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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Saturday, January 28, 2017

“In daily expectation of Colonel Knox’s arrivall”

Yesterday I quoted the Boston businessman and court official Ezekiel Price about Col. Henry Knox and the artillery he brought from Lake Champlain in January 1776.

At that time Price was a war refugee living at Thomas Doty’s tavern in what was then Stoughton (shown here). That was also the home town of Col. Richard Gridley, Chief Engineer of the Continental Army and, until the previous fall, the commander of its artillery regiment. Price socialized with the Gridley family. He also gathered up rumors from other sources.

Price’s diary entries make clear that people like him knew about Knox’s mission to retrieve cannon and were eagerly awaiting the result.
Thursday, Jan. 11. — Went down to Milton. Could hear nothing remarkable from the American Army. It is reported that Colonel Henry Knox is on his return from Crown Point; got back as far as Worcester, and has with him a number of brass cannon and other ordnance-stores, and was expected at Cambridge last night with his artillery. Mr. William Bant [a business associate of John Hancock] called here on his way to the army, &c. Son Zek spent the day with us. Mrs. Price, Polly, &c, went home with Zek in the chaise. The weather threatens snow or rain soon.

Friday, Jan. 12.— A light snow fell in the night. The weather is moderate, and the morning agreeable for the season. Towards noon, it began to grow cold. Mrs. Gridley and daughter Beckey stopt here, in their way to Cambridge to visit Scar Gridley, who, they hear, is dangerously ill. A soldier from the army below says that nothing material has happened there within a day or two past, except that he heard Colonel Knox was on his return to Cambridge, and that a number of cannon had reached there, which Colonel Knox sent before him. It is cloudy, and has the appearance of more foul weather soon.
I’m skeptical about that “number of cannon” reaching Cambridge; no other sources confirm that secondhand information, and it looks to me like Knox went ahead of the guns instead of the other way around.

On 13 January, Gen. George Washington was still awaiting his artillery commander. He told Col. Alexander McDougall of New York, “I am in daily expectation of Colonel Knox’s arrivall.”

That same day, Price wrote, “By advices from Canada, I think Governor [Guy] Carlton’s head is pretty near the noose: so that we may hope to see him soon at headquarters.” He was expecting news of American triumph at Québec City.

In the evening Thomas Crane, representative from Stoughton to the Massachusetts General Court, told Price “that Knox, with the cannon, was at Springfield.” Which of course contradicted the earlier reports that the colonel was much closer. But Price was still optimistic.

Meanwhile, Washington kept waiting. On 16 January, he received a progress report from Gen. Philip Schuyler in Albany and wrote back: “I am much pleased, that the artillery was like to be got over the River, and am in Hopes, that Colonel Knox will arrive with it in a few Days—It is much wanted.”

Late the next day, Gen. Washington received bad news: Gen. Richard Montgomery had died in an unsuccessful assault on Québec. Washington called his generals together for a council of war the next morning to decide how many soldiers they could spare to bolster that effort against Canada. Knox, according to Gen. William Heath, finally arrived later on the 18th.

Sometime that same day, Exekiel Price also heard about Montgomery’s death. He held out hope that that “melancholy and unfortunate” report was false. But on the 19th everyone connected with the army told Price the same bad news, and he had more detail by the 20th. For the next two days he described troops preparing to head north. Despite all his anticipation of Knox’s arrival, Price never actually recorded that event or mentioned the new artillery until late February. The disastrous news from Québec completely overshadowed it.

1 comment:

Noel B said...

As a native, I was looking for info on pre-Revolution Springfield and found your blog. What an incredible resource! I don't think I've seen any blog so big and detailed, especially on one very narrow subject. This is an incredible resource for anyone that finds it. I had no idea so much information was available, especially letters like those referenced on Knox. Amazing! Thanks.