Take The Heights - John Thomas' Overnight Fortification

Take The Heights - John Thomas' Overnight Fortification

John Thomas is a fascinating Founder for several reasons.

What first struck me was the role he played in the Siege on Boston but, after digging a bit deeper, the reaction to his early resignation from the Continental Army is impressive.

Furthermore, his death, while tragic, demonstrates the role he played in the Patriot Cause.

John Thomas

By the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, John Thomas had already fought in both King George’s War and the French and Indian War. Throughout these conflicts, John established himself as one of the most experienced military men in Massachusetts.

A doctor by trade, Thomas heard the call of his countrymen during the growing hostilities with the Mother Country and organized a Militia Regiment several months before the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

Unfortunately, when the Continental Army was established, John was only given the title of Brigadier General.

Brigadier General

While most men would have been honored to receive a commission as Brigadier General, Thomas was embarrassed.

Soldiers whom he had previously led in other wars were given the rank of Major General, a sign of great disrespect at the time. To be fair, the Continental Congress only gave each colony one Major General in an effort to keep things equal. As Artemas Ward was rightfully given that rank as a Massachusetts man, Thomas was left out.

John decided to resign from his role in the Continental Army, and was asked to reconsider by two important men.

First was General Charles Lee. Lee, who had also fought in the previous war, indicated that he too had been snuffed by Ward’s promotion (though it was a poorly kept secret that he was jealous of General Washington and wanted to be Commander-in-Chief).

Second was George Washington himself, whose guilt trip was laid on thick and seemed to work.

John Thomas returned to the Continental Army and was elevated by Congress to be the highest-ranking Brigadier General.

Dorchester Heights

It was a good thing he came back because he was quite respected by both his men and fellow generals.

After Henry Knox brought cannons from Fort Ticonderoga to the Main Army during the Siege of Boston, Thomas was given a special mission. He was to fortify Dorchester Heights.

Boston looked different back then.

While much land has been filled in today, at that point, Boston was attached to the mainland by only a thin peninsula. Dorchester Heights sat across the water and looked down on the city. If the Americans could get the canon up there, they could fire down on the British without concern of being hit.

Thomas led 2,000 men by the cover of night and fortified the Heights in a matter of hours.

When the British awoke, they were stunned. They knew that if they were to fight it would be a bloodbath and decided to evacuate the city soon thereafter.

The Pox

John Thomas was applauded for his efforts and was finally promoted to Major General. He was now tasked with saving the Invasion of Quebec which wasn’t going so well.

One of the reasons Thomas was so beloved by his men is that he would get right in the muck with them. He was their leader, yes, but he socialized with them, letting everyone know that they were all in this together.

Unfortunately, this would be his downfall. When John arrived in Canada the Continentals there were suffering from a smallpox outbreak.

Although Thomas sent these men to a separate camp, he also caught the disease.

Just a month after assuming command, John Thomas succumbed to the pox.

It was June 2, 1776, too soon to see his country become a nation.


To read about other Major Generals in the Continental Army, check out these articles:

John Paterson Finds a Woman Under His Command

Thomas Mifflin Accepts the Resignation of General Washington

William Heath - Guarding the Hudson River

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The year-long siege of Boston is often overlooked for its importance in the Revolution.

‘Siege’ discusses how Washington (and many other Generals) were able to remove the British from the city.

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