This Day in History: The British are forced to evacuate Boston | Tara Ross

On this day in 1776, the British army evacuates Boston. A bedraggled band of colonists had kept the city under siege for nearly a year—ever since the “shot heard ‘round the world” at Lexington Green.

What a slap in the face for the powerful British Army.

The British might never have been forced out but for American Colonel Henry Knox. In the early months of the siege, Knox had an idea: Why not retrieve the British cannons and artillery that could be found at Forts Ticonderoga and Crown Point? Those forts had been captured by Americans, and the cannons were now available—assuming someone could make the trip.

Source: This Day in History: The British are forced to evacuate Boston | Tara Ross

The journey would be no easy feat. The Forts were hundreds of miles away, near Lake Champlain in New York. By then, it was winter. Travel would be rough. But General George Washington trusted Knox to finish the mission.

Knox arrived at Fort Ticonderoga in early December 1775. He selected 58 mortars and cannons to haul back to Boston. Historian David McCullough reports that the collective weight of these items was at least 120,000 pounds.

Knox planned to ship the cannons down Lake George before beginning the laborious trip overland: nearly 300 miles. He had hired men to help him, but ice and rough winds complicated the voyage across the lake. One ship even sank and had to be bailed out.

More problems arose after they came ashore.

Knox had arranged for sleds and oxen to haul the cannons, thinking that there would be snow to assist the journey. But there was no snow. Okay, so there was no snow *at first*—then there was a blizzard and *too much* snow! The convoy overcame other difficulties, too: A cannon broke through ice on the Hudson and sank. Fortunately, it was retrieved. At another point in the journey, the men had to figure out how to get the heavy cannon down some steep hills. Gravity was a hard foe to beat. 😉 They ended up tethering the cannon to trees and slowly inched them down the hill.

Against all odds, Knox reached Washington’s army in mid-January 1776. “Knox’s ‘noble train’ had arrived intact,” McCullough writes. “Not a gun had been lost. Hundreds of men had taken part and their labors and resilience had been exceptional. But it was the daring and determination of Knox himself that had counted above all.”

The cannons changed everything. Washington now had tools with which to work. He’d use them to occupy and fortify Dorchester Heights, overlooking Boston. The move would put the British lines well within range of the new American cannons. Washington determined to accomplish this feat in the middle of the night.

He’d take the British by surprise.

The story of Dorchester Heights is enough to fill its own post. For now, suffice it to say that the middle-of-the-night effort was another amazing feat for Washington’s relatively untrained army. Fortifications had to be built in advance, as they could not be constructed in one night atop an icy hill. Then the pre-constructed defenses and cannons had to be dragged up the steep hill at Dorchester Heights, quickly and in secrecy.

Washington’s men managed the task in one night. On the morning of March 5, the British awoke to a surprising sight: American cannons were now staring down at them from the newly fortified Dorchester Heights.

On March 17, the British finally evacuated Boston, restoring the city to American control.

All in all, it was an astonishing victory for the newly appointed Washington.

De Ruyter

Originally, this blog was just a Facebook Page with a restriction to just myself so that I could bookmark articles that I wanted to read later as my prep time for the show often involves numerous eMails and articles that I don’t really have time to enjoy until later. It still is a Facebook Page, although I opened up for public viewing because I found that a lot of my friends and acquaintances like history.

I also have this fantasy that I will contribute to the volumes of history by writing about things that interest me. That never seems to work out, between the show and just my general life, there is little time for writing.

But I have this week off for a variety of reasons, most of which involve my health and long term plans. So I began perusing history… and this is a great example of how my mind works…

On February 19, 1674, England and the Dutch Republic signed the Treaty of Westminster which ended the third Anglo-Dutch War. The war was really more of a war between Sweden, which had an ally in the Dutch, and France, who for reasons that aren’t as much of a historical anomaly as you might think, was allied with England. Charles II had secretly negotiated a treaty with France to allow England to subjugate the Dutch, but it wouldn’t be as easy as Chuck thought it would be.

The Dutch Admiral, de Ruyter, turned out to be a pain the English butt, defeating the Royal Navy four times and stopping the English from being able to land troops on Dutch soil. Parliament found out about the secret treaty and figured that is was really a trick to try and make England Roman Catholic again, so they forced the King to end his quasi-secret campaign against the Dutch, who also wanted an end to the fighting so that they could get on fighting the French.

The Dutch sent an emissary (a trumpeter) to Harwich to carry letters proposing the Peace, which happened to happen before King Charles let it slip that he too wanted to end the fighting. Knowing a good public relations coup when he saw it, Chuck took the initiative and made it seem as if the Dutch Republic was suing for peace and demanded terms that “punished” the Dutch for their insolence of defeating England.

As a part of the settlement of the war, The Dutch Republic handed over New Amsterdam to the British, who, as you know, renamed it, New York. Which is cool because I have this fantasy that I could live in New York. I’ve watched Seinfeld and Friends and The Odd Couple and figure that I have that odd mix of elegance and grit that defines New Yorkers.

Then I drive to Bremerton and realize that I want nothing to do with City living. Sigh.

Anyway, in 1942, the ABDA* fleet met its heroic end off the Island of Java trying to stop one of the Imperial Japanese offensives early in the war. At the end of the month, the Flagship of Admiral Doorman was a Cruiser (although the categorization is rather liberal) named “De Ruyter” after the great Dutch Admiral who embarrassed the British into convincing the Dutch into giving up New Amsterdam 268 years earlier. The ship was torpedoed and sunk with heavy loss of life. The whole ABDA* experiment was a sad moment in both Naval history and among the Allies, it started questions as to whether or not they could actually work together. By the end of the war, it would be obvious that they could.

While the heroic crew of De Ruyter met their tragic end, the name was not forgotten. As of 2002, a new Dutch Frigate sails the seas carrying the name, honoring both Admiral de Ruyter and the men of the Cruiser lost in the Java Sea, February 28, 1942.

None of which has anything to do with what I started to read about, but was quite a journey through the history of a ship name…

*American, British, Dutch and Australian Fleet