American Portraits

Henry Knox, the Guns of Ticonderoga, and Diligence

In this lesson, students will review Henry Knox’s diligent actions in leading his troops to provide the weapons needed to force the British to evacuate Boston and end their eleven-month siege of the city. Henry Knox and his brother, William, led a group of men on a roughly 500-mile round trip to recover artillery from Fort Ticonderoga, move it across land and water in the depth of winter, and position it to overlook the city and port of Boston.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Narrative

On November 16, with winter closing in quickly on New England, Knox and his nineteen-year-old brother, William, departed with Washington’s plea to move with the “utmost dispatch.” The brothers and a servant rode out from Boston, headed for New York City, and then pressed up the Hudson Valley on the final leg of the journey. They reached Fort Ticonderoga on December 5, three weeks after they set out. If it was a challenging journey on horseback to reach the fort, it would be immeasurably more time-consuming and grueling to move its guns to Boston. When they arrived, they took stock of more than fifty howitzers, mortars, and field pieces. They secured assistance from locals who were willing to help them move the guns and barrels of flint and lead balls. Altogether, the load weighed more than sixty tons….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

Why is diligence essential in achieving worthy goals?

Virtue Defined

Diligence is intrinsic energy for completing good work.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will review Henry Knox’s diligent actions in leading his troops to provide the weapons needed to force the British to evacuate Boston and end their eleven-month siege of the city. Henry Knox and his brother, William, led a group of men on a roughly 500-mile round trip to recover artillery from Fort Ticonderoga, move it across land and water in the depth of winter, and position it to overlook the city and port of Boston.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze Henry Knox’s character as a military leader, and his diligent actions in leading his troops against overwhelming obstacles to move the artillery that forced the British to evacuate Boston in 1776.
  • Students will examine Knox’s demonstration of diligence.
  • Students will understand why diligence is an essential virtue in their own lives.
  • Students will act diligently in their own lives to protect freedom.

Background

As General George Washington looked out from the American lines at the British enemy occupying Boston and its harbor in the autumn of 1775, he was deeply frustrated. He desperately wanted to attack the redcoats and drive them from Boston to win the war. However, his army suffered from a shortage of gunpowder, and it had few guns to shoot anyway. The answer to his problem came when the 6-foot, 280-pound Boston bookseller, Henry Knox, volunteered to march to Fort Ticonderoga in New York and retrieve the massive artillery guns there. Most of Washington’s generals laughed and thought the feat was impossible. They advised Washington not to divert precious resources for the foolhardy task. Washington, however, was an excellent judge of character. He was deeply struck by Knox’s determination and accepted the twenty-five-year-old’s brave offer.

Vocabulary

  • Howitzers
  • Mortars
  • Scows
  • Daunting
  • Arduous
  • Jubilant
  • Augment

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Comprehension Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • In what ways did Henry Knox exercise diligence to enhance life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for himself and others?
  • Henry Knox was only twenty-five at the time of his participation in obtaining the guns from Ticonderoga. What did he understand his identity to be, and how did that affect his contribution to the American Revolution?
  • What did Henry Knox understand his purpose to be in the events of the winter of 1775-1776?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

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