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September 9, 2019

Henry Knox – The Undaunted Patriot

Gumption. All of the Founding Fathers had it. Yet one hero had so much gumption, he moved heaven and earth for the revolutionary cause. Henry Knox’s name may not be familiar, like George Washington’s, but without him Washington and the United States might not be known at all.

Knox was a native Bostonian born in 1750 to Irish immigrants. He left school at age nine to help support his family. Knox became a clerk in a bookshop, where the owner allowed him to borrow as many books as he wished. Over the years, Knox taught himself French, military strategy, and math, but earned his street smarts with Boston gangs before joining the local militia. A witness to the Boston Massacre, Knox reportedly tried to diffuse the situation with the British soldiers and testified on their behalf in court. The bookshop he opened in 1771 became popular with the British. In 1774, he married the daughter of a prominent Loyalist family. But Knox was no Loyalist. He joined the Sons of Liberty and was a guard in the events preceding the Boston Tea Party.

Knox earned a commission and a place by Washington’s side for eight years during the war. Rising from colonel to major general, Knox commanded artillery at Trenton, Monmouth, and Yorktown. As peace approached in 1783, Knox drafted plans to establish a peacetime army, including the creation of naval and army military academies (the latter at West Point). Knox was appointed the first Secretary of War in President Washington’s cabinet. He was in charge of relations with Native Americans and pushed for the establishment of a U.S. Navy. Knox retired from public service in 1795 and settled in Maine. He embarked on numerous ventures in real estate, construction, and farming, but ran his business on debt and was rather unpopular in his state. Knox died in 1806. Among his posthumous honors are Fort Knox, Kentucky and Knox Hall at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, home of the U.S. Army Field Artillery School.

Did You Know...

Knox served as the model for Col. Pyncheon in Nathanial Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables?

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