Facts and Events
Henry Knox (July 25, 1750 – October 25, 1806) was a military officer of the Continental Army and later the United States Army, and also served as the first United States Secretary of War from 1789–1794.
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.
In April 1918, the area south of West Point, Kentucky used by field artillery units for military maneuvers for the Regular Army and the National Guards of several states since 1903, became a permanent training center and known as Camp Knox in honor of Henry Knox. Following the end of World War I and the cuts to the Army in 1921 after the National Defense Act of 1920, the camp mission was greatly reduced and became a semi-permanent Reserve Officer training center, the National Guard, and Citizen's Military Training Camps (CMTC). For a short while, from 1925 to 1928, the area was designated as "Camp Henry Knox National Forest." It was renamed Fort Knox in 1928. Another historic Army fort in Maine, now known as Fort Knox State Historic Site, built between 1844 and 1869, close to where he lived during his latter years, was also named after him.
There are towns and cities in Maine, Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, and Tennessee are named Knox or Knoxville in his honor. There are also counties named for Knox in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas. The house he used as a headquarters in New Windsor, New York, during the Revolution has been preserved as Knox's Headquarters State Historic Site, and is a listed National Historic Landmark. Knox Township, Illinois, is named after Knox, as is Knox Place in the Bronx, New York. He has been honored by the U.S. Postal Service with an 8¢ Great Americans series postage stamp. His papers have been preserved at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and his personal library resides in the Boston Athenaeum in proximity to that of his friend, George Washington.