Sure, Henry Knox wasn’t shot in a duel, and he isn’t on any currency, but the first U.S. Secretary of War’s biography goes just as hard as the first Secretary of the Treasury’s. That was Benie Colvin’s thinking, anyway, back in 2018, when the Georgia native and retired English professor first conceived of a Hamilton-esque musical about the namesake of the midcoast’s Knox County, where she and her husband, Bill, bought a summer home almost a decade before. To make new friends in Thomaston, the couple joined the town’s historical society and soon found themselves involved with the Knox Museum, which maintains a replica of Montpelier, the Revolutionary War general’s grand Thomaston estate.
“We just thought Henry Knox was rather cool,” Colvin says. “I’d never heard of him. You know, I’m from the South. George Washington’s our guy.”
Unlike Washington (but a lot like Hamilton), Knox grew up in meager circumstances. He was largely self-educated, thanks to an adolescent job as a bookstore clerk, and he ran his own Boston bookshop before joining the nascent Continental Army, where he impressed the commander in chief. After eight years fighting the British and another few overseeing frontier wars against Native nations, he retired to the Maine hinterlands, where he built a three-story mansion for himself and his wife, Lucy, then set out to become a land baron and business tycoon (with middling results). Knox died of an internal infection in 1806, after the 300-pound founding father swallowed a chicken bone at a picnic in Union.
So yes, a less dramatic demise than Hamilton’s. But Knox had quite an arc, says Daryl Hahn, who directs Thomaston’s Watts Hall Community Players in this month’s debut production of Count Me In, the first-ever Henry Knox stage biopic. “Here’s a story of a man who begins basically with nothing, who rose to this position through his own hard work and desire to be more than he was,” Hahn says. “And I think there are folks involved in the study of Knox who are frustrated he was such an important part of the Revolution and yet gets so little attention.”
Colvin thought a musical might be an economic boon at a time when Route 1 construction was vexing Thomaston merchants. Hahn was the second person she had to sell on the idea — the first was her then–15-year-old granddaughter, Logan George. A Houston native who spends some of each summer with her grandparents, George wrote the lyrics to the show’s 12 original songs as her grandmother banged out a script. “We’d run out of things to do at Camp Gigi,” Colvin recalls, “so I said, ‘We’re going to write a musical.’ All of a sudden, she started writing this fabulous music, and I was just trying to keep up.”
“My grandmother is a go-getter,” says George, now a rising sophomore studying political science at Yale. “I hadn’t even taken a real high-school history class yet, but I’ve always been a bit of a history geek. I loved Hamilton, and I’d definitely visited the museum in Thomaston, but it still took a lot of research — reading old handwritten letters and archives — to make sure our stuff was historically accurate.”
Thanks to the pandemic, the intergenerational duo and their collaborators (who include George’s mom and Damariscotta-based musician Sean Fleming, who wrote the show’s score) had a solid four years to polish things up. The result, Hahn says, is more than just “one more story of a revolutionary patriotic hero.” Count Me In asks its audience to consider who was left out of the freedom that Knox and other patriots fought for, gives Lucy Knox a central voice, and doesn’t shy away from showing Knox’s shortcomings — for instance, his less-than-magnanimous dealings with farmers on his Maine lands. “The show certainly tells of all the incredible stuff he did,” says Hahn, a former junior-high social-studies teacher, “but it also sheds light on stories that often aren’t told. There are two sides to every story — if not, you know, 200.”