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.
Henry Knox and Lucy
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.
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, ” he wrote. “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.
Then he painted a dire picture of what might happen.
“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.”
‘How much I love you’
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, sick with worry.
“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,” she wrote.
“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.”
Then on August 23, 1777, she wrote to him from Boston, fearful of losing him. “Poor me, my heart is ready to burst,” she wrote.
She lost her father, mother, brother and sisters, but she ‘chearfully renounced them’ for one ‘far dearer to me than all of them.’
And yet she was ‘totally deprived of him.’
“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,” she wrote. “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.”
She asked him to suppose the current campaign would 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,” she wrote.
By the end of the war Lucy lost her girlishness, 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. This story was updated in 2020.