- 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
At last the Fluckers gave in, and the wedding took place on June 16, 1774, shortly before Lucy’s eighteenth birthday and Harry’s twenty-fifth. The Fluckers tried to make their unwelcome son-in-law respectable by offering him a commission in the British Army. He was promising material, being a well-trained officer of the militia and a self-taught student of military history and tactics. Harry politely refused and went on studying his military books for other purposes. He was supported in his decision by Lucy. The parents groaned and pointed out that Lucy’s older sister, Hannah, had married a fine British officer, and her brother Thomas was also in the King’s service. Obviously, they said, Lucy and her rebellious bookseller were bound to end up “eating the bread of poverty and dependence.”
In April, 1775, came bloodshed at Lexington and Concord, and Harry made up his mind. The decision to offer the fruit of his military studies to the cause of liberty was inevitable for him, but for Lucy it was a drastic break with her family and past life. There is no record to show that Henry Knox was with the American forces until late in June, so there may have been a period of doubt as to what she ought to do. But it ended unequivocally, and they took flight to Cambridge together.
Henry Knox was one of the few volunteers who had any idea of military engineering or the use of artillery. He was immediately put to work designing and building defensive forts at Roxbury, while Lucy, left among other Army wives in Worcester, spent her time awaiting letters and writing them. She poured out her soul to “my ever dear Harry,” together with complaints and domestic detail. She was filled with pride that her Harry was indispensable, but sobbed with self-pity at their separation. She rejoiced that General George Washington, on his arrival at Cambridge, praised Harry’s defense works at Roxbury and, following John Adams’ advice to make good use of the young student of military tactics, appointed him commander of artillery. Harry suggested to the new Commander in Chief that an expedition be made to Fort Ticonderoga to fetch the equipment captured from the British by Ethan Allen. Thus Lucy had a glimpse of her Harry in November, as he travelled through Worcester to start the mission, and again in January, when he returned with fifty-nine precious pieces of artillery that had been brought through snow and ice. These same guns, dragged onto Dorchester Heights above Boston, were trained upon the city and caused the flight of Lucy’s parents in the general evacuation by the British and their Tory sympathizers. (See “Big Guns for Washington” in the April, 1955, A MERICAN H ERITAGE .)
Throughout the next two years, Lucy’s life consisted of snatched visits with Harry alternated with dreary months in strange houses. She dashed to Harry’s side when Boston fell, and managed to go along with him when he toured New England ports to plan for their defense. She had to be left behind in Fairfield, Connecticut, for the birth of their first child, Lucy Flucker Knox, while Harry joined General Washington in New York. But she was soon with him again, in spite of warnings that the unpredictable General Howe might attack the city at any time. She was delighted with the house, at No. i Broadway, requisitioned for Knox’s headquarters, and she basked in the deference shown to her splendidly military husband, now a colonel, commander in chief of artillery, and on intimate terms with General Washington. In July the Knoxes joyfully celebrated the reading of the Declaration of Independence, but hardly had time to savor the heady moment, for suddenly the British fleet loomed off Staten Island.
Harry sent Lucy back to Fairfield, where she slumped in misery. All the news was bad; there was a rout on Long Island, New York City was taken, the Continental Army had retreated into New Jersey. A family Christmas with their first-born was impossible; Harry was on the banks of the Delaware using his mighty voice to shout General Washington’s orders to each unit as it embarked across the stormy river. He wrote to Lucy of the successful crossing, the triumph at Trenton, action at Princeton, the pause at Morristown. Lucy pleaded to join him, hotly denying that she had ever complained or needed luxury: “I was pleased with the inconvenience” (did Harry raise a humorous eyebrow?)—“nothing but bread and water might I be within twenty miles of you.” She learned that Mrs. Washington and Mrs. Horatio Gates had been with their husbands. “Happy Mrs. Gates, Happy Mrs. Washington—in the last ten months we have not spent six weeks together.”
Harry wrote whenever he could, though constantly at General Washington’s side and occupied with a thousand duties concerning supervision of artillery and training of recruits. “Nothing but the call of a country much injured and misunderstood to whom I am inseparably connected,” he wrote, “would have called me from the arms and company of her who is inexpressibly interwoven with my heart.”