The capture of the guns at Fort Ticonderoga was of little military value to the Patriots unless they could be transported, in the dead of winter, from upstate New York to Boston where the rebels were besieging the British regulars - a distance of some 280 miles using available rivers and roads. George Washington dispatched the 25 year old Henry Knox, a Boston bookseller, to retrieve the cannon and other supplies and transport them back to Boston. Knox owned "The London Book Store", located opposite Williams Court in Boston, and was married to the daughter of Thomas Flucker, Royal Secretary of the Province, and as ardent a Loyalist as there was in Boston. To think of Knox's establishment merely as a "bookstore" does not give it its full due. In addition to the finest books, Knox also sold stationery and a whole variety of items to include flutes, breadbaskets, telescopes, protractors, and paper hangings, among other things. It was, in fact, an establishment described as "...a great store of display and attraction for young and old, and a fashionable morning lounge....Knox's store was a great resort for the British officers and Tory ladies who were the ton of the period." Knox had been an eye witness to the Boston Massacre and later testified at the trials of the soldiers involved. In 1773, while hunting, Knox lost the third and fourth fingers of his left hand when a fowling piece exploded. He went through life wrapping a silk handkerchief around his hand to disguise the injury. He was fascinated with military matters and strategy, spent a great deal of time acquiring and reading books on the subject, and was a member of an artillery company at the outbreak of war.
Knox's mission had taken twenty-four days longer than he had predicted and his entire mission stretched to fifty-six days. Knox immediately went into putting the artillery to use but decided that the Ticonderoga cannon and mortars were insufficient for his task. He wrote to General Charles Lee, on his way to New York, with a requisition for more guns. But all the artillery in the world was useless without powder and ammunition, of which the Patriots were always short. Knox was pleased to learn that shortly after he had departed on his mission that the Americans had captured a British sloop laden with military supplies to include 3,000 shells for twelve pound guns and 4,000 shells for the six pounders. But Knox was still desperately short of powder for his guns. On February 18th, Washington informed Knox that Connecticut was going to send them 3,000 pounds of powder.
|Map of the Siege of Boston with positions prior to the seizure of Dorchester Heights|
(Click on the map to enlarge it.)
The key to driving the British from Boston was the seizure of Dorchester Heights. Knox had positiioned his cannon on three heights - Roxbury from the South, Cobble Hill from the West, and Lechmere Point on the North. On March 2, 1776, Knox commenced his bombardment of his home town. On March 4th, as the cannonade boomed uninterurpted, General John Thomas seized Dorchester Heights with 2000 men. Under Knox's direction, and with the help of 400 oxen, the heaviest guns seized from Ticonderoga were hauled up the hill and positioned to strike the city and the British fleet in the harbor. A British Admiral spotted the guns and notified General Howe who immediately made plans to attack the position but an unfavorable wind would not allow him to mount an amphibious assault and gave Washington time to send in additional troops to secure this position and Knox time to augment and dig in his artillery. Howe soon realized his position in Boston was hopeless and on St Patrick's Day, 1776 the British commenced to evacuate Boston.
The lifting of the siege not only gave a much needed boost to the flagging spirits of New Englanders, it helped to bolster a national mood that believed that Independence was inevitable.