Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Allen line: Thomas J. Knott, builder of Nevada

It would take more than one post to write about Thomas J. Knott's life.  I've previously blogged about his response to the murder of his son, Elzy Knott, in Nevada but I haven't really given details of Thomas's life in Nevada.  This is just a brief run down, from a publication I found on line called "Knott Reminiscences  Early History of Nevada in the 1850's, edited by H. Hamlin and printed by the Mountain Democrat, The Pioneer Press of Placerville, California.  I highly urge you to search "Thomas Knott Nevada history" and you should find three or four different copies or versions of the journal so you can read it for yourself.  I'll include here items more of family than of historical interest, so there is much more to be found in the Knott Reniniscences. There is a picture of Thomas in the version I found, so that alone makes it worth going to look for, doesn't it?

As we know, Thomas Knott was born in Jefferson County, Ohio on April 13, 1808 to Joseph Scull and Mary Adams Knott.  He know nothing about his schooling, but he must have had some, because the first job he mentions in this article was as a millwright, when he was 18 years old, so about 1826.  The job must have paid well, because he married in 1828, when he was just twenty years old, to Hannah Bell,daughter of John Bell and Hannah Finch.  The years between 1828 and 1835 were spent building grist mills, saw mills, barns, and flouring mills for the newly developed area in and around Richland County, Ohio.  In 1835, had moved to Steuben County, Indiana, just south of the Michigan state line and there, along with his brother, built and operated a saw mill.  Thomas sold his share to his brother.  In 1836, Thomas also became post master of a small post office called Crooked Creek.  Five years later Thomas was restless again, and moved north to Hillsdale County, Michigan, where he continued as a builder and farmer, and also laid a mile of railroad tracks. 

He appears to have stayed in Michigan until at least 1852, at least there is no mention of an earlier move.  We know that during the first 20 years of his marriage at least 8 children were born (his statement says 9, so we are missing one).  By 1852 Thomas was looking for better opportunities for his family, and one short sentence from Thomas sums up what should probably have been an entire journal in itself.  "In 1852 I crossed the plains to California, and landed in Placerville in 1852."  The following March he crossed over the Sierra Mountains to the Carson Valley, where he built the first saw-mill, grist-mill and threshing machine (!) in the Valley, and was paid in "a large amount of property" by Reese and Co., for whom he had done this work.  He then mentions going to San Francisco for supplies in late 1854, and in in July of 1855 took ship at San Francisco to go home via the Isthmus of Panama and Puerto Rico, again, another story in and of itself, if we only knew what it was.  By now his family was in Huron, Ohio, where Hannah's parents were living. 

The family stayed in Huron County, Ohio, for three years and then moved to Tipton in Cedar County, Iowa.  The dates given in his journal don't agree, so possibly they had moved to Tipton a bit earlier than November in 1858.  At any rate, in November of 1858 Thomas and his son Thomas Jr "took the cars" (went by railroad) to New York City, took a ship to Cuba and then to the Isthmus of Panama again, and then went by ship to San Francisco, where they "took passage" to Sacramento and Placerville, and then went by horseback over the mountains to Carson Valley, where they met son Elzy, who had been left in Nevada to care for his father's interests.  The next year was one of sorrow and heartbreak beyond measure, for Elzy was murdered and a "stacked" jury allowed the killer to go free, and Thomas was cheated of at least $20,000 for work he had done for Mormon interests in Nevada.  In October of 1859 he left Genoa and Nevada for good, again crossing the mountains to San Francisco and crossing the Isthmus of Panama.  He got back to Tipton, Iowa "with just two year's absence" and there he stayed for 7 years. 

In 1877 he and Hannah moved to Egypt, Jefferson County, Illinois and stayed there until Thomas's death on February 16, 1877.  Thomas was buried there, where he at last had found a home.  Hannah died in Tipton in December of 1890, but we don't know when she moved back.  She was buried in Tipton. 

This is just the short version.  The exciting stuff, telling of Thomas's friendship with Kit Carson, his friendly relationship with the Indians, the reasons he was not a friend of the Mormon settlers, are in the publication, just waiting to be read and thought about.  One thing is clear, though.  Without Thomas Knott and other men like him, Nevada would not have been settled and grown at the time in history that it happened.  It took true pioneers, willing to sacrifice everything, and able to take care of themselves in natural catastrophes, religious wars, and Indian uprisings, to build the state. 

We can be proud of Thomas Knott, glad to have his journal and sorry to not have more.  I'm sure he was a great story teller, once you got him going. 

The line of descent:

Thomas J. Knott-Hannah Bell
John Wilson Knott-Harriet Starr
Edith Knott-Edward Allen
Richard Allen-Gladys Holbrook
Their descendents