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Thomaston: The Town that Went to Sea

Henry Knox: Land Dealings

Samuel Waldo, ca. 1750
Samuel Waldo, ca. 1750

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Henry Knox was lured to Thomaston by the land in the Waldo Patent, a 576,000 acre tract of land in midcoast Maine that had been granted to Brigadier General Samuel Waldo, Lucy Knox’s maternal grandfather, before the American Revolution. Lucy’s father was Thomas Flucker, the Royal Secretary of the Province of Massachusetts just before the Revolution, and she came from a very wealthy, very staunch Tory family. When the American Revolution broke out, the Fluckers abandoned their holdings in the American colonies and eventually returned to England, leaving Lucy the sole member of the family on American soil, and the sole member of the family aligned with the Patriot cause. Upon the conclusion of the hostilities, the Fluckers’ lands became forfeit except what Lucy stood to inherit. Knox was able to acquire most of the patent, through purchase and through asserting Lucy’s rights of inheritance.

Map of the Waldo Patent, 1786
Map of the Waldo Patent, 1786

Item Contributed by
Montpelier, The General Henry Knox Museum

One of Knox’s businesses was land speculation. He and partners, first the wealthy businessman William Duer, and later the prominent Philadelphian William Bingham, purchased vast tracts of land in the Maine wilderness and attempted to entice European settlers to purchase, settle, and develop the lands. In the same way, he viewed the lands he held in the Waldo Patent as a possible source of income. His wastebook provides ample evidence of this, including a September 24, 1805 sale of 15,000 acres to John Gleason.

In asserting his claim to the Waldo Patent, Knox had ongoing problems with Revolutionary War veterans and other settlers, who, in his absence while he was Secretary of War, had settled and improved parts of the Waldo Patent, considering it their just payment for their service in the American Revolution. That tensions from the land were running high is clear from an anonymous tract that was published in 1796 called The Unmasked Nabob of Hancock County or The Scales Dropt from the Eyes of the People. The tract, which was eventually attributed to Samuel Ely, began with forceful arguments against Knox’s right to own the land, and ended with a vitriolic parody of how Henry Knox’s will might read: “I will to my wife, all the money which father Flucker and Waldo squeased out of the Broad-Bay Germans (settlers of the Waldo Patent in Waldoboro)” and “I will to my oldest son, sixty-seven thousand pounds to spend at gaming and carousing.”

It took several years of negotiations between the settlers and Henry Knox to settle the disputes. Among Knox’s correspondence is an advertisement that illustrates the ongoing discussions: “August 27, 1798. All persons on the Waldo Patent who have referred their cases to the honorable Commissioners of the General County and who desire to have any further Communications with the said Commissioners are hereby notified that they will be at Reeds Tavern in Thomaston on the Second Tuesday of September to receive any communications which may be offered by the said settlers. HKnox. Boston, August 1798.”