1776 - The Last Shadow of Liberty
Major Thomas Knowlton
Officer on General Washington's staff
Knowlton was born into a military family on November 22, 1740 in West Boxford, Massachusetts. When he was eight, his family relocated to a farm in Ashford, Connecticut. In 1755, at fifteen, Knowlton served in the French and Indian War with his older brother Daniel. He enlisted in Captain John Durkee’s company, and is known to have joined Daniel on scouting missions into enemy territory. He later served in Captain John Slapp’s 8th Company, where he served with Throope Chapman. He served during six campaigns in the war and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1760. He also fought in Israel Putnam’s company against the Spanish during the British expedition against Cuba in 1762.
By August 1762, Knowlton had returned home and married Anna Keyes. He and his wife raised nine children. At the age of thirty-three, Knowlton was appointed a Selectman of Ashford, Connecticut.
On April 18, 1775, General Thomas Gage dispatched a contingent of British troops to Lexington and Concord, about fifteen miles from Boston, Massachusetts. This action led to the outbreak of hostilities that became the American Revolution. On learning of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the militias of Massachusetts and Connecticut communities mobilized their members. Thomas Knowlton joined his militia, the Ashford Company, which became part of the 5th Connecticut Regiment. Knowlton was chosen unanimously as Captain and led 200 men into Massachusetts. His force consisted of farmers, without uniforms, primarily armed with shotguns.
Knowlton was ordered to Charlestown to join Colonel William Prescott. Knowlton’s troops were sent by Colonel Prescott to oppose the advancing British grenadiers, and took their posts on the side of Breed’s hill. Using a rail fence as a base, the men threw up a parallel fence and, filling the space between with new-mown grass, formed an effective breastwork. There they held their ground until the general retreat, and were among those providing cover as the troops retreated. Only three men from Knowlton’s company died in the battle.
In June 1775, for his bravery at Bunker Hill, Knowlton was promoted by Congress to Major. One of his men later remembered that Knowlton was courageous to a fault, never crying, “Go on, boys!” but always, “Come on, boys!.” On January 8, 1776, he led a troop in a successful incursion into Charlestown to burn housing used by British officers.