Facts and Events
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.