Henry Knox

In office
March 8, 1785 – December 31, 1794
President George Washington
Preceded by None
Succeeded by Timothy Pickering

Born July 25, 1750(1750-07-25)
Boston, Massachusetts, British America
Died October 25, 1806 (aged 56)
near Thomaston, Maine, U.S.
Nationality British (at birth)
American (at death)
Spouse Lucy Flucker
Profession Bookseller, Soldier
Signature Henry Knox Signature
Military service
Allegiance US flag 13 stars – Betsy Ross United States of America
Service/branch Continental Army
United States Army
Years of service 1775-1784
Rank US-O6 insignia Colonel 1775-1776
US-O7 insignia Brigadier General 1776-1781
US-O8 insignia Major General 1781-1784
Commands Chief of Artillery
Battles/wars American Revolutionary War
Battle of Bunker Hill
Siege of Boston
Battle of Long Island
Battle of Trenton
Battle of the Assunpink Creek
Battle of Princeton
Battle of Brandywine
Battle of Germantown
Battle of Monmouth
Siege of Yorktown

Henry Knox (July 25, 1750October 25, 1806) was an American bookseller from Boston who became the chief artillery officer of the Continental Army and later the nation's first Secretary of War.

Early life and marriageEdit

Henry Knox was born in Boston to parents of Scots-Irish origin, William Knox and Mary (nee Campbell). His father was a ship's captain who died in 1759 in part due to mental stress arising from financial trouble. Henry left school at the age of 12 and became a clerk in a bookstore to support his mother. He later opened his own bookshop, the London Book Store, in Boston. Largely self-educated, he began to concentrate on military subjects, particularly artillery. Knox joined a local military company at eighteen, was present at the Boston Massacre, and joined the Boston Grenadier Corps in 1772.[1]

Henry married Lucy Flucker (1756–1824), the daughter of Boston Loyalists, on June 16, 1774. In spite of separations due to his military service, they remained a devoted couple for the rest of his life, and carried on an extensive correspondence. Since the couple fled Boston in 1775, she remained essentially homeless throughout the Revolutionary War. Her parents left with the British during their withdrawal from Boston after the Continental Army fortified Dorchester Heights, which ironically hinged upon Knox’s cannons. She never saw them again.

Military careerEdit

Knox supported the American rebels, the Sons of Liberty, and was present at the Boston Massacre. He volunteered as a member of the Boston Grenadier Corps in 1772 and served under General Artemas Ward at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. Being a member of the Army of Observation, Knox met and impressed General George Washington when he took command. Knox offered his services to Washington, who had him commissioned a Colonel and gave him command of the Continental Regiment of Artillery.[1] Washington and Knox soon became good friends.

As the Siege of Boston continued, he suggested that the cannons recently captured at Fort Ticonderoga and at Crown Point could have a decisive impact. Washington put him in charge of an expedition to retrieve them.[1] His force brought them by ox-drawn sled south along the west bank of the Hudson River from Fort Ticonderoga to Albany where he crossed the Hudson, continued east through the Berkshires and finally to Boston. There are 56 plaques on the trail from Fort Ticonderoga to Cambridge, Massachusetts denoting the approximately 56 day length of the journey. Knox and his men averaged approximately 5 ⅜ miles per day, completing the 300-mile (480 km) trip in 56 days, between December 5, 1775, and January 24, 1776. The Cannon Train was composed of fifty-nine cannon and mortars, 29 from Crown Point and 30 from Fort Ticonderoga, and weighed a total of 60 tons. Upon their arrival in Cambridge, when Washington's army took the Heights of Dorchester, the cannons were placed in a heavily fortified position overlooking Boston from which they threatened the British fleet in the harbor. As a result, the British were forced to withdraw to Halifax on March 17, 1776.[1] After the siege was lifted, Knox undertook the construction and improvement of defenses in Connecticut and Rhode Island to prepare for the British return. He rejoined the main army later during their withdrawal from New York and across New Jersey.

During the Battle of Trenton, Colonel Knox was in charge of Washington's crossing of the Delaware River.[1] Though hampered by ice and cold, with John Glover's Marbleheaders (14th Continental Regiment) manning the boats, he got the attack force of men, horses and artillery across the river without loss. Following the battle he returned the same force, along with hundreds of prisoners, captured supplies and all the boats back across the river by the afternoon of December 26. Knox was promoted to brigadier general for this accomplishment, and Chief of Artillery.[1]

Knox stayed with the Main Army throughout most of the active war, and saw further action at Princeton, Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, and Yorktown.[1] In 1777, while the Army was in winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey, he returned to Massachusetts to improve the Army's artillery capability. He raised an additional battalion and established the Springfield Armory before his return in the spring. That arsenal remained a valuable source of ammunition and gun carriages for the rest of the war. In early 1780 he was a member of the court-martial of Major John André.[1] Knox made several other trips to the Northern states as Washington's representative to increase the flow of men and supplies to the army.

In Pluckemin (a hamlet of Bedminster, New Jersey), in the winter of 1778-1779, Knox formed the Continental Army's first facility for artillery and officer training. While there, through the summer of 1779, General Knox spent most of his time dealing with over 1,000 soldiers in desperate need of formal military training, in the face of low morale and scarce supplies.


Henry Knox in the Washington Administration, by James Harvy Young, 1873. From the earlier Gilbert Stuart painting.

After Yorktown, Knox was promoted to major general. In 1782 he was given command of the post at West Point.[1] In 1783 he was one of the founders of the Society of the Cincinnati,[1] and led the American forces into New York City as the British withdrew. He stood next to Washington during his farewell on December 4 at Fraunces Tavern. After Washington retired, Knox served as the senior officer of the Continental Army from December 1783 until he left it in June 1784.[1]

Secretary of WarEdit

The Continental Congress made Knox Secretary of War under the Articles of Confederation on March 8, 1785. He held that position without interruption until September 12, 1789, when he assumed the same duties as the Secretary of War in Washington's first Cabinet.

As secretary, Knox urged and presided over the creation of a regular Navy, was responsible for a plan for a national militia, and created a series of coastal fortifications. He oversaw the inclusion of the Springfield Armory as one of two national facilities. In 1791, Congress, acting on a detailed proposal from Knox, created the short-lived Legion of the United States.

As Secretary of War, Knox was well and responsible for managing the United States' relations with the Indian tribes within its borders, following a 1789 act of Congress. For the previous three years he had had similar responsibilities under the Congress of the Confederation, although the previous position had little actual authority.[2] Knox used his new position to argue that the United States honor the Native Americans' rights. Usual U.S. government policy involved signing treaties with Native American nations that were not intended to be kept, with the goal of seizing as much Indian land as possible. Knox publicly opposed this policy, the first U.S. government official to do so.[3] He believed that the practice violated the republican principles embodied in the American Revolution.[4] Furthermore, Knox feared that a policy of constant provocation would lead to costly frontier wars that would hurt the nation.[5]

To this end, Knox argued that the United States should treat Native American tribes as sovereign, foreign nations. He envisioned a humane policy of treaties that would not be broken, resulting in a series of Indian enclaves in the West where the United States would forbid its citizens to settle.[6] He urged President Washington to make a priority of reforming the United States' Indian policy.


Henry Knox. Published 1881 in Young Persons' Cyclopedia of Persons and Places.

In 1789 Washington had Knox send a bill to congress to purchase Native lands for $25,394. This was a far cheaper price to pay than to once again battle the natives. The bill made it possible for only the federal government to control native lands, rather than the states administering territories. The natives were now considered foreigners, and forced to cooperate or leave.[1]

The first test of the new policy came from the negotiations between Knox, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander McGillivray, leader of the Creek Nation. The resulting Treaty of New York guaranteed the Creeks a vast stretch of territory, which the U.S. pledged to protect from the encroachments of its citizens. Settlers continued to pour into Creek territory, however, and the federal troops that Knox sent could not secure the border. McGillivray abandoned the alliance with the United States in 1791, turning to Spanish protection in the Treaty of New Orleans. The failure of the Treaty of New York marked the end of Knox's attempt to enact a new Indian policy.[7]

On January 2, 1795, Knox left the government and returned to his home at Thomaston, Maine to devote himself to caring for his growing family. He was succeeded as Secretary of War by Timothy Pickering.

Later lifeEdit

Knox settled his family at Montpelier, the estate he built in Thomaston, Maine. He spent the rest of his life engaged in cattle farming, ship building, brick making, and real estate speculation. He had assembled a vast 1,000,000-acre ({{rnd/bExpression error: Unexpected < operator.|Expression error: Unexpected < operator.|(Expression error: Unexpected < operator.)|Expression error: Unexpected < operator.}} km2) real estate empire in Maine through graft and corruption, triggering an armed insurrection by local settlers who, at one point, threatened to burn Montpelier to the ground.[8] Although Knox represented his Thomaston in the Massachusetts General Court (Maine then being part of Massachusetts), he eventually became so unpopular that he lost the seat to a local blacksmith. He also was industrious in lumbering, ship building, stock raising, and brick manufacturing, although all of these businesses failed, building up staggering debts that would ultimately bankrupt his heirs.[1][9] In 1806, while visiting a friend in Union, Maine, he swallowed a chicken bone which punctured his intestine. He died of an infection (peritonitis) three days later on October 25, 1806 and was buried in Thomaston. His house was later torn down to make way for the Brunswick-Rockland railroad line. The only surviving structure is an outbuilding that currently houses the Thomaston Historical Society. (The current Montpelier Museum is a mid-20th century cinderblock reconstruction at a different location.)

Many incidents in Knox's career attest to his character, both good and bad. As one example, when he and Lucy were forced to leave Boston in 1775, his home was used to house British officers who looted his bookstore. In spite of personal financial hardships, he managed to make the last payment of 1,000 pounds to Longman Printers in London to cover the price of a shipment of books that he never received. In Maine, however, he would be remembered as a grasping tyrant and was forever immortalized in Nathanial Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables, for which he served as the model for Col. Pynchon.[10]

Two separate American forts, Fort Knox (Kentucky), and Fort Knox (Maine) were named after him. Knox Hall [1] at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, home of the Field Artillery Center and Field Artillery School, is also named after him. Knoxville, Tennessee, is named in his honor. There are counties named for Knox in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas.



  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 Bell, William Gardner; COMMANDING GENERALS AND CHIEFS OF STAFF: 1775-2005; Portraits & Biographical Sketches of the United States Army's Senior Officer: 1983, CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY; UNITED STATES ARMY; WASHINGTON, D.C.:p. 54
    ISBN 0–16–072376–0
  2. Ellis, Joseph J. "The Treaty." American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. New York: Knopf, 2007, 136-137.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ellis, 138.
  6. Ellis, 139.
  7. Ellis, 159-160.
  8. Taylor, Alan, Liberty Men and Great Proprietors: The Revolutionary Settlement on the Maine Frontier Chapel Hill: UNC Press, pp. 37-59
  9. Taylor, Allen, Ibid.
  10. Griffiths, Thomas, Maine Sources in The House of the Seven Gables (Waterville, Maine, 1945). (Hawthorne visited Thomaston prior to writing the book.)

External linksEdit

Military offices
Preceded by
George Washington
Senior Officer of the United States Army
Succeeded by
Joseph Doughty
Political offices
Preceded by
United States Secretary of War
Succeeded by
Timothy Pickering