February 16, 2011

The Alford/Egremont Learning Curve

So, in search of Henry Knox and how he is remembered or not, I thought I would go to the places where the trail is marked and strike up a conversation with the locals. Turns out, so far, in southern Berkshire County that’s easier said than done.

Knox Trail Marker
Alford, MA

Alford is the site of the first marker in Massachusetts after crossing the New York boarder. The marker, although interesting due it bearing both the Massachusetts design and the New York design on opposing sides, is positioned along a section of Route 71 not exactly conducive to spontaneous conversation. In Alford, aside from trespassing or flagging down a car going 55mph I’m just a guy standing next to a rock no one notices. I am curious about how much has changed in Alford since Knox passed through. Then a small farming community Alford separated from Great Barrington in 1769 and incorporated four years later. Today it boast just 507 residents and, as its official website states, “Alford has no post office, no stores, no motels or hotels, and not a single gas station.”
Standing on the border facing MA

Less than three miles southeast of the Alford marker is the Knox Trail marker in North Egremont. This marker is located on a small green, currently under three feet of snow, in front of the Olde Egremont Store. Surely here was my chance to chat up some locals about my man Henry Knox, or maybe not. The only customer in the grocery/deli/coffee shop/video store was an ardent supporter of the state lottery system. Having placed his bets he promptly left to begin wearing the edge off of a perfectly good quarter. The woman behind the counter seemed pleasant enough as I paid for a beverage and 99¢ bag of popcorn I didn’t actually want. I asked, “Do you get many people noticing the Knox Trail marker?” adding that I realized winter wasn’t the ideal season for curious tourists. Her response to my question was “Why?” I briefly explained my purpose in asking. She observed, “The marker has been there so long no one pays any attention” and added “we’re not even sure he came through here, there’s some controversy in that.” With a sigh she said, “it is interesting though” in a way that made be believe it wasn’t. As she turned to greet what seemed to be a regular customer I retired to the car and headed for Great Barrington vowing to brush up on my people skills.
Knox Trail marker
Egremont, MA

February 15, 2011

The Where & Abouts of Henry Knox

In addition to being the 235th anniversary of Henry Knox's expedition and the 250th year of the town of Great Barrington's incorporation 2011 is also the 250th anniversary of Pittsfield's incorporation. In recognition of this The Berkshire Eagle is producing a feature they call Pittsfield 250 wherein they "will profile a notable figure in Pittsfield's history each day this year." To date Pittsfield's namesake William Pitt, Presidential sweetheart Mary Hurlbert Peck and the original "tree-hugger" Lucretia Williams have been profiled. However it was the installment on the "fighting deacon" Colonel James Easton that gave me pause. Certainly as someone with an interest in history and its lessons I am glad to see such attention to local history, however the article attributed some acts to Henry Knox that I could not rectify with my knowledge of his life and deeds. The Pittsfield 250 on Col. Easton has published is below and my letter to the editor published this week follows,

Day 22: Colonel James Easton
By Brian Sullivan, Berkshire Eagle Staff,

There was revolution in the air, and Col. James Easton was all for it. He was the go-to guy in faith matters. He was the guy you could talk to over a hard drink after a tough day. He was the fellow who built your home. And he was the commander of your local militia. Easton remains somewhat under the radar on the list of people who served the city in ways few could ever hope to duplicate. Born in Hartford Conn., Easton settled in Pittsfield in 1761. He soon became a leader in public affairs, as he was an active businessman in town. He performed duties as a general contractor and was deacon at "the meetinghouse," which served as a congregational church on Park Square, about where First Church is now. He owned Easton's Tavern, which wasn't far from Park Square on the east side of South Street. But when he took control of the Berkshire militia that was centered in Pittsfield, his military star shined the brightest. The Boston Tea Party having passed, it was time for true military action. To that end, Col. Henry Knox, with an endorsement from Gen. George Washington, was on a self-imposed mission to capture the British-controlled Fort Ticonderoga in New York. En route to meeting Gen. Philip Schuyler in Albany, Knox hooked up with Easton and made plans with the Pittsfield man for what would be the assault on the British fort. The plan was to return with the British artillery, so that it could be used in what later would be the "Seige of Boston." While Washington and his staff gave Knox the go-ahead, they remained skeptical of its success. In fact, they called it "impractical, absurd and foolhardy." But Knox and Easton had other ideas and succeeded in their mission. The return route -- much of which covers Route 20 in Massachusetts -- is called Knox Trail. Knox and Easton would team again and provide a victory against the British in the Battle of Bennington. Easton was the first to report to the Provincial Congress in Boston about the success. How good was Easton? He'd give a sermon in the morning at the "meetinghouse," and while the women and children went out back and sat on tree stumps while eating lunch, Easton and the men would retire to the tavern and tip a few before coming back for the afternoon sermon. Easton lived his life in Pittsfield and is buried here. Few have come along since who could stand in his

The whereabouts of Henry Knox
Letter to the Editor

Monday February 14, 2011

As a student of history I am heartened to see an examination of local history in Pittsfield 250. However, I have some concerns about the accuracy of facts attributed to Henry Knox in the Jan. 22 section on Col. James Easton. Knox was in Cambridge offering his services to the local militia leader at the time he was said to be planning the capture of Ticonderoga with Col. Easton in Pittsfield. Additionally, the capture took place on May 10, 1775 while Knox would not meet George Washington until June and would not leave the Boston area until November. Knox's expedition to retrieve the cannons Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold had captured left Cambridge for Ticonderoga via New York City in Nov. 1775. Knox did meet with Philip Schuyler in Albany, but that meeting came some seven months after the fort's capture. Also, while I am not aware of Col. Easton's role in the Battle of Bennington on August 16, 1777. Knox was in Philadelphia at the time attending fortifications along the Delaware River.