Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Henry Knox's Boston

Boston-born Henry Knox is undoubtedly one of the unsung heroes of the American Revolution. Knox played a pivotal role in the evacuation of Boston in 1776. Even though he was only 25 and had limited military experience, Knox was impressive enough to gain the confidence of General George Washington, and that trust was well founded. 

As the long siege of Boston dragged on in 1775, Knox suggested that the cannons at the recently captured Fort Ticonderoga in New York could be valuable assets. Washington put Knox in command of the expedition to retrieve the cannons. It took 56 days for Knox to lead the expedition over the Berkshires and the nearly 300 miles of wintery terrain before arriving in Cambridge on January 24, 1776. On the night of March 4, the patriots managed to sneak the cannons to the top of Dorchester Heights, a strategically important mount with commanding views over the city of Boston and its harbor. That decisive move led to the British abandoning Boston on March 17, 1776. 

There are a number of sites in and around Boston where you can celebrate Evacuation Day in style and pay tribute to Knox:

Henry Knox birthplace site. A plaque dating back to 1911 at the southwest corner of Essex Street and Atlantic Avenue, across from South Station, commemorates the birthplace of Henry Knox, which no longer stands. 

Boston Athenaeum. Henry Knox was a bookseller in Boston before the Revolution. (According to Historic Mansions and Highways Around Boston, Knox's store on the Cornhill was later the site of the Boston Globe on Washington Street, which is commemorated by a plaque at 244 Washington Street.) After his death, Knox's library of 518 volumes was purchased for the Athenaeum in 1809 by William Smith Shaw. They are stored in wooden cabinets with glass fronts on the library's fourth floor, which is open only to members and their guests. Docent-led tours of the Athenaeum are giveon on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. 

Bunker Hill Monument. Knox was a volunteer at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Visitors can scale to the top of the monument and then catch their breath across the street at the new museum. 

Dorchester Heights Historic Site. Another monument, albeit smaller than the one at Bunker Hill, soars from the summit of Dorchester Heights where the 59 cannons that Knox dragged from upstate New York were firmly fixed on the British. The tower is usually closed but there are still historical markers in the surrounding park and great vistas of the city and the harbor. 

Cambridge Common. It was here that George Washington took command of the Continental Army on July 3, 1775, and it was here that Knox's long journey from Ticonderoga ended as he presented Washington with the cannons. The presentation of the cannons is commemorated with a marker on the west side of the Common on Garden Street. 

The Knox Trail. If you want to take a road trip to follow in Knox's footsteps, then the Knox Trail is for you. It shouldn't take you 56 days to make the trek unless you're really getting into the spirit and traveling by oxen and toting some heavy artillery. The Knox Trail was laid out in 1927 and included 56 roadside markers nearby the route thought to be taken by Knox's expedition. There were 30 markers in New York and 26 in Massachusetts. A complete list of the markers can be found at this web site. Inside of I-495, markers can be found in Marlborough, Southborough, Framingham, Wayland, Weston, Waltham, and Watertown. And just this past weekend, a 27th marker has been added in Boston at the Roxbury Heritage State Park.  


Anonymous said...

It's not in Boston but don't forget about visiting Knox's mansion where he retired on Rt 1 in Thomaston, Maine. Well worth the visit!

Anonymous said...

Oh, the mansion is called "Montpelier" and open for tours.

Chris Klein said...

Thanks for the tip. Looks like a wonderful estate.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget he was a Latin School Boy....