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HENRY KNOX - The Guns of Ticonderoga

By Judy Leithe, Contributing Editor 

                                                         PUBLIC NOTICE 

                     To all brave, healthy, able bodied, and well-disposed young men
                 in this neighborhood, who have any inclination, join the troops under
                                             GENERAL GEORGE WASHINGTON 
                                                      for the defense of the 
                            against the hostile designs of foreign enemy ~ July 1775

Henry Knox was not only inclined to join General Washington's call to defend liberty, he came with significant knowledge of military strategy, and in the years to come, became a valuable resource for Washington.

Knox was from a large Irish family in Boston.  When his father died, Henry gave up school and became the sole support for his mother.  He worked for a Boston book seller until he was able to open his own bookstore.  He was an avid reader of history, and took particular interest in books about artillery. 

As early as 1772, Knox supported the American cause as a member of the Boston Grenadier Corps.  In July 1775, when General Washington arrived in Boston to take command of the newly formed Continental Army, Knox and Washington met and developed a friendship that would last a lifetime.

After losing the battles at Lexington and Concord, the British laid siege to the City of Boston.  These events marked the official start of the American Revolutionary War.  The Colonial troops had positioned themselves on Bunker Hill and Breed Hill, above Boston, but were taking heavy fire from the British troops, as well as from the powerful cannons aboard their war ships in the Boston Harbor. 

While the British Navy had ready access to supplies and ammunition, the Americans had to deal with constant shortages, including bullets.  The British won these early battles, but took so many casualties, they had to regroup.  In late fall, rebel spies reported to Washington that General William Howe was planning a massive attack which would wipe out the Washington's forces, so the British could march into New York and end this "War of Rebellion." 

Knox, at age twenty-five, was now a Colonel in the Continental Army.  He informed Washington that when the relentless American militias forced the British out of Fort Ticonderoga, in northern New York, they left behind a quantity of cannons and other munitions.  Knox thought that if he could retrieve these armaments, they could be put to good use against the British.  Washington approved the plan, and in November, Knox and a small force set out for New York. 

In fifty-six days, in the dead of winter, Knox and his men transported sixty tons of military supplies, including fifty-nine heavyweight cannons, over 300 miles to their destination on Dorchester Heights above Boston.  The following are excerpts from a progress letter Knox sent to Washington on January 15, 1776: 

"I 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 owning to the advanc'd Season of the Year & country winds...I have had to make forty-two exceeding Strong Sleds & have provided eighty Yoke of oxen to drag to Camp...(some) roads are tolerable, but beyond that there are none...I hope in 16 or 17 days time to be able to present to your Excellency a noble train of artillery." 

Overnight, the cannons were hauled up and placed in position atop Dorchester Heights.  The frozen ground prevented digging trenches, so the troops had to provide timber to build defensive walls for protection--all done in near silence.  On the morning of March 4th, the over-confident General Howe, and his entire army, found themselves looking up at an impenetrable brigade with enormous cannons that seemed to come from nowhere. 

As General Howe evacuated his troops from Boston, he was quoted to have said, "The rebels have done more in one night than my whole army would have done in a month." 

Henry Knox was promoted to General, and continued to provide Washington with exemplary service through the end of the war.  In 1789, he was appointed Secretary of War in President Washington's new cabinet.