Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Crown Point’s Overlooked Role in Freeing Boston, 1776

A few weeks ago in this space appeared the story of Gershom Beach’s remarkable 24-hour recruiting hike in Vermont, rounding up Green Mountain Boys to join their leader, Ethan Allen, in capturing Fort Ticonderoga on the New York side of Lake Champlain. In the end, their combined efforts played a critical role in George Washington’s American troops driving the British from Boston, for the armaments he used came from Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point. Men serving under Colonel Henry Knox completed the delivery, carrying them south to Albany and east to Boston.

Typically shortchanged in that famous story is the fort at Crown Point, which was captured two days after Ticonderoga fell. Seth Warner, a name very familiar to historians in connection with other military campaigns, commanded the troops that executed the takeover, which met with little resistance.

Reports on the number of armaments captured at both Ticonderoga and Crown Point vary, as do their descriptions (some were in terrible shape). Cannon of various sizes were taken from both places, about 120 from Ticonderoga and 111 from Crown Point.

If ever a task could be described as daunting, it was the journey by Knox and his men, who, with selected items of that artillery in tow, slogged their way over roughly 300 miles of rugged terrain (the exact distance isn’t certain, but a straight line from Ticonderoga to Albany to Boston measures 250 miles).

Excerpts from a letter sent by George Washington to Henry Knox on November 16, 1775, emphasized the situation’s urgency in Boston and the need for cannon and mortars: “After you have procured as many of these necessaries as you can there, you must go to Major-General Schuyler, and get the remainder from Ticonderoga, Crown Point, or St. John’s. If it should be necessary, from Quebeck, if in our hands. The want of them is so great that no trouble or expense must be spared to obtain them.”

The sinking of a loaded scow was just one of many great obstacles Knox’s men overcame (the scow and its contents were recovered) as they headed south from Ticonderoga, facing winter weather and icy conditions. To facilitate the next phase of the trip, 42 sleds were built, to be drawn by 80 yoke of oxen, according to Colonel Knox.

A month later, on December 17, from the southern tip of Lake George, he wrote to General Washington about transporting 43 cannon and 16 mortars totaling 60 tons: “It is not easy to conceive the difficulties we have had in getting them over the Lake owing to the advanc’d Season of the year & contrary winds … three days ago it was very uncertain whether we could have gotten them until next spring …

“There will scarcely be any possibility of conveying them from here to Albany or Kinderhook but on sleds, the roads being very much gullied; at present the sledding is tolerable to Saratoga about 26 miles; beyond that there is none—I have sent for the Sleds & teams to come here & expect to begin move them to Saratoga on Wednesday or Thursday next … I hope in 16 or 17 days time to be able to present to your Excellency a noble train of artillery the inventory of which I Enclos’d.” His unique, descriptive phrase, “a noble train of artillery,” has since become very popular with historians when addressing Knox’s remarkable achievement.

The route he followed is marked today with stone monuments at many locations on what is known as the Henry Knox Trail, or the Knox Cannon Trail. The engraved markers briefly tell the story, referring to “the train of artillery from Fort Ticonderoga used to force the British Army to evacuate Boston.” There is no mention of armaments from Crown Point, but history records that of the 59 cannon and mortars used by Washington’s Continental Army at Dorchester Heights, 30 came from Ticonderoga and 29 were from Crown Point. Clearly, the armaments from both locations were of vital and equal importance.

If you’re looking for a great place to visit in 2017, consider the Crown Point State Historic Site, located on a beautiful peninsula jutting out into Lake Champlain. You’ll find spectacular lake vistas, the scenic bridge to Vermont, centuries-old historic ruins, along with an excellent visitors’ center. And to help set our minds straight on the liberation of Boston in 1776, remember that Crown Point stands shoulder to shoulder with Fort Ticonderoga in importance.

Photos: Crown Point ruins (Wikimedia Commons, user Americasroof); Knox Trail marker at Marlborough, Mass. (Wikipedia); Crown Point map (Crown Point State Historic Site website)

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

4 Responses

  1. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Very, very interesting and my hat’s off to those who came much before us and performed such a daunting task!

    I salute them all and God Bless wherever they may be in the Heavens!

  2. David Thomas-Train says:

    I was touring the Crown Point Fort site just last week with Michael Roets, its director, and he told us of the fort’s armaments being taken by Knox to Boston. I had not known this – that these were along with the Ticonderoga cannon on that incredibly arduous journey, nor that some sank into the lake!
    The Crown Point site is great to visit in winter – officially closed until May – but the ski and snowshoe trails are wonderful explorations of the back part of the fort grounds , past the outer garrisons or Redoubts, built by the British.

  3. Jonathan B. Richards II says:

    Thank you to Lawrence P. Gooley for this fascinating 2-21-2014 article entitled “Crown Point’s Overlooked Role In Freeing Boston , 1776”. The importance of the ordinance seized by Knox at Crown Point to Washington’s siege of Boston has frequently been overlooked. A fine example of a restoration of historical accuracy and another reminder of the important role played by Colonel Henry Knox in the remarkable effort to form a new nation. Great stuff !!

  4. Barbara Smorgans Marshall says:

    A National Heritage Corridor video that illustrates Lawrence’s historical reporting – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htiSvgd1_dg

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