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The Love Letters of Lucy and Henry Knox

Henry Knox by Charles Wilson Peale

Henry Knox by Charles Wilson Peale

Henry Knox was a 22-year old bookseller in Boston when a pretty, vivacious teenager walked into his shop in 1772. He fell for her right away.

Her name was Lucy Flucker, the 16-year-old daughter of a wealthy Loyalist family. Her father was the third highest ranking British official in Massachusetts.  She fell for Henry Knox, despite her parents’ certain disapproval.

He was outgoing and cheerful, an avid reader of books about military science. They met in coffee shops, first exchanging books, then love letters. They would keep up their correspondence during the American Revolution, vividly describing what they felt and experienced. Many of their love letters survive.

They married in June 1774 in Henry’s rooms above his bookstore, defying her family.

After the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Lucy and Henry Knox sneaked out of Boston.  She stayed in Worcester, never to see her family again. Henry joined the militia besieging Boston. He directed fortifications, something he learned by reading in his bookstore.

In his first surviving letter to Lucy on July 6, 1775, he describes meeting George Washington, who was impressed with his engineering work.

Lucy Knox, much later in life

Lucy Knox, much later in life

Eventually it occurred to the Americans in Boston – it may have been Henry Knox’s idea -- that they could use the 59 cannons captured at Fort Ticonderoga. Knox led an epic winter trek through winter storms and mountainous terrain, hauling the cannon over 300 miles by ox-drawn sleds. . Washington aimed them at the British bottled up in the city and forced their evacuation.

After that feat, Knox, 25, became commander of the Continental Army's artillery. He was a major general by the end of the war, during which he and Lucy exchanged at least 150 letters.

In August 1775, he wrote that she was, “the animating object of My Life” and, “I am always talking inwardly to her.”

While on his Ticonderoga expedition, he wrote that he wanted to fly through the air to be with her. Acknowledging his chubbiness, he joked that he would “look like a tennis ball.”

On July 8, 1776, Henry was with the army in New York, anticipating the British invasion. Lucy had written him saying she wanted to join him in camp. He dissuaded her in a letter he wrote at 6 a.m.

 It is a happiness and the greatest happiness for me to be with you, but to be under a continual uneasiness on account of your safety is what You would not wish… The enemy at farthist not more than three quarters of an hours sail from us, and if they should come of a dark night not more possibly than ten minutes before we must be in action – Think my dear Lucy of ten minutes to get your carriage tuck’d to get [on] and dress yourself and get out of Town in a dark night not knowing whether to go not knowing the road the Carri[a]ge as likely as not oversetting & my dear Girl fright’d to death – add her heavenly Gift the sweet babe to it & the very view would be insupportable, the reality would kill me

A month later, he wrote her on the day after the British routed the Continental Army on Long Island. He only had time to write her a short letter assuring her of his safety, and “Dear Girl, how much I love you.”

In May 1777, Lucy wrote to him:

As I can think of no address which would convey an idea of my affection and esteem, I will omit intirely, rather than do injustice to my heart, a heart wholy absorbed in love and anxiety for you – I cannot at this time tell where you are nor form any judgment where you are going – we hear both Armys are in motion, but what thier rout is, we cannot hear. nor have we yet been able to conjecture – what a situation, for us who are at such a distance – how much more we suffer for you than you for yourselves – all my hopes are that it will not, cannot last . .

On August 23, 1777, she wrote to him from Boston:

poor me my heart is ready to burst, you who know what a trifle would make me unhappy, can conceive what I suffer nonw-when I seriously reflect that I have lost my father, mother, brother, and sisters, entirely lost them, I am half distracted. True I chearfully renounced them, for one far dearer to me than all of them -- but I am totally deprived of them -- I have not seen him for almost six months -- and he writes me without pointing at any method by which I may ever expect to see him again -- tis hard my Harry indeed it is I love you with the tenderest the purest affection -- I would undergo any hardship to be near you and you will not let me --- suppose this campaign should be like the last carried into the winter -- do you intend not to see me in all that time -- tell me dear what your plan is –

By the end of the war Lucy was less girlish, having assumed all the household responsibilities in his absence. She was more inclined to take charge.

She wrote to him, “I hope you will not consider yourself commander in chief of your own house” after the war. Unlike the army, “there is such a thing as equal command” in marriage.

With thanks to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

3 comments

  1. Knox was an amazing fellow who came up from nothing – starting as an apprentice to a bookstore owner. He not only dragged the guns of Ticonderoga to Dorchester Heights, he was Washington’s chief artillerist and one of his closest confidantes. There is strong evidence to suggest he helped set up Washington’s squelching of the Newburgh mutiny, by arranging the surprise entrance of the Commander-in-chief, who paused while reading a letter to say “Gentlemen… You will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray in your service, but now find myself growing blind.” There was not a dry eye in the room, and the “mutiny” melted away, thus securing civilian control of the military from that day to this.

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