Henry and Lucy Knox; a couple separated by the Revolutionary War

11 June 2014

Gender and Sexuality | History

Over the past couple of weeks I have been working with the Henry Knox collection held at the Gilder Lehrman Institute; a collection that looks at one of the key military figures of the Revolutionary War. I have been captivated by the extensive personal correspondence between Henry Knox and his wife Lucy during their periods of separation throughout the Revolutionary War. The items will be included in our upcoming resource American History. Henry Knox served under General George Washington when the American Revolutionary War broke out in 1775 and became the chief artillery officer of the Continental Army. He later became President Washington's Secretary of War.


Image ©Gilder Lehrman Institute. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

One of my particular favourites from the collection is a letter written from Henry to Lucy in December 1775. Henry writes to Lucy expressing his desires to see her again and how he wishes he could transport himself rapidly to Massachusetts to be with her. He comments, quite humorously, that he wishes he could fly to see her yet if he did, he would look like a “tennis Ball bow'ld down the steep.” The joke is a reference to Knox’s physique, yet clearly displays his affection for his young wife and perhaps his hopes to lift her mood.

Image ©Gilder Lehrman Institute. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

The correspondence between Henry and Lucy often turns from romantic repartee to words of despair and loneliness. Lucy often expresses her frustration at Henry’s absence and attempts to make him feel guilty for leaving her and their new born daughter. Henry reminds Lucy that it is his duty to remain in his position in the war, yet it is his duty that causes his own anguish; in one letter Henry curses "the man who first brought on this war only because it separates me from my Love."

Image ©Gilder Lehrman Institute. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Henry and Lucy’s personalities come to life through these private letters. They allow us to build a picture of what it was to be a young married couple separated by the Revolutionary War. Henry and Lucy share their thoughts on the conflict and turmoil that surrounds them, but it is their candid words of love, anxiety and emotional distress which really piqued my interest.

American History is due to be published in October 2014.

About the Author

Sarah Hodgson

Sarah Hodgson

I am an Editor at Adam Matthew, an academic digital publisher of primary source collections in the arts and humanities. I have had the pleasure of working on a variety of projects including Mass Observation Online and African American Communities.

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