The Failed Capture of Andrew Knox

We know that Whitpain played a role in the American Revolutionary War by fighting with Washington and his army. But how about the people who were affected by the war? Besides the Continental Army stealing food and wood from Whitpain residents, did the Whitpain residents face something even worse? There was a man named Andrew Knox who was a Whitpain resident, and was almost captured by the British and Tories groups.

Andrew Knox (1728-1807) was descended from Scottish-Irish Presbyterians who emigrated from northern Ireland to Philadelphia in the early 1700s.


When the Revolutionary War began after "the shot heard 'round the world" at the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Andrew became a dedicated patriot and a supporter of the American cause.


With his integrity, trust, and honor, he was assigned to many positions by the American government. He was selected by General George Washington to be a magistrate to prevent supplies from reaching the British Army in Philadelphia.


Not only was he a magistrate, he was also...

  • Justice of the Court of Common Pleas and Peace in Philadelphia County

  • Commissioner of Philadelphia County to collect clothes for the soldiers

  • Justice of Orphans' Court

  • Private in Captain Jacob Peterman's Company, 4th Battalion Phila. County Milita, ran by Colonel William Dean

The Night of February 14, 1778


Ever since Washington gave Andrew the position to prevent resources coming into Philadelphia to the British, he became "obnoxious" to some of his royalist neighbors in Whitpain. Their hatred towards Andrew offered a reward of 1,400 pounds ($7,000) for the capture of Andrew, dead or alive.


There were 30 men from the British army who were sent to capture Andrew. 8 of them arrived at his home, located along Township Line Road that borders between Whitpain and East Norriton.


The 8 men surrounded his home, and tried to break in through the front door. Andrew heard the ruckus, and went to the door partially dressed.


Here's a script that was possibly recorded during that night:


Knox: "What do you want?"

Royalists: "I came to tell you that the enemy are coming, and to warn you to escape for your life."

Knox: "What enemy?"

Royalists: "The British."

Knox: "And who are you that speak?"

(A friendly name was given, and on looking out the window the Squire saw their arms in the moonlight.)


Knox: "I believe you are the enemy."


Then... the British then tried again to break through his door, but Andrew seized the door while holding his cutlass (a short sword). Unfortunately, Andrew received 2 or 3 slight flesh wounds from one of the British's bayonets.


His eldest son, Andrew Knox, Jr., saw the incident and seeing his own father wounded. He asked his father if he can use his gun to shoot, but Andrew told him not to. But his son still considered to help his father, and shot one of the British troops. Andrew look the opportunity to close the door, but the British shot 5 bullets at his door, and one punctured Andrew. Their plan was foiled when the bullets fired caused an alarm to the neighbors, and retreated to Philadelphia.


Fun Fact #1: A black girl, who lived in his home, ran to Isaac McGlathery, Andrew's neighbor, for aid while the incident was happening. Her screams alarmed the British before the shots were fired at Andrew's door.


Andrew gathered some friends and armed men to capture the British troops who attempted to break into his house. The British troops who were involved at Knox's house were Enoch Supplee, Robert Jones, John Stuthers, Abisha Wright, and William Thurlow.


Wright and Thurlow were captured by Isaac McGlathery, Henry Houpt, Abraham Weirers, and Peter Sterigere. In the end, the two were hung as punishment.


This was the letter written by John Laurens , aide de camp to Washington, to his father about the night the British attempted to capture Andrew Knox from his Whitpain home:

"This gentleman's house was surrounded early in the morning some days ago by a party of traitors, lately distinguished by the title of royal refugees; he was in bedin a lower room, and upon their demanding admittance, was going to open to them, when his son, who was above, and perceiving from the window fixed bayonets, call'd to him to keep his door shut and warned him of danger. The villains in the mean time pressed against the door; the old man armed himself with his cutlass, and his son descended with a gun. The door was at length forced half open by oneof the most enterprising; the father kept it in that position with his left hand and employed his right in defending the passage. After some vigorous strokes, his cutlass broke; the bad condition of the son's fusil had prevented his firing till this moment. He was now prepared to salute the assailants, but the old man thinking all was lost by the failure of his weapon, called to him not to fire; upon farther examination, however, he says he found that by being shortened, it was only better adapted to close quarters, and renewed the fight.
The villains fired seven shots through the door, one of which grazed the squire's knee, which was all the damage done. They then threw down their arms, and took to their heels; they were pursued by the Knoxes and a party of militia, and one of them who was concealed in a cellar wastaken.
The besetting of Mr. Knox's house is a matter of civil cognizance, but it appears that the prisoner has held correspondence with the enemy, and supplied them with provisions, and he will probably suffer death for those offences by sentence of court-martial."

- John Laurens, February 17, 1778


Fun Fact #2: The door that helped Andrew defend himself with the 5 bullet holes was preserved by his grandson, Colonel Thomas P. Knox, and is currently held at the Montgomery County Historical Society.


Andrew Knox's house was built around 1735. His property along Township Line Road was occupied by new residents over time ever since his home was demolished in 1855.

Montgomery County 1877, Whitpain, Rahn Sta., Grater's Ford; J.D. Scott, Publisher
Atlas: Montgomery County 1935 Vol B, Plate 8, Franklin Survey Co., Publisher

Bibliography


Auge, Moses. Lives of the Eminent Dead And Biographical Notices of Prominent Living Citizens of Montgomery County, PA. (Norristown: Moses Auge, 1879): 591-594.


"Bulletin of the Historical Society of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania." Historical Society of Montgomery County XVI, no. 4 (1969): 268-270. https://hsmcpa.org/images/thebulletin/1969vol16no4.pdf.


E.M. "Local History Sketch: A Story of Whitpain--The Knox Family--Andrew Knox, Revolutionary Patriot, Rendered Valiant Service--Andrew Knox, Jr., who Latter Purchased the Porter Place." Ambler Gazette. June 12, 1913. Page 7. http://digitalcollections.powerlibrary.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/wivp-gazett/id/9468/rec/1.


Franklin Survey Co. Atlas: Montgomery County 1935 Vol B, Plate 8, 1935.


Kriebel, Howard Wiegner. A Brief History of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania,

With an Accompanying Map. (Norristown: The School Directors' Association, 1923): 182.


Summers, William. "Obituary Notices of Pennsylvania Soldiers of the Revolution." The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 38, no. 4 (1914): 455-456.


Whitpain... Crossroads in Time. (Montgomery County, PA: Whitpain Township Bicentennial Commission, 1977): 63-65, 190-192.


Year Book of the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York. (New York: Francis E. Fitch, 1899): 446.


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