Henry Knox was a military officer in the Continental Army and one of George Washington’s trusted generals. He seemed to be everywhere throughout the war from the beginning in Boston to Yorktown. He would also serve as Washington’s Secretary of War when the thirteen colonies became the United States. He rose through the ranks due to intelligence and not his nobility.
Henry Knox Facts: Early Life
Henry Knox’s early years planted the seeds for his future successes. He was born to William and Mary Knox who were of Scots-Irish descent. Due to financial reasons, his father left the family and showed up in St. Eustatius where he died from unknown reasons. Henry, the oldest of his siblings, was saddled with the responsibility to be a leader. As the Lord would have it, someone came along that gave him a unique opportunity.
Henry was admitted to the Boston Latin School, where he studied Greek, Latin, arithmetic, and European history. Since he was the oldest son still at home when his father died, he left school at the age of 12 and became a clerk in a bookstore to support his mother. The shop’s owner, Nicholas Bowes, became a surrogate father figure for the boy, allowing him to browse the shelves of the store and take home any volume that he wanted to read. The inquisitive future war hero, when he was not running errands, taught himself, French, learned some philosophy and advanced mathematics and devoured tales of ancient warriors and famous battles. He was diligent in his studies at a young age. However, Knox was also involved in Boston’s street gangs, becoming one of the toughest fighters in his neighborhood. Impressed by a military demonstration, at 18 he joined a local artillery company called The Train.
Henry Knox was active in Boston politics (as was stated earlier he seems to pop up everywhere) and tried to defuse the situation that resulted in the Boston Massacre and he played a role in the Sons of Liberty. Knox went on to marry Lucy Flucker and the two were loyal to each other even though her family leaned loyalist.
Henry Knox Facts: American Revolution
Henry Knox’s contributions to the American Revolution cannot be disputed. He was the first artillery commander of the United States and became one of the most decorated generals for his contributions. His contributions included:
- Served under Artemas Ward during the Battle of Bunker Hill
- Served under George Washington during the siege of Boston and became one his most trusted generals.
- Helped bring the guns from Fort Ticonderoga to Dorchester Heights to drive the British from Boston
- Was a leader during the disaster of New York and became close friends with Alexander Hamilton.
- He narrowly escaped capture during the New York campaign and was aided by Aaron Burr in his escape.
- He played a significant role during the Philadelphia Campaign.
- Established the first artillery school in the United States during the American Revolution
- He was a member of the court-martial that convicted John Andre of spying
- He became the youngest major general in 1782
- A negotiated prisoner exchange in 1782
- After Washington resigned his commission Knox helped demobilize the military.
To go into depth about Knox’s contributions to the revolutionary cause would be a long exhaustive post. He is one of the few that served from the beginning of Boston’s struggles to the Treaty of Paris.
Henry Knox Facts: Secretary of War
At the time of the Articles of Confederation and eventually Washington’s Presidency, Henry Knox had grown…but not the way some would like. He had bloated to over 300 pounds but was as influential as ever.
Some members of the Continental Congress opposed the establishment of a peacetime army, and also opposed the establishment of a military academy on the basis that it would establish a military class capable of dominating society. Knox first proposed an army mainly composed of the state militia, specifically seeking to change attitudes in Congress about a democratically managed military.
Although the plan was initially rejected, many of its details were eventually adopted in the formation and administration of the United States Army. The need for an enhanced military role took on some urgency in 1786 when Shays’ Rebellion broke out in Massachusetts, threatening the Springfield Armory.
Knox personally went to Springfield to see to its defense. Although Benjamin Lincoln raised a militia force and put down the rebellion, it highlighted the weakness of both the military and defects in the Articles of Confederation that hampered Congressional ability to act on the matter.
In the rebellion’s aftermath, Congress called what became known as the Constitutional Convention, in which the current United States Constitution was drafted. Knox in early 1787 sent George Washington a draft proposal for a government that bears significant resemblance to what was eventually adopted.
When Washington asked Knox if he should attend the convention, Knox urged him to do so: “It would be circumstance highly honorable to your fame, in the judgment of the present and future ages, and double entitle you to the glorious epithet — Father of Your Country.” This is possibly the earliest documented application of the phrase “Father of His Country” to Washington.
Knox actively promoted the adoption of the new constitution, engaging correspondents in many colonies on the subject, but especially concentrating on achieving its adoption by Massachusetts, where its support was seen as weak. After its adoption, he was considered by some to be a viable candidate for vice president, but he preferred to remain the war office, and the office went to John Adams.
With the adoption of the new constitution and the establishment of the War Department, Knox’s title changed to Secretary of War.
Henry Knox Facts: Death
With such an illustrious life it is unfortunate that Henry Knox died from a chicken bone.
In 1806 while visiting a close friend, Knox swallowed a chicken bone, which lodged in his throat and became infected. He died at home three days later, on October 25, 1806, and was only 56 and was buried on his estate in Thomaston with full military honors