J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, October 10, 2016

Lucy Knox, Mistress of the Chess Board

On 24 Aug 1788, Lucy Knox wrote to her husband Henry from Trenton about having recently beaten Gouverneur Morris at chess.

That game might have been good preparation for Morris’s travel later that year to France, where chess could mean so much more. He wrote of calling on “Mme. [Sophie le Couteulx] Dumolley, who is at chess” before they embarked on an affair; of the Vicomte de Ségur, who declares “the pursuit of a woman is like a game of chess, when in consequence of a certain set of moves the success is certain”; and of the bishop of Autun, whose “passion for play has become extreme,” claiming to have won “in the society of chess-clubs, about thirty thousand francs.”

But for Lucy Knox, that chess game might have been just another day at the board. In 1804 Anna Cutts wrote to her sister, Dolley Madison, about visiting Lucy Knox in Boston:
We have very pleasant lodgings, and for my companion, the famous Madame Knox, who although very haughty, I find pleasant and sensible. Chess is now her mania which she plays extremely well, only too often for my fancy, who am not of late so partial to it. Every morning after breakfast there is a summons from her ladyship, which if I attend, pins me to her apron-string until time to dress for dinner, after which she retires, again inviting me to battle. Out of twenty-one games, in only two, and a drawn game, has she shown me any mercy; she is certainly the most successful player I have ever encountered.
The image here is the only known portrait of Lucy Knox. It’s a caricature in silhouette created by one of Robert Morris’s sons, supposedly showing how her high hair-do made wearing a hat difficult. I think it could make a good chess-piece.


Anonymous said...

Without the hat, a good chess piece --

J. L. Bell said...

The hat offers something extra to grab onto.

Marshall Stack said...

Hair as big as hers wouldn't be seen again until the 1980s...