- 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
Lucy had shown the force of her passions when she fought her parents for permission to marry, and tantrums had succeeded in the defeat of Papa and Mamma. Now she was faced with life in a historic moment which could not be changed to suit her, and with a husband who recognized its solemnity and put his duty first. And there were no longer parents to comfort her. Perhaps when she fled from Boston it had been rather fun to defy them, but now she felt deep hurt that no letter came from them. Through an aunt she learned that Mr. Flucker continued to draw a salary of £300 as Provincial Secretary and worked to obtain compensation for dispossessed Tories, savagely denying the claims of those he suspected had ever shown the least sympathy for the American cause, as if hitting out at his daughter through them.
Harry was never spared a detail of her anxieties and loneliness. At Fairfield she complained of the company as “unrefined as yeomanry,” and earned a lecture on democracy from Harry. From Wallingford, Connecticut, where she and a Mrs. Pollard rented a house together, their landlord wrote to Colonel Knox to report the crockery broken and the cellar of West Indian rum consumed, and without actually accusing the ladies he may have given Harry fears that his young wife was drowning her sorrows. It was a relief when Lucy moved back to Boston, where she had friends and could also be kept busy helping Harry’s brother Billy run the bookstore.
When the Continental Army encamped at Valley Forge for the winter of 1777, Lucy was at last allowed to join her husband. She bloomed in contentment in a big stone house beside Harry’s artillery park and became a pleasing hostess to cold and threadbare officers. Somehow the Knoxes always managed to provide extra food and wine, and at night there was often dancing and singing. At this time the relationship between the Washingtons and the Knoxes burgeoned. Henry Knox was already as close to the Commander in Chief as any officer in Washington’s working “family,” but now the ladies became close in spite of twentyfive years’ difference in age. Both came from a background of privilege, Martha’s accomplishments being those of a country lady, while Lucy’s were more urban and official. Lucy grew in self-importance as she informed the older woman on matters of protocol. Together the Knoxes were of special value to the Washingtons in this moment of open criticism of the General. Never a word of criticism was spoken by Henry and Lucy Knox.
With spring came the glorious news that France had recognized the American republic and would send aid. A Maytime Thanksgiving was celebrated. Then camp was broken, the men prepared for battle, and the women scattered to their homes. The separation of soldiers and wives was brief this summer, however, for by August the last major battle in the North was fought at Monmouth and the army settled down to await a move by the British in New York. The new encampment was at Pluckemin, New Jersey, where Harry created an artillery park with an “academy” attached for the training of officers (the forerunner of West Point). Lucy joined him, and there enjoyed an almost settled life for nearly two years. The Knoxes gave a ball on February 18, 1779, attended by seventy ladies and three hundred gentlemen. It was opened by General Washington, who led Lucy onto the floor for a minuet (in spite of her advanced pregnancy). There was dinner, a fireworks display, and dancing till dawn. General Washington accepted the challenge of Kitty Greene, General Nathanael Greene’s giddy wife, and danced for three uninterrupted hours.
Massive French help and plans for a concerted attack put an end to life at Pluckemin. Harry hurried away to collect the largest supply of artillery he could raise and see it transported to Yorktown, while Lucy went to Mount Vernon, where she became a pleasant but somewhat managing companion to Martha Washington. The visit was marred for Lucy by envy of the fine house and established living of the Virginia plantation, and she wrote Harry of her longings for a home of their own. He had little time to give the matter thought: the American-French forces were besieging Yorktown for two weeks and finally, on October 19, 1781, achieved the surrender of General Cornwallis. For his contribution Henry Knox was made a major general—the youngest in the American forces.
The Knoxes lived through the prolonged period of near-peace at Newburgh, New York. Harry was in command at West Point and had the melancholy duty of disbanding the Army, to whom years of back pay were still owed. After peace was signed, Harry and Lucy moved to a house at Dorchester, outside Boston (later Daniel Webster’s summer home), and then to a house on Boston Common rented from the painter John Singleton Copley. Lucy’s pregnancies had been following fast upon each other—a son named for General Henry Jackson; a little boy who died; another boy, Marcus; and a girl, Julia Wadsworth. The Flucker estates were now Lucy’s, awarded to her as the only non-Tory member of the Flucker family; Harry, administrator for his wife, looked over the Maine lands while on a mission to the Penobscot Indians. Speculation in undeveloped territory was the rage, and Harry enthusiastically bought up the patents of other heirs. He noted the fine sweep of the St. Georges River as seen from the settlement at Thomaston, and deemed it an ideal spot for a future home for Lucy. It had to remain a dream for the moment, however, because the Confederation made Henry Knox “Secretary at War,” in charge of both Army and Navy.