Select Knox Miscellany

Here are some Knox stories and accounts over the years:

Knox Family Origins

The following is an account of the origin of the Knox family from John Frederick Knox, writing from county Mayo in Ireland in 1825.

"Their forebears had come to England from Saxony where their ancestors had reigned for centuries.  Of this royal family three brothers were the reigning princes at the time of their coming to England around 450 A.D, Hengist, Horsa, and Uchter.  Soon after this period Uchter laid the foundations of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumberland.

Later we find the Saxon name of Uchter had softened to Utred.  His son Adamus maried the lady Isabella, the daughter of Walter the High Steward of Scotland  and obtained in her dowry four baronies in Renfrew.  The names of these four baronies were Knox, Ranfurly, Craigends, and Griffcastle. 

Adamus then left Dunbar and established his residence in Knox.  He came to be described as Adamus de Knox and his descendants took the surname of Knox.  For many generations they were based at the castle of Ranfurly between present day Glasgow and Greenock."  

One story has it that Adamus and Cybilla his wife were given their surname by her father who was the high sheriff of Scotland.  He gave her as a wedding gift a plot of ground which contained a large rock or stone (in Gaelic cnoc).

John Knox in His Later Years

An interesting description of Knox's appearance in his later years was furnished in the diary of James Melville, who at the time he was writing (1571) was a student in St. Andrews where Knox had taken refuge. 

"Mr. Knox would sometimes come in, and repose himself in our college-yard, and call us scholars unto him, and bless us, and exhort us to know God and his work in our country, and stand by the good cause; to use our time well, and learn the good instructions, and follow the good example, of our masters.

He was very weak. I saw him every day of his doctrine go hulie and fear [slowly and warily], with a furring of martriks about his neck, a staff in the one hand, and good godly Richard Ballantyne, his servant, holding up the other arm, from the abbey to the parish church; and by the said Richard and another servant lifted up to the pulpit, where be found it necessary to lean at his as soon as he entered; but before he had finished with his sermon, he was so active and vigorous that he was like to ding that pulpit inl blads and flee out of it."

A Latin epistle sent by Sir Peter Young to Beza in 1579, seven years after the death of John Knox, contained a description of the Reformer's personal appearance in his later years. 

His stature was "a little under middle height;" his "limbs were graceful;" his head "of moderate size;" his face "longish;" his nose "beyond the average length;" his fore-head "rather narrow;" his brows "standing out like a ridge;" his cheeks "somewhat full" as well as "ruddy;" his mouth "large;" his "complexion darkish;" his eyes dark blue (or bluish grey) and his glance "keen;" his beard "black, with white hairs intermingled" and a "span and a half long."  In his countenance, which was "grave and severe," "a certain graciousness was united with natural dignity and majesty."

Robert Knox and the Edinburgh Murders

In 1827, an old army pensioner without friends or relatives died in a lodging house in the West Port of Edinburgh belonging to an Irishman William Hare.  He died owing Hare rent and Hare decided to obtain reimbursement and avoid funeral expenses by selling the corpse.  He enlisted the aid of his friend William Burke and, quite by chance, they fell in with a medical student, a member of Knox's extramural anatomy class, who told them that they would obtain the best price for their cadaver at Dr Knox's school.  Indeed they were paid 7.10/- for the body. 

This gratifyingly easy money encouraged Burke and Hare to start murdering old vagrants and other homeless people whose deaths would be likely to pass unnoticed and whose bodies could then be sold to Dr Knox's anatomy school.  Their crimes were eventually discovered and this provoked a furious popular outcry.

Dr Knox himself was publicly vilified and only narrowly escaped mob violence.  The general public's feelings were well expressed in a rhyme which circulated widely at the time:

"Doon the close and up the stair
Butt and ben wi Burke and Hare 
Burke's the butcher, Hare's the thief 
And Knox the boy that buys the beef!"

Knox took the precaution of carrying with him a loaded pistol and a Highland dirk wherever he went.  Although Knox was not himself implicated in the crimes, the censure of him was great and it drove him from the public stage. 

Northland House in County Tyrone

Thomas Knox, a Glasgow merchant, had moved to Belfast in the 1660's.  He prospered there and served as mayor of the town in 1686.  Six years later he purchased the manor of Dungannon in county Tyrone and at the same time served as the MP for Newtownards in county Down.  

According to John Marshall's History of Dungannon, the original house of Thomas Knox was on the western side of Market Square and stood in the demesne on the outskirts of the town.  The third residence, known variously as Northland House, Northland Park and Dungannon Park, was built by Thomas Knox, 1st Viscount Northland for his son and heir, Thomas Knox, 2nd Viscount and 1st Earl of Ranfurly, on his marriage.

In 1707 Thomas Knox had registered his arms in Dublin Castle as the male representative of the Knox family of Ranfurly in Renfrewshire.

The Story of Ann Knox and John McNaughton

Thriving with ghosts, Prehen House has strong links with the McNaughton story - he having lived there, and she, Miss Ann Knox, being the daughter of its original owner, Andrew Knox.

The scandal mainly involved Ann and McNaughton, who was a member of the same social class as Knox.  John fell in love with Ann and tried to be near her at all times.  Andrew Knox opposed marriage between his daughter and McNaughton but the pair made strenuous efforts to stay in contact.  McNaughton claimed that he and Ann had secretly married.

Desparate to protect his daughter, Knox set out in 1760 to transport Ann to Dublin in a coach, protected by armed outriders.  John McNaughton and several associates concealed themselves in a little road adjoining Burndennett Bridge, stopped the coach and a short argument ensued.  This was followed by gunfire and as a result McNaughton is said to have fired at the coach occupied by Andrew Knox and his daughter and Ann died from the bullet.

McNaughton fled but was eventually convicted and sentenced to be publicly hanged in an open field at Strabane for Ann's murder.  He spoke to the crowd, saying he loved his wife and had been kept from her. The rope broke and the crowd shouted for him to flee, but McNaughton declared that he was not going to be known as 'half-hanged McNaughton' and ordered the hangman to get on with his work.  The rope did not break again and, while McNaughton lost his life, his name lives on in the legend 

Henry Knox, Gentleman Farmer

After ten years serving his country as Secretary of War, Henry Knox began to long for the life of a gentleman farmer.  Fortunately for him, his wife Lucy had inherited a vast tract of land in the District of Maine through her mother and in 1795, newly retired, Knox bade farewell to Philadelphia and moved his family to his newly-built nineteen-room mansion Montpelier in Thomaston, Maine. 

During his time there, he dabbled in many of the emerging businesses in midcoast Maine; he shipped timber, quarried lime, made bricks, experimented with agriculture, built canals on the Georges River and got involved with land speculation.  Most in Thomaston welcomed him, despite what was perceived as his wife's haughtiness and fondness for gambling. 

All too soon - in 1806 - though, and before any of his ventures were truly successful, this military hero finally fell according to traditional accounts, the victim of swallowing a chicken bone. 

Knoxes from Donegal to America

The Ulster Heritage DNA Project has matched the Knox families of the Finn Valley in Donegal to a large group of Knox families in the southern United States (where they have located ten families in this Knox kinship group).

Current research has focused on a group of Knox families that arrived on the Earl of Donegal out of Belfast. The ship left Ireland in October, 1767 and arrived in Charleston, South Carolina in December.  The crew and passengers presented their papers to the local authorities on December 22 and entered the colony.  There were 294 passengers, all Irish Protestants - with one Knox family aboard (that of James Knox) and two Knox men aboard without families.  


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