Monthly Archives: January 2017

Henry Knox Brings Cannon to Boston

January 24 1776: Henry Knox Brings Cannon to Boston


On This Day…


      …in 1776, Colonel Henry Knox reached the headquarters of the Continental Army in Cambridge. The young Boston bookseller had pulled off a daring plan. He had led a small group of men on a 300-mile journey from Boston to Fort Ticonderoga in New York State. Once there, the party disassembled cannon taken when the British surrendered the fort and retreated to Canada in May 1775. In less than two months time, Knox and his men moved 60 tons of artillery across lakes and rivers, through ice and snow to Boston. On March 7th, 2,000 Continental soldiers maneuvered the guns to a hill overlooking the city. The British had no choice but to evacuate Boston.




In the early winter of 1775, a young man approached General George Washington at his headquarters in Cambridge with a bold proposal.


Twenty-five-year-old Henry Knox had met the general shortly after the Battle of Bunker Hill, when Washington arrived to take charge of the colonial forces. Knox impressed Washington with his energy, ingenuity, determination, and knowledge of artillery. Now, as winter deepened, Washington faced a predicament. His ragtag troops had Boston under siege, and they occupied high ground from which they could shell the British. But the Americans needed big guns, and Henry Knox had an idea about where to get them.


In May 1775 when Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys forced the British to surrender Fort Ticonderoga, they had captured 59 pieces of artillery. Henry Knox proposed traveling 300 miles to Ticonderoga to bring the artillery back to Boston. With enough cannon positioned on Dorchester Heights, the Continental Army stood a good chance of dislodging the British from Boston and scoring a badly needed victory.


Many of Washington’s advisors thought the plan was hopeless. The guns would have to be dismantled and loaded onto barges, transported down Lake George before the great 30-mile-long lake froze, then hauled the rest of the way by sledge and oxen over rough trails. Knox would need good luck and better weather — warm days for crossing the lake; cold, snowy nights for the sleds.


The operation involved mobilizing a large corps of men, assembling a flotilla of flat-bottomed boats for the lake trip, building 40 special sleds, and gathering 80 yoke of oxen to pull the 5400-pound sleds. Knox was persuasive; if the mission succeeded, the advantage gained would be spectacular. Washington agreed to the idea, and on December 1st, the Boston bookseller set off on horseback for Ticonderoga.


He arrived at Ticonderoga four days later. He immediately set about disassembling the guns — 43 heavy brass and iron cannon, six cohorns, eight mortars, and two howitzers. His men removed the guns from their mountings and transported them by boat and ox cart to the head of Lake George. By December 9th, all 59 guns were loaded onto flat-bottomed boats and headed down the lake.


Until that point, the weather had remained mild, but now the wind picked up and forced Knox’s freezing men to row into an icy gale. With heroic effort, they succeeded in getting the last of the cannon to the southern end of the lake just as it began to freeze over.


The next challenge was to move the cannon overland. From Fort George on December 12th, Knox wrote asking a local farmer to "purchase or get made immediately 40 good strong sleds that will each be able to carry a long cannon clear from dragging on the ground and which will weigh 5400 pound each and likewise that you would procure oxen or horse as you shall judge most proper to drag them. . . . The sleds . . . are to go to camp near Boston."


In less than a week, the determined Knox had acquired the sleds he needed and loaded the cannon. On December 17th, he wrote to Washington, "I have had made forty two exceedingly 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. . . . I hope in 16 or 17 days to be able to present your Excellency a noble train of artillery."


Knox was ready, but he could not move. The ground was bare. A good base of snow was needed for the oxen to drag the heavy sleds. Finally, on Christmas morning, Knox awakened to several feet of fresh snow. It was too much of a good thing, since it was difficult to cut a new path through such deep snow. Still, Knox and his men pushed on toward Boston.


By January 5th, the artillery had reached Albany, but once again, nature did not cooperate. The ice on the Hudson was not deep enough to support the weight of the sleds. During each of the first two attempts at crossing, Knox saw a precious cannon lost to the river. But by the evening of January 8th, he was able to write in his diary, "Went on the ice about 8 O’clock in the morning & proceeded so carefully that before night we got over 23 sleds & were so lucky as to get the Cannon out of the River, owing to the assistance the good people of the City of Albany gave."


Continuing eastward, Knox and his men crossed the border into Massachusetts and struggled on to Springfield. From here both the roads and the weather improved. With 80 yoke of fresh oxen, the expedition passed through Brookfield, Spencer, Leicester, Worcester, Shrewsbury, Northborough, Marlborough, Southborough, Framingham, Wayland, Weston, Waltham, and Watertown. On January 24, 1776, Knox’s "noble train of artillery" entered Cambridge.


Six weeks later, on the night of March 4th, Washington’s gun batteries in Cambridge distracted British troops while several thousand Americans quietly maneuvered the artillery up Dorchester Heights and frantically constructed emplacements. Logs painted to look like cannon made it seem as if they had even more firepower than they did.


The next morning an astonished British General Howe looked up at Dorchester Heights and remarked, "The rebels did more in one night than my whole army would have done in one month." Thanks largely to Henry Knox, the vaunted British Army had little chance of ending the siege of Boston. On March 17th, British troops and Tory sympathizers began the evacuation of Boston.


If You Go


The Knox Trail <> features 56 monuments marking the journey from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston.


Fort Ticonderoga < > is a National Historic Landmark.



"In St. Patrick’s Shadow: The Peculiar Holiday of Evacuation Day," by Andrew Simpson, The Bostonian Society News (2004, Issue 1).


Henry Knox Diary, 20 November 1775 to 13 January 1776, Massachusetts Historical Society.


"Henry Knox and the ‘Noble Train of Artillery’" on the Fort Ticonderoga National Historic Landmark website  


Online at:


Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters."

Daniel Webster

Major General John Sullivan dies

Major General John Sullivan dies


On this day in history, January 23, 1795, Major General John Sullivan dies. Sullivan was a lawyer from Durham, New Hampshire, who, in his younger days, became a hated figure for filing lawsuits against his neighbors. As the years passed though, he regained his stature and became friends with Royal Governor John Wentworth. In 1772, he was appointed a major in the New Hampshire militia.


In 1774, Sullivan was elected to attend the first rebel Congress of New Hampshire, which elected him a delegate to the First Continental Congress. Sullivan returned to New Hampshire in the fall of 1794 and led a raid on Fort William and Mary in New Castle. The raid was successful in rescuing a large supply of guns and cannon.


Sullivan was re-elected to Congress in 1775. Congress quickly appointed him a Brigadier General and sent him to the Siege of Boston. After the siege was broken, he was sent to Canada to take over the failed mission there. He was eventually forced to retreat and for this he was highly criticized in Congress, but still received a promotion to Major General.


Next Sullivan was put in command of the American forces at Long Island. He fought valiantly, but was captured. British Admiral Richard Howe sent Sullivan with a peace proposal to Congress, but nothing came of it. After his release, Sullivan fought at the Battles of Trenton and Princeton, his two major victories of the war.


In early 1777, Sullivan got into a fight with Congress for being overlooked for promotion. In August of that year, he failed to capture Staten Island, which led Congress to investigate his behavior, but he was exonerated. Sullivan commanded the right flank that collapsed at the Battle of Brandywine and he also performed poorly at the Battle of Germantown.


Some in Congress wanted him to resign, but he still found favor with George Washington who sent him to retake Newport, Rhode Island. This mission failed when a storm damaged the French fleet. Sullivan was criticized again, but sent on another mission to western New York where he conducted a "scorched earth" campaign against British Loyalists and their Indian allies. After this, Sullivan resigned from the army due to ill-health and frustration with Congress for being overlooked for promotion.


After his resignation, Sullivan was re-elected to Congress in 1780, but he resigned the following year after being accused of being a French agent when he borrowed some money from the French ambassador. Back in New Hampshire, where Sullivan was considered a war hero, he became the attorney general for 4 years, served in the state assembly where he was elected Speaker of the House, served 3 years as president of the state (governor) and served at the Convention that created the New Hampshire Constitution. He served as President of the state convention that ratified the US Constitution and in 1789 was appointed as the first US District Judge of the Federal Court in New Hampshire by George Washington, a position which he held until his death in 1795.  


Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution    


"The germ of dissolution of our federal government is in the constitution of the federal judiciary; an irresponsible body, (for impeachment is scarcely a scare-crow) working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped from the States, and the government of all be consolidated into one."
Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Charles Hammond, 1821


Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, otherwise known as Molly Pitcher, dies

Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, otherwise known as Molly Pitcher, dies


On this day in history, January 22, 1832, Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, otherwise known as "Molly Pitcher," dies. The details of the Molly legend are somewhat uncertain. Molly Pitcher was actually a common name used for women who helped carry water to soldiers on the battlefield, so "Molly" is not necessarily referring to one person. Indeed, there are several "Mollies" that we know of.


One "Molly" that we do know a fair amount about is Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley. Mary was born in Pennsylvania to a poor family. She worked as a servant in a doctor’s house for many years before she married William Hays of Carlisle, Pennsylvania.


William Hays joined the Continental Army in May, 1777 in Bucks County, New Jersey, during the British occupation of that state. Mary joined William as a "camp follower" during the winter at Valley Forge that year. Camp followers were women who would travel with the army and perform tasks such as washing clothes, preparing food and caring for sick or dying soldiers.


William was trained as an artilleryman during the winter of 1777-78 and Mary is known to have carried water to the trainees. When the winter ended, British Commander-in-Chief, Sir Henry Clinton received orders to evacuate Philadelphia, which was captured in 1777 and to concentrate his forces in New York instead. This was due to a reassessment of strategic needs due to France’s entry into the war.


As Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis retreated from Philadelphia across New Jersey, George Washington attacked him at what is known as the Battle of Monmouth or the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse. During this battle, Mary’s husband William manned the cannons. The temperature was over 100 degrees that day and many men fell or died from heat exhaustion. Mary carried water from a nearby spring for her husband’s unit. The water was used by the men, but also to cool the cannon and the ramrod’s rag, a rag on the end of a stick used to clean excess gunpowder from the cannon after each shot.


At some point in the battle, William collapsed, but did not die. He was carried off the field and Mary took his place. She continued cleaning the cannon between shots with her husband’s ramrod and loading the cannon for the next shot. Mary was nearly injured when a musket ball went between her legs and tore off the bottom part of her dress. At some point, it is alleged that George Washington actually saw Mary on the field and issued her a warrant as a non-commissioned officer after the battle. After the war, Mary went by the name "Molly" for the rest of her life.


William Hays died in 1786, leaving Mary 200 acres of land he was awarded for his service in the war. She remarried to John McCauley in 1793 and continued doing domestic housework for the rest of her life. Around 1810, John McCauley tricked Mary into selling her land for a dirt cheap price and absconded with the money, leaving Mary penniless. In 1822, Mary was recognized by the Pennsylvania Government for her service in the war and awarded an annual veteran’s pension of $40 a year. She died at 88 and is buried in the Old Graveyard in Carlisle under the name "Molly McCauley."


Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution  


"A nation without its history is like a person without their memory…"

Arthur Schlesinger

Colonel Ethan Allen is born

Colonel Ethan Allen is born


On this day in history, January 21, 1738, Colonel Ethan Allen is born. Allen became a land owner in the late 1760s in the area known as the New Hampshire Grants, the area of present day Vermont. Before the American Revolution, both Connecticut and New York claimed ownership of the land and granted land rights in the area causing frequent disputes between settlers with competing land claims.


Eventually, the local settlers formed the Green Mountain Boys, a militia group charged with stopping the actions of any New York officials or settlers in the area, and named Allen the group’s commander. New York’s Governor William Tryon eventually ordered Allen’s arrest and put a price on his head for the Boys’ activities.


When the Revolution began, the Green Mountain Boys immediately planned and captured the British Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Crown Point. Allen led the mission and was celebrated as a hero for the victories. The cannons captured at Ticonderoga were brought by Colonel Henry Knox across the wilderness to assist in breaking the Siege of Boston. On June 22, Allen and his cousin, Seth Warner, appeared before Congress and the Green Mountain Boys were brought into the Continental Army, but Warner was chosen as the leader because Allen’s personality and ego had turned many people off.


Congress invaded Canada that fall and Allen, who was supposed to be out recruiting local citizens for the army, attempted to capture Montreal. His small force was easily defeated and Allen was captured. He spent the next 2 1/2 years as a prisoner of war. He was eventually released in a prisoner exchange in 1778, received by George Washington and given an honorary title in the Army, but was never used in action for the rest of the war.


When Allen returned to Vermont, he became involved in local politics for the next several years, during which Vermont tried unsuccessfully to become the 14th state. Congress was reluctant because four states laid claim to the land and Congress couldn’t settle their dispute. As a result, certain figures in Vermont, including Allen, began negotiations with the British to come back under British rule. Historians believe these figures needed a government to protect their landholdings and since the US wouldn’t receive them, they went to the next best alternative. Vermont was finally accepted as the 14th state in 1791.


In 1785, Allen published Reason: the Only Oracle of Man, a polemic against Christianity. He was a believer in God, but was a deist and did not believe in the authority of the Bible or the divinity of Jesus Christ, earning him the reputation of a scoundrel in the eyes of many. He was only able to sell 200 copies, despite the widespread popularity of his earlier work, A Narrative of Colonel Ethan Allen’s Captivity, about his time as a prisoner of war.


Allen passed away on February 12, 1789 after having a stroke. His statue is featured in the US Capitol’s Statuary Hall as one of two Vermont leaders chosen by that state to be represented there. Allen’s grandson Ethan Allen Hitchcock served as a Union General in the Civil War.


Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution  


"Aware of the tendency of power to degenerate into abuse, the worthies of our country have secured its independence by the establishment of a Constitution and form of government for our nation, calculated to prevent as well as to correct abuse."

Thomas Jefferson to Washington Tammany Society, 1809.

The Pompton Mutiny Begins

The Pompton Mutiny Begins

On this day in history, January 20, 1781, the Pompton Mutiny begins. The Pompton Mutiny, also called the Federal Hill Rebellion, was a mutiny of New Jersey Continental soldiers at Pompton, New Jersey. In 1781, the Continental Army was wintering again near Morristown, New Jersey. To make it easier to provide food and supplies from the local countryside, the Army was broken down into smaller groups and placed in different towns around the area.


Winter conditions were extremely hard on the Army. There were shortages of food and clothing, and in addition to this, many soldiers had not been paid for their services by Congress or by their respective state governments. On January 1, 1781 about 1300 troops from the Pennsylvania Line quartered at Jockey Hollow, New Jersey, mutinied.


Many of these soldiers had not been paid in several years. They were angry that new recruits were being paid a bounty for joining the army, while they had back pay owed to them. In addition to this, many of the soldiers felt that their terms of enlistment had rightfully expired on January 1 and that they should be able to leave or reenlist for a new term and receive the proper bounty.


These men left their camp and started marching toward Philadelphia, 80 miles away, to demand that Congress address their grievances. Several officers tried to stop the mutiny and were killed by the mutineers. In the end, the Pennsylvania government and General Anthony Wayne were able to negotiate a settlement with the mutineers. About half the Pennsylvania line was discharged, amounting to over 1,300 men. Some reenlisted later, but this loss of soldiers was a huge blow to the Continental Army.


On January 20, New Jersey soldiers stationed near Federal Hill at Pompton (present day Bloomington) decided they would mutiny as well. About 200 soldiers left their stations and began a march toward Trenton where they intended to get a similar redress from the New Jersey government.


George Washington, smarting from the loss of Pennsylvania soldiers, took a much more hardline approach with the New Jersey soldiers. As he wrote in some letters about the affair, he knew the entire Army would break down if this type of behavior continued. This time, he ordered General Robert Howe to take as many men as he could to force the mutineers’ unconditional surrender and to execute the ringleaders on the spot.


On the 27th, General Howe overtook the mutineers with about 500 soldiers and demanded their immediate surrender, which they did without a fight. Howe then inquired among the mutineers and singled out three ringleaders, sergeants David Gilmore, John Tuttle and George Grant. He ordered 12 of the mutineers to form a firing squad. Gilmore and Tuttle were executed on the spot by the crying and very contrite firing squad, according to Washington’s orders. After further inquiry, however, Grant was given a reprieve when several soldiers testified that he had tried to stop the mutiny once it began.


After the executions, the rest of the mutineers had enough of a change of heart that Washington wrote to Congress that the spirit of insubordination in the army seemed to have been put down for good.


Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution  


“Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution and to the Republic for which it stands. Miracles do not cluster and what has happened once in 6,000 years may not happen again. Hold on to the Constitution, for if the American Constitution should fail, there will be anarchy throughout the world.”

Daniel Webster

First Blood of the American Revolution shed at the Battle of Golden Hill

First Blood of the American Revolution shed at the Battle of Golden Hill


On this day in history, January 19, 1770, the "First Blood" of the American Revolution is shed at the Battle of Golden Hill. The Liberty Pole in New York City was first erected on the Commons in 1766. Soldiers in a barracks on the north side of the Commons saw this sign of defiance every day and tore it down in August, only to have 3,000 angry citizens confront them. Both sides were armed, but no one was hurt. The citizens erected another pole, but it was torn down in September. A third pole was erected, and this one stood until March 18, 1769, when it was torn down after that month’s Stamp Act repeal celebrations.


Yet another pole was raised, this one sheathed in iron to protect it. On March 21, soldiers attempted to blow it up with gunpowder but failed. Two more attempts were made, but thwarted. This pole stood on the Commons until December, 1769, when the new Assembly complied with the Quartering Act by giving some money for the upkeep of the soldiers, an act which previous assemblies had refused.


This caused a new round of protests at the Liberty Pole and soldiers tried to blow it up on the night of January 13, 1770. They stopped when citizens from the local Montagne’s Tavern sounded the alarm and ransacked the tavern instead. The Sons of Liberty called for a meeting at the pole the next Wednesday, but the soldiers finally succeeded in blowing it up the night before. When it was discovered, a mob of citizens approached the nearby barracks. The soldiers lined up with drawn bayonets, but officers corralled them back inside.


On January 19, several soldiers began posting handbills around town which demeaned the local citizens. Sons of Liberty leader Isaac Sears and others stopped them, but some escaped. Sears took 2 prisoners to the mayor’s house and a large crowd gathered. Soon a group of 20 soldiers showed up to rescue their friends. The 2 soldiers in the house were alarmed by the crowd and told their friends to leave, which they did, but the crowd followed them, harassing them with epithets.


When the soldiers reached Golden Hill, a small hill where wheat was grown, another group of soldiers arrived. This emboldened the first group and they turned to face the angry crowd. At this point, one of the soldiers cried out, "Draw your bayonets and cut your way through them!" They attacked the crowd, which began to flee, lunging at anyone who came across their path.


Francis Field, an innocent bystander, was slashed across the face when he stepped into his doorway to see what was the matter. A food vendor and a fisherman were injured and another man took a near fatal bayonet stab. Finally, British officers arrived and were able to get control of their men. None of the victims died, however. The following day, violence flared again and a sailor was stabbed with a bayonet.


The Battle of Golden Hill is often called the "First Blood" of the American Revolution. The Boston Massacre would happen six weeks later. The Battle of Golden Hill was even more significant than the Boston Massacre in that it was a protracted skirmish that lasted several days. The Boston Massacre would earn the greater place in history though, because of the actual casualties that occurred… and because of the more skillful propaganda machine of the Boston Sons of Liberty.


Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution  


"The great and chief end therefore, of men united into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property."

John Locke

James Wright, Royal Governor of Georgia is arrested

James Wright, Royal Governor of Georgia is arrested


On this day in history, January 18, 1776, James Wright, Royal Governor of Georgia is arrested by the Georgia Provincial Congress. Wright was born in England and moved to South Carolina with his father in 1730. James became a lawyer and began to accumulate large plantations. He went to London in 1757 as South Carolina’s agent to Parliament and in 1760 was named Governor of Georgia.


Wright was a popular governor and oversaw much of Georgia’s early growth and expansion. He presided over negotiations with the local Creek Indians that saw hundreds of thousands of acres come under Crown rule.


In 1765, Wright was the only colonial governor of the original 13 colonies to successfully use the stamps required in the Stamp Act, albeit only a few were sold there. Governor Wright was confronted at his own front door by an armed group of the local Sons of Liberty who demanded that he not enforce the Stamp Act. The armed Governor met them at the door, but refused to back down.


Much of Georgia’s population remained loyal to the King, but patriotic fervor finally took over. In early January, 1776, a small British fleet arrived with the intention of buying rice for the beleaguered troops trapped in the Siege of Boston. The Georgia patriots had no intention of cooperating and the Provincial Congress promptly ordered the arrest of Wright and several other officials to prevent them from helping the newly arrived ships.


Wright was arrested on January 18 by Major Joseph Habersham, a soldier who would later become President George Washington’s third Postmaster General of the United States. Wright was held captive in the Governor’s mansion for several weeks, but escaped on February 11 and made his way to the lead ship of the fleet, the HMS Scarborough, with the help of a Loyalist supporter. On March 2 and 3, a small battle took place when the fleet attempted to capture several rice boats. Some rice was captured, but the fleet finally left, taking Governor Wright with it. It was the end of British colonial rule in Georgia, for a time…


In late December, 1778, the British returned and captured Savannah again. It was the first effort of their new Southern Campaign to retake the southern states. Wright had returned to London after leaving Georgia and spent a year lobbying Parliament to retake the colony. When the effort succeeded, Wright was sent back and resumed the governorship in July, 1778. This was the only instance of the British retaking an American colony after it been taken over by rebels.


Wright was able to reestablish royal control over parts of Georgia, but it was an uphill battle. After the surrender of Cornwallis’ army in Virginia in October, 1781, American General "Mad" Anthony Wayne started south and won several battles against British and Indian forces in Georgia. Wright knew it was only a matter of time before Wayne reached Savannah and he knew he could not withstand him when he arrived. Finally, on June 14, 1782, Wright received orders to abandon the city, which he did promptly within the week, abandoning Georgia to the patriots forever.


Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution  


"We should be unfaithful to ourselves if we should ever lose sight of the danger to our liberties if anything partial or extraneous should infect the purity of our free, fair, virtuous, and independent elections."

John Adams (1797)