Henry Knox

July 25, 1750–October 25, 1806

Henry Knox was a General in the Continental Army and a close friend of George Washington. Knox led the expedition to retrieve cannon and artillery from Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 and served as Chief Artillery Officer of the Continental Army during the American Revolution.

Henry Knox, Secretary of War, Portrait

Henry Knox played a key role throughout the American Revolution and as one of George Washington’s most trusted Generals.

Henry Knox rose to prominence in the early days of the American Revolution, thanks to his knowledge of cannon and artillery. After the colonial militia captured Fort Ticonderoga, he led an expedition to retrieve the cannon and artillery from the fort. They were used to fortify positions of the Continental Army at Dorchester Heights, which forced the British to evacuate Boston. Knox served admirably under George Washington throughout the American Revolution and commanded the artillery in many key battles. After the war, Knox served as the first Secretary of War.

Facts About His Early Life, Education, and Family

  • Born in Boston, Massachusetts on July 25, 1750.
  • Parents were William Knox and Mary Campbell Knox, immigrants from Northern Ireland.
  • Seventh of ten children.
  • Father was a shipmaster who died at the age of 50 while he was in the West Indies.
  • Married Lucy Flucker in June 1774.
  • They had 13 children together, but 10 of them died young

Facts About His Early Military and Professional Career

  • Reportedly tried to stop British Captain Joseph Pierce from confronting an angry mob in Boston on the night of March 5, 1770. Pierce’s men ended up shooting into the mob, killing several people in what quickly became known as the Boston Massacre.
  • Joined a Boston militia group in 1772.
  • Dropped out of school when his father died and became a clerk at a bookstore in order to help support the family.
  • Eventually opened his own bookstore in Boston, which he named the London Book Store. He met John Adams while running the store.
  • He was an avid reader of history and military science and was especially interested in artillery.
  • After the American Revolution, he favored a strong federal government, which aligned him with the Federalist Party.

Facts About His Role in the American Revolution

  • When the war broke out, he left Boston to join the militia just across the Charles River in Cambridge.
  • Served under Artemas Ward during the Siege of Boston in 1775, and was in charge of constructing cannon and artillery emplacements around the city.
  • Handled artillery during the Battle of Bunker Hill.
  • John Adams recommended Knox to Washington because he had been impressed with his knowledge of military operations.
  • Washington commissioned him as a Colonel and placed him in charge of the expedition to retrieve cannon and artillery from Fort Ticonderoga, which had been captured by militia forces led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold.
  • Directed the crossing of the Delaware River on December 25, 1776, where the Americans caught Hessian troops by surprise at the Battle of Trenton. The Colonial Army captured roughly 1,000 enemy troops, along with supplies that were desperately needed by Washington’s Troops.
  • Participated in the Battle of Princeton (January 3, 17771777).
  • Participated in the Battle of Brandywine (September 11, 1777).
  • Participated in the Battle of Germantown (October 4, 1777).
  • Erected artillery defenses for the Continental Army during the Winter at Valley Forge (1777-1778). He also helped Baron von Steuben train the troops.
  • Washington sent him to Massachusetts over the winter of 1778-1779 to recruit men for an artillery battalion, train them, and also to set up an armory to build cannon and artillery.
  • Participated in the trial of Major John André, who conspired with Benedict Arnold to turn West Point over to the British.
  • Commanded the artillery during the Siege of Yorktown (1781).
  • Promoted to Major General after the British surrender on October 19, 1781.
  • Appointed Commander of West Point in 1782.
  • Oversaw the withdrawal of British troops from New York in 1783.
  • Was present at Washington’s farewell to his officers at Fraunces Tavern on December 4, 1783.
  • Throughout the war, his wife, Lucy, accompanied him on the battlefield as much as possible and camped with him at New Haven, Morristown, and Valley Forge.

Facts About His Life After the American Revolution

  • In 1783, he proposed the founding of the Society of the Cincinnati, a fraternal organization for men who served during the war. Knox served as the first secretary.
  • Named commander-in-chief of the Army in December 1783, but resigned from the Army on June 20, 1784.
  • Elected by Congress as Secretary of War in 1785.
  • Played a key role in ending Shays’ Rebellion in 1787.
  • Appointed by President Washington as Secretary of War in 1789.
  • Creating the design and training for a national militia.
  • Played a key role in the design of the United States Navy, which was authorized on January 2, 1794.
  • Resigned as Secretary of War on December 28, 1795, and was replaced by Timothy Pickering on January 2, 1795.
  • Settled down with his family in Thomaston, Maine, on land his wife had inherited from her family. He called the estate “Montpelier.”
  • Engaged in various business ventures.
  • Served in Maine’s General Court and Governor’s Council.
  • Died on October 25, 1806.