Friday, January 17, 2014

Allen line: John Wilson Knott, the early years in his own words

The following is a rather long transcript of a hand typed autobiography that John Wilson Knott wrote in July, 1914, from Ashland, Oregon. 

"A brief autobiography of J.W. Knott, written by request for the family:

My birth occurred at Jamestown, Steuben County, Indiana, March 26, 1836.  My father and family removed a short distance in the same county, to Willow Prairie, otherwise called Brookville, where we lived until I was five years old.

In the spring of 1841, we moved across the state line into Michigan and located on the shore of Baubese Lake near Hillsdale.  Here father built a house and we lived in this place about two years.  That country at that time was one vast forest.  In the summer of 1843 father exchanged our home for a place near Jonesville, about 8 miles north, where we lived for another two years, when this place was exchanged for another, two and a half miles north of Jonesville, known as "the Couch" place, at a crossroads which became known as Knott's corners.  This was my home for six years, from 1846 to 1852.  I worked on the farm most of the year, and in the winter trudged through the snow to school a mile and a half to a little log school house.

Father was heavily in debt, and in the spring of 1851 gave his son in law, William S Fezler, an outfit at considerable expense to go to California for gold.  That excitement at the time about the newly discovered gold mines in California was sweeping over the country, and thousands were on their way crossing the plains.  Fezler returned in a year, spent all and brought nothing back. As near as could be ascertained, from some dishonorable conduct, he had to leave in haste for his own safety.  His wife, poor sister Anna, died soon after his return.  Embarrassed with debt, and grieved with disappointment at the miserable failing of Fezler, father determined to sell his farm and go to California himself.  This he did in the spring of 1852, left his family, except brother Elzy who went with him, in a rented house in Jonesville.  We had very little money for anything. I went out and worked in harvest time for 50 cents a day, and mother was very lonely, staying with the children in a large, rickety old house alone.  While we were there, I went to school until the spring of 1853, when mother determined to break up, and go to her folks in Ohio.  We all went to Ohio, and I started to school in the town of Plymouth but the school and the teacher were so unsatisfactory to me that I got $4 or $5 together and returned to the school in Jonesville, did chores for my board with a very kind widow, Mrs. Jones, from whose husband and family the town was named.

I remained in the Jonesville school until the spring of 1854, when the principal, to whom I was very much attached, went away, and then I returned to the family in Ohio.

It was in the summer of 1854 at Jonesville that I made a public profession of religion and united with the Presbyterian Church  After my return to Ohio, I went to school about six weeks at Baldwin Institute, near Cleveland, now Baldwin Institute, but there was trouble in the Institute, the principal was away to conference, I had but little money, and went home.

In the Spring of 1855, father returned from California and came to us in Huron County, Ohio.  In a few weeks after his return, I went to Delaware, near Columbus, and entered the freshman class of the Ohio Wesleyan University.  Soon after, the family followed me to Delaware and lived there in the summer of 1855 in a rented house.  About this time, father bought grandfather Bell's farm, and the family went back to the farm and left me in the University.  I was rooming alone and trying to board myself.  This did not last long.  I was stricken with typhoid fever, and for three weeks was hanging between two worlds, and finally nature prevailed and as soon as I was able, went home to the farm and family.  The year 1856, during the Buchanan and Fremont campaign, and the border ruffian excitement in Kansas, was a red hot year in Ohio.  Father sold the farm, and with a capital of some $2000, in October of that year we migrated to Iowa.  Tipton was the point of destination.  Unwittingly, instead of buying cheap land, father invested in a dry goods firm, and for a year I was clerk and bookkeeper in the store of Knott and Carl, Tipton.  The firm broke up, or sold out, in the winter of 1857-8 and our family was left with nothing but a little brick cottage, and no title for the land on which it stood.

Brother Elzy sent father some money, and by borrowing a little more, in 1855 father and brother T.J. went to California, and myself and the rest of the family were left in the little brick house in Tipton.  I worked out where I could get anything to do and taught school in the country in the winter, and did what I could to supply the wants of the family and keep them together until father should return.  It was in the spring of 1859 that I became acquainted with a lovely and beautiful girl, Hattie C. Starr, and we became engaged.  Father returned in the winter of 1861.  On the 2nd of April, 1861, Miss Starr and I were married.  This was just twelve days before the great civil war broke out in all its fury by the storming of Fort Sumpter..."

I am going to make a part 2 and give the rest of the letter in my next blog post, as this is already lengthy for a post.  A few words of explanation:  His father and mother, not referred to by name, were Thomas Jefferson Knott and Hannah Bell.  The Bell grandparents that he referred to were John Bell and Hannah Finch, who lived in Huron County, Ohio for the latter part of their lives.  From the writings of Thomas Jefferson Knott, it is apparent that Thomas was more of an optimist, or put a better "spin" on things, than did his son John Wilson.

Also, if anyone from the Fezler family reads this, I would certainly be interested in hearing anything they know about William S. Fezler. I'm sure there are two sides to the story. 

Stay tuned...