Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Bahamians Arrive in Key West: G4 John Thomas Knowles: (1803-?) & Hannah Elizabeth Prance (1814-1866)

John Thomas Knowles: (1803-?) & Hannah Elizabeth Prance (1814-1866)

John Thoms Knowles is my 4th great-grandfather on my mother's paternal side, grandfather to Lula Mayfield Knowles, who married Antonio "Tony" Cruz (and also grandfather to Winifred Knowles who married Antonio's brother, John, who died in the hurricane of 1935.) The line has been traced back further from John Thomas Knowles, but as documentation is lacking at this point for earlier generations, we'll start with John, or Thomas as he went by in census records.

Another researcher claims Thomas's parents, seen from baptism records in Nassau, were Alexander George Knowles (1782-1825) and Nancy (1783-?) (last name unknown). Alexander was born and buried in The Bahamas. It is assumed Nancy did as well. Alexander comes from a long line of British loyalists who were given land during and after the American Revolution for their fidelity to the crown. While this line of men were planters, presumably wealthy landowners with slaves, almost all eventually had to leave the Bahamas because the soil was becoming thin. John Thomas Knowles was one of many hundreds of Bahamians who uprooted his family and brought them to the Keys.

Life prior to Key West:

Alexander dies in 1825 at the age of 43. The cause is not known at this time. It looks like John stayed on for at least ten years to look after his father's affairs. Whether he had any siblings isn't known. On January 16, 1836, he marries Hannah Elizabeth Prance at St. Matthews Church in Nassau. Hannah is the daughter of Bahamians John William Prance (1780-bef. 1837) and Sarah Elizabeth (1790-1837). Sarah has two brothers, Louis and William. At the time of their marriage, Hannah is 21 and John Thomas is 32.

The church where they married is the oldest in the Bahamas.

St. Matthews was opened for divine service on July 18th, 1802. The church’s steeple along with its clock was erected in 1816. For a long time, the clock was one of only two reliable time pieces on The Island. The windows and the interior were painted a light sage green and they remain this color to this day. Through the years there have been many renovations to improve the interior of the building; the exterior however, remains unchanged. The church’s historical import is magnified by an extensive burial ground that surrounds it.

Information courtesy of the Department of Archives.

Hannah and Thomas would begin their family shortly thereafter, with the birth of their first child in 1838, Sarah Ann, then James Alexander the next year. Sophia Lavinia is born in 1842, then my g3 grandfather, Oscar Washington Knowles, in 1843. Their last child, Justin Everett, would be born four years later in 1847. All of these children lived and prospered. Whether Hannah and Thomas had any children who didn't survive isn't known at this time.

Here's an example of what their house may have looked like in Nassau.

They arrive in Key West sometime in early 1850. The 1850 census, taken on Aug. 13th, 1850, is very light, almost unreadable, but it can be made out that all the children are there and confirms they were all born in the Bahamas. It also states that Thomas was a mariner. It does not state whether they lived in Key West proper or the keys.

The 1860 census records them as living on Cudjoe Key. Thomas is 56, Hannah 40. Their oldest daughter Sarah is married to Robert Johnson. She and Robert live next door with their first two daughters, Adela and Rebecca. (Incidentally Adela would marry one of g4 grandfather Sylvester Perez's sons Joseph, making the later ancestors, Lula Knowles and Tony Cruz, cousins by marriage.)

Living with Hannah and Thomas are the rest of their children. James was 21, Sophia 17, Washingon 15 and Justin 12. James and Thomas are both mariners, as is Sarah's husband. None of the children attended school. Hannah and Thomas could not read or write.

6 years later, Hannah will die at age 51 in 1866. The cause of death isn't known. Thomas's children leave home. What happends to Thomas isn't exactly known. Some theories based on census records:

He moves to No Name Key, and in 1870 he's recorded as a farmer. He cannot read or write, but he is a US citizen. A fellow researcher says family lore states this Thomas died in a hurricane.

In 1880, there's a Thomas Knowles living with a daughter, a widow, Harietta Lounce. One problem, though, our Thomas didn't have a daughter named Harietta, unless Harietta is from a previous relationship before Hannah. Other researchers do not give this theory credence.

What can be known is what happened to Hannah and Thomas's children:

Sarah Ann Knowles, as mentioned earlier, married Robert William Johnson of Florida. What wasn't mentioned was that she was 13 when she married. She was 16 when she had her first living child, Adela, in 1854. (The 1900 census will claim that she had 8 children, but only 6 lived.) Adela would marry Joseph Perez (my g4 grandfather's oldest son). They would not have any children.

Sarah and Robert's other living children are: Rebecca (1857), Sarah Eliza (1860), Robert Thomas (1862), Joseph Alexander (1866), and Elizabeth (1869.) Sarah's husband Robert dies in 1877. Sarah doesn't surface again until 1900 when she's living with her son Joseph and his family. One researcher has her death date of January 16, 1924, but the Florida Death Index does not list her.

James Alexander Knowles married Maria Elizabeth Russell. They had 6 children: Maria (1864), James, Jr. (1867), Mary Ellen (1869), William Edward (1873), John Thomas (1880), and Annie Louise (1883). James was a seamen. He died in 1887 at the age of 48, cause unkown.

Sophia's husband

Sophia Lavinia Knowles also married a Johnson, a John Verta Johnson, (unsure at this time if he was related to Sarah's husband Robert). When they first married, John was a clerk in a grocery store, but by 1880 he was a wealthy sponge merchant.

Together they had 10 children:

JW Johnson and family, with mother-in-law

John William Johnson (1863-1918), who would do very well in the real estate market.

Thurston Ellsworth Johnson (1865-1910).

Louis Marrington Johnson (1868-1947).

Clauderly Clarence Johnson (1870-1875).

Albert Victor Johnson (1872-1973).

Eugene O. Johnson (1873-1904).

Clara Belle Johnson (1876-1878).

Walter Otto Johnson (1878-1931).

Jeanette Bertha Johnson (1879-1973).

                                                             Rosetta May Johnson (1886-1947).

Sohpia dies in 1912, two years after her husband.

Oscar Washington Knowles (1843-1885). Oscar was my 3rd great-grandfather. In 1865, he marries Sarah Ann Curry Russell, sister to his brother James's wife Maria. They have 8 children together:

Sarah Golden Knowles (1864-?)
William Edward Knowles (1871-1940)
Emma Knowles (1873-1940)
Ella Louise (1874-1934)
Lula Mayfield Knowles (1877-1930), who would marry Tony Cruz and become my g2 grandmother.
Winifred Knowles (1880-1918) who would marry Tony's brother John and die of pneumonia young.
Catherine Knowles (1881-1940)
Henry Lee Knowles (1884-1905).

Oscar was a seaman. He died when he was 43 of marasmus, which is severe malnutrition. (More on Oscar later.)

Justin Everett Knowles (1847-1900), the baby of Hannah and Thomas. He marries Georgia native Jane Ann Hopkins, they move to Knock 'em Down Key and begin their family.  They have 8 children:

George (1865-1949), Silas (1866-1938), Hannah Elizabeth (1869-1943), James Everett (1872-1905), Clara Denna (189-1961) , Alfred (1882-1960) Leonora (1884-1967), and Belle Corrine (1889-1962). Justin was also a seaman and a sponger. The 1900 census records them as living on Virginia Street in Key West. He died in 1900 at the age of 53, cause unknown. 

Jane with some of she and Justin's children and grandchildren

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