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A Boston Woman Describes Life on the Revolutionary Homefront

Wartime conditions thrust new responsibilities upon American women. With many husbands absent, women assumed heightened responsibilities for managing family finances and operating family farms and shops. The correspondence between Lucy Knox and her husband Henry Knox underscores the disruptive effects of the Revolution on women's lives. Henry Knox and his wife had been married only three years at the time of this letter. Her family were Loyalists who had fled Boston. They are the lost father, mother, brother, and sisters she refers to in her letter. Henry Knox was one of Washington's leading generals and his future Secretary of War.

My dearest friend

I wrote you a line by the last post just to let you know I was alive, which...was all I could then say with propriety for I had serious thoughts that I never should see you again, so much was I reduced by only four days of illness but by help of a good constitution I am surprisingly better today. . . . I used to sit at the window watching for my Harry, and when I saw him coming my heart would leap for joy when he was at my own and never happy from me when the bare thought of six months absence would have shook him. To divert Alex's pleas I place my little Lucy by me at table, but the more engaging her little actions are so much the more do I regret the absence of her father who would take such delight in them. In the afternoon I commonly take my chaise and ride into the country or go to drink tea with one of my few friends.... but when I return home how that describe my feelings to find myself entirely alone, to reflect that the only friend I have in the world is such an immense distance from me to think that he may be sick and I cannot assist him. My poor heart is ready to burst, you who know what a trifle would make me unhappy can conceive what I suffer now. When I seriously reflect that I have lost my father, mother, brother, and sisters entirely lost them I am half distracted.... Tis hard my Harry, indeed it is, I love you with the tenderest the purest affection. I would undergo any hardship to be near you and you will not let me....

The very little gold we have must be reserved for my love in case he should be taken [for ransom]....

[A person] if he understands business he might without capital make a fortune--people here without advancing a shilling frequently clear hundreds in a day, such chaps as Eben Oliver are all men of fortune while persons who have ever lived in affluence are in danger of want and that you had less of the military man about you, you might then after the war have lived at ease all the days of your life, but now, I don't know what you will do, you being long accustomed to command--will make you too haughty for mercantile matters--tho I hope you will not consider yourself as commander in chief of your own house, but be convinced that there is such a thing as equal command.

Source | Lucy Knox, "Lucy Knox to Henry Knox, August 23, 1777," letter, Gilder Lehrman Collection, New York Historical Society, New York; from The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, The Gilder Lehrman Collection, http://www.gilderlehrman.org/collection/treasures1.html.
Creator | Lucy Knox
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Lucy Knox, “A Boston Woman Describes Life on the Revolutionary Homefront,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 10, 2018, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/678.

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