J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

“A heavy plunge to the bottom of the stream”

In 1833, John P. Becker looked back on his experience as a eleven-year-old helping his father haul heavy cannon for Col. Henry Knox in a book called The Sexagenary. In particular, Becker remembered a frightening moment crossing the Hudson River at Lansing’s or Half Moon Ferry north of Albany:
As the ice was not uncommonly strong, some precautions were taken to get across with safety. The method adopted was this: A rope forty feet long was fastened to the tongue of the sleigh, and the other end was attached to the horses. The first gun was started across in this way, and my father walked along aside the horses with a sharp hatchet in his hand, to cut the rope, if the cannon and sled should break through.

In the centre of the river the ice gave way, as had been feared, and a noble 18 [pounder] sank with a crackling noise, and then a heavy plunge to the bottom of the stream. With a desperate hope of overcoming its downward tendency, and just as the cracking of the ice gave the alarm, the horses were whipped up into a full jump, but to no purpose. The gun sank, fortunately not in very deep water.

The horses kept their feet, and the rope was used to secure a buoy over the place where the cannon was lying, and afterwards materially aided its recovery. In this dilemma, we had no alternative but to abandon the idea of getting on the east side of the Hudson. It began to rain, the weather was changing, and we were forced to retrace our steps in some measure, and seek a passage across the Mohawk.
The men managed to pull that cannon out of the water. But a few days later, another heavy gun broke through the ice east of Albany. Becker didn’t mention that one, so I suspect he and his father had gone ahead.

Col. Knox wrote in his journal for 8 Jan 1776:
Went on the Ice about 8 o’clock in the morning & proceeded so cautiously that before night we got over three 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, in return for which we christen’d her—The Albany.
Knox pressed on. By 11 January, as I quoted two days ago, he found the lead teams stopped in Blandford, Massachusetts. The teamsters “refus’d going any further, on accot. that there was no snow beyond five or six miles further.” Once again, Col. Knox’s biggest problem in hauling heavy guns to the siege lines wasn’t a harsh winter but a mild one.

TOMORROW: Spectators along the way.

[Image above of the historical marker noting Knox’s journey through Alford, Massachusetts, from M. McCormack’s Who’s Henry Knox? blog.]

1 comment:

Derek "A Staunch Whig" Beck said...

Great series, and thanks for the shout out!