Saturday, July 23, 2011

Great-great-great Knowles: Oscar Washington Knowles (1843-1885) & Sarah Ann Russell (1848-1930)

Oscar Washington Knowles & Sarah Ann Russell

Oscar was born about 1843 on Long Island, Bahamas to John Thomas Knowles and Hannah Elizabeth Prance. He migrates with his family to Key West before he's 7 years old.

When he's 22, he marries young Sarah Ann Russell on May 26, 1865. Soon after, their first child is born, Sarah Golden Knowles. Then a son William Edward is born in 1869. The 1870 census records the foursome as living in Key West. Oscar is a seaman, Sarah keeps house. Neither can read or write.

The '70s will bring four more daughters: Emma (73), Ella Louise (74), and Lula Mayfield Knowles, who would be my great-great-grandmother, and Winnifred (79).

In 1880, they are living on Flemming Street. Oscar is still working on the sea. Two more children arrive: Catherine (81) and Henry Lee (84). A year later, in 1885, Oscar dies of marasmus, otherwise known as severe malnutrition. This leads me to believe times were hard, but particularly hard for this family. Somehow, the others survive. Does this mean Oscar made sure his family ate rather than himself? I'd like to think so. However, marasmus usually only happens during times of famine, or to the young or very old. It is difficult for me to believe a grown man would let himself starve to death. There must have been some other underlying illness which caused him to not be able to absorb nutrients. However, according to the mortality schedule for that month, there were two other men who died of marasmus, but Oscar was the only one of the three with a job. As a fisherman, he should have been able to provide himself with a steady supply of food.

After Oscar's death, Sarah is recorded in the 1885 census as still living on Flemming Street. All of her children live at home. Her daughter Sarah is 19. Her oldest son William is 17. He works as a cigarmaker. The family's financial independence now rests solely on him for a number of years.

In 1900, they are still in the same house, 929 Flemming Street. Sarah is not working, but her son William is now a sponge fisherman. Daughter Sarah has either moved out or died, as there's no proof she lived yet her three children, Rafael, Charles, and Selina Perez lived with their grandma Sarah. In this census, Mama Sarah states that she had 9 children, but only 8 lived. Sarah's daughters Ella, Lula, and Winifred have married and moved out. Emma marries a Curry, but lives with her mother. At 26, she has had three children but none of them lived. Emma works as a tobacco stripper in the cigar factory. Sarah's youngest son, Henry Lee, is still living at home and is a clerk in a fur store.

In 1905, Sarah's baby Henry Lee will die at age 20. Cause unknown.

In 1918, Sarah will lose another daughter. Winnifred dies of pneumonia at age 38. 

1217 Newton Street
By 1920, Sarah has managed to buy a house, 1217 Newton Street. Living with her, daughter Emma who is now divorced, 46, and still a tobacco stripper, and her grandson Rafael who has taken the name Knowles and at 35 is a salesman in a cafe, which perhaps means he was a waiter.

Like many Key West houses it's almost impossible to see the house for the vegetation

View of the front porch. Historical house plaque makes me believe this house
looks much the same as it did when Sarah owned it.

Sarah must endure the loss of yet another daughter. Lula dies August 1, 1930. Sarah passes away less than three weeks later of a cerebral hemmorage. She was 74.

The stories of Oscar and Sarah's children:

Sarah Golden Knowles is somewhat of a mystery. Other researchers have her children as Rafael and Selina, born 1880 and 1885, with the last name Perez, but Sarah is 16 in 1880 and still living at home even in 1885. No children are listed as living with them. It's possible Selina and Rafael lived elsewhere, or perhaps weren't even her children. This is a mystery as they are never on any census with her. There is no evidence Sarah ever married, and none that she lived after 1900. In 1900, children Rafael, Selina, and Charles Perez lived with her mother Sarah, their grandmother. There is a Sarah Knowles, age 36, who is a washerwoman and lives down the street from her mother Sarah on Flemming. No proof that this is the same Sarah, though it does make sense. Nothing can be found on Sarah after 1900. Rafael doesn't marry, but lives in Sarah's house until at least 1935. Selina marries twice and has many children. What happened to Charles isn't known.

William Edward Knowles marries Emma J. Thompson on May 17, 1901 at age 31. They have three daughters: Etta (1907), Violet (1913), and Rosalie (1915). William is a sponger. His wife Emma dies in 1922. In 1935, William lives with his sister Emma, daughter Rosalie, and nephew Rafael in his mother's house on Newton. He is a seaman. William dies on Dec. 5, 1940 at the age of 71.

Emma Knowles marries Charles Curry in 1890 when she's 17. They have 3 children, but none of them live. She and Charles separate by 1900. Emma lives with her mother and works as a tobacco stripper in the cigar factory. Emma and Charles divorce by 1920. Emma continues to work in the cigar factory and live in her mother's home on Newton Street until she dies on May 18, 1940 at the age of 66.

Ella Louise Knowles marries George Freeman Pierce at age 22 on Nov. 28, 1896. George was a cigarmaker. They have one child in 1911, Camille. Ella dies on July 31, 1934. In 1935, George is listed as a carpenter. Camille lives with him. He dies in 1940. Camille dies in 2005 and is buried next to her parents.

Lula Mayfield Knowles marries Antonio Cruz on May 30, 1896 at the age of 18. Tony is 22. They will become my great-great grandparents, so a whole post will be devoted to them later. Here's a quick overview:

Lula is the most fertile out of all Oscar and Sarah's children. Together, she and Tony have 7 children: Oscar, Florine, Albert, Hubert, Frank, Doris, and Jack. Tony is a fireman. They never own a home and move around quite a bit. Lula dies of an infection in her heart at age 53.

Winnifred Knowles marries Tony Cruz's brother, John Cruz on July 29, 1899. She is 19; John is 21. They have one son together, Louis Bernard Cruz, born in 1900. Before their son is born, they live on Margaret Street with John's mother, my g3 grandma Mary Concepcion Perez Cruz. John is a cigarmaker. Winifred dies on October 25, 1918 of pneumonia at the age of 38. John and her son Louis will be swept away in the Labor Day hurricane of 1935.

A month before her older sister, Winnifred, marries John, Catherine Knowles (who went by Katie,) marries Hezekiah Carey on June 18, 1899 at the age of 18. They have three children: Henry Lee (1906), (in memory of her younger brother who had died the previous year), Mary (1909), and Miriam (1911). Hezekiah builds houses. In 1930, they live in Miami when Katie's mother dies. They must move back to Key West at some point, as Katie herself dies a decade later in Key West on May 20, 1940.

Henry Lee Knowles only lived 20 years. In 1900, at 16, he worked as a clerk in a fur store. By 20, he was dead. He never married or had any children.

It's safe to say Sarah's life was filled with much loss and hardship, but from that we can see she was resilient. It's obvious she always pressed on and even bought her own home at a time when most women didn't own property. As her obituary read, even though she lost her husband early on, and many children went before her, she was instrumental in proliferating future generations, as she left 17 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren, and 3 great-great-grandchildren at the time of her death. And many more since then...

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