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Captain Thomas Knowlton
Revolutionary War Hero
Commended by George Washington

Intelligence in the War of Independence

In 1776 George Washington picked Thomas Knowlton to command the Continental Army's first intelligence unit, known as "Knowlton's Rangers." Intelligence failure during the battle of Long Island convinced Washington that he needed an elite detachment dedicated to reconnaissance that reported directly to him. Knowlton, who had served in a similar unit during the French and Indian War, led 130 men and 20 officers-all hand-picked volunteers-on a variety of secret missions that were too dangerous for regular troops to conduct. The date 1776 on the seal of the Army's intelligence service today refers to the formation of Knowlton's Rangers. 

Source: CIA's study and report of the American Revolution

Note: Col. Thomas KNOWLTON'S line is: Capt. William (Immigrant) > John > John > Nathaniel > Nathaniel > William >Col. Thomas

1740.. Born in West Boxford, Mass

Bef 1755.. Family moves to Ashford, Conn

1755.. Age 15, enlists in the English Army for the final French-Indian War under a Major Putnam for four years. Achieved rank of Lieutenant by age 20.

1759.. Married Anna Keyes of Ashford, Conn

1762.. Served with the English troops in hostilities in Havana, Cuba against the Spanish.

1773.. Elected Selectman of Ashford, Conn (rough modern day equivalent of City Councilman). This was unusual for someone so young. He was only 33.

1775.. A Company is organized in Ashford for the struggle against the British. Their commander is elected. He thus became Captain Knowlton. He leads the company from Connecticut into Massachusetts, the first unit from an outside colony to march to Massachusetts to assist with the struggle after the Lexington and Concord incidents.

1775.. The Company of Ashford Volunteers finds themselves about to enter the Battle of Bunker Hill. The leader of the Battle was General Putnam, who had previously commanded Thomas Knowlton during the French-Indian War twenty years earlier. His troops repulse the early British charges and covered the retreat of the rest of the force. Captain Knowlton was promoted to Major based on his performance here, and was considered the "first officer of his grade in the army".

1775-76.. (Winter Operation) Major Knowlton leads a daring foray into Charlestown to burn homes housing British officers.

1776..Spring.. A Special Force of Connecticut men is formed for "special" operations, a ranger force. Major Knowlton is asked to command and is promoted to Lt. Colonel.

1776..Spring.. In preparing for the defense of New York, General Washington feels the need for more intelligence about the British situation in the city. Lt. Col. Knowlton is put in charge of the intelligence operation. Nathan Hale was the volunteer to put the operation into effect. He was captured by the British and hanged the day after his capture. His words that day have been immortalized into our history: "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country."

1776.. Aug.. Lt. Col. Knowlton is killed in action in the Battle of Harlem Heights. His sixteen year old son was also in this battle. George Washington said the next day: "The gallant and brave Col. Knowlton, who would have been an honor to any country, having fallen yesterday while gloriously fighting, Capt. Brown is to take command of the party lately led by Col. Knowlton."

A monument of Lt. Col. Thomas Knowlton presently stands on the state capitol grounds of Connecticut.

Bibliography: New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. XV, No. 1, January, 1861, Pg. 1-12, Article by Ashbel Woodward, M. D.

Related Links
See the Nathan Hale Homestead Web Page for more information on Nathan Hale.

Genealogy of Col. Thomas Knowlton:

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