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, April 09, 2016

“Great difficulty about the teams“

After the end of the siege of Boston, Gen. George Washington ordered Col. Henry Knox (shown here) to move most of the Continental Army’s artillery south to defend New York.

The Massachusetts General Court promised to supply 300 teams of horses or oxen to start moving those guns across the province by 6 Apr 1776. However, as that day approached, only 50 teams had shown up. The legislature assigned more members to hire animals, and Knox sent off some ordnance along two different routes to Norwich, Connecticut.

Here’s a snapshot of the trouble one of Knox’s subordinates encountered in a letter addressed to Knox or Ezekiel Cheever, quartermaster of artillery:
Grafton, April 9, 1776.


I am at great difficulty about the teams and their loading at present, and last night likewise in shifting them, the which I did with three of them, and the three fresh teams that I got then are already tired, and say that they cannot go any farther than Sutton, which is six miles from hence, and there I expect to find them all to-morrow morning, and all of them wanting to have their teams shifted; and you may depend that they cannot go farther, for I have had a survey of all their cattle, by all the Selectmen of this town, and their Representative; and they say they cannot go on, their cattle are so much galled and lame.

I am informed by the Selectmen that there are many teams in this town, but they cannot get any of them to go forward with a load, not even so far as Sutton; and in the whole town can get but one team, and he is gone forward; and there are three now remaining; and how to get them any farther I know not, without a special order from you or the General Court, to impress any of them that can be found, and the order to continue in force until they arrive at Norwich.

The bearer hereof is one of the teamsters, who I thought proper to despatch, and he will inform you of more particulars.

Waiting your answer, I remain, sir, with impatience, your very humble servant,


P. S. I hope you will satisfy this man for coming to you, which he desires.
Two days after that letter, the Massachusetts legislature authorized town selectmen to impress animals for the army’s use. With all that trouble, Knox didn’t get on the road himself until 14 April, as this letter reported.

Though not as lauded as Knox’s efforts to transport about half of that same artillery down from Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga the preceding winter, this trip to New York in springtime seems to have been almost as much trouble.

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