Henry Knox bigraphy, stories - Continental Army and US Army general, US Secretary of War

Henry Knox : biography

July 25, 1750 - October 25, 1806

Henry Knox (July 25, 1750 – October 25, 1806) was a military officer of the Continental Army and later the United States Army, and also served as the first United States Secretary of War.

Born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, he owned and operated a bookstore there, cultivating an interest in military history and joining a local artillery company. When the American Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, he befriended General George Washington, and quickly rose to become the chief artillery officer of the Continental Army. In this role he accompanied Washington on most of his campaigns, and had some involvement in many major actions of the war. He established training centers for artillerymen and manufacturing facilities for weaponry that were valuable assets to the fledgling nation.

Following the adoption of the United States Constitution, he became President Washington's Secretary of War. In this role he oversaw the development of coastal fortifications, worked to improve the preparedness of local militia, and oversaw the nation's military activity in the Northwest Indian War. He was formally responsible for the nation's relationship with the Indian population in the territories it claimed, articulating a policy that established federal government supremacy over the states in relating to Indian nations, and called for treating Indian nations as sovereign. Knox's idealistic views on the subject were frustrated by ongoing illegal settlements and fraudulent land transfers involving Indian lands.

He retired to what is now Thomaston, Maine in 1795, where he oversaw the rise of a business empire built on borrowed money. He died in 1806 from an infection received after swallowing a chicken bone, leaving an estate that was bankrupt.

Business ventures and land speculation

Knox settled in Thomaston, and built a magnificent three story mansion surrounded by outbuildings called Montpelier, the whole of "a beauty, symmetry and magnificence" said to be unequaled in the Commonwealth.Eaton, pg. 209. Maine was at the time still part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He spent the rest of his life engaged in cattle farming, ship building, brick making and real estate speculation. Connections formed during the war years served Knox well, as he invested widely in frontier real estate, from the Ohio valley to Maine (although his largest holdings by far were those in Maine). Although he claimed to treat settlers on his Maine lands fairly, he used intermediaries to evict those who did not pay their rents or squatted on the land. These tactics upset those settlers to the point where they once threatened to burn Montpelier down.Taylor, pp. 37–59 One of the people Knox took land from was Joseph Plumb Martin, a soldier who settled in Maine and wrote a memoir of his war experiences. Knox briefly represented Thomaston in the Massachusetts General Court, but he eventually became so unpopular that he lost the seat to a local blacksmith.

Many incidents in Knox's career attest to his character, both good and bad. As one example, when he and Lucy were forced to leave Boston in 1775, his home was used to house British officers who looted his bookstore. In spite of personal financial hardships, he managed to make the last payment of £1,000 to Longman Printers in London to cover the price of a shipment of books that he never received. In Maine, however, he would be remembered as a grasping tyrant and was forever immortalized in Nathanial Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables, for which he served as the model for Col. Pyncheon.Griffiths, Thomas, Maine Sources in The House of the Seven Gables (Waterville, Maine, 1945). (Hawthorne visited Thomaston prior to writing the book.)

Knox was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1805.

Newspaper advertisement for Knox's bookshop, Boston, 1771 As well as building a landed estate, Knox attempted to enlarge his fortune through industrial craft enterprises. He had interests in lumbering, ship building, stock raising and brick manufacturing. Unfortunately for him, these businesses failed (due in part to a lack of focused investment), and Knox built up significant debts. Knox was forced to sell large tracts of land in Maine to satisfy some of his creditors. The purchaser of his Maine lands was a Pennsylvania banker named William Bingham, leading those tracts to become known locally as the Bingham Purchase.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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