top of page

Guns of Ticonderoga and Crown Point

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.

Knox birth home

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 1770

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:

DSCN8745

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