Our Collection

At the Institute’s core is the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the great archives in American history. More than 70,000 items cover five hundred years of American history, from Columbus’s 1493 letter describing the New World to soldiers’ letters from World War II and Vietnam. Explore primary sources, visit exhibitions in person or online, or bring your class on a field trip.

Knox, Henry (1750-1806) to John Adams

High-resolution images are available to schools and libraries via subscription to American History, 1493-1943. Check to see if your school or library already has a subscription. Or click here for more information. You may also order a pdf of the image from us here.

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02437.00423 Author/Creator: Knox, Henry (1750-1806) Place Written: New York, New York Type: Manuscript letter Date: 21 August 1776 Pagination: 3 p. ; 24.8 x 20 cm.

Later copy. Responds to Adams' (see GLC02437.00416) and discusses the urgent need to obtain copper from mines in New Jersey in order to cast canons. Joins Adams in lamenting the lack of officers from Massachusetts in the Continental Army, but also considers there to be a dearth of qualified candidates. Discusses recruiting and training good officers' rely not only on gentlemen but also on "local" talent. Suggests Colonel John Glover for possible promotion. Discusses raising an army and re-enlistment at length. Warns Adams that a bounty of $25-$36 or 100-150 acres of land is necessary to recruit and hold soldiers at next enlistment. Focuses on the associated expenses and recommends pay increases. Discusses the impending British attack on New York, anticipating it will come through Long Island and predicting victory for the Americans. Believes a direct attack on Manhattan would be ruinous to the British forces.

To John Adams
New York 21 Augt 1776
Dear Sir,
I received your favor by the post for which please to accept my thanks. I hope the Copper you mention will be purchased as speedily as possible, as it appears to me to be matter of the utmost consequence. I have purchas'd about two tons but this is nothing equal to what I wish was collected. We ought at least to have enough to cast an hundred Mortars, Howitzers & Field Pieces. A numerous and well serv'd field Artillery in action very often confers victory. As Copper can be purchas'd at a little advanc'd price we may be possess'd of a fine field train, but if for fear of trouble or expence we omit getting them and any bad consequences happen, our Enemies will laugh at us, and posterity curse us. Let us for a moment suppose a misfortune happen to the field artillery we have in this army; where shall we get immediately supplied? Not in America. With you I very much lament the want of General Officers for the state of Massachusetts Bay. In confidence I am sorry to observe that few men of Genius, Spirit, and solid judgment are high up in the list of Colonels from that state. The requisitions necessary for a General Officer are so many that I tremble to think of some certain situations where true greatness of soul alone could extricate an army out of its difficulties. The remedy is local. We have a number of our young men of sense and abilities in the army, but not the greatest proportion there ought to be drawn into it. It is from men of solid abilities united with spirit that a country is to expect great actions. A man being a good marksman cannot [2] in the nature of things alone be a sufficient recommendation to make him either a Colonel, or a General Officer. There is Colo Glover of the 14 Regt from Marblehead who appears to be the most suitable man I know in our list of Colonels for promotion. He is brave and is said to be a man of reflection.
Pray, my dear Sir, when is the army to be re-enlisted? How much bounty is intended to be given? It is said you intend to attempt raising an army for three years with ten dollars bounty. In my opinion you could create an army with equal ease. When the soldiers of this army who are the yeomanry and the yeomanry's sons first engag'd in the service, their country was the immediate seat of war, and had there have been no pay they would have been oblig'd by the laws of self preservation to have continued for some time embodied. The first emotions subsided and the people thought it reasonable that those who did not fight should pay. As the pay of the soldiers was high in their opinions they rais'd every necessary the soldier wanted to enable them to pay their proportions, which spirit has diffus'd itself to every place to which they army has remov'd so that in fact that which appear'd at first to be great pay will not now afford them decent clothing, nothing to remit to their families except they go as ragged as beggars. From the observations and inquiries I have been able to make it appears to me that nothing short of 25 or 30 dollars bounty and 100 or 150 acres of land at the expiration of their service will produce an army from the New England Colonies. Any attempt at a less expence will be fruitless. The pay of the officers must likewise be raised or you will find very few of the present officers to [3] continue longer in the service. They are not vastly riveted to the honor of starving their families for the sake of being in the army. I wish you to consult Marshal Saxe on the matter of paying the troops. I am not speaking for myself, but I am speaking in the behalf of a great number of worthy men who wish to do the country every service in their power at a less price than the ruin of themselves and families. I write thus freely to you as I am certain you wish to be inform'd of naked facts.
The enemy appear to hesitate where to attack us, their protraction is of service to us as we are daily receiving large reinforcements. If they make their push on Long Island I think we shal beat them. If they make their attack on the Island of New York they will stake an empire on the case of a die on the success of one action. They will act unlike good Generals for if they are beaten they must be ruined past redemption. For these reasons I think their first attempts will be on Long Island. They have got sick of the North River. In a day or two we shall have the East River stopp'd sufficiently. I am, Dear Sir with the great Respect
and affection Your Obedt &
most Hble Servt
Henry Knox

Order a CopyCitation Guidelines for Online Resources