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Noble Train of Artillery

General Henry Knox (1750 – 1806)

“Through this place passed General Henry Knox in the winter of 1775-1776 to deliver to General George Washington…”  reads the inscription on a historical marker placed on the Town Common in the center of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.


Many passing by have seen the marker, but do they truly know the significance of Henry Knox and his contribution to the cause for independence…

On March 5, 1770, nineteen-year-old Henry Knox witnessed the Boston Massacre. In his affidavit, it states that he attempted to pacify the situation.  Shortly after he opened a bookstore, the London Book Shop, where he read extensively, studying volumes on military tactics, artillery, and military ordnance. [1] 

In 1772, Knox joined a local militia unit, the Boston Grenadier Corps, where he was appointed first lieutenant, serving as its second in command. Knox supported the Sons of Liberty, a clandestine organization created to advance the rights of colonists, and in June 1775, he served as a military engineer under General Artemas Ward at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

On July 3, 1775, the Continental Congress appointed General George Washington as Commander in Chief with Major General Artemas Ward as his second in command. While in Cambridge, Knox unexpectedly met General Washington and they toured the entrenchments and batteries designed by Knox for Bunker Hill. Washington took an instant liking to Henry. Knox would continue to serve by Washington’s side through the remainder of the American Revolution. 


In November 1775, Washington recommended the promotion of Henry Knox to the rank of colonel leading the army’s artillery corps.[2]

At the time, there wasn’t any artillery in the continental army, and to drive the British out of occupied Boston, Knox knew he would need the heavy weaponry. He was faced with a monumental task. There was a small force of Green Mountain Boys, led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, located at Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York who had secured cannons and munitions. 

Knox proposed a trip to obtain and transport the artillery to Massachusetts. Now twenty-five years old, Knox was issued orders on November 16 to proceed to Fort Ticonderoga to procure and move supplies to Cambridge.

This was the start of a grueling journey. 120,000 pounds of cannon were transported by boat and oxen-drawn carts from New York to Boston in the dead of winter. “The guns Knox had come for were mostly French – mortars, 12- and 18-pound cannon (guns that fired cannonballs of 12 and 18 pounds), and one giant brass 24-pounder. Not all were in usable condition. After looking them over, Knox selected 58 mortars and cannon. Three of the mortars weighed a ton each and the 24-pound cannon, more than 5,000 pounds. The whole lot was believed to weigh not less than 120,000 pounds”. [3]

Fort Ticonderoga was three hundred miles away from Boston and the cannon would have to be carried across lakes and winding rivers, and over mountainous paths through the Berkshires. It became known as the “Noble Train of Artillery.” 

1776 Map Province of Massachusetts Bay_e

1776 Province of Massachusetts Bay

Eventually, Knox passed through Shrewsbury on his way to Cambridge, but this portion of the journey was poorly documented. The sites of the Massachusetts Knox monuments follow a path along Route 20 through Springfield, Wilbraham, Palmer and onto Route 9 at Warren continuing into Brookfield, Spencer, Leicester, and Worcester. The path continues along the northern end of Lake Quinsigamond through Shrewsbury and then back onto Route 20 into Northborough.

Other scholars believe the Train of Artillery kept to Route 20 from Palmer through Brimfield, Sturbridge, Oxford, Worcester, following the route along the southern end of Lake Quinsigamond into Shrewsbury and onto Northborough.

After fifty-six days, Knox and his Noble Train of Artillery arrived intact – not one gun had been lost. [4] Knox and the troops erected fortifications on Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston. On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1776, now celebrated as Evacuation Day, the British were driven out of Boston to a flotilla of ships heading for Nova Scotia. Washington claimed his first victory of the American Revolution, a large part due to Henry Knox.


Knox continued to serve with Washington throughout the Revolutionary War and played a significant role in every one of Washington’s victories. Knox led troops with Washington at the Delaware Crossing during Christmas,1776, survived the winter at Valley Forge, and landed the glancing blow to the British at the final Battle of Yorktown, VA at the age of 31 years old. 

After the American Revolution, Knox continued to serve as Secretary of War under Washington. He reorganized and was a visionary of our modern Army and launched the U.S. Navy. He advocated for the building of a military academy at West Point and his proposal was approved by Congress in March,1802. 

Henry Knox resigned his commission in the army in 1784 and retired to Montpelier, his new home in Thomaston, Maine where he lived until his death on October 25, 1806, at the age of fifty-five. [5]

Written by: James R. Jolicoeur

(1) Hazelgrove, W. Henry Knox’s Noble Train: The Story of a Boston Bookseller’s Heroic Expedition That Saved the American Revolution, (Prometheus Books, 2020)
(2)(5) Puls, Mark. Henry Knox, Visionary General of the American Revolution, (St. Martin’s Press, 2008) p.33-34.
(3)(4) McCullough, David. 1776, (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2005) p. 82-85.  



- Hauling guns by ox teams from Fort Ticonderoga for the Siege of Boston, 1775. Illustration. National Archive collection number: 111-SC-100815 (Public Domain).

- The Henry Knox Monument on the Town Common – Shrewsbury, Massachusetts

- 1776 Map, A Geographical Description of The Whole Continent of America ... Engraved on Forty-Eight Copper Plates, By the Late Mr. Thomas Jefferys, Geographer to the King, London (Printed and Sold by R. Sayer and J. Bennett, Map and Print Sellers, No. 53, Fleet-Street. MDCCLXXVI)

- "Henry Knox," by the American artist Gilbert Stuart.

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