The Women of the American Revolution/Lucia Knox, Mrs. Gates
WHEN MAJOR HENRY Knox, then a resident of Boston, was parading the company to the command of which he had just been elected, he was seen, among many who admired the young officer, by Miss Lucia Flucker, the daughter of the Secretary of the Province of Massachusetts. His noble form and martial appearance naturally attracted the attention of the young lady; and on a personal acquaintance, a mutual sentiment of regard grew up and ripened into love. Interruption to its course was threatened by the growing troubles of the times. Thomas Flucker, the father of Lucia, who had long held office under the British government, adhered to the royal side amidst popular discontent. The maiden had adopted her lover's views and feelings. In the gathering storm, the time came when her decision was to be made. It was made with a true woman's faith and self-devotion; and she pledged herself to the fortunes of a soldier's wife. The separation from her family that became necessary, was a painful trial, but submitted to with firmness and resolution. Mr. Flucker and his family removed from the country soon after the battle of Lexington; and Mrs. Knox, with her husband, joined the American army at Cambridge. From this time she adhered to her determination to encounter the perils and hardships incident to a military life. Neither her courage nor her powers of endurance failed. When Boston was occupied by the British, she escaped with her husband; and in their precipitate retreat, it is said that she concealed the sword he wore through the war, by having it quilted within the lining of her cloak.
In various journals we find the presence of Mrs. Knox noticed in camp. Chastellux describes the hut on a small farm where she lived with her children, a short distance from head-quarters at Verplanck's Point. Whenever her health permitted, she followed the army; and it is represented that her presence and cheerful manners did much to diffuse contentment and enliven dreary scenes. The soldiers could not murmur at privations which she endured without complaint. Sad it is, that no record remains of the ministrations of women in thus softening war's grim features. The good they did, however, was at the time acknowledged with respectful gratitude. There is reason to believe that General Knox often deferred to his wife's judgment, regarding her as a superior being; and it is said that her influence and superiority were owned by Washington himself. Her mind was undoubtedly of a high order, and her character a remarkable one. She appears to have possessed an ascendency over all with whom she associated. After the close of the struggle, while General Knox held the office of Secretary of War, his wife's position was next to that of Mrs. Washington, whom she advised in matters of ceremony. Mrs. Knox had a taste for the management and show of public life, and was a leader of the ton in the social circles at the seat of government. When the General retired from the political arena, she accompanied him to his-or rather her estates in Maine. She had inherited a share of the domain on Penobscot River and Bay which belonged to her mother's father, General Waldo, the proprietor of the Waldo patent in Maine. The property had been confirmed by government to her and General Knox after the peace.
Their residence was at Thomaston, in a splendid mansion at the head of St. George's River, furnished with taste and elegance. Here the soldier enjoyed the honors he had won, and spent his time in the indulgence of his literary tastes, and the companionship of his friends. His hospitality was unbounded, and numerous visitors frequented his house.* The influence of "Madam Knox," as she was called, on all within the circle of her acquaintance, was decided; and she shared the lot of an remarkable persons, in having enemies
- Sullivan, In his " Familiar Letters on Public Characters," speaks of the hospitality of Knox at his superb mansion. It was not unusual for him in summer, when visited by great numbers of his friends, to kill an ox and twenty sheep every Monday morning, and to have a hundred beds made up daily in the house. He kept for his own use and that of his friends, twenty saddle horses and several pairs of carriage horse» in his stables. This expensive style of living encroached greatly on his means.
as well as friends. Tradition speaks much of her; but little of what is said is sufficiently well authenticated to relate. With rare powers of conversation, a memory stored with interesting incidents, and much knowledge of the world, she was, when she pleased, one of the most charming and entertaining of women; and her society was much sought by men of taste and talent, while the unreserved expression of her opinions to those with whom she conversed, sometimes displeased persons who could not appreciate the independence of an original and intelligent mind. The military life of which she had partaken, and her association with those in command, with her engrossing interest in political measures, perhaps imparted a tone to her character and deportment; none, it is said, could forget her superiority of intellect, though in her the loftier qualities of woman's nature were softened by the generous feelings that impel to the kindly courtesies and charities of life. Having accompanied her husband through the vicissitudes of an eight years' war-and shared with him the splendors of exalted public station-she was content to retire with him to the privacy of domestic life, and devote her talents to the education of her children. Her taste created the elegance that surrounded the General's home, and diffused a beneficial influence throughout the section of country in which they resided. With her strong mind and remarkable traits of character, it is not singular that the popular remembrance of her should be abiding, as of one who had filled more than the ordinary sphere of a woman. She had ten children, only three of whom lived beyond infancy. She lived at her place after the death of General Knox, continuing active in her charities, and in the exercise of hospitality, during her almost eighteen years of widowhood. She died in 1824.
THE manuscript correspondence of General Gates, now in the library of the New York Historical Society, contains many letters addressed to Mrs. Gates, and some written by her. Although these give no detail of her personal history, they throw light upon some points in her character, showing that she was an efficient helpmate as well as an intelligent companion to her husband in all affairs that came properly under her supervision. She was undoubtedly well skilled in the art of managing the concerns of the household and farm, and acquainted with their details. Her interest in public affairs is however, not the less manifest. Colonel Wilkinson announces to her the news of the victory at Saratoga; and continual allusions in the correspondence show that she closely observed the progress of events. Her letter to the Count D'Estaing in acknowledgment of the compliments paid her husband, may serve to show that she could write both with ease and grace.
DANBURY, Oct., 1778.
SIR: The terms in which your Excellency has expressed your esteem for General Gates ate so personally obliging, that I am afraid I am rather more grIeved than pure patriotism permits, that I cannot at this time send you his portrait. It is in Virginia.
If I can have it in time before you leave these parts, I need not assure you, Sir, that my partiality to the General will be such powerful inducement to my transmitting it to the painter you have directed to copy it, that you may depend on the gratification of what your kindness to the General has made you wish for.
With all the gratitude which the honor you feel inclined to confer on General Gates entitles you to from his family, and with the respect your personal merit commands from all, I have the honor to be, Sir, your Excellency's most humble and most obedient servant.*
The maiden name of Mrs. Gates was Phillips. She was the daughter of a British officer. She and the General resided several years on their estate in Berkeley County, Virginia. They afterwards removed to New York, and fixed their abode at the country seat near the city which received the name of Rosehill. Here General Gates appears to have enjoyed a happy retirement, cheered by visits from his friends, for whom "my Mary" had always a cordial welcome.
- From the original MS.