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, May 06, 2023

Visiting the Roxbury High Fort

Today I’m speaking at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site’s Henry Knox Symposium, so I’ll share one more post about Henry Knox.

Last weekend I took this photo of a monument to Knox that’s less visible and probably much less well known than the series of stones marking the path (in some places, conjectural) of the “noble train” of cannon he brought from Lake Champlain in early 1776.

This is the marker on the hill in Roxbury that Knox helped to fortify in the late spring of 1775, immediately after he came out of Boston. He was working as a gentleman volunteer without an army commission. (He could have enlisted in any company as a private, but he wanted to be an officer, as he had been in the Boston militia regiment.)

On 5 July young Knox met Gen. George Washington and Gen. Charles Lee, who had arrived in Cambridge a couple of days before. They were inspecting the Continental siege lines. They were favorably impressed by the Roxbury fort and by Knox. That was the beginning of his rise in the Continental military and the national government.

The Roxbury fort was also probably where Knox had his first experience with large artillery pieces. There’s a myth that the provincial army didn’t have large cannon until Knox’s mission to Lake Champlain.

In fact, Pvt. Samuel Bixby of Sutton worked on the Roxbury earthworks and wrote in his diary for 1 July 1775:
We are fortifying on all sides, and making it strong as possible around the Fort. We have two 24 lbs. Cannon, & forty balls to each. We have hauled apple trees, with limbs trimmed sharp & pointing outward from the Fort. We finished one platform, & placed the Cannon on it just at night, and then fired two balls into Boston.
Bixby mentioned “the 24 pounder in the Great Fort above the meeting house” again on 2 August. On 21 September and 6 October he described firing an “18 pounder” set up in “the lower fort.”

The largest guns Col. Knox brought back from New York were one 24-pounder and six more 18-pounders. The 24-pounders already in Roxbury were the Continentals’ biggest cannon, and they had been there even before Washington arrived.

Clearly the British inside Boston had a lot more artillery and ammunition. (In response to the single October shot from the 18-pounder mentioned above, Pvt. Bixby recorded, “the enemy returned 90 shots.”) But the provincial army did have some big cannon in Roxbury at the start of the siege.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Didn’t know this. :)