Knowles Family Came From Ireland; Long Active In Politics

  • Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Knowles has long been a prominent name in city and county government as well as at Sparta, Tn., where the Knowles family originated.

William Finley "Bill" Knowles is the longtime Hamilton County Clerk, and his brother, the late Claude Pate "Bud" Knowles, was county administrator of elections. Joe Knowles was the Chattanooga fire chief until he suffered a debilitating traffic accident when he was 51. George Scholze Knowles, who is also deceased, was assistant fire chief prior to his retirement. Bill's son, Alan, is a county official and his other son, Finley, is on staff at Trevecca University in Nashville. He was formerly an administrator in the County Clerk's office and helped his father develop Tennessee's first Internet vehicle tag renewal program. 

The family traces back to John W. Knowles, who was born at Belemenah, Ireland, in County Antrim on July 4, 1749.

Though John W. Knowles was Irish, it was said he was "not a big talker." He took part in an Irish rebellion as a young man. By one account, some of the leaders in the movement were hanged by the British, and John Knowles was slated for execution. But his sister looked out from an upstairs window and saw the British coming for him. She tied bedsheets together and lowered him down so he could escape. John Knowles had to flee Ireland, and he never saw this sister again.

He crossed the sea with his wife, Mollie, to America. He was living in Pennsylvania when the Revolutionary War broke out. John Knowles volunteered for 12 months' service in 1775 at Carlisle. His unit marched to Valley Forge, where he spent two weeks. He then crossed the Schuylkill River and stayed there about two weeks before moving on to Amboy. He was briefly with the main army, then he was left behind and directed to take the pack horses back to Cumberland County and dispose of them because they were no longer needed by the army. He was able to return to his family near Shippensburg, then he enlisted for another year and was placed in charge of providing for the army's beef cattle. He remained close to Shippensburg and was able to see his family often as he drove the cattle near his homeplace. In 1777, he served as a sergeant while guarding the Carlisle Barracks.

In all, John Knowles re-enlisted for six years with the patriot army. He was still serving when Cornwallis surrendered. In one document, he said he had personally seen Gen. George Washington and General Nathaniel Greene, though he was "not personally acquainted with them."

After the Revolutionary War, John Knowles moved his family to Augusta County, Va. The family was living there when his daughter, Elizabeth, married Archibald McDaniel, another Revolutionary veteran, in 1795.

John Knowles moved on to Amherst County, then further west to Pendleton County. Finally, he settled in Tennessee at White County in 1807. The family lived in a log cabin there. He obtained a grant of 129 acres and bought another 300 acres from Rawleigh Rawls. The McDaniels settled nearby.

His son-in-law, Archibald McDaniel, became ill in White County, and he left it up to John Knowles to select his place of burial. He was laid to rest in 1808 on the Knowles farm at a rectangular spot encased with large stones. This was said to be the first burial in what became the Mt. Pisgah Cemetery.

One historian says John Knowles was the first sheriff of White County and by others he is designated the first deputy sheriff.

His wife died in 1821 and was buried at Mt. Pisgah.

By one account, the next year, a son, Isaac Knowles, died in North Carolina, leaving a son, William, as an orphan. John Knowles was then 73, but he mounted his large gray horse (10 hands high) and started for North Carolina to retrieve his grandson. John Knowles stayed about a year in North Carolina before returning to White County. He rode his horse with grandson, William, straddled behind him.

His son, John, and several other couples, including the John Rascoes, returned with him to White County. John Rascoe later borrowed John Knowles' big horse and took it for its fourth and last sojourn to North Carolina.

John W. Knowles, in addition to giving the land for Mount Pisgah Cemetery, gave property for Mount Pisgah Methodist Church.

During his last illness, Patsy Rascoe was often by his bedside. John W. Knowles "died in his sleep with a smile on his bearded face," according to an account from the Clan Knowles website. He was laid to rest on March 21, 1838, in Mt. Pisgah Cemetery. The Daughters of the American Revolution placed a monument at the grave site of John Knowles.

Other children of John W. Knowles included Mary, Sarah who married Matthias E. Hudson, Joseph who married Margery Templeton, Eleanor who married Isaiah Hudson and William who married Diana Swindell. The Hudsons were sons of the Revolutionary War veteran Abel Hutson, who had a farm adjacent to John Knowles.

Another son, James W. Knowles, was born in 1778. He married Nancy Harris. Their sons were Hiram, William W., James A., John W. and Elliott.

James A. Knowles was born in 1817. He had 13 children by two wives and his is the line of the Hamilton County Knowles family. He and his brothers, John Jr. and William, inherited portions of the 429-acre farm at Shady Grove in White County. James was given 130 acres.

James A. Knowles served at times as a road overseer and as justice of the peace. He married Matilda Webb in 1837. Their children were Jeremiah, Jane, John Fletcher, Nancy, Sarah, Mary Adaline and Elisha Petway. James A. Knowles married Caroline Shuster in 1855. Their children were Elizabeth Catherine, Wesley Pierce, James M., Eliza Ann, William Jasper and Joseph A. James A. Knowles was buried at Mt. Pisgah when he died in 1888.

John Fletcher Knowles enlisted with the first Confederate company that was organized in his community. He took part in every campaign with his company throughout the four years of the war. He was married five times and outlived four of the wives. He had four children by the first, a son by the second and twins by the third. "Uncle Fletcher" was active in the Southern Methodist Church. He was living near Peeled Chestnut close to Tullahoma when he died at age 88 in 1930.

Elisha Petway Knowles was born in White County on Sept. 19, 1852. He was a landowner and farmer in White County. Petway Knowles moved to Chattanooga about 1906. He owned and operated a grocery store on Dodds Avenue in the Ridgedale area. Later, he opened a grocery business in South Chattanooga on Williams Street. His home was adjacent to the business at 1801 Williams. He was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Petway Knowles and his wife, Martha Cope, had four sons. His first wife died and he later married Laura Hess. The children of the first marriage were Finis, Joseph F., Frank and Sam. Sam was the only son to die before his parents. Petway Knowles died in Chattanooga on Dec. 19, 1929. Wann Funeral Home handled the arrangements. The Rev. W.M. Tidwell, founder of the Chattanooga First Church of the Nazarene, assisted in conducting the memorial service. Petway Knowles was buried in Chattanooga Memorial Park. A number of Knowles family members are also buried there. Laura Hess was living with her step-son, Joe, at the family home on Williams Street when she died in 1935 at age 80.

Finis had one son and one daughter. He was a barber in Johnson City. Frank did not have children. He tended to the properties his father, Petway, had acquired in South Chattanooga. Sam was a “watch tinker” with the railroad. He had one son.

Joseph F. Knowles, son of Petway, was in the Spanish-American War with the 37th Infantry as a young man. He married Flora Johnson, whose father, J.M. Johnson, was an educator in White County. They had five children: Dorman (born 1897), a daughter Ellis (born 1904) who married Frank Brown, Claude Pate (born 1906), Henrietta (born 1907) who married Hugh Barnes, and Festus (born 1912).

Flora Johnson Knowles died in 1921 at age 43. The family was living at the time at 600 Whiteside (South Broad) St. Flora was buried at the White Oak Cemetery. Joe worked at the Chattanooga Lumber Company for over 20 years. He died in 1930 at age 56. He was in a sanitarium at Johnson City when he died. He was buried at Chattanooga Memorial Park.

Their son, Claude, was 15 years old when his mother died. Claude, after completing the former Third District Grade School near West 21st and Long streets, went to work to help support the family.

Claude’s mother had a sister, Clara Johnson, who married a McDonald. The McDonalds resided in Old Hickory near Nashville. The McDonalds had three children, including a daughter, Ruth, who was the superintendent of education in Nashville, a son, Merlin, and another son, U.L., who was an attorney. U.L. McDonald moved to Chattanooga and was associated with the law firm of Kefauver, Duggan and McDonald. Flora Johnson Knowles also had a brother, Ike Johnson, who owned several barber and beauty shops in Memphis.

Claude Pate Knowles married Rose Campbell on Aug. 21, 1926. They were told that they could not have children. They adopted a son, Dorman, as a newborn. Rose later gave birth to five children: Joe, Bill, Bud, Virginia and George.

At one time the Chattanooga area had an amateur baseball league. Claude Knowles played in the league and was known as a good baseball player. He also played basketball in a Bible Class league held at the Southside Industrial YMCA on Mitchell Avenue near Main and Market Streets.

Claude’s first fulltime job was with the Chattanooga Lumber Company, where his father had long worked. The Finley Seagle family owned and operated the lumber firm. Claude left the lumber company and became a Chattanooga fireman in 1929. He fought one of Chattanooga’s worst blazes at the former Scholze Tannery in 1931. Claude Knowles was transferred from the Chattanooga Fire Department to the Chattanooga Police Department in 1932. He was promoted to the rank of detective in 1937. He was assigned to “Car 33” for many years. In that era, the Chattanooga fire and police departments were under the administration of the fire and police commissioner. The departments were highly political, and department members were expected to become deeply involved in local politics.

Early in his police career he covered a walking beat in downtown Chattanooga and at one time near the Main and Market Street area. He later became a detective within the department, a position he held for many years before his retirement in 1955. However, at one time during an 18-month illness of a Capt. Carter, Claude Knowles served as acting captain on the midnight shift.

One of his close encounters with danger as a law enforcement officer occurred in 1939 when his detective partner, Clyde Shipley, was killed in a shoot-out with bandits. The tragedy happened after many police agencies were dispatched to the Rock Castle Courts in Lookout Valley. Police had information that suspects in several holdups were holed up there. A bandit was also killed during the exchange of gunfire. Det. Shipley was at the front door and a shot went through the door and killed him. Det. Knowles was at the back door.

In 1954, Claude Knowles ran for sheriff and won the Democratic nomination. In the general election, he carried all the downtown wards, and the first edition of the morning newspaper declared him the winner. But Republican Rex Richey had the most votes (by 1,100) when all the ballots were in. Claude Knowles ran again for sheriff in 1956 and lost the Democratic nomination by just 600 votes to Bookie Turner.

Upon Claude Knowles' retirement from the police department he became a bail bondsman and worked 24 years in that capacity. He died after a brief illness on Aug. 10, 1982, at Campbell’s Clinic on McCallie Avenue.

Dorman Lee Knowles, who lives in Manchester, Tn., is a retired engineer with Arnold Engineering. He is a 1950 graduate of Red Bank High School, and was a champion boxer in the local Golden Gloves tournament as well as while serving on ship in the U.S. Navy. At Red Bank he competed in the 148-pound division and defeated Chattanooga Central and Chattanooga High champs in that weight category. He was also a 1950 champion in competition of high school and prep school boxers sponsored by the National Interscholastic Boxing Tournament. Students competed at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Dorman married Hildegarde Landers. Their daughter, Mary Micah Knowles, married Kevin Dumas. Their children are Rachel and Parker Dumas. Another daughter, Kelly, married Charles Fleming, and they have a son, Gardner Fleming.

Joseph Harvin Knowles followed his father into the Chattanooga Fire Department, and he worked himself up to chief of training. When Chief Harry Jett retired in 1976, he was named to the post by Commissioner Gene Roberts. He served as chief until his auto accident. In the wreck, his car skidded out of control on Cherokee Boulevard and struck another car broadside. It turned out nurse Saundra Lloyd was in that vehicle, and managed to get out of her car and give lifesaving aid to Chief Knowles. He remained unconscious for several weeks, then made a dramatic recovery. He was able to return to work for a short time before retiring. The city named its $1.2 million fire training facility on Amnicola Highway in his honor. Joe Knowles married Joyce Hobbs. Their son, Joseph H. Knowles Jr., has a son, Nicholas Knowles by a previous marriage. Joe Jr. is married to Sharon Noah. arah 

Bill Knowles had a lot of jobs while going to Central High School, including selling soft drinks at Memorial Auditorium and Engel Stadium and working as a delivery boy and soda jerk at Hemlock Pharmacy. He worked at the soda fountain formerly located in the Hamilton National Bank Building lobby on Market Street. He also sold shopping bags during Christmas in downtown Chattanooga. He became a master barber and was state Barber of the Year in 1964.  But he had a love for government and served as chairman of the Juvenile Court Commission and then laid aside his clippers to join the city's Concentrated Employment Program in 1965. He was director of manpower and education for city Human Services when he was elected county clerk in 1974 just after he turned 40. He has led the state county clerk association and been named County Clerk of the Year in Tennessee three times as well as Tennessee County Official of the Year in 2006. Bill Knowles married Marlene Coulter. Their daughter, Reba, married Don Kunselman. Their sons are Brett and Grant Kunselman. William Finley Knowles Jr. married Lori Morsch, and their children are William Finley (Will) Knowles III and Evans Knowles as well as twin daughters, Meg and Becca Knowles. Alan Knowles married Tina Smith, and their children are Chelsey and Coulter Knowles. William Finley Knowles III is married to the former Liz Fitzsimmons. They have two sons, William Finley (Fin) Knowles IV and Granger. The family resides in Nashville. 

Bud Knowles joined his father in the bonding business. While still operating the Bud Knowles and Associates Bonding Company, he made a race for city fire and police commissioner in 1982. However, Tom Kennedy was elected. Bud Knowles was appointed to the County Election Commission in the mid-1980s, and later went to work in the office. He was named election administrator in July 2005. Bud Knowles married Barbara Ewton. Their daughter, Debbie, married Mike Allen, and they have a son, Scott, and daughter, Jennifer. Another daughter is Donna Knowles Killian, and another daughter is Denise, who married Greg Chambers and has daughters, Katie and Caroline Chambers.

Virginia Reeves Knowles, after completing LPN nurse’s training in 1964, was immediately employed at the former Newell’s Hospital on Walnut Street. Since that time the hospital has changed ownership three times. It was Downtown General, then Vencor, and is now Kindred Hospital. She long remained at the same facility on the third shift that she was hired to work in 1964. In 2000, she was named “Nurse of the Year” by her employer. She married Bill Pell. Their daughter, Susan, married Mike Bedwell, and their sons are Tye and Sam Bedwell. A son, Scott Pell, married Paula Rosselli, and their son is Alec Pell.

George Scholze Knowles had a long career with the fire department. After his retirement, he took a job with Walden Security and was assigned to the County Courthouse. He was a popular figure on the main floor of the courthouse with county officials and the general public. He married Sally Allen. They have a son, Herb, and a son, Phil, who married Sharon Hendricks and has sons Brandon and Josh Knowles. Brandon is a member of the Signal Mountain Police Department. Phil has a daughter, Kehlsey Knowles, and son, John-Alex George Knowles. A daughter of George Knowles is Diane, who married Mike Johnson and has children Christopher and Morgan Johnson. Diane later married Jeff Hawke and has a daughter, Taylor Hawke. Another daughter of George Knowles was Becky, who died in an auto accident.

A distant cousin of Claude Knowles was Ed Knowles, a Sparta supermarket owner and real estate agent. He was known as a charitable merchant. He was elected White County sheriff in 1938. After a tour in the U.S. Navy, he returned to White County and was elected county judge. Ed’s son, John Knowles, was an attorney in White County and served as an assistant district attorney general there. He is also a former FBI agent. Ed’s daughter, Lynda Knowles McCoy, is a former White County clerk and master. She was appointed to this position in 1978. Herd Sullivan served as the county executive of White County. His grandfather and the late Ed Knowles were first cousins.

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