Lucy Knox: Romantic and Patriot
March 20, 2018
In HAMILTON AND PEGGY, I could only insert Lucy Knox into the Morristown ball —dancing the lead minuet with George Washington. Her narrative just didn’t intersect with Peggy’s other than that during my novel’s timeline. But I’d like to share a little about her today, in another entry for Women’s History Month, because she was a bodacious young romantic and a devoted patriot in her own right.
Lucy was the daughter of Thomas Flucker, the Royal Secretary of the Province of Massachusetts, a rich aristocrat and powerful loyalist in the city of Boston. She defied her family and place in society, and gave up her affluence to marry a poor boy who ran a bookstore and talked independence—Henry Knox.
Henry is a prime example of those stunning self-educated, self-made philosopher/soldiers who made our Revolution possible. Born into poverty, Henry had to leave grammar school to become an apprentice with a bookbinder to support his widowed mother and younger brother. A voracious reader and osmosis-learner, Henry eventually worked his way to opening his own bookstore when he was 21-years-old. He cultivated more elite manners and conversation by emulating the actions and language of the privileged, intellectual Bostonians who congregated at his shop. One of them was a 17-year-old Lucy. An avid reader herself, Lucy was soon pulling Henry away from group discussions for book recommendations and tête-à-têtes among his bookshelves.
Vivacious, impassioned, and mercurial in her moods, Lucy began exchanging ardent letters with her Henry. Despite her family’s threats of disinheriting and disowning her, Lucy married her beloved tradesman on June 16, 1774, right before her 18th birthday. The next spring, Henry escaped General Gage’s blockade of Boston to join the patriot army. Lucy rode with him, his sword sewn into her cape. She would never see her parents or siblings again.
Thus began years of nomadic living for Lucy as wife to a patriot officer. Henry quickly became critically important to George Washington. Having read everything he could on cannon and military engineering, Henry rose to be the Continental’s chief of artillery. His brilliance in command of those big guns made all the difference in the liberation of Boston, and the battles at Trenton and Yorktown.
During the War, Lucy joined Henry when she could, fled attacks, gave birth to their children in the homes of other patriots who had taken her in, and wrote heartbreaking letters of longing to her husband, especially when her husband refused to let her come for fear of her being captured.
Lucy argued that she wasn’t afraid and didn’t mind whatever inconvenience might come from her being in camp with him: “nothing but bread and water, might I be within twenty miles of you.” And after not seeing him for almost six months, she wrote, “ ‘Tis hard, my Harry, indeed it is. I love you with the tenderest, the purest affection…but dare I say, I sometimes fear that a long absence…may lead you to forget me, to know that it even gave you pleasure to be company with the finest woman in the world, would be worse than death to me… But it is not so, my Harry is too just, too delicate, too sincere, and too fond of his Lucy to admit the most remote thought of that distracting kind….”
Most of Lucy’s letters reverberate with this earnest ardor or deep pain at being separated. Something so many wives endured during the Revolution—their unsung, cloistered contribution to the cause. In the end, Lucy and Henry exchanged more than 150 letters during the war. They were married for 32 years, seemingly deeply in love throughout.