"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Henry Knox

This c. 1800 portrait by Charles Peale Polk after the c.1783 original by Charles Willson Peale hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.
"An overweight twenty-five-year old Boston bookseller who Had taught himself military engineering and artillery out of books, Henry Knox was chief of artillery for the Continental army. In 1775, with Boston under British control, Knox commanded the 300-mile trek to Fort Ticonderoga to bring back by ox sleds the fifty-nine cannons mounted on Dorchester Heights that forced the British to evacuate the city. Throughout the seven years of battle, Knox would be by General Washington's side, his close friend and indispensable colleague and later the man the president would pick to be his secretary of war.

Knox is painted here in the uniform of a major general. He wears the badge of the Order of the Society of the Cincinnati, the fraternity of Continental army officers that he envisioned in 1783." -- National Portrait Gallery

Order of the Cincinnati Badge

Knox was the organizer of the Order of the Cincinnati, in 1783, authored its founding document The Institution and was its first Secretary General.

Charles Willson Peale's portrait of Henry Knox resides at Independence National Historical Park.

The Charles Peale Polk portrait seems to be the basis for the 1885 8¢ stamp.


A revolutionary era, 1778,  miniature portrait of Henry Knox also by Charles Willson Peale belongs to the MET.

 The sitter (1750-1806), a Boston bookseller and artillery expert who would achieve fame in General Washington's army, was painted by Peale at Valley Forge in late May 1778, just before the Battle of Monmouth. -- The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Another contemporary,  1782, portrait engraved by John Norman appeared in An Impartial History of the War in America, between Great Britain and the United States printed by Nathaniel Coverly and Robert Hodge. (See LOC)

 The Hon'le  Henry Knox Esq'r
Major General of the Artillery in the American Army.

The 1862 engraving below from a painting by Alonzo Chappel appeared in The National Portrait Gallery by Evert Duyckinck, it appears to be an expansion on the Gilbert Stuart portrait given farther below.

Here's Knox in the collection of portraits of Secretaries of War, published by William Gardner Bell. The 1873 portrait is by James Harvey Young after Gilbert Stuart.

 The 1806 Gilbert Stuart portrait is in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Starrett, 1902, writes of the Gilbert Stuart portrait that:
This portrait, which hung on the walls at “Montpelier,” on the disposal of the effects passed into possession of the city of Boston and is now in the Museum of Fine Arts. The mutilation of Knox's left hand is cleverly concealed by the artist. 
As to Knox' left hand, Wikipedia says "Shortly before his 23rd birthday Knox accidentally discharged a gun, shooting two fingers off his left hand. "

H. Knox

Knox was elected Secretary of War by Congress in 1785. He retained that position under the Constitution in 1789. He was one of four men in Washington's first cabinet along with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton,  and Attorney General Edmund Randolph. Knox retired from the cabinet in 1795 and was replaced by Timothy Pickering.  

Montpelier was the house he built in Thomaston Maine in 1795, which was then in the backwoods of Massachusetts. 

Starrett summarizes story of Montpelier, from the perspective of 1902.

"Montpelier," the stately home of Gen. Knox at Thomaston, was built in 1795. Its cost was said to have been as high as $50,000, but Knox's own private accounts show that the house cost about $15,000. Of the large number of outbuildings attached to the estate only one now remains, utilized as the railroad depot. The mansion fell into a melancholy decay and was pulled down on the advent of the railroad, in 1872, a disposition of it now keenly regretted. This picture is reproduced from an oil painting in possession of Wm. A. Walker. 

(General Henry Knox by Lewis Frederick Starrett, 1902

When the mansion was torn down in the construction of the Knox and Lincoln Railroad, the servant's house was used as the railroad depot in Thomaston. It is today the home of the Thomaston Historical Society.

Formerly the Servants' House of the Knox Villa.
Now the Railroad Station.

But Montpelier rose from dead when a replica of the mansion was built in 1929. Today it is the Knox Museum. (See Cemetery Hopping by Traci Rylands, Jan. 19, 2018.)

H Knox

When Henry Knox died in 1806, "after swallowing a chicken bone."  He was buried near Montpelier and later moved to Elm Grove Cemetery.  

The Thomaston Historical Society describes the movement of the Knox family graves:
General Knox died on Oct 25, 1806 and was laid to rest in a tomb on the grounds of Montpelier, near his favorite oak tree.

Due to damage by frost and water, the tomb and remains were twice moved in 1813 and 1816 to a location on the estate just east of Montpelier, near a grove of his beloved trees.

The General’s remains were removed once again by his grandson, Lieut. Henry K. Thatcher, to a suitable location in the Village Cemetery, selected by Rev. Woodhull.
The epitaph on the limestone monument reads:

The Tomb
Major General
H. Knox
Who died
Octr: 25th 1806:
aged 56 years.

“’Tis Fate's decree; Farewell! thy just renown,
The Hero's honour, and the good Man's crown.”

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