Lucy Flucker Knox (1756-1824) defied eighteenth-century gender roles throughout her life. Rather than marrying a man of equal social class, Lucy disobeyed her family’s wishes and married her true love, Henry Knox, who would become a major general of the Continental Army. After her family disowned her for marrying below her class, Lucy began a new life alongside Henry, even joining him at Continental Army camps after struggling to raise a newborn alone during the American Revolution.

Lucy was born in 1756 to Secretary of Massachusetts Thomas Flucker, and the wealthy Hannah Waldo Flucker. Her parents, who remained loyal to George III during the War for Independence, expected her to marry a man of high social status who would enhance their family’s already considerable wealth. Before the war, the Flucker family owned three-fifths of Hannah Waldo Flucker’s family’s land, the Waldo Patent, a thirty-six square-mile area with exclusive trading rights in what would later become Maine. In many respects, her family’s wealth and social status predetermined the course of her life before the Revolution intervened: Remain loyal to the King, marry a wealthy gentleman, and carry on the family’s legacy.

Lucy grew up an avid reader and met Henry Knox while visiting his Boston bookstore in 1773. Throughout the year, the two secretly flirted, not wanting to alert her parents to their forbidden courtship. The Fluckers disowned her once they discovered that she wished to marry a low-born man. Lucy wed Henry in June 1774. Although Henry and Lucy would take control of the majority of the Waldo Patent after the Revolution, she had no expectation that she would ever again enjoy the same level of wealth she had once known.

In early 1775, less than a year after their wedding, the Knoxes faced another life-altering decision: Remain in Boston comfortably as newlyweds and loyal subjects of George III; or, leave the city and, ultimately, declare allegiance to the American cause. British forces wanted Henry to join their ranks, and upon his refusal, threatened to arrest him. To ensure Henry’s safety, in April 1775, Lucy sewed Henry’s weaponry into her coat, and the two escaped to a Continental Army encampment in Cambridge in the middle of the night. Soon after, Henry officially enlisted in the American army, leaving Lucy, against her wishes, alone in Worcester, Massachusetts, an area he believed to be safer than Cambridge.

The war was not easy for Lucy, especially after having her first child in 1776. While she believed in the Revolutionary cause, she struggled as a new mother left alone with a newborn girl, leading her to reach out to her estranged family. In a 1777 letter to her sister, Lucy expressed sorrow for how the war tore families apart, writing, “how horrid is this war, Brother against Brother - and the parent against the child.”1 Lucy also remained in close contact with Henry through letters. In one letter, dated August 23, 1777, Lucy exclaimed, “I wrote you a line by the last post just to let you know I was alive, which [illegible] was all I could then say with propriety for I then had serious thoughts that I never should see you again.” Her words, while loving, changed tone later in her letter, as she reminded Henry that upon his return home, regardless of his military status, he would not be “commander in chief of [his] own house.”2 Her independence, combined with her loneliness, led Lucy to join Henry at Valley Forge in May 1778, determined to remain isolated at home no longer.

At Valley Forge, Lucy spent much of her time with Martha Washington. However, as the war raged on and the Continental Army moved towards Philadelphia and New York, Lucy was forced to separate from Henry again and move in with friends in New Jersey, only seeing him during various trips to different camps.

After the war ended, Henry returned home, and the two remained happy together until his 1806 death. While they ultimately had thirteen children, only three lived past childhood. Lucy outlived Henry by eighteen years, remaining a widow until her death in 1824. Their letters remain an important insight into the struggles of young couples in Revolutionary America.

 

Caitlin Berg
The George Washington University 

Notes:

1. Lucy Flucker Knox to Hannah Urquhart, April 1777, Gilder Lehrman, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, accessed November 8, 2019, https://www.gilderlehrman.org/collection/glc0243709891.

2. Lucy Flucker Knox to Henry Knox, 23 August 1777, Gilder Lehrman, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, accessed November 8, 2019, https://www.gilderlehrman.org/sites/default/files/swf/battlelines/chapter2/lucy.pdf.

Further Reading:

Damiano, Sara T. "Writing Women's History Through the Revolution: Family Finances, Letter Writing, and Conceptions of Marriage." The William and Mary Quarterly 74, no. 4 (2017): 697-728. doi:10.5309/willmaryquar.74.4.0697.

Hamilton, Phillip. The Revolutionary War Lives and Letters of Lucy and Henry Knox. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017.

Puls, Mark. Henry Knox: Visionary General of the American Revolution. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Stuart, Nancy Rubin. Defiant Brides: the Untold Story of Two Revolutionary-Era Women and the Radical Men They Married. Boston: Beacon Press, 2014.

_______. “Rebellion, Love and Revolution: Young and Vivacious, Lucy Knox Surrendered Privilege and Comfort to Be with Her Lover, Henry, on the Long Journey to Revolution and victory. (Biography).” American History 48, no. 4 (October 1, 2013): 42–47.

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