Guns of Ticonderoga
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 poceed 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 despatch, 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 Quebeck , 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 Generl 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. Endeavour to procure what flints you can.”
Fort Ti Cannons
Ft Ti & Lake Champlain
British 24 Pounders on wall
Mortars flank Entrance
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 Chuse 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 carryhing 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 enquiry 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 excellencys 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 poinders cast in a foundery 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 heavyher 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 saild 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 intmidated 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 carriges & 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 Privincial 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.”
Knox’s NYS Route
Knox’s Mass Route
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 poundeers 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”
lst 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.
Colone Knox remained at Lake George from December 10th for some days making and hiring sleds, obtaing 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 uou 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 & expence 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 inclose 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 Colonel Knox counter-manded the order to Palmer, who wrote this interesting reply
“Stillwater 25th Dec(r) 1775 ~~ D(r) Sir/ ~~ Since your Departure from this I have an opportunity with Many of the inhabitants with whom I have Contracted for the Removal of the artillery and Stores, I find all Determined To A Man to fulfill on their Part & that I Shall on mine or Be answerable for the Consequences of A Disapointment which is More than I Shall be able to Do, Depend Sir the People ( & Not only those Employed in Service But others General) are Not indifferent, they are Sensible of the importance of the Grand Cause they are Sensible To the Minutest Degree of the insult offered in Counteracting your Measures, I take this Earlies opportunity To inform you of the Disposition of the People amony whom I Live with whom I am Conceerned Particularly in this affair, your Penetration will Easily Dissern the Consequences that will follow Disapointing Such A Number of People So Resoultely Determined as you may Depend Those are, with Regard to what you mentioned of our Carring the heavy — they are Determined Since there is Such an attempt made To Supplant them To fulfill the whole Contract I an Sir with all Possible Respect your most obedient hum(e)Ser(t)/. ~~ George Palmer ~~ To Col(o) Knox of the train of artillery”
It was distinctly the intent of Colonel Knox to take advantage of the fall of snow to start the artillery train southward on December 20th or 21st and to move as far as Saratoga there to wait for more snow. The task was more difficult than he had anticipated, and it was not until December 24th that Colonel Knox and his servant reached the home of Judge Duer in advance of the artillery train. Procuring a sleigh from Judge Duer they crossed the ferry, dined with Archibald McNeal at Saratoga and set off at 3 P.M. in the snow and lodged at Ensign’s 8 miles below Saratoga.
Leaving Ensign’s on the morning of December 25th in deep snow, they were forced after two miles of travel to exchange the sleigh for saddle horses and finally reach “New City” or Lansingburg, 9 miles from Albany. On December 26th, Colonel Knox set out for Albany. The snow was so deep, however, that after two miles, he abandoned his horses, and walked throught the woods to the home of Squire Fisher who provided him with horses as far as Colonel Schuyler’s where he got a sleigh and at 2 P.M. was in Albany in consultation with General Schuyler. The next four days were devoted to planning with Geneeral Schuyler for men, horses, oxen and sleds to bring down the artillery and stores. Captain Palmer was summoned to Albany but being unable to agree with General Schuyler over the wages “the treaty broke off abruptly and Mr. Palmer was dismissed.” General Schuyler then sent out his “Waggon Master and other people to all parts of the Country to immediately send up their slays with horses” allowing 12 shillings a day for each pair of horses or 7 (pounds) per ton for 62 miles. By Decembe 31st the “Waggon Master” reported “124 pairs of horses with slays.” Apparently they were hurried to Fort George to bring down the guns and stores.
From January 1st to 4th Colonel Knox was busy “getting holes cut in the ice at different crossing places in order to strengthen the ice” by flooding it. He also wrote Washington, General Gates and “lovely Lucy” an account of the expedition.
From Albany, 5th Jan 1776, to Washington:
“I was in hopes that we should have been able to have had the cannon at Cambridge by this time. The want of snow detained us some days, and now a cruel thaw hinders from crossing Hudson River, which we are obliged to do four times from Lake George to this town. The first severe night will make the ice on the river sufficiently strong; till that happens the cannon and mortars must remain where they are. These inevitable delays pain me exceedingly, as my mind is fully sensible of the importance of the greatest expedition in this case…. General Schuyler has been exceedingly assiduous in this matter. As to myself, my utmost endeavors have been, and still shall be, used to forward them with the utmost dispatch.”
And on the same day he writes to his wife:
“A little about my travels. New York (City) is a place where I think in general the houses are better built than in Boston. They are generally of brick, and three stories high, with the largest kind of windows. Their churches are grand; their college, workhouse, and hospitals most excellently situated, and also exceedingly commodious; their principal streets much wider than ours. The people, — why, the people are magnificent: in their equipages, which are numerous; in their house furniture, which is fine; in their pride and conceit, which are inimitable; in their profanesness, which is intolerable; in the want of principle, which is prevalent; in their Toryism, which is unsufferable, and for which they must repent in dust and ashes. The country from New York to this City (Albany) is not very populous, — not the fifth part so much so as in New England, and with much greater marks of poverty that there. The people of this city, of which there are about 5,000 or 6,000, are, I believe, honest enough, and many of them sensible people, — much more so than any other part of the government which I’ve seen. There ae four very good buildings for public workship, with a State House, the remains of capital barracks, hospital, and fort, which must in their day have been very clever. (It is situated on the side of a hill.)
Albany, from its situation, and commanding the trade of the water and the immense territories westward, must one day be, if not the capital, yet nearly to it, of America. There are a number of gentlemen’s very elegant seats in view from that part of the river before the town, among them I think General Schuyler’s claims the preference; the owner of which is sensible and polite, and I think has behaved with vast propriety to the British officers who, by the course of war, have fallen into our hands. Certain of them set out from this for Pennsylvania yesterday, among whom was General Prescott, who has by all accounts behaved exceedingly ill to Colonel Allen of ours, who was taken at Montreal. Here is also Major Gamble, who wrote the letters from Quebec which were published last summer. There are in all about sixty commissioned officers, besides about twenty of the Canadian noblesse, who appeared as lively and happy as if nothing (had) happened. One or two of the officers I pitied, the other seemed concerned, but not humbled. The women and children suffer amazingly at this advanced season of the year. it is now past twelve o’clock, therefore I wish you a good night’s repose, and will mention you in my prayers.”
Meanwhile the advance guard of the artillery train, which had probably started from Lake George with Colonel Knox about December 21st had reached Half Moon ferry at Waterford. On January 4th a brass 24 pounder and a small mortar arrived in Albany. As he was about to sit down to dinner General Schuyler informed Colonel Knox that one of “the largest cannon” had fallen through the ice at Half Moon ferry. He hurried up to Half Moon. Learning that the other cannon had been taken up the Mohawk to “Sloss” ferry (Claus’ ferry?) he sent a letter to “Mr. Schuyler” upbraiding him for his carelessness and commanding him not to attempt to cross until his arrival. The express upon returning reported that the crossing had already been made without mishap. Colonel Knox then sent another express to “Mr. Swartz” who was in charge of another section of the artillery train to cross at Sloss’ ferry also. The next morning Colonel Knox drove up the Mohawk “about seven miles, “crossed” on “very weak ice,” went down the south side to the Cohoes falls and then returned to Albany.
On Sunday, January 7, 1776, 11 sleds loaded with cannon, which had crossed Sloss’ ferry, were taken across the ferry at Albany but the last sled broke through the ice. The next day three more sleds were taken across and “the drowned cannon” was rescued and christened “The Albany” in memory of the aid given by that city. After procuring “some spare string of horses” and sleighs, and bidding General Schuyler and his friends adieu, Colonel Knox hurried on ahead of his moving artillery train presumably over the Old Post Road to Kinderhook and Claverack where he spent the night. On January 10th he crossed the mountains and the next day proceeded through Green Woods to Blanford where he “overtook the first division” which had “tarried” there because “there was no snow beyond five or six miles further.” Two extra teams of oxen were hired and the procession moved on.
In a letter to his wife on December 17,1775, Colonel Knox predicted” “We shall cut no small figure in going through the Country with our Cannon, Mortars, etc., drawn by eighty yoke of oxen.” This picture has remained in the minds of Americans. As a matter of fact it is not quite accurate. Horses as well as oxen were employed. Instead of moving in a single cavalcade, the drivers were divided into companies which were often many miles apart. The largest group was that of 14 sleighs. Some were drawn by two horses or oxen, and others by four or eight. The heavy cannon broke down the sleighs and hence delays were frequent. Extra horses and oxen were needed for snow drifts and steep hills. The people along the route were filled with pride and wonder at the huge guns which were being taken to Boston to defend their rights, and gladly gave assistance and entertainment to the patriots engaged in the enterprise. At Wesfield, Massachusetts, a mortar known as the “old sow” was fired off several times by the people to hear its deep roar.
Apparently the men of New York conducted the train of artillery as far as Springfield, Mass., where the cannon were left lying by the roadside in the mud until better weather conditions enabled the patriots of Massachusettws to drag them to Cambridge. By January 24, 1776, with the advance section of the artillery train, Colonel Knox was in Cambridge where he received the congratulations of Washington for the valuable service he had rendedrd to the army and the new nation. The badly needed cannon and stores enabled Washington to force the British to evacuate Boston on March 17, 1776. The expenditures for the expedition totaled 521 pounds, 15 shillings and 8 3/4 pence, according to Knox’s Account-book.
At Fort George on December 17th Colonel Knox had written Washington that “in sixteen or seventeen days’ time” he hoped to present him with “a noble train of artillery.” Owing to unforeseen difficulties it took him fifty days to convey the train from Fort Ticonderoga to Cambridge. The achievement required boldness, energy, perseverance, resourcefulness, patience and pronounced executive ability. The success of this young man of 24 vindicated both his own self-confidence and the judgment of Washington in selecting him for the hazardous task. The accomplishment of the expedition in the midst of a severe winter marks it as one of the heroic deeds of the Revolution. It is highly appropriate, therefore, that the State of New York and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts should unite to memorialize the event by erecting beautiful markers along the “Knox Route.”
One is not surprised to learn that the same intellect, character and personality which induced Washington to select Colonel Knox for the difficult Ticondroga expedition led to his appointment to command the artillery — a positon which he filled admirabley and in which as early as December 27, 1776, he earned the rank of major general. After the Revolution, General Knox served as Secretary of War from 1785 to 1795. He died on October 25, 1806, and is buried at Thomaston, Maine.
Knox’s Homestead in Maine — Montplier
Alexander C. Flick, NYS Historian – This paper was prepared in connection with the erection by the State of New York of thirty Historical Markers along the Knox Trail from Fort Ticonderoga via Albany to the Massachusetts border. It was a program by the State of New York to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the American Revolution.(1926). “In doing so it was a way by the state to interpret, for the general public, one of the most romantic episodes of the Revolutionary War, in which Henry Knox, a twenty-five year old Boston bookseller, organized and led the transport of fifty-nine captured artillery pieces, in the dead of winter, from Fort Ticonderoga to Washington’s army outside of Boston.
From our library collection, we re-print Historian Flick’s article that uses primary documents to commemorate Henry Knox’s winter expedition of 1775-1776; and, to recognized that this is the eve of 240th anniversary of the birth of this nation.
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