- Historic Sites
George Washington had his Martha; John Adams had his Abigail—and Henry Knox had his Lucy. Or did Lucy have him? She was high-strung, demanding, and stubborn, but she loved him unto death
April 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 3
One moonless spring night in 1775 a young couple crept quietly out of their house on Cornhill in Boston and ran for a waiting carriage. It bore them away through dark streets toward Boston Neck. Each moment they expected to hear a sentry’s challenge, but none tame and soon they were across the Charles River bound for the headquarters of the American forces at Cambridge. The young man, Henry Knox, bookseller, was one whose name appeared on Governor Gage’s list of suspected rebels who must not be permitted to leave Boston: his eighteen-year-old wife was the daughter of the Royal Secretary of the Province of Massachusetts Day. She carried her husband’s sword sewn into the quilting of her cloak.
The marriage of Henry Knox to Lucy Fluckcr had taken place the year before and had caused a pleasurable flurry of gossip in Boston. Tory society was shocked, but the Sons of Liberty and their friends rejoiced, including an anonymous poet who celebrated the triumph of young love over parental opposition: For who ever heard / Of a case so absurd / As a marriage deterred, / Or even deferred, / By scolding the boy / And caging the bird .
It was indeed a mesalliance for the bride, an heiress of distinguished ancestry, raised in the heart of the Royal Governor’s official world. Her father, Thomas Flucker, was an appointee of the British Crown and grandson of a founder of the town of Charlcstown, across the Charles River. Hc lived in opulent style, his wife and daughters were ladies of fashion, and his only son was an officer in the British Army. He owned one of the first carriages imported to Boston from England (the flamboyant merchant and subsequent patriot John Hancock wrote to London to the same carriage maker to order an equipage comparable to Secretary Flucker’s; namely, the best). Thomas Fluckcr had made two brilliant marriages, first to a Bowdoin and then to Lucy’s mother, Hannah Waldo, who had inherited from her father, Brigadier Samuel Waldo, a fortune in Boston and large estates in the Province of Maine.
Henry Knox had neither fortune nor powerful ancestors. His father was an Irish immigrant who had failed as a wharf owner in Boston’s South End and had departed for the West Indies, leaving Henry in charge of his younger brother, Billy, and his mother. Henry was only nine years old at the time, but he cheerfully left school and went to work for a bookselling and binding company, Messrs. Whai ton and Bowes. Under the kindly eye of Nicholas Bowes, he learned to control a belligerent temper, and relinquished his position as ringleader of the South Knd “gang” which had a yearly brawl with the North End on “Pope’s Night” when the Pope was burned in effigy. Denied the advantages ol young gentlemen who drank and duelled their way through Harvard when not conning their Latin and Greek, he educated himself among his employers’ books. At twenty-one he opened his own bookshop. The young gentlemen of privilege congregated there, and Henry observed their manners and soon could be mistaken for one of them.
Lucy Flucker was very loud of books and at seventeen began to join the panics of smart young people who gathered at the Knox bookstore on Cornhill, a congenial plate “of great display and attraction for young and old, and a fashionable morning lounge,” wrote a contemporary. The girl’s interest in books was rapidly transferred to the bookseller, whom she had also seen, splendidly accoutered and mounted upon a sturdy horse, parading on Boston Common with the Grenadier Corps of the militia. Frequently the imperious, spoiled Miss Thicker led the young proprietor away from chatting groups for private talks among the bookshelves. It is said that the young man’s emotions were so stirred by his Charming client that he could not make correct change.
When Lucy’s parents got wind of what was going on in (he bookshop, they exploded in wrath. For one thing, they had no liking for a son-in-law “in trade.” And what was even worse, young Knox was in sympathy with those rebellious American colonists who were making such a fuss about taxes and who that very winter had tossed tea into Boston Harbor. Although for reasons of business Henry tried to be discreet—he simulated a quarrel with his friend Paul Revere when their earnest discussion was interrupted by the arrival of a Tory in the shop—he was suspected of active participation. He had done little yet but listen, read, and debate with friends, but in his heart he had no doubts; he had been present at the Boston Massacre and had seen the redcoats fire upon the crowd.
Lucy soon made up her mind that she wanted “her Harry,” and neither reason nor force would change it. Her parents tried to prevent meetings but Lucy defied them when she could; the lovers exchanged fervent letters, signing themselves “Speria” and “Fidelio.” Lucy was violently emotional and inclined to hysterical scenes if crossed. She wore her parents down while Boston society watched the battle with glee. Harry was the m:m she wanted, a strong, positive, cheerful man who could calm her seething temperament. And perhaps there was an unconscious reason for her fixation—he was tall, built like a heavyweight prize fighter; Lucy herself was plump, her pretty face poised upon a hefty body. Here was a man who could make her feel petite and fragile.