The National Parks of Boston last Saturday unveiled and dedicated a replica cannon brought to Dorchester Heights from Fort Ticonderoga during the 1776 Siege of Boston. The cannon, resting atop a six-and-a-half ton granite mount, will remain on permanent display, according to a press release from the National Park Service.
“We hope this cannon can help new audiences form their own connections with the significance of Dorchester Heights––using the cannon to capture and convey the intangible meaning of what took place here,” National Parks of Boston general superintendent Michael Creasey said during the ceremony’s introductory speech.
At the onset of the American Revolution in 1775, the British army and its American counterpart set their sights on the hills south of Boston, coveted for their strategic importance in controlling the city, which the redcoats had occupied since 1768.
As Isaac Bangs, a second lieutenant in the Continental Army, wrote in his journal in 1776, the heights “by nature seemed formed for the command of Boston.”
With permission from Gen. George Washington, Col. Henry Knox led a ragtag team of New Englanders transporting 59 cannons from Fort Ticonderoga roughly 300 miles to Boston––in the dead of winter.
“It was a Herculean effort to drag more than 50 cannons like that from Upstate New York,” Sean Hennessey, the director of arts, culture and tourism for the National Parks of Boston, said. “They did it through swamps and forests, ice and snow. It was really an engineering marvel for them to be able to do something like that in just a couple of months.”
On March 4, 1776, under the cover of nightfall, Maj. Gen. John Thomas led about 3,000 men, Bangs among them, and scores of ox-drawn carts carrying the artillery pieces to Dorchester Heights. His men set to work and, by morning, had fortified their position, cannons squared north toward Boston.
As the sun peeked over the Atlantic horizon, redcoats and civilians within the city “appeared numerous on the tops of houses and on the wharves viewing us with astonishment for the appearance was unexpected to them,” Thomas hastily scribbled in a letter to his wife.
Two weeks later, on March 17, all British troops and 1,000 Boston loyalists to the crown boarded ships to Nova Scotia, bookending a successful 11-month siege.
“It was not a battle, per se, such as what had taken place at Lexington and Concord or at Bunker Hill where a lot of blood was shed,” Hennessey said. “This was an initiative that––I won’t say bloodless, because there were some casualties––was a seminal point because it scared the British away with this threat of artillery that was aimed down at them. It was really quite a brilliant maneuver.”
The replica cannon, aimed 10 degrees west of due north toward a modern Boston skyline, is a shade over 10 feet in length and weighs in at around two tons.
The cannon itself was fabricated at a foundry in Kentucky, and the base––carved on each flank with a circular pattern evoking the wheels of a wooden carriage––was cut at Fletcher Granite in Westford, Mass.
Representative Stephen F. Lynch of Massachusetts’s 8th Congressional district delivered the keynote address to an audience of several hundred that included state Representative Nick Collins, Boston city councillor Michael Flaherty, and a dozen or so disinterested sunbathers dotting the rooftops of townhomes surrounding the ovular Dorchester Heights on a sunny, 70-degree day.
Planners of the event didn’t skimp on pageantry.
Red, white and blue bunting laced the gates along the perimeter of the park’s central monument.
The Lexington Minutemen and Lincoln Minutemen re-enactment companies were on hand for the ceremony, joined by the Waltham American Legion Brass Band and Excel High School ROTC students.
A red, white, and blue sheet cake was sectioned and served with tangy lemonade, and a local pizza joint provided dozens of pies.
The day––which featured ranger-led talks about the site’s historical significance and an educational archaeology program geared toward children––was the culmination of a collaborative, four-year effort to revitalize the park and revamp its appeal to future generations.
“The park service is interested in reaching new and younger audiences and making sure these stories are known locally,” Hennessey said. “To have some kind of personal marker on the site, a cannon, would really bring the story home for visitors.”
Creasey hopes the newest addition to Dorchester Heights will tap into guests’ metaphysical side.
“Our aim is not instruction, but provocation,” he said in his speech, “with the cannon serving as the vehicle that allows visitors to ask, ‘So what do the events of the past have to do with me and my times?’”