over the lake this morning but General Schuyler arriving here before day prevents my going for an hour or two – – he has given me a list of those Stores on the other side from which I am enabled to send a Inventory of those which I intend to forward to Camp – the Garrison is so weak at Ticonderoga, the Conveyance from the fort to the landing so indifferent & the passage across the lake so precarious that I am afraid it will be ten days at least before I can get them on this side of the lake – when they are here the conveyance from hence will depend entirely on the sleding – – if that is good they shall immediately more foreward without good sleding the roads are so much gullied it will be impossible to move s Step — General Schuyler will do every thing possible to forward this business — I have the honor to be with the greatest respect Your Excellencys Most Obd(t) Humble Servant ~~ Henry Knox ~~ His Excellency General Washington”
To his wife he wrote:
“Fort George Dec(r) 5, 1775 ~~ My dear Lucy ~~ I arrv’d here Yesterday I shall this day over Lake George to Ticonderoga — I have been exceedingly well since I left you — I hope in God you keep up your Spirits & and are in perfect health — I am now in the greatest hurry the battoes being waiting for me, having an opportunity to write to General Washington by General Schuyler I took this opportunity to write to the dearest object of my affections, believe me I think continually of you. God preserve You ~~ I am Your ~~ Affectionate Husband ~~ Henry Knox.”
Fort Ticonderoga covered in snow
Having reached his destination on December 5th he devoted the next day, the 6th, to “getting the cannon from the fort on board a Gundaloe in order to get them to the bridge”; the day of the 7th to taking them “from the bridge to the landing at Lake George”; and the 8th day of December to the transportation of the mortars. He did not attempt to transport all the artillery and supplies but merely to select such as would be useful at Boston. Surprised to find 13 inch mortars at Ticonderoga, he urged the New York Provincial Congress to send shells for these mortars to Cambridge.
By 3 o’clock on December 9th he had “the Scow, Pettianger and a Battoe’ loaded and he started to go up Lake George. By 9 o’clock in the evening in the “Pettianger” he reached Sabbath Day Point, where he and the crew went ashore and were warmed and fed in the hut of some friendly Indians.”
A gap in colonel Knox’s diary leaves some doubt as to when he left Sabbath Day Point. It seems probable that he spent the night of December 9th there and that sometime during the night “one of the Battoes” also landed on Sabbath Day Point attracted by the warmth of the fire. The crew reported that “the Scow had run on a sunken rock” but they expected it to be floated on December 10th. After being refreshed the crew of the “Battoe,” which “was not very deeply loaded” at 11 o’clock on the evening of December 9th resolved to “push for Fort George.” Colonel Know eager to reach Fort George proceeded with the “Battoe.” After rowing for four hours, they went ashore, built a huge fire and took a nap. This spot has not been identified. After taking a refreshing sleep, at about 6:15 AM on December 10th they again set out. Six and quarter hours of hard rowing brought them to Fort George at 12:30 PM.
On December 10, 1775, Colonel Knox drew up the following “Inventory of Cannon” and “Instructions for their Transportation’: He provided a detailed list of mortars, cohorns, howitzers and cannons made of brass and iron and of various bores and lengths for a total of 43 cannon and 16 mortars. The total weight being 119,900 pounds.
“By all means endeavor that the heavy cannon and mortars go off first. Let the touch-holes and vents of all the mortars and cannon be turned downwards. The lead and flints are to come as far as Albany, which will serve to make up a load. Observe that 2 pairs of horses be (put) to between 2 or 3 thousand weight, and 3 or 4 pair for the 4000 weight, and 4 span for those of 5000 weight; but Mr. Schuyler the D.Q.G. will see more particularly to this affair. The one span will take above 1000 weight. They are to receive seven (pound) per ton for every 62 miles, or 12 s(helling) per day for each span of horses. Write to me by every slay the quantity that is upon that slay. When a number of slays go off together, one letter will serve for the whole, mentioning the cannon that each have particularly, and the people’s names. All to be delivered at Springfield or Boston.”
The next day, Monday, December 11th, colonel Knox sent an “express” to Squire Palmer at Stillwater to collect sleds and oxen for conveying the cannon and stores. Two days later Squire Palmer appeared at Fort George and promised to have sleds and oxen “ready by the first snow.” On Tuesday, December 12th, uneasy over the non-arrival of the “little fleet,” Colonel Knox sent an express boat up the lake to investigate. The disheartening news came that the Scow had sunk off Sabbath Day Point.
The following letter from Colonel Knox’s younger brother, William, dated December 14, 1775, at “North Landing” explains how the Scow was rescued and the difficulties encountered with the ice.
“Dear Brother — Last Evening the boat arriv’d at Sabbath day point which you sent with the letters and provisions; we got of the scow, Sabbath day morning and immediately set of for Sabbath day point where we arriv’d in the evening, beating all the way against the wind, Monday morning our scow sunk but luckily so near the shore that when she sank her gunnel was above water, so that yesterday we were able to bail her out and tow her to the leeward shore of the point where we took out the three mortars. and by halling the cannon aft ballanc’d her, and now she stands ready for sail the first fair wind. Capt . Johnson arriv’d at Sabbath day point about the time your boat did and this morning I sat out with him in our boat for the landing when we arriv’d we sent of the new petiaugre with the 2- 18 pounders and with 4-12 pound(rs) as far as she could get for the ice, for it is frozen a mile which they will have to cut through but I expect she will be at Lake George by the time the scow does I intend coming in her because I think it necessary that one of us should see that they do their duty faithfully – Capt. Johnson paid 26 dollars for carting which if you have an opportunity to send him before the accts arrive you had better – God send us a Fair wind ~~ Yrs Affectionatly W. Knox ~~ To Coll(o) Knox”
1st Historical Marker at Fort Ticonderoga
It seems likely that the cannon and stores were landed at Lake George on December 15th — just ten days after Colonel Knox first reached Fort Ticonderoga. From Albany on December 15th General Schuyler wrote Washington that Colonel Knox was at Fort George.
Colonel Knox remained at Lake George from December 10th for some days making and hiring sleds, obtaining men, horses and oxen and loading the artillery. It seems that in addition to the cannon and stores brought from Fort Ticonderoga some had already been brought to Fort George. Considerable attention was devoted to the route southward as shown in the following letter:
Panoramic view: Fort Ticonderoga at bottom, Lake Champlain to left, Mount Defiance middle with Lake George to the right. Sabbath Day Point at top looking towards the “narrows.”
Colonel Knox to General Schuyler from Fort George on December 17, 1775
“Sir – We have been so fortunate As to get the Mortars & Cannon Safely over the Lake to this place — I have agreed with Capt. Palmer of Stillwater to get proper Conveyances for them from hence to Springfield – We are apprehensive of a difficulty in crossing over at Albany for want of a proper Scow. I am not well enough acquainted with the road after we cross at the half moon to know whether it be practicable to keep on the east side of the river entirely to Kinderhook – I expect Capt. Palmer up with the Teams on Tuesday & on Wednesday or Thursday I hope to move as far as Saratoga if the sleding continues as at present from thence we must wait for Snow – I had heard sir that you were gone to Philadelphia in consequence of which to (I) wrote to Mr. Livingston at Albany for 500 fathom 3 Inch rope to fasten the Cannon on the Sleds – It has not yet arriv’d.
I beg sir that you will please to give an Order for its being forwarded with the utmost expedition, and also Sir I take the Liberty of requesting the favor of you to forward the Inclos’d Letters by the most speedy Conveyance. ~~ I am Sir with the Utmost respect Your most Obedient Humble Servant ~ Honble Gen(l) Schuyler”
Colonel Knox on the same day wrote to Colonel McDougal in New York City to dispatch to General Washington at Cambridge the shells he had ordered.
“Fort George Dec(r) 17, 1775 ~~ Sir – When I was at New York I did not know of any 13 Inch Morars a number of which I found at Ticonderoga — I must beg you sir that you would use your influence that there be sent immediately to Camp at Cambridge the following Number of shells You are too well acquainted with the Importance of this request to want the urging an additional motive for the utmost expedition The Business upon which I am here has succeeded Very well ~~ I am Sir with great respect our oblig’d & most Hble servant – Henry Knox
500 Inch (13) shells – 200 Inch( 5 7/10) do – 400 Inch (4 1/2) do
P S If these are not to be had please to inform Gen(l) Washington Immediately
Co McDougall N York”
To Washington he wrote on the same date:
“Fort George Dec(r) 17, 1775
May it please your Excellency
I return’d to this place on the 10th & brought with me the Cannon being nearly the time I conjectur’d it would take us to transport them to here. It is not easy to conceive the difficulties we have had in getting them over the Lake owing to the advanc’d Season of the year & contrary winds, but the danger is now past & three days ago It was very uncertain whether we could have gotten them until next spring but now please God they must go — I have had made forty two exceeding Strong Sleds & have provided eighty Yoke of oxen to drag them as far as Springfield where I shall get fresh Cattle to Carry them to Camp — the rout will be from here to Kinderhook from thence into Great Barrington Massachusetts Bay & down to Springfield. There will scarcely be any possibility of conveying them from here to Albany or Kinderhook but on sleds the roads being very much gullied, at present the sledding is tolerable to Saratoga about 26 miles; beyond that there is none — I have sent for the Sleds & teams to come here & expect to begin move them to Saratoga on Wednesday or Thursday next trusting that between this & then we shall have a fine fall of snow which will enable Us to proceed further & make the carriage easy — if that should be the case I hope in 16 or 17 days time to be able to present to your Excellency a noble train of artillery the inventory of which I Enclos’d* I also send a list of those stores which I desir’d Col McDougal to send from New York — I did not know then of any 13 Inch Mortars which was the reason of my ordering but few shells of that Size, I now write to him for 500 13 Inch & also for 200 5 3/4 & 400 of 4 1/2 inches for the Cohorns ~~ if these sizes could be had there as I think they can I should imagine it would save time & expense get them from thence rather than cast them — if sir you think otherwise or have made provision for them elsewhere you will please to countermand this order — There is no other news of Col(o) Arnold than that from Col(o) McCleans having burnt the Houses round Quebec Col Arnold was oblig’d to go to point au tramble about 6 miles from the city — that Genl Montgomery had gone to join him with a Considerable Body of men & a good train of artillery — there are some timid & some malevolent Spirits which make this matter worse — but by the different accounts which I have been able to collect I have very little doubt that General Montgomery has Quebec in his possession ~~ I am with the utmost respect Your Excellencys’ Most Obdt Hble Servant ~~His Excellency General Washington”
Lucy Flucher Knox
To his wife he wrote on the same date
“Fort George Dec(r) 17, 1775 ~~ My dearest Companion ~~ It is now twelve days since I’ve had the least opportunity of writing to her who I value more that life itself, how does my charmer? is she in health & in spirits? I turst in God she is — My last Letter mentioned that I was just going of Lake George about 36 miles in length — We had a tedious time of it altho the passage was fine — in Coming back it was exceedingly disagreeable — but all danger and the principal difficulty is now past & by next Thursday I hope we shall be able to set out from hence on our way home — with our very valuable & precious convoy — if we have the good fortune to have snow I hope to have the pleasure to see my dearest in three Weeks from this date — don’t grieve my dear at its length I wish to heaven it was power to shorten the time — A time already elaps’d far beyond the bearance of an eager Expectation to see you — We shall cut no small figure going thro’ the county with our Cannon Mortars &c drawn by eighty Yoke Oxen — I have not had an Unwell hour since I left you, My brother Wm is also exceedingly well & has been of the utmost service to me — I most fervently wish that my dear dear Lucy might have been equally happy with respect to her health — had I the power to transport myself to you how eagerly rapid would be my flight — It makes me smile to think how I should look — like a tennis Ball bow’ld down the Steep — Give my love to my friend Harry I certainly should have written to him but every minute of my time is taken up in forwarding the important Buissness I’m up My Compliments to Mr Pelham & Family — I have had the pleasure of seeing a Considerable number of our enemies prisoners to the Bravery of America – Enemies who would not before this allow the Americans a Spark of Military virtue — their note is now Chang’d — some are to be pitied –others are not so much — all in a degree — their infatuation is surprizing — but trust will have its End — May he who holds the hearts of all flesh in his hands incline American to put their sole confidence in him & then he will still continue to be heir Leader & may be condescend to take particular care & give Special directions to your guardian Angell Concering You ~~ Adieu My only Love for the present Adieu ~~~ H Know I enclose this in the General Dispatches Mrs Knox”
Meanwhile General Schuyler was arranging for conveyances to carry the guns to Boston. Upon learning that Captain Palmer of Stillwater was commissioned by Colonel Knox to construct sleds –
Gen Philip Schuyler
General Schuyler sent the following letter:
“Albany Dec(r) 18th 1775 ~~ Sir ~~ I am happy to hear that all the Military stores you had in charge to bring from Ticonderoga are arrived at Fort George, — I have taken Measures to forward them to Boston as soon as we shall be favoured with a fall of Snow — but I am Informed that you have Applied to M(r) Palmeer to Construct Carriages for the purpose, this is a very unnecessary Expence as there are Sufficiency of Carriges Suitable fo the purpose in this County Sufficient to Carry ten times the quantity, you will therefore Countermand any directions you may have given M(r) Palmeer on this head. ~~ I am Sir ~~Your Humble Servant ~~ PH. Schuyler ~~~ Colo. Knox”
Acting on General Schuyler’s advice Col