On November 30, 1775, Colonel Henry Knox and his brother, Will, passed through the village of Pittsfield. They were on their way to Albany, NY to meet with General Philip Schuyler to organize a transportation unit to Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain and bring back artillery for the siege of British-held Boston. Colonel Knox was on a mission that General George Washington’s staff in Boston called “impractical,” “absurd,” and “foolhardy.” Despite the lack of support, Washington approved the mission. The 300-mile route that Knox took from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston is called the Knox Trail. The last half of the trail parallels US Route 20 across Massachusetts.
Though he was active in the colonial militia before the Revolutionary War, Henry Knox learned artillery theory and practice from reading the latest treatises and manuals on artillery in his Boston bookstore.
Appointed commander of artillery in 1775, Knox tirelessly trained his gun crews...
Portrait by Charles Wilson Peale, 1783
(Cantonment Visitor Center Exhibit, New Windsor, NY)
Knox and his transportation unit did not have the benefit of good roads or large wagons with wheels for the trip. They used flat-bottom scows — specially constructed sleds to cross snow, ice and frozen lakes. They completed the journey in trains pulled by horses and oxen. They transported 44 cannons, 14 mortars and one howitzer.
At the beginning of 1775, Fort Ticonderoga and its artillery were controlled by the British. On March 29th, American Agent, John Brown of Pittsfield, declared: "One thing I must mention to be kept as profound secret — the fort at Ticonderoga must be seized as soon as possible should hostilities be committed by the King's Troops. The people of New Hampshire Grants have engaged to do this business and in my opinion, they are the most proper persons for the job."
On May 1, 1775, John Brown, Captain Edward Mott and Colonel James Easton met in Pittsfield at Easton's tavern to make initial plans to seize badly needed artillery and munitions from the British at Fort Ticonderoga. This was the first time Americans were considering an offensive military action against the British. Prior to this time, Americans had organized demonstrations, such as the Boston Tea Party, or defended against offensive actions, such as Lexington, Concord or Bunker Hill (all three are upcoming stops on this Revolutionary War road trip).
At the time of the meeting at Easton's Tavern, the patriot forces consisted of Edward Mott and sixteen volunteers from Connecticut. Their plan was to recruit additional men from the local Berkshire area and join forces with Colonel Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys from the New Hampshire Grants (Vermont).
Today, the place where the meeting occurred is indicated by a stone marker in downtown Pittsfield between Park Square and the Berkshire Museum on the east side of South Street.
A little over two years after this meeting (August 14, 1777), word reached Pittsfield that British forces were advancing to seize Bennington's storehouses. General John Burgoyne was leading a British invasion from Canada to divide the colonies along the Hudson River. He hoped to seize badly needed supplies at Bennington.
A rally was held at the meetinghouse in Pittsfield and troops were mustered. A
company was formed under the leadership of Captain William Ford and included
William Easton and the "Fighting Parson", Thomas Allen. A regiment
under the leadership of Colonel Simonds and a detachment under the command of
Lieutenant-Colonel David Rossiter of Richmond completed the forces. After a
powerful address by Parson Allen, they left in haste for Bennington.
The troops from the Berkshires were joined by troops from New Hampshire and Vermont. At the Battle of Bennington, which occurred on August 16, 1777, the Americans were able to secure a major victory against the British.
Today, Pittsfield’s Park Square is the center of Pittsfield where North Street, East Street, South Street and West Street all meet. Many historical markers can be found around the square.
On the south side of Park Square at the entrance to Patrick’s Pub is a marker
indicating that a Pittsfield coffee house was used here as a prison. At the
Battle of Bennington, American forces took about 700 prisoners and after
Burgoyne surrendered at Saratoga on October 17, 1777, Americans took about 6,000
prisoners. No doubt, a few of them spent time at this coffee house prison.
On the north side of Park Square is the First Church of Christ. The marker on the church indicates this congregation was active throughout the Revolution.
The northeast corner of Park Square was the site of Parson Allen’s home. There is a marker at the location.
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