Henry Knox witnessed the Boston Massacre in 1770. He served on guard duty to make sure no tea was unloaded from the ship Dartmouth prior to the Boston Tea Party, 1773. The British blockaded Boston’s harbor in 1774. Thomas Jefferson drafted a day of fasting for Virginia the same day the blockade began.
British General Thomas Gage arrived in the city of Boston with 4,000 British troops and proceeded with a military occupation, confiscating over 2,000 muskets from the citizens.
Henry Knox was a bookseller in Boston, having supported his family in that trade since age 12 when his father died in the West Indies on business. His father, William Knox, had emigrated from Scotland to Ireland to the West Indies then to Boston where he helped establish the Church of the Presbyterian Strangers in Boston. With the British occupying Boston, Henry Knox and his wife Lucy, age 19, fled the city. The British looted his bookshop and used his home to lodge soldiers.
British Commander William Howe arrived in 1775 with 4,500 more troops and the Battle of Bunker Hill soon followed, where Henry Knox was a volunteer. General George Washington, age 43, made Henry Knox, now 25, a colonel.
On Dec. 1, 1775, General Washington sent Colonel Henry Knox to Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York near Canada to bring 59 cannons to Boston to drive out the British. Knox and his men arrived at Fort Ticonderoga, put the cannons on big flat-bottomed boats, and rowed them through freezing weather to the southern end of Lake George. Knox dragged the cannons across the snow, as he reported to Washington, Dec. 17, 1775: “I have had made 42 exceedingly strong sleds and have provided 80 yoke of oxen to drag them as far as Springfield where I shall get fresh cattle to carry them. … I hope in 16 or 17 days to be able to present your Excellency a noble train of artillery.”
They arrived at the Hudson River, but the ice was not thick enough to support the sleds and one sank.
On Jan. 8, 1775, Knox wrote in his diary of help provided by local farmers and pastors: “Went on the ice about 8 o’clock in the morning and proceeded so carefully that before night we got over 23 sleds and 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.”
The three-month endeavor of dragging the cannons over 300 miles from Ft. Ticonderoga to Boston was called by historian Victor Brooks “one of the most stupendous feats of logistics.”
Knox arrived at Cambridge, Massachusetts, and on the night of March 4 a diversionary attack was made to distract the British, while Washington’s men wrapped wagon wheels with straw to muffle the noise and frantically moved the cannons up to a strategic point on Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston Harbor. To make it appear even more impressive, they painted some logs to look like cannons.
The next morning an astonished British General William Howe looked up at Dorchester Heights and remarked: “The rebels did more in one night than my whole army would have done in one month.”
On March 6, 1776, from his Cambridge Headquarters, General Washington ordered: “Thursday, the 7th … being set apart by this Province as a Day of Fasting, Prayer and Humiliation, ‘to implore the Lord and Giver of all victory to pardon our manifold sins and wickedness, and that it would please Him to bless the Continental army with His divine favor and protection,’ all officers and soldiers are strictly enjoined to pay all due reverence and attention on that day to the sacred duties to the Lord of hosts for His mercies already received, and for those blessings which our holiness and uprightness of life can alone encourage us to hope through His mercy obtain.”
Coincidentally, on that same day, March 7, General Howe was assembling 3,000 troops to land and charge up Dorchester Heights, but a violent snowstorm arose causing the sea to be too turbulent for the attack.
General Washington wrote his brother, John Augustine Washington, March 31, 1776: “Upon their discovery of the works next morning, great preparations were made for attacking them; but not being ready before the afternoon, and the weather getting very tempestuous, much blood was saved and a very important blow … prevented. That this most remarkable Interposition of Providence is for some wise purpose, I have not a doubt.”
On March 8, General Howe sent word to Washington that if the British were allowed to leave Boston unmolested, they would not burn the city on their way out.
Eights days passed, and on March 16, 1776, the Continental Congress approved without dissent a resolution by General William Livingston: “Congress … desirous … to have people of all ranks and degrees duly impressed with a solemn sense of God’s superintending providence, and of their duty, devoutly to rely … on his aid and direction … do earnestly recommend … a Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer; that we may, with united hearts, confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and, by sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease God’s righteous displeasure, and, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain this pardon and forgiveness.”
The next day, March 17, 1776, British General Howe finally ordered his troops to board their ships and evacuate Boston. Sailing away with them were about a thousand British loyalists, including the parents of Henry Knox’s wife.
Henry Knox went on to fight in the New York and New Jersey campaign, and arranged Washington’s crossing of the Delaware for the Battle of Trenton. Promoted to Brigadier General, Henry Knox fought at Princeton, in the Philadelphia campaign, Germantown, Monmouth, and Yorktown. In 1782, Knox was promoted to be the army’s youngest major general, and in 1785, Knox was chosen as the nation’s second Secretary of War.
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