George William Knox monument, Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

Let’s look at this monument before we consider the man, except to date the monument to the period probably soon after his death in March 1892.

The monument is run-of-the-mill bog standard for the 1890s, an obelisk influenced both by the Egyptian revival and the erection of the Washington Monument in the Capital City where Knox lived and worked. It’s a stumpy obelisk, but a rock solid (so to speak) one. Or, put another way, it is wide enough for the attractive bronze portrait with oak clusters and ribbons and his surname in large, visible letters but no taller than it needed to be.

George William Knox monument. Detail: portrait and frame. Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

In a concave roundel is a bas relief bust of a man. The oval face with prominent ears and nose, and deep-set eyes, shows signs of age. There are lines and pouches under the eyes, prominent naso-labial folds, a line in the forehead, and lightly receding hairline. A long beard conceals the lower face and neck. Above the beard, the right cheek is sunken. The hair is combed back from the forehead over the ear in several waves. The expression is calm and interested. The irises are inset into the eyeballs while the pupils are skillfully raised to catch the light. The eyebrows are expressed, though not prominent.

He wears a heavy coat buttoned to the collar. There is some play in the fabric, but its heaviness predominates. On his right, between the collar of his coat and his beard, a stiff columnar shirt collar peeks out.

The roundel has two half round moldings at the border with a flat fascia between them. Two gnarled oak branches with acorns frame the roundel below; they are notionally tied together by a fat ribbon that trails off below and to either side, with split ends. A finial cpas the roundel in the form of an erect acanthus leaf between two lying upon the roundel frame.

A line drawing of the man is published on ancestry dot com which closely resembles the funerary portrait. No source for this drawing is given, and so I wonder if is is not in fact indebted to the monument rather than being an independent witness of his face. There is, however, on the same site, an image of a passport application by Knox in 1890 which offers the following physiognomic details:

Stature: 6 feet, 2 1/2 inches
Forehead: high
Eyes: gray
Nose: straight
Mouth: moustash [sic]
Chin: full beard
Hair: grayish
Complexion: fair
Face: oval

There is a privately published genealogy for the Knox family which offers a reasonably full description of Knox’s life, though it borders on hagiographic. I’ll spare you reading the quotation from it below and give you the best bits. Knox was conductor of the train car in which Lincoln came to Washington, D.C. in 1861. He started a transport service (called “express” in the passport application) after the Civil War, and is said to have transported the balance of the stone for the Washington Monument. Recall that the monument was built in two shifts, one from 1848 to 1854 and a second in 1877 to 1888. Might we see therein one direct source, at least, for Knox’s 1892 obelisk monument?

George William Knox born in Belgrade, Me., July 4, 1829, spent his time until nearly seventeen years of age with his parents. He then determined to leave the paternal home and go out into the great world to seek his fortune. In the early spring of 1846, he left Belgrade and walked to Hallowell, where he took passage in the old steamer “Huntress” for Boston. There was sharp competition at that time between the boats plying on the Kennebec, and he secured his ticket for the small sum of twenty-five cents. He landed in Boston on the 6th day of April, and for a time worked at odd jobs, never turning away any kind of work that would pay. He worked for a while as brakeman and then as freight conductor on the Fitchburg railroad, but two years later he was back in Maine and driving piles in Back Cove, Portland. He remained in this vicinity for about five years, engaged in various contracts, when he again struck out and found employment as conductor of a train running between Wilmington, Delaware and the Peninsula. In 1856, he went westward and engaged in the lumber business in Iowa, and here he lost all his accumulations. He then returned and found employment as conductor of a sleeping car running between Philadelphia and Washington. It was in the sleeper conducted by him that President-elect Lincoln made his famous trip to Washington to assume the duties of his office in the spring of 1861. During the first three years of the War, Mr. Knox travelled either as sleeping car conductor or as mail agent.


The immense development and gigantic proportions of the express business during the war suggested to Mr. Knox the possibilities in this line, and in 1864 he gave up railroading and started a small express business with a single team that cost about $125. He subsequently took a partner with a similar outfit, but being dissatisfied with the work of his partner, he soon left him and continued business alone. There was plenty of hard work connected with the business, but Mr. Knox was a stalwart man and ever ready to put his own shoulder to the wheel. Meantime the business grew upon his hands beyond his most sanguine expectations. Government work came to him easily and he has done some of the heaviest transportation jobs ever undertaken in Washington. He handled all the granite for the completion of the Washington Monument, and most of the material for the State, War, and Navy Department buildings. In the adornment and embellishment of the National Capitol during the last twenty-five years, Mr. Knox has done nearly all of the heavy transportation required. He has had the handling of nearly every statue erected, has moved the heavy monumental work to the National Cemetery at Arlington, put in position the great safes used in the various departments, and for hauling safes and putting them in position, he constantly employs three gangs of men. His place of business in the near northwesterly foreground from the National Capitol, on B and Second Streets, occupies nearly a city square. It is built of brick and is a very imposing structure. Here he has a storage room of vast proportions, and his business is fully equal to its capacity.


Over the east branch in the District, and Prince George’s County, Mr. Knox has a farm of nearly two hundred acres, all underdrained with tile and furnished with comfortable buildings in the New England style. He has three large barns in which he stores annually, two hundred and fifty tons of hay. His farming operations are extensive, and in improved farm implements, he keeps abreast of the times. His Washington stables supply an almost unlimited amount of dressing, and by this means the highest degree of fertility is reached and maintained. He gives employment to hundreds of men, and his business requires the labor of nearly two hundred horses. He has his own blacksmith and carriage shop, and taken altogether, his is a very large establishment, much the largest private express establishment in the country. He is well known by everybody at the National Capitol and is deservedly popular.

W.B. Lapham, Thomas (Nock) Knox of Dover, N.H., in 1652 and Some of his descendants (1890, Augusta, ME) 23-25.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Arlington, VA

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