Monday, August 5, 2013

Man of the Hour: Henry Knox

The other day I was watching a show called American Ride. It's a show hosted by Stan Ellsworth, a big guy with a handle-bar mustache who rides around on his Harley Davidson recounting the tale of America's history. I love it because seeing a tough guy like that get passionate about patriotism is truly inspiring. It helps set things in perspective.

When looking back to incredible men in history, I try to put myself in their shoes, put my character in the ring with theirs for a few rounds. It's always humbling. Not surprisingly I am in every case, found wanting. For that reason when there are men in history that seem more approachable than figures like Da Vinci, Washington or Churchill, I feel I can latch on to them as more practical role models.

Henry Knox, is one such man. He was born in Boston to a ship-builder. His dad passed away when he was still pretty young and he dropped out of school in order to support his mother, which he did by taking up a job as a book clerk. Through hard work Knox was able to open his own book store by the age of 21. It was in this book store he met the daughter of some influential British Loyalists, Lucy Flucker (yeah, be careful reading this blog post out loud). There was some tension between the Flucker family and Knox because he was an active supporter of the Sons of Liberty. He is known to have stood guard at the docks before the Boston Tea Party to ensure no tea was unloaded on Colonial soil. He was also present at the Boston Massacre, where he actually tried to diffuse the situation before things got out of hand.

Lucy Flucker did not care about what her parents thought though; she ran off and married Knox. Later he would stand by the side of George Washington during the Revolutionary War and eventually would become the United States' first Secretary of War. Not bad for a guy that taught himself military strategy from the books in his bookshop.

Right after the battles of Lexington and Concord, the colonists faced a limited force of English troops. Their goal was to expel the troops from the colony and free themselves from the oppression of English taxes. George Washington was the General of what was then the Continental Army, a group of untrained soldiers made up of local militia and minutemen. Washington had secured a strategic location on top of Dorchester Heights where he could effectively target several British strongholds in the city, including, most importantly, the British naval presence in the harbor. However Washington did not have the cannons necessary to fire on them and repel the enemy. The closest guns of that caliber were in New York, over 200 miles away, at Fort Ticonderoga.

Enter Henry Knox. He stood up and volunteered to go retrieve the cannons for Washington. It was a trip of over 400 miles. The entire trip back to Boston, his little group of men had to haul over 60 tons of cannons, all in the middle of December where the cold was bitter and the snow unforgiving. Along the way he had to reason with local towns to help get supplies for his men (which may have been difficult considering the colonies' opinion about separation from England was still pretty polarized) and find materials to haul the iron. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for Knox to suggest such a trip to General Washington, but I do know his commitment to duty and his fortitude to follow through to the end changed the fate of our nation.

He successfully completed the trip. Washington had the guns, and blew the British back to Britain, giving the colonists enough peace and quiet for them to draft the Declaration of Independence.

Sometimes when I have to do hard things, I think about Henry Knox. I think about his journey to the white house from such humble beginnings, how he stepped up to the plate when his Dad died and when George Washington needed someone to sacrifice so the colonial cause could advance. I think about how in a lowly book shop he taught himself the principles that would be stepping stones to high places. That was a man who left an example to which I can ascribe.

I can do hard things, even if they're just hard for me. I can sacrifice for good, even if my sacrifice is small. I can find opportunity in everyday.

I think we can all afford to be a little more like Henry Knox.