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Knowlton’s Visit to Charlestown

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

Thomas Knowlton
Thomas Knowlton

January 8. –This evening, Major Knowlton was despatched with a hundred men, to make an incursion into Charlestown. He crossed the mill dam, which lies between Cobble Hill and Bunker’s Hill, about nine o’clock, and immediately proceeded down the street, on the westerly side of Bunker’s Hill. A part of the men, under the command of Captain Keyes, at the same time were ordered to take post on the east side of the street, just under the hill, in order to intercept any person who might escape from the houses in the street, some of which were occupied by the enemy. These houses, which are a little without the compact part of the town, the enemy suffered to remain, in June last, for their own convenience.

They were now surrounded and set fire to by our men. In one of them they found six soldiers, and one woman, all of whom, except one refractory fellow who was killed, were brought off. In another of the houses, according to the information of the prisoners, lived seventeen of the enemy’s carpenters. The woman says she went to this house in order to borrow something, just before our men arrived; but seeing no light, and not being able to get into that part of the house where they kept, she concluded they were all asleep. As it is very certain no one escaped from the house, and as our men set the building on fire very suddenly, it is thought the whole seventeen perished in the flames. We burnt ten houses, and brought off six or seven muskets. Three or four houses are still standing. The whole was performed in less than an hour, without the loss of a single man, either killed or wounded. The regulars in the fort on Bunker’s Hill did not act with that regularity which those gentlemen who labor hard to show the superiority of red coats over brown coats, would persuade us that regulars always do; for they kept a hot and close fire on absolutely nothing at all: that is, they fired without an object. Our people calmly executed their purpose, laughed in security, and in security returned to their camp. 1

 

1 Pennsylvania Evening Post, January 23 and 30.

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  2. In August of the same year, Washington promoted Knowlton to Lt. Col. and gave him command of America’s first official special forces unit, known as Knowlton’s Rangers. He was killed at the Battle of Harlem a month later.

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