Learn more about the wily revolutionary Henry Knox and his HQ in Vails Gate

Henry Knox by Gilbert Stuart (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston | courtesy of The Athenaeum.)

One of the cleverest tacticians of the American Revolution, and surely one of its most colorful and controversial characters, was Henry Knox, a Boston bookseller who went on to become George Washington’s first Secretary of War. Local historian Bob Ulrich will give a talk about this little-known Founding Father at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 6 at Knox’s Headquarters in Vails Gate.

Knox was a sort of 18th-century Zelig, always in the thick of history-making events. He helped lift the siege of Boston by hauling cannons confiscated from Fort Ticonderoga on sledges across the Berkshires in winter. He witnessed the Boston Massacre, organized the artillery at the Battle of Bunker Hill, very likely participated in the Boston Tea Party, helped court-martial Major André, managed the logistics for the audacious Crossing of the Delaware and stood next to General Washington when he stepped down at Fraunces Tavern. He was friends with Alexander Hamilton and had a long and happy marriage to the daughter of a Tory family, who disowned her.


After the war, Knox founded the Society of the Cincinnati and came up with the idea that West Point should become the site of the US Military Academy. Put in charge of brutal militia campaigns to remove indigenous people from their lands in what was then the new nation’s northwest frontier, he did his duty, but called such dispossession “a great violation of the fundamental laws of nature.” He preferred diplomacy with Native peoples, but ruthlessly evicted settlers from his wife’s family’s landholdings in Maine. He made fortunes through land speculation and other risky business ventures, then lost them again. Though Knox charmed many of his contemporaries, Nathaniel Hawthorne vilified him as the model for Colonel Pyncheon in The House of the Seven Gables. Really, there ought to be a movie about this guy.

Located at 289 Forge Hill Road at the intersection of Forge Hill Road and Blooming Grove Turnpike (Route 94), the 1754 Georgian-style house in Vails Gate now known as the Knox’s Headquarters Historic Site was the home of John Ellison during the Revolutionary War. Major General Henry Knox, then commander of Continental Army’s artillery, established his military headquarters in the building. Find out much more about this fascinating, mercurial character at the next lecture in the site’s Thursday Night Speaker Series.

Admission is by a suggested donation of $5 for the general public, $3 for members. To reserve your seat, call (845) 446-2134. For more info, visit https://parks.ny.gov/historic-sites/5/details.aspx.