Lucy and Henry Knox experienced the American Revolution at its very center. Growing up in Boston, the couple had fallen in love and married just prior to the outbreak of hostilities. Shortly after war broke out on April 19. 1775 at Lexington and Concord, they fled the city and Knox volunteered his services to the gathering Continental Army. He then began a remarkable military career. Indeed, during the conflict, he worked his way into George Washington’s inner circle, gained command of the army’s artillery branch, and ended the war as a major general and one of Washington’s most trusted lieutenants.
Frequently separated by the struggle, Henry and Lucy wrote scores of letters to one another. As with most couples during this age, they wrote for many reasons: they wished, first and foremost, to express their love for one another and desire to be together; they also wrote about the war’s events (both great and small) as well as debated the Revolution’s impact upon their marriage. These twenty quotations from their wartime correspondence demonstrate the Knoxes’ involvement in and influence upon these events. They also reveal the deeply personal struggles of a newly-married couple attempting to come to terms with a world in the midst of momentous changes.
1. Henry Knox to Lucy Flucker, 1773
I have been upon the utmost rack of expectation for above two hours past, expecting some message from you. Is there any thing I can say or do that will affect it. If there is command it and [it] shall be done. . . . To the Coffee house tomorrow evening? Do you ask me? Or is it only like the banter affixed at the head of your letter? N- N- N- No. . . . Let me hear from or see you. I could write a volume to you, but I write so much in a hurry as your woman is waiting, that you could not read.
These are the first surviving words that Henry Knox wrote to his future wife, Lucy Flucker. In 1773, Knox was just twenty-three years old, but he already owned a thriving bookstore in central Boston. Lucy, then seventeen, belonged to a prominent Tory family. Her father, Thomas Flucker, was a wealthy land speculator as well as the royal colonial secretary of Massachusetts Bay. The young couple met inside Knox’s bookshop, where they found themselves instantly attracted to one another. Clearly written during the early stages of their courtship, this letter points to Lucy playfully toying with her suitor’s affections. A full-blown romance soon blossomed, which would eventually grow into an enduring attachment lasting until the end of their lives. The couple married in June 1774 despite opposition from her parents. Unfortunately, no letters written by Lucy survive from this period.
2. Henry Knox to Lucy Flucker Knox, July 6, 1775
Yesterday, as I was going to Cambridge, I met the General, who beg’d me to return to Roxbury again which I did. When they had view’d the works they express’d the greatest pleasure & surprize at their situation and apparent utility to say nothing of the plan which did not escape their praise
Henry Knox here briefly described one of the most important encounters of his life: his chance meeting with Gen. George Washington just days after the latter’s arrival outside Boston to take command of the Continental Army. Something of an autodidact, Knox had read numerous works about military history, siege fortifications, and artillery prior to the war. After volunteering his services to the colonial forces, the self-educated bookseller had been tasked to help with the construction of earthworks in Roxbury, just south of British-occupied Boston. Henry dated this letter at 6 AM, indicating that he could not wait to share the exciting news with his wife. Knox clearly made an impression upon the Virginia commander-in-chief; Washington asked him to come to headquarters at Cambridge just days later so that he could learn more about him.
3. Henry Knox to Lucy Flucker Knox, November 16, 1775
I lodg’d at Barkers and arriv’d here Yesterday in the most violent N East Storm that I almost ever knew. Keep up your Spirits, my dear Girl, I shall be with you tomorrow night & don’t be alarm’d when I tell you that the General has order’d me to go to the West Ward as far as Ticonderoga, about a three Weeks Journey. Don’t be afraid, there is no fighting in the Case. I am going upon buisness [sic] only
Knox had so impressed Washington (and many other officers in the army’s camp) that by the middle of November 1775, the young bookseller had not only received a colonel’s commission from the Continental Congress, but had also been named to command the Continental Army’s artillery branch. As Henry explained in this hastily scrawled note, the general had just ordered him to travel to Fort Ticonderoga to retrieve nearly five dozen British cannon captured there the previous spring by patriot forces. This letter also reflects Knox’s concern for his wife. Six months pregnant with their first child, she was anxious for her husband’s safety. He, therefore, sought to reassure her that he would be safe throughout his upcoming mission.
4. Henry Knox to Lucy Flucker Knox, December 17, 1775
My last Letter mention’d that I was just going of Lake George about 36 miles in length. We had a tedious time of it altho the passage was fine, in coming back it was exceedingly disagreable. But all danger and the principal difficulty is now passed &, by next Thursday, I hope we shall be able to set out from hence on our way home with our very valuable & precious Convoy. If we have the good fortune to have snow, I hope to have the pleasure to see my dearest in three weeks from this date . . . We shall cut no small figure in going thro’ the county with our Cannon, Mortars &c drawn by eighty Yoke Oxen
This letter, penned in the midst of the Ticonderoga expedition, displays Henry Knox’s near-unfailing good humor and optimism. He had just gotten fifty-nine cannon across Lake George. Although he found the passage exceedingly difficult and exhausting, he was now confidently prepared to set off for Albany before heading across the snow-covered Berkshire Mountains. During this journey, Knox would successfully lead more than a hundred teamsters and forty-two ponderous horse- and ox-drawn sleds. In his last line, he appears to grasp the magnitude and importance of his accomplishment.
5. Henry Knox to Lucy Flucker Knox, ca. March 5—17, 1776
My only Love,
I rec[eive]d your letter by my brother which gave me the most sensible pleasure. You tenderly ask what is become of me. “No evil has happen’d” but an excessive hurry of business has prevented my paying my Lucy that tribute of affection which is so justly her due . . . Certain it is they (the enemy) are packing up & going off bag & baggage. How far or where is yet uncertain. If to New York, my Dear Lucy must prepare to follow them as we are Citizens of the World, any place will be our home & equally cheap
Because he had successfully transported the nearly sixty heavy guns to the American encampment surrounding Boston, Knox gave Washington and the Continental Army the needed firepower to compel the British to withdraw from the city or else face destruction. Knox was undoubtedly excited about the British retreat, but he also correctly predicted that New York City would become the next great theater of war. He could not imagine, however, what lay in store for both him and his wife.
6. Lucy Flucker Knox to Henry Knox, April 29 or 30, 1776
Is my Harry well. Is he happy. No, that cannot be when he reflects how wretched he has left me. I doubt not, but the plea of his little girl, as he used fondly to call me, must sometimes draw a thought from him tho surrounded with gaiety and scenes of high life. The remembrance of his tender infant must also greatly affect him when he considers it at so great a distance from its Father, its natural guardian, in a place exposed to an enraged enemy and almost defenceless
This is Lucy’s first surviving letter to her husband. She reflected here on her loneliness without “my Harry” beside her, while imagining him enjoying a convivial lifestyle. She also indirectly prodded Knox into inviting her to New York City by invoking their newborn daughter. “Little Lucy,” as her parents typically called her, had been born the previous February, and her mother understood how much Henry missed the child. This letter did the trick. A week after receiving it, Henry invited his wife and daughter to join him in the city.
7. Henry Knox to Lucy Flucker Knox, July 4, 1776
My dearest Love,
I regret & feel the keenest pain and anxiety on the account of the precipitation with which you and the Ladies were oblig’d to decamp. Your Harry scolding, the enemy approaching, all in Confusion. That was the moment I most dreaded of any thing, your being here and obliging me to feel the highest pangs. I most earnestly long to hear how you are and [that] you keep your spirits
On the morning of July 1, Henry and Lucy had just sat down to breakfast in their lodging on Broadway when they suddenly observed scores of British warships sailing up New York harbor and heading toward the southern tip of Manhattan. The previous week, this British fleet had been spotted off Long Island and was clearly heading toward the city. Thus, Henry had been urging his wife to leave. But the strong-willed Lucy had adamantly refused to go. Furious at both himself and her, he now shouted at his wife that she and their baby must depart immediately. Dissolving into tears, Lucy reluctantly obeyed. This was, in all likelihood, the first time Henry had ever raised his voice to his young spouse. This event also signaled the start of the New York-New Jersey campaign, which would last until the end of the year.
8. Lucy Flucker Knox to Henry Knox, July [8?], 1776
My only friend,
I will go to N[ew] Haven, indeed I will; but first must beg your patience to read this, which I think will shew that I am not deserving of the severe censure that I have received . . . You are pleased frequently in your letters to remind me of my incapacity of judging for myself. I now assure you that I have a deep sense of my own weakness and ignorance and a very high opinion of the abilities of him in whose eyes mine are so contemptable
This is Lucy’s first letter to Henry after they had so bitterly separated the previous week. She was obviously still angry with her husband for the treatment she had received upon leaving him. New Haven was where Henry had ordered Lucy and little Lucy to go on July 1. Because the Connecticut township was eighty-five miles away from New York City, Knox thought his wife and child would be safe there. However, Lucy had only gone as far as Stamford, a mere forty miles from lower Manhattan and a place from which she could easily return to the army. This quotation most certainly reflects Lucy’s combative spirit and her willingness to stand up to her husband when she felt she had been wronged.
Before you receive this you will possibly learn that your Brother is a prisoner but dont be frightened, he is not . . . The [artillery] brigade of course would have been taken had not your brother, who stayed to see the last gun off, ordered them into the fort at Ballards hill, which stratagem had the desired effect, the enemy thought we had made a stand there and, crossing the fields, took another road into the city which our people took the advantage of and joined their main body unhurt . . . I am going to York or wherever the army are to see your brother, after which I believe I shall come to Boston upon a visit
This letter to Henry’s younger brother, William, came days after the British captured New York City. Following a series of heavy blows by British forces, Washington’s army was compelled to retreat northward out of lower Manhattan in order to escape destruction. Because her husband had stayed behind until the last minute to extract his guns, false rumors began to circulate that he had been captured. As Lucy described Henry successfully saving his brigade, her pride in his military prowess is unmistakable. Her resolve to visit Henry, in spite of the inherent dangers involved, further speaks to her deep love for him as well as her own grit and determination.
10. Henry Knox to Lucy Flucker Knox, December 28, 1776
Our army was scattered along the river for nearly 25 miles. Our intelligence agreed that the force of the enemy in Trenton was from two to three Thousand with about six field Cannon and that they were pretty secure in their situation & that they were hessians, no[t] British troops. A hardy design was form’d of attacking the Town by storm. Accordingly, a part of the army consisting of about 2500 or three thousand pass’d the River on Christmass night with allmost infinite difficulty, with eighteen field pieces. Floating Ice in the River made the labour almost incredible, however perseverance accomplished what at first seem’d impossible. About two oClock the troops were all on the Jersey side. We then were about nine miles from the object, the night was cold & stormy. It hailed with great violence, the Troops march’d with the most profound silence and good order. They arrived by two routes on roads at the same time about half an hour after day light to within one mile of the Town. The storm continued with great violence, but was in our backs & consequently in the faces of our Enemy. About half a mile from the Town was an advanced Guard on each road, consisting of a Captain’s Guard. These Guards we forc’d & enter’d the Town with them pell-mell, & here succeeded a scene of war of which I had often conceived but never saw before. The hurry, fright & confusion of the enemy was unlike that which shall be when the last Trump[rt] shall sound . . . The Hessians lost part of their Cannon in the Town. They did not relish the project of forcing, & were oblig’d to Surrender upon the spot with all their artillery, 6 brass pieces, army Colors &c &c. A Colo. Rawle commanded who was wounded . . . The troops behav’d like men contending for every thing that was dear and valuable. It must give a sensible pleasure to every friend to the rights of America
This letter describes the stunning American victory at the battle of Trenton in which Knox played an important role. Indeed, Washington had ordered his artillery commander, who possessed a deep baritone voice, to direct the Continental Army’s nighttime crossing of the Delaware River. Coming after a long series of defeats, Knox’s joy is palpable in this passage. Writing just thirty-six hours afterwards, he demonstrated both delight and surprise at their triumph. The letter also reveals the pride he felt in the outstanding performance of the soldiers, especially of his artillerymen. Henry would learn less than a week later that he had been promoted by the Congress to brigadier general.
Oh, my sister, how horrid is this war, Brother against Brother and the parent against the child. Who were the first promoters of it, I know not, but god knows and I fear they will feel the weight of his vengeance. Tis pity the little time we have to spend in this world, we cannot enjoy ourselves and our friends, but must be devising means to destroy each other . . . In our juvenile days, my Hannah, we little thought this Barbaras [i.e., barbarous] art would so soon have reached America, but alas her fruitfull fields of war [have] been covered with the dead and dying of the heartfelt
During the first two years of the war, Lucy’s Tory family members refused to have anything to do with her, an event that naturally proved exceedingly painful to the young woman. In the spring of 1777, Lucy had heard rumors that her eldest sister, Hannah, was then living alone in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Desperate to re-connect with anyone from her family, she wrote to her sister in the hope that she would receive this message. In this passage, she reflected upon the universal horror and tragedy of war. This letter is all the more remarkable because at the time Lucy was just twenty years old. It is unknown if Hannah ever received this epistle.
I have just come from a scene my Harry which has roused my very soul, in gratitude to my bountiful benefactor. A man who was inoculated at or about the time I was lay in the last agonies, his pock proved the purple sort and he, poor soul, must die. His brother had just arrived from his wife, who was near laying in [i.e., giving birth] and very impatient for his return. And, as a proof of her affection, had sent him some good things such as he might venture to eat . . . He is just now dead. What a stroke will it be to that poor miserable woman. . . . How do I know to what the dear partner of my Soul is at this minute exposed. Indeed, my Harry, I am serious, I cannot live at this distance from you
Lucy wrote this letter to her husband several weeks after she and little Lucy had received smallpox inoculations. The procedure, which Lucy had long contemplated and feared, was going well for her (she developed only twenty pox marks on her face), but her daughter was then showing alarming signs of a more serious outbreak. Adding to her anxiety was the fact that a soldier, who had been staying in a room next to hers, had just died from his inoculation. This tragedy led Lucy to write this letter, illustrating the uncertainty of life in this day and age and the terrible pain caused by sudden and unexpected death. Lucy’s sympathy for the young soldier’s widow further points to the grim situation facing women without a spouse. Several days later, little Lucy did indeed develop a serious case of smallpox, but survived, much to the relief and joy of both parents.
13. Lucy Flucker Knox to Henry Knox, June 3, 1777
My Harry writes to me as if I lived in a land of plenty. Six pounds of best green tea is what I have endeavored to the utmost of my power to procure. I wrote you last week that I expected some, but it belongs to Bill Turner and he refuses paper money for it. However, you shall have a couple of pounds by the first opportunity tho it were my last gunie [guinea] that purchased it. The horses fetched but seventy five pounds owing to your not entrusting me with the sale of them. I wished to have had them sold separate, but master Wm was of a different opinion nor could he be persuaded. You had better make me your future agent. I’ll assure you, I am quite a woman of business
Lucy remained in Boston throughout the Philadelphia campaign of 1777. In this passage, she demonstrated her efforts to support her husband in the field by obtaining needed supplies. In a previous letter that summer, she explained how she had just forwarded to him a wagon filled with Maderia wine, sugar, sweet meats, pepper, and coffee. She now described for him her growing struggles with inflation, something that would only grow worse in the months and years ahead. Yet she also revealed a growing self-confidence in her ability to handle their family’s finances without her spouse nearby.
14. Lucy Flucker Knox to Henry Knox, August 23, 1777
Oh, that you had less of the military man about you, you might then after the war have lived at ease all the days of your life. But now I don’t know what you will do. Your being long acustomed to command will make you too haughty for mercantile matters, tho I hope you will not consider yourself as commander in chief of your own house. But be convinced . . . that there is such a thing as equal command
Lucy demonstrated in this passage both her teasing sense of humor as well as a growing assertiveness within her marriage. It also indirectly points to a long-held wish she had that Henry would leave the army in order to restart his mercantile career. This, she believed, would place their family in a more secure financial position.
15. Henry Knox to Lucy Flucker Knox, December 3, 1777
does my Lucy really want a proof of my Affection, is there nothing in this world that will satisfy her but deserting the cause in which I am engag’d and render’d my self eternally infamous and all my connections by resigning at a time my Country may stand in need of my little assistance. God Forbid.
I attribute her feelings by no means to such a cause. I believe she is chagrin’d and unhappy to have lost her Father, mother, sisters and brother in this contest, and her husband full knows she has made such capital sacrifices at too great a distance for [him] to support her under this consideration of such great afflictions. Believe me my only and dearest Love, (if your affection is not diminished—what a thought!), that my Life shall be spent to make you happy.
As the grueling Philadelphia campaign drew to a close, Knox was exhausted and dispirited. A letter he had just received from Lucy only added to his woes; his wife had once more urged him to leave the army, claiming that, if he truly loved her, he would do so. Knox revealed here his utter commitment to the American cause by saying that he would never quit the flag. Yet he also attempted to comprehend the war from her perspective. Having been abandoned by her family, he realized not only how much she had lost in this contest, but he also understood that he was all she had left in the world.
16. Henry Knox to Lucy Flucker Knox, June 29, 1779
I long to see you [and] to be assur’d from your own lips that you are getting better daily. I long to hear the little prattle of my lovely Lucy and to see the expressive countenance of Julia. I pant after domestic happiness and most heartily wish the time arriv’d when we shall turn our swords into ploughs[hares] and pruning hooks
This letter, written shortly after the war had entered its fifth year, reflected Henry Knox’s growing exhaustion with a conflict that appeared to have no end. By this point, the British and American forces had settled into a stand-off around New York City and the New York—New Jersey Highlands. Then on an operation along the Hudson River, north of the two main armies, Henry wrote this letter from New Windsor to inquire about his family’s health. In this passage, he referred to the well-known biblical passage from Isaiah 2:4 which states, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks” (King James version). Tragically, the couple’s three-month-old daughter, Julia, died on July 2, just three days after Knox penned this note.
17. Henry Knox to William Knox, September 4, 1781
I wrote you my dear brother from Kings Ferry about a week past, & informed you some movements were about to take place but it was improper for me to specify what they were. One object is now developed and known to be Lord Cornwallis. Our measures are such that if the respective parts harmonize, we hope to do something handsome and we extend our views pretty far south.
This manoeuvere, though much thought of by me, deranges my little family and creates a distress known only to domesticated minds. The General & Mrs. Washington prefers Mrs. Knox to take a trip to Virginia and she seems inclined to accept of the offer for several reasons. Our little daughter at any rate will be left in this Town at a eminent boarding school. Master Hal will be the companion of his mama, who is six months in her fourth pregnancy
Knox wrote to his brother from Philadelphia to inform him about the upcoming campaign against a British army then in Virginia. Henry explained that the operation had deranged “my little family” due to recent news the couple had received about Lucy’s father, Thomas Flucker: he was gravely ill and perhaps close to death in London. The information left Knox’s wife distraught. Thus, he wanted to stay by her side, especially since she was in the middle of her fourth pregnancy in five years. So upset was Henry that he brought the situation to the commander-in-chief’s attention, whereupon Washington graciously invited Lucy to stay at Mount Vernon during the campaign. This note clearly points to the intertwined nature of the public and private spheres of daily life throughout the Revolutionary War as well as illustrates the close bond between these two men.
18. Lucy Flucker Knox to Henry Knox, September 29, 1781
I wrote you on monday by Mr. Custisand informed you that Lucy [their daughter] was fixed with Mrs. Bredo[?] in philadelphia . . . I need not ask you to forward any letters which mention the dear little girl, with all possible dispatch to her anxious mother. Will the time never come when we shall have a house of our own and our Children about us. If not, life is not desirable.
I mett a very kind reception from the good Lady of this placebut my circumstances lead me ardently to wish for a home, and I see but one possible way to obtain one. You know my meaning. I wish for nothing inconsistent with your happiness and future peace. But could you reconcile it to your feelings, I think it would make me happy
Lucy wrote this note to Henry as soon as she reached Mount Vernon. Like many of their letters later in the war, this one focused on matters of family and home. Although Martha Washington made Lucy feel welcome, as soon as she reached the beautiful mansion on the Potomac, she longed to have a grand home of her own. In the following decade, Henry would indeed make Lucy “happy” when he built her a twenty-four-room mansion in coastal Maine called Montpelier. Unfortunately, the expense of constructing this enormous house was partially responsible for the Knoxes’ later financial difficulties.
19. Henry Knox to Lucy Flucker Knox, October 19, 1781
Camp before York 8 oClock A.M. 19th October
I have detain’d William untill this moment that I might be the first to communicate good news to the Charmer of my soul. A glorious moment for America! This day Lord Cornwallis & his Army marches out & piles their Arms in the face of our victorious Army . . . They will have the same honors as the Garrison of Charlestown, that is they will not be permitted to unfurl their Colours or play Yankee doodle.
Written at headquarters outside of Yorktown, Henry wanted his wife to hear directly from him the wonderful news that Gen. Charles Cornwallis’s British army was to surrender that day to the Continental and French forces after a three-week siege. His heartfelt joy comes through in this short epistle, as does his pride in their “victorious Army” to which he and his comrades had sacrificed so much over the previous six years. The reference to the “Garrison of Charlestown” referred to an American army in 1780 that had been forced to lay down its arms without being accorded the honors of war. Furious at the disrespect shown to Patriot arms, Knox now relished the retribution the Americans were taking.
Harlem, 7 miles from New York, 24 Novr. 1783
My dear Madam,
The kindness of Mr. Watson presents an opportunity [in] which I cannot omit to inform you of the health of part of your family whose happiness I assure myself is still dear to you. My Lucy is at West point with her three sweet children in perfect health. They will be in New York as soon as the british forces evacuate it which is intended tomorrow. . . . We are extremely anxious to hear from you in answer to our several letters. I wrote in May last and Lucy has written twice since once in June & the other in July or August.
I beg my sincere ardent affections may be presented to Mrs. Waldo, Mrs. Urquhart, Capt. Flucker and Lady. . . . I hope I shall in some future day have the pleasure of being acquainted with.
I am my very dear Madam
Your truly affectionate Son
Knox wrote this letter the night before British troops departed and the Continental Army marched in to reoccupy New York City. With the revolution now successfully concluded, Knox’s epistle pointed to the couple’s hope to reestablish the bonds of familial affection that had existed before the war. Although Secretary Flucker had died the previous March, Henry and Lucy were hopeful that this letter, combined with the restoration of peace, would bring about a family reunion. Although Hannah Flucker responded in a positive vein, it quickly became apparent that she and her other children were largely interested in the restoration of their property seized during the war. Thus, the Knoxes would never see any of their kinsmen again.
On July 11, Knox replied that he was “grieved and distressed” upon the receipt of this letter, believing that his wife’s troubles were self-inflicted. Fearing too that she was about to return to the army camp, he admonished her, “I ever wished my Lucy to soar above the Generality of her Sex many of whom to be sure are trifling insignificant animals, dreading what never will come to pass.” The back-and-forth bickering by letter continued for another week until Lucy at last reached New Haven.
William Knox (1756-1795) was Henry’s younger brother and a constant presence in the couple’s life together. Prior to the war, he assisted Knox in his bookshop. At the start of the conflict, William accompanied Knox on the Fort Ticonderoga expedition. In the fall of 1776, William was then living in Boston overseeing the reconstruction of his brother’s store.
Hannah Flucker Urquhart (1751-1820) was Lucy Knox’s oldest sister. She had gone to Halifax when the British Army evacuated Boston in the spring of 1776. Unhappily married to a British officer named James Urquhart, Hannah was likely separated from him by the spring of 1777. She eventually made her way to London, at which point she had an affair with another military officer named Stephen Kemp. The Urquharts were never reconciled and finally divorced in 1787. That same year, Hannah married Richard Horwood, a young surveyor and cartographer who was seven years her junior. Although the two sisters would correspond after the war, Hannah never made any reference to this letter.
John Parke Custis (1754-1781), son of Martha Washington, had just left Mount Vernon for Yorktown in order to serve as a civilian aide-de-camp to his stepfather during the siege. The young man sadly caught a camp fever and died in early November.