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.
A version of this article first appeared on the Adirondack Almanack.
Photos: Crown Point ruins (Wikimedia Commons, user Americasroof); Knox Trail marker at Marlborough, Mass. (Wikipedia); Crown Point map (Crown Point State Historic Site website)