By Carla Charter
On January 24, 1776, Col. Henry Knox and his men arrived in Cambridge. They did not come alone though. They brought with them with 53 pieces of artillery taken from the British by the Green Mountain Boys when they took Fort Ticonderoga in New York State, 1775.
The journey with the artillery, now known as Noble Train of Artillery, was not an easy one. There were 59 pieces of artillery which had to be dismantled, loaded onto barges, floated down Lake George and then taken overland to Boston.
As the men sailed down Lake George an icy gale began, and the men who were freezing were barely able to get the last of the artillery to the South end of the lake. With this part of the journey completed the march now began with the sleds, carrying the artillery, toward Boston.
When they reached the Hudson River on January 5th the weather again became a problem as the ice was not strong enough to support the sleds. Finally, on January 8th, Knox was able to get sleds, weighing up to 5,600 pounds each, across the river.
Once the artillery crossed into Massachusetts the expedition went through a number of towns including Brookfield, Spencer, Leicester, Worcester, Shrewsbury, Northborough, Marlborough, Southborough, Framingham, Wayland, Weston, Waltham, and Watertown.
On January 24, 1776, Knox’s artillery train entered Cambridge. It was on Cambridge Common that Knox’s journey ended as he turned the artillery over to General Washington. The Cambridge Common has a marker commemorating the presentation of the artillery.
This artillery was put to use during the Fortification of Dorchester Heights. British ships in Boston Harbor were vulnerable to cannonball fire from the Heights, according to Earl Taylor, President of the Dorchester Historical Society. The British had a fort that looked over to the location and Patriots built a wall of hay along Boston Street, in the Heights, so the British couldn’t see them coming. Under the cover of darkness, the Americans moved Knox’s artillery to fortify Dorchester Heights, a fortification which was completed in one night. Abigail Adams who was in Quincy that night, watched as cannons were set off the night of the fortification. This strategy was meant to provide a distraction while Dorchester Heights was being fortified.
The British were planning an attack on the Heights the next day but a hurricane size storm came through and they did not attack. Several days later cooler heads prevailed and the British left Boston. When the British left, Taylor continued, those in England were amazed. As a result of the evacuation the French “decided it might be a good idea to support the Patriots,” he added.
In 1926, the 150th anniversary of Knox’s March, 56 markers were erected in New York and Massachusetts to that trace the route the expedition followed. A new marker was added to the trail in 2009 at the Roxbury Heritage State Park adjacent to a house owned by General John Thomas, who guided the weapons received from Knox to their final placement on Dorchester Heights.
For more information about Dorchester History visit the historical society website at http://www.dorchesterhistoricalsociety.org/