- The Revolutionary War Lives and Letters of Lucy and Henry Knox by Phillip Hamilton
Lucy Knox, Henry Knox, American Revolution, War, Marriage
Phillip Hamilton’s edited collection of the letters of Lucy and Henry Knox during the American Revolution seeks to correct what he sees as a surprising lack of scholarship on the couple. Positioning the Knoxes’ correspondence as an alternative to the better-known and oft-cited letters of John and Abigail Adams, Hamilton contends that the Knoxes’ wartime exchanges offer an overlooked and accessible window into the American Revolution. Unlike the Adamses, the Knoxes were young (18 and 24 respectively), childless (at least at the start of the conflict), and newly married. Henry Knox was an officer in the Continental Army. Lucy Flucker Knox came from a prominent loyalist family, and split with her parents and siblings over the conflict. The Knoxes’ wartime correspondence, Hamilton asserts, therefore not only speaks to the wartime hardships of revolutionary couples, but offers perspectives on the daily workings of the Continental Army, military encounters, and loyalist families.
The edited volume contains 104 letters (29 by Lucy and 75 by Henry) from the Gilder Lehrman Collection. Spanning the ten-year period from their courtship in Boston in 1773 through the end of the war in 1783, the annotated letters are largely unaltered, except for minor corrections. The volume includes the entirety of Lucy’s surviving wartime correspondence, and Hamilton selected Henry’s letters both for their discussions of important events and “their direct engagement with Lucy’s experiences and feelings” (8). Hamilton has organized the letters in five chronological sections, each of which contains a brief introductory essay situating the Knoxes within broader military and political contexts and highlighting pivotal moments in the couple’s evolving relationship. The letters tend heavily toward the early years of the war, as after the Philadelphia Campaign of 1777, Lucy Knox traveled more frequently to military encampments. Hamilton’s annotations are impressively detailed and reveal the extent to which he immersed himself in the Knoxes’ lives and social relationships.
Hamilton joins a recent group of scholars who are reconsidering the American Revolution. This historiographical turn has reinvigorated [End Page 343] scholarship on the war by insisting that civilian conflicts and struggles are as integral to understanding the Revolution as are battles and politics. Hamilton’s introductory essays do just this—skillfully weaving together the Knoxes’ familial concerns with military strategy and political developments, demonstrating how these contexts shaped familial concerns and responses to hardship. Contributing to a growing body of scholarship on the history of emotions, Hamilton illuminates the complexity of the marital relationship in wartime. Both Henry and Lucy, the letters reveal, depended upon the other for support; together, they envisioned their future and planned for their postwar lives. Consequently, their experience provides insight how married couples—as partners—survived and adapted to the exigencies of wartime, and how they attempted to rebuild their lives after the conflict.
In centering the Knoxes’ emotional lives, Hamilton reveals the couple’s evolving relationship. Throughout the Revolution, Hamilton argues, both Lucy and Henry “became more dependent on the other . . . in order to sustain both the war and home fronts” (96)—challenges that he contends transformed their marriage into a more equitable partnership. Using the spousal relationship as an analytical lens for studying the American Revolution, Hamilton illuminates how emotional connection, physical separation, household concerns, and wartime uncertainty shaped Lucy and Henry Knox both as individuals, and as a couple. The evolution of Henry and Lucy’s marriage, Hamilton contends, reveals “the dynamic interplay between the public and private spheres of wartime life” (3) and offers a new perspective on spousal relations during the revolutionary era by revealing how couples strategized and adapted their relationships to the hardships of war.
For the Knoxes, it seems that the war was an equalizing experience —as Lucy Knox so charmingly informed her husband in 1777, he should not expect to be “commander in chief of your own house. . . . there is such...