Henry Knox in Native American History
Henry Knox (1750-1806) served as Secretary of War under President George Washington and as a Major-General during the American Revolution. Born in Boston, he left school at age eleven to clerk in a bookstore; he owned his own book shop by the time the Revolution broke out in 1775. Despite having no significant military experience (he gained all his military knowledge from books), General Washington named Knox Chief of the Artillery during the siege of Boston in 1775. During the following winter, he commanded the expedition that returned 60 tons of artillery captured at Fort Ticonderoga to the Dorchester Heights outside Boston forcing the British to evacuate the city.
As Secretary of War, Knox sought to place United States-Indian relations on a more positive footing. He rejected the premise, suggested by the Treaty of Paris and incorporated in early treaties signed with Indian nations at Fort Stanwix and Fort McIntosh, that all territories east of the Mississippi River had been acquired by conquest and thus Native Americans were a defeated, subject people. Instead, he negotiated treaties based on the premise that Native American tribes, as the prior occupants of certain territories, possessed rights of the soil and that their lands could only be acquired legally through treaty or purchase. His implementation of these treaties, however, proved inconsistent. Knox authorized use of military force in the Northwest Territory to coerce land cessions from the Ohio Valley Indians.