An Unsung Heroine: Lucy Flucker Knox
Lucy Flucker Knox was sometimes described as temperamental and overbearing, and other reports said that she had rare powers of conversation, charm, a superb memory, and an extensive knowledge of the world. In addition, she provided her husband, Henry Knox with a lifetime of loyalty and love.
Lucy's Early Years
iN 1756, Lucy Flucker was born the daughter of the Thomas Flucker, the Royal Secretary of the Providence of Massachusetts. He had the noted distinction of being the grandson of a founder of Charlestown, Massachusetts across the Charles River from the city of Boston. The British Crown had appointed him Secretary of the Province of Massachusetts.He was also had the distinction of owning one of the first carriages to be imported into Boston from England. He had been married twice. His first marriage was to a Bowdoin and his second to Hannah Waldo Lucy's mother. Hannah was Brigadier General Samuel Waldo's daughter. General Waldo had accumulated a fortune in Boston and owned a large estate in the Maine Province.His wife and daughters, including Lucy, were taught and enjoyed the social graces of royal society.
Lucy's Infatuation Leads to Her Own Rebellion
One day in 1772, Lucy Flucker saw a young officer parading on Boston common in his Genadier's uniform. She was immediately infatuated. One day, because she enjoyed reading, she went to a local bookstore and discovered that the bookstore owner--Henry Knox--and the young officer were the same person. Soon Lucy and Henry were stealing away for private conversations between the stacks in the bookstore. They decided theat they wanted their conversation to continue for a lifetime.
Lucy was in love. Lucy’s parents did not share her happiness for several reasons. They did not want to acquire a son-in-law “in trade,” and aside from being in trade,
Henry Knox was not the type of young man that they wanted for their daughter. He had been born in Boston in poverty. Henry's father had been an Irish immigrant who failed as a wharf owner in Boston's South end. He left to seek his fortune in the West Indies leaving Henry, his younger borther Billy and their mother to fend for themselves. He left Boston Grammar School to apprentice toMr Walton and Mr. Bowes bookbinders in Boston. so that he could help support his widowed mother and younger brother.Nicholas Bowes helped him control his temper, terminate his position as ringleader of the South End gang, and loaned him books. In 1771, Henry opened his own bookstore. Soon, young men of privilege met at his bookstore and he watched them and emulated their behavior. Soon he began to associate with them. He did a lot of reading on military strategy and soon was debating the finer art of artillery with the military officers that came into the store. Henry Knox posed even serious problems for the Flucker family. He sympathized with the rebellious American colonists She married the Patriot Henry Knox against her Loyalist family’s wishes on June 16, 1774. Lucy was eighteen years old and Henry was 25.
Because their daughter had stubbornly married Henry Knox, her parents tried to mold their son-in-law into a loyalist. He was not a total misfit, he did have some redeeming qualities. He was a well-trained militia officer and was a self-taught student of military history and tactics. Thomas Flucker even offered Henry a commission in the British Army which Henry politely refused. Lucy stood behind Henry's decision even though her father said that they were marching down the path of “eating the bread of poverty and dependence.”
The battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 forced Henry and Lucy to take sides in the split between England and the American colonies. They chose the side of revolution. Lucy and Henry fled to Cambridge, Massachusetts together, Henry's sword sewn into Lucy's cape. This created a final break with her family.
Lucy was essentially homeless.
Unsettled War Years
Between summer campaigns, Lucy would join her husband in his winter quarters. Henry Knox was one of the few volunteers in the continental army who had any understanding of military engineering or the tactical use of artillery, so where the military artillery went, Henry Knox was sure to go. Eventually General George Washington appointed Henry Knox commander of the Artillery. Knox was put to work designing defensive forts at Roxbury. Lucy was left in Worcester with the military wives and though she was proud of her husband’s accomplishments, she cried herself to sleep every night because of loneliness for her husband.
When George Washington saw Henry Knox’s abilities, he immediately appointed him as Washington’s Chief of Artillery which Knox filled from the end of 1775 until the end of the war. He remained at Washington’s side and increased in rank eventually to Major General.
Henry led an expedition to Fort Ticonderoga to retrieve equipment that Ethan Allen had captured from the British and he returned with 59 pieces of artillery that had been hauled through snow and ice. He and his men dragged the same guns up to Dorchester Heights above Boston and trained them upon the city. Ironically, these guns precipitated the general evacuation of the British and their Tory sympathizers, including Lucy’s parents who fled to England and never returned.
Knox went to Fort Ticonderoga in November 1775 to obtain the fifty-nine artillery pieces that Ethan Allen had captured from the British. He saw Lucy in November and then in January as he traveled through Worcester. These guns were placed on Dorcester Heights and this caused the evaculation of Boston tories in March 1776 including Lucy’s family. She never saw her family again. Her only family was Henry and his brother.
In the summer of 1776, Lucy was especially tense when she learned that her husband was facing more than 32 thousand highly trained British regulars with just 7,000 under-equipped militia. She wanted to accompany him even with the danger, but he would not let her.
The following winter 1777-1778, Lucy joined her husband at Valley Forge. She lived with great contentment in the big stone house near her husband’s artillery park. She was an able hostess and often had parties for the threadbare officers and always seemed to have extra wine and food. Evenings were spent dancing and singing. The relationship between the Lucy and Martha grew just as Henry and George’s relationships did. The women devoted their time to sewing, mending, and attending the sick. Lucy felt self-important because she was urban and Martha was rural. She taught Martha on the rules of protocol.
In the spring of 1778, word came that France had agreed to side with the Americans in the war. The women went home and the men went to war. The battle at Monmouth was a draw and would be the last battle of the war in the north.
The following year, at Pluckemin, New Jersey, Knox set up a new artillery park and there they lived for the next two years. On February 18, 1779, the Knox held a ball with 70 ladies and 300 men. It was opened by Washington minueted with Lucy Knox despite her advanced pregnancy. There was dinner, fireworks and dancing until dawn.
Knox went to Yorktown and Lucy went to Mount Vernon where she saw the beautiful house owned by Washington and she dreamed of a home like the one that her friend Martha Washington had. The final battle of the war in October 1781 lasted 8 days. At 31 years old, Knox was promoted to Major General, the youngest Major General of the war at 31 years of age.
When the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War was finally negotiated, Secretary Knox proved to be instrumental in promoting law and order.
In Service of the New Country
Under the Articles of Confederation, Knox was made Secretary of War and then held the same position under the new Constitution of the United States.
Lucy Knox chose the brown broadcloth for Washington’s inaugural suit. Knox stood behind Washington as Washington was sworn in and Washington even went to the Knox home afterwards to watch the fireworks.
In 1789, President George Washington appointed Henry Knox Secretary of War in his new cabinet. Part of his duties included dealing with the growing unrest on the western frontier of the newly created America.
Lucy's Final Years
When the Revolutionary War ended, the new American government confirmed the land in Maine on the Penobscot River and Bay which Lucy had inherited from her grandfather Waldo, the proprietor of the Waldo Patent in Maine. Lucy and Henry moved into the mansion called Montpelier in Thomaston, Maine, and they established a permanent home for their family.
As the only non-Tory member of the Flucker estates, Lucy inherited all of the American holdings. Henry determined that a piece of land on the St. George River overlooking Thomaston was the ideal location for Lucy’s grand home.
After retiring as Secretary of War, in 1795 Henry Knox built an estate in Montpelier estate in Maine. Of the ten children that Lucy Knox bore, only 3 made it to adulthood. The eldest Lucy, Henry Jackson, and the youngest, Caroline. Henry, himself, died eighteen years before Lucy from an infection caused by a chicken bone lodged in his intestines. Lucy spent the last years of her life living as a recluse at Montpelier until she died in 1824.
© 2014 Cygnet Brown