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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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

When Henry Knox Came Back to Cambridge

On Thursday, 25 January 1776, John Adams and Elbridge Gerry were on their way back to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The two Massachusetts delegates stopped at midday to dine in Framingham.

Adams wrote in his diary:
Coll. [Joseph] Buckminster after Dinner shewed us, the Train of Artillery brought down from Ticonderoga, by Coll. [Henry] Knox.

It consists of Iron—9 Eighteen Pounders, 10 Twelves, 6. six, four nine Pounders, Three 13. Inch Mortars, Two Ten Inch Mortars, one Eight Inch, and one six and an half. Howitz, one Eight Inch and an half and one Eight.

Brass Cannon. Eight Three Pounders, one four Pounder, 2 six Pounders, one Eighteen Pounder, and one 24 Pounder. One eight Inch and an half Mortar, one Seven Inch and an half Dto. and five Cohorns.
That’s fifty-eight pieces of artillery in all. (I’ll get back to that number tomorrow.)

Adams’s diary entry for this date in 1776 is notable because the traditional date for Knox reaching Cambridge with his “Noble train of Artillery” is 24 January. Here, for examples, is a Mass Moments page linked to that date. I stated that same date in my study for the National Park Service a few years back. And yet Adams tells us that on the following day all the colonel’s guns were still out in Framingham.

So did Knox leave the ordnance behind and go ahead to Cambridge to report to Gen. George Washington? That makes sense since Knox owed his position to Washington and was acting on orders he received directly from the commander-in-chief. And the historical record indicates that Knox did indeed leave his guns behind—but he did so the previous week.

Gen. William Heath’s memoirs, based on his wartime diary, state this for 18 January:
18th.–Col. Knox, of the artillery, came to camp. He brought from Ticonderoga a fine train of artillery, which had been taken from the British, both cannon and mortars, and which were ordered to be stopped at Framingham. 
At this time Heath was serving under Gen. Israel Putnam in east Cambridge. So “came to camp” almost certainly meant Knox came to Washington’s headquarters.

So where did the 24 January date for his arrival come from? It appears in the first biography of Knox, published by Francis S. Drake in 1873, but that doesn’t cite a source. And the Adams and Heath diaries say that:
  • Knox reached Cambridge six days before that date.
  • All the artillery pieces were still out in Framingham after that date.
So I apologize for repeating the 24 January date without foundation.

TOMORROW: How many cannon and mortars did Knox transport?


Charles Bahne said...

I still wonder how the town of Framingham fits into Knox's route. The direct route to Boston (and Cambridge) from the west was the Boston Post Road, which in this area is basically today's U.S. 20 with some minor detours. That road passes through Marlborough, Sudbury, Wayland, Weston, and Waltham. All of these, except Wayland, existed as towns in the 1770s; Wayland was still part of Sudbury. It would have been a significant detour — with all those heavy cannon! — to go to Framingham.

It's more logical for John Adams and Elbridge Gerry to have passed through Framingham on their way from Cambridge to Philadelphia, since there was another road — today's "Old Connecticut Path" — which branched off the Post Road at the Weston-Wayland line and headed directly to Hartford, bypassing Worcester and Springfield.

But Knox's detour to Framingham just makes no sense, unless there was a particular destination in Framingham that he needed to visit.

Can you shed any more light on this, John?

J. L. Bell said...

I'm giving this comment its own posting tomorrow.

Also, Gen. Heath went to Gen. Washington’s headquarters for a council of war on 18 January, as shown here. The record of that meeting doesn’t mention Knox, so he may not have arrived until after it was over, or as a colonel he may not have been involved. The main business was ensuring there were enough militiamen to maintain the siege lines.