Army Wife2021-05-28T15:37:56-04:00

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Army Wife

Two letters of Lucy Knox illustrate the trials and tribulations of women whose husbands left to fight in the war.

Lucy Flucker Knox to Henry Knox

“Lucy Flucker Knox to Henry Knox [Boston, Massachusetts, May 1777]”. Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC050895.

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Boston May – 1777
I cannot at this time tell where you are nor form any judgment where you are going – we hear both Armies are in motion, but what their rout is, we cannot hear, nor have we yet been able to conjecture – what a situation, for us who are at such a distance – how much more we suffer for you than you for yourselves – all my hopes are that it will not, cannot last. . . . I don’t know where you are, or where you are going. We hear both armies are on the move, but we don’t know where. All this worry is very hard for those of us left at home. I hope this war does not last long. . . .
Billy is very unwell – he has a terrible breaking out which Dr. Bullfich says is very like a leprosy, Dr. Gardiner thinks it the itch, which has lain so long in his blood, as to corrupt it to that degree that the cure will be difficult – he is as thin as Gabriel Johonnot now but in good spirits, and says he has an appetite – but that he is not permitted to indulge. I am very anxious about him, and at times fear we shall lose him, or at least that the humor in the blood, has taken such deep root as to embitter his future days — Billy is very sick. The doctors don’t know what is causing it. He has a terrible rash and is very thin. He is in good spirits, and says he is hungry. But I don’t let him eat too much because I worry it will make him worse. I am worried he might die, or be weak for the rest of his life.
this will be handed you by Captain Searjent who will also deliver you your box of pickles – I have got seven yards of linen for breeches for you, am afraid to have it made up here, for fear it should be spoiled, as it cost twenty shillings per yard – sure there must be a tailor in Morristown – if there is not don’t scold at me. . . . I am sending this letter with a captain from the Army. He is also bringing you pickles to eat and fabric for new pants. It is too expensive to have the pants made here, so you’ll have to find a tailor. Don’t be mad if it is hard to find one.
when the price of everything is so exorbitant indeed it is difficult to get the necessaries of life here, at any price – the evil increases daily – beef is at eight pence a pound if you will take half an ox neck, skins, and all you may get it for seven pence – for butter we give two shillings a pound – for eggs two pence a piece– and for very ordinary Lisbon wine, twenty shillings a gallon – as for flour it is not to be had at any price, nor cider; nor Spirit – a pretty box we are in – Prices are so high, and food is scarce. It is difficult to get everything we need. Everything available is of a low quality, but it still costs so much.
this and the behavior of our town meeting has almost made me a Tory – will you believe me when I tell you that old Mr. Erving is among the number who they have passed a vote to confine in close jail until they can determine what farther is to be done with them – this upon the suspicion of their being Torys – I do not mean to blame them for ridding themselves of those persons – who in case of an attack, would take a part against them, but their meddling with that old gentleman who has been superannuated this ten years can be from no other motive but to share his estate . . . . People here are on edge. They keep arresting people they think are Loyalists. I don’t blame them, because Loyalists could endanger the community, but they go too far. Between their behavior and the high prices, I’ve been wondering if I should become a Loyalist! The town council arrested our old neighbor because they think he is a Loyalist. I don’t believe it. I think they are trying to take his property.

“Lucy Flucker Knox to Henry Knox [Boston, Massachusetts, May 1777]”. Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC050895.

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Lucy Flucker Knox to Henry Knox

“Lucy Flucker Knox to Henry Knox [Boston, Massachusetts, 23 August 1777].” Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC02437.04.43.

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…you who know what a trifle would make me unhappy, can conceive what I suffer now- when I seriously reflect that I have lost my father, mother, brother, and sisters, entirely lost them, I am half distracted. True I cheerfully renounced them, for one far dearer to me than all of them- but I am totally deprived of them- I have not seen him for almost six months- and he writes me without pointing at any method by which I may ever expect to see him again- tis hard …You know that little things can make me unhappy. Imagine how I feel now. I gave up my family to be with you. I lost all of them. I was happy to do it, because I love you, but now you are gone too, and I am all alone. You won’t even tell me when I might see you again.
my Harry indeed it is I love you with the tenderest, the purest affection- I would undergo any hardship to be near you and you will not let me- suppose this campaign should be like the last carried into the winter- do you intend not to see me in all that time- tell me dear what your plan is. . . . I love you so much and would do anything to be with you, but you won’t let me come. What if the war goes all winter? Will I never see you? Tell me your plan. . . .
but now I don’t know what you will do- your being long accustomed to command- will make you too haughty for mercantile matters–though I hope you will not consider yourself as commander in chief of your own house, but be convinced though not in the affair of Mr. Coudoe that there is such a thing as equal command. . . . Now that you are an Army officer, I hope you don’t get too used to being in command. In a home, a husband and wife should work together. . . .

“Lucy Flucker Knox to Henry Knox [Boston, Massachusetts, 23 August 1777].” Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GLC02437.04.43.

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Background

Though it is remembered as a war between the colonies and Great Britain, the American Revolution was more like a civil war for the colonists who lived through it. Every community was divided into opposing sides, and many families were torn apart by conflicting loyalties.

Lucy Knox experienced this firsthand. Her father, Thomas Flucker, was a prominent member of the colonial government of Massachusetts, and everyone in her family were Loyalists. In 1772, 16-year-old Lucy met and fell in love with Patriot bookseller Henry Knox. Her family condemned the relationship, and when she secretly married Henry in 1774, they disowned her.

When the war broke out a year later, Henry quickly rose to the rank of commander of the Continental Army’s artillery. He left Lucy behind in Worcester, Massachusetts, to care for their home and children. Lucy had to survive the war as best she could with no husband or extended family to support her.

About the Document

In these letters to her husband, Henry, whom she lovingly calls Harry, Lucy Knox describes life on the home front. Though she was in a position of privilege compared to many other women in the American Revolution, the war still caused great hardships for her and her family. Without her husband or her extended family to help her, Lucy had to face every challenge alone.

Vocabulary

  • artillery: Large guns, like cannons, used in battle.
  • Continental Army: The army formed by the Second Continental Congress and led by General George Washington.
  • Worcester: A city in Massachusetts located to the west of Boston.

Discussion Questions

  • What worries does Lucy Knox share with her husband?
  • What do these letters reveal about life on the home front during the American Revolution?
  • Why is it important to know about the experiences of women married to soldiers during the war?
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Suggested Activities

  • Make a list together of all of the tasks and worries that occupy Lucy’s days, separated by whether they are related to the war or are just everyday tasks. Consider together what this reveals about the war’s impact on everyday life.
  • Teach the students to use a historical currency converter to get an approximation of the prices of the items Lucy Knox mentions in her letters. What do these amounts reveal about life during the American Revolution?
  • Compare and contrast this document with the poetry of Molly Gutridge, and the life stories of Margaret Corbin and Catharine Littlefield Greene to learn how social class affected the experiences of women whose husbands joined the Continental Army.
  • Women who lived through the American Revolution were as partisan as the men. Use these letters along with Anne Hulton’s account of the Battles of Lexington and Concord for a lesson on reading past bias in historical writing.
  • Teach this letter together with Anne Hulton’s account of the Battles of Lexington and Concord and Mrs. A. Hampton’s letter describing the attack on New York for a lesson about how non-combatants were affected by the outbreak of the war.
  • Families of active U.S. armed forces service members today still struggle to cope long deployments. Ask students to find accounts of the experiences of modern-day armed forces families, and consider together how much has changed, or stayed the same, since 1777.

Themes

POWER AND POLITICS; DOMESTICITY AND FAMILY

New-York Historical Society Curriculum Library Connections

Source Notes
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