Friday, February 17, 2017

The Revolutionary Knoxes: Ulster-Scots origins of Major-General Henry Knox (1750–1806) and Rev Hugh Knox (1727–1790)

Not long after Newtownards man Rev John Moorehead (previous post here) had emigrated and became the first Presbyterian minister in Boston around 1728, founding the church called “Church of the Presbyterian Strangers”, he conducted a wedding.

It was just the second one he had ever done. The date was 17 February 1736, the happy couple were William Knox (born c. 1712) and Mary Campbell - just like Moorehead they were fresh Ulster emigrants (possibly from near Belfast, but more likely having emigrated from Belfast - although other sources say William was from Londonderry) coming to terms with life in the New World, and from most accounts it seems life as outcasts, unwelcome in English-dominated Boston. A number of early Presbyterian churches had been burned down by “hostile Yankees”, such as nearby Worcester (source here), and I have seen another source - which I can’t put my finger on just now - that describes one being destroyed during its construction.

William Knox appears to have become a soldier, because in the same church records (online here), on 3 August 1749, “Mary Knox, wife to Capt. Wm. Knox, had a son baptised called Henry”. The “Church of the Presbyterian Strangers” was on Bury Street, later Long Lane, now Federal Street, and the Knox family home was at 247 Federal Street.

William had a successful shipbuilding business and bought a wharf at Boston Harbour, but the business failed and he later abandoned the family and went to the Caribbean where he eventually died, on St. Eustatius island, in 1762.

[A Knox relative already in the Caribbean was Rev Hugh Knox, who had been born in Ulster around 1727/28. He was ordained in New York in 1755 and was appointed minister on the remote island of Saba, where he stayed for 16 years, before moving to the island of St Croix around 1772. Some sources say he was a formative influence upon the young Alexander Hamilton, helping to raise the boy after his father had died when he was aged just 11, and his mother just two years later. Hamilton is known today through the biographical musical of his life. Some of Rev Hugh Knox’s sermons were later published, including An Essay on Civil and Religious Liberty in 1777]

Henry Knox was a boyhood friend of David McClure (previous post here), did well at school, got a job in a bookstore, and was embroiled in the Boston Massacre of 1770 when soldiers opened fire on a mob who were attacking them. Henry had tried to intervene and prevent the bloodshed which eventually took place.

Henry went on to become the youngest major-general in George Washington’s army, then chief artillery officer, and when Independence was won, Knox was appointed Washington’s Secretary of War. No doubt he and Alexander Hamilton wold have met many times in Washington’s service, and might have talked about their common Ulster-Scots influences - because Rev Hugh and Henry were correspondents (see here)