In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Thomaston: The Town that Went to Sea

Henry Knox

Text by Lorna Berry Prescott and Ellen Dyer
Images from the General Henry Knox Museum, the Thomaston Historical Society and the Maine Historical Society

Major General Henry Knox, ca. 1860
Major General Henry Knox, ca. 1860Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Much has been written about Major General Henry Knox and his involvement in the American Revolution, from 1775 – 1783. The bulk of the research that has been done on his personal and business papers has focused on his national career: His years as chief of artillery during the Revolution, as well as the nearly ten years he served as George Washington's Secretary at War under the Articles of Confederation and later Secretary of War under the Constitution. Several biographies deal with these parts of his life in detail.

Montpelier, Home of General Henry Knox
Montpelier, Home of General Henry KnoxItem Contributed by
Montpelier, The General Henry Knox Museum

Consequently, what gets less attention is Knox's involvement in the development of Maine. In 1794, he submitted his resignation as Secretary of War in order to move his wife Lucy and his six living children to his newly constructed home, Montpelier, at the head of the St. Georges River in Thomaston. There he intended to "embark [his] all on the attempt to promote the settlement and prosperity of the District of Maine," as he wrote to his friend Joseph Peirce in 1795. And indeed, he was involved in several local projects – logging, lime burning, canals, ship building and brick making all over what was then Lincoln County. He was also involved in civic projects, including the construction of a meeting house and the formation of local militia companies. The local citizens, looking forward to their arrival, welcomed the Knox family in a formal address.

For his part, Knox clearly loved the town of Thomaston, as evidenced in a letter he wrote to friends shortly after returning to Montpelier on May 24, 1801: After a pleasant run of 37 hours we arrived at our home. Nothing could be more light than the breeze, and nothing more quiet than the vessel. Indeed, Mrs. Knox complained that the rocking was not sufficient to lull and keep her asleep. The country was delightful and verdant as imagination can picture...

Henry Knox's Wastebook, ca. 1804
Henry Knox's Wastebook, ca. 1804Item Contributed by
Montpelier, The General Henry Knox Museum

Daily, Knox kept rough entries of his various business dealings in wastebooks, ledgers that contained rough accountings of his business dealings. His 1804 - 1805 wastebook records such details as who he was employing in his varous lime burning, brick making, and ship building enterprises, how much he was producing, who he was selling his products to, and how he was delivering those products. Using this wastebook as a snapshot of his life in Thomaston, this exhibit seeks to explore the many ways that Henry Knox and Thomaston left their marks on each other.