Select Knowles Surname Genealogy

The word knoll, meaning a hill-top, originated from the Old English cnoll and gave rise to the Knowles surname, a locational surname describing someone who lived by a hill-top.

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Select Knowles Ancestry

EnglandThe Knolle name appeared at various locations in the 13th century, to be replaced a century later by Knolles or Knollys. 

Robert Knolles or Knollys was a bowman from Cheshire who rose through the ranks fighting in France to lead a company of men which pillaged and ravaged the Brittany countryside (the ruined gables of burned buildings came to be known as Knolly’s mitres).  His one legacy back in London, the Knollys Rose Ceremony, in fact came about because of actions taken by his wife. 

Thomas Knollys
, probably unrelated, was a grocer who rose to be Mayor of London in 1399.  His descendants rose to political prominence during Tudor times with Sir Francis Knollys, a prominent courtier and statesman at the time of Queen Elizabeth.  They made their home at Rotherford Greys in Oxfordshire.  Much later Knollys courtiers were Sir William Knollys, comptroller of the Prince of Wales’ household in Victorian times, and his son Francis, private secretary to both Edward VII and George V. 

Another line of Knollys, probably illegitimate, began with Charles Knowles who joined the Navy and rose through its ranks in the mid 18th century.  He was also, briefly, Governor of Jamaica.  His son, also Charles, commanded ships during the Napoleonic wars. 

The Knowles spelling had become the norm in England by the 17th century. 

Lancashire.  The largest numbers, according to the 1881 census, were in Lancashire.  The most well-known name there, particularly during the 19th century, was Andrew Knowles.  Andrew Knowles had been born in 1783 into a family whose mining interests dated back to Elizabethan times and whose descendants were to dominate the coal mining industry in Lancashire until the end of the Victorian era. 

The Knowles name was also prominent in the Lancashire cotton industry.  In 1883 Thomas Knowles patented a balance estimated to estimate the ‘counts’ of a sample of yarn without the need for calculations or tables.  This balance was a staple of the industry for the next fifty years.  The Knowles name in cotton spinning dated back to 1800 in Bolton.  Knowles Ltd. was formed as a company in 1904 and it continued to operate until the 1950’s.  The 1948 booklet A Century and a Half of Cotton Spinning by William Crankshaw and Alfred Blackburn outlined the Knowles’ history. 

.  The Gaelic O’Tauthghail sept in Kildare sometimes became Newell and sometimes Knowles under English rule; while a number of Knowles from England came and settled in Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Thomas Knowles took over Cappoge castle near Dublin during Cromwell’s time. 

James Knowles, born in Dublin, was the cousin of the playwright Richard Brinley Sheridan.  A schoolmaster and lexicographer, he brought his family to London in 1793 where his son, James Sheridan Knowles, made his mark in the theater. 

Many Knowles came from the Ballymena area of county Antrim.  The first Knowles there was apparently a soldier with Cromwell.  A number later emigrated: 
  • John Knowles left for America in the 1770’s and fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War.  He settled in White county, Tennessee in 1806.  
  • another John Knowles departed with his family for Lanark county, Ontario in the 1840’s;  
  • while two brothers, William and Hugh Knowles, set off for Australia in the 1890’s.  William Knowles became a journalist in Sydney.  
But Knowles still remain in the area.  David Knowles, for instance, runs a large dairy farm at Cullybacky near Ballymena. 

.  Early Knowles in New England were: 
  • Henry Knowles, who arrived as a 25 year old servant on the Susan and Ellen in 1635 and settled in Rhode Island;  
  • Richard Knowles, a mariner, who arrived in 1638 and made his home on Cape Cod;  
  • and John Knowles, who came in 1650 and settled in Northampton, New Hampshire.  
The descendants of Richard and John Bowles were outlined in two genealogy books by Virginia Hufbauer that came out in the 1970’s. 

Edmund Knowles, known as Old Silverhead, was the progenitor for a sizeable number of the Knowles in America today.  He came in 1699 and settled in what is today Delaware.  Many of his descendants later headed south to North Carolina and Georgia.  A later Edmund Knowles arrived in Greene county, Georgia in 1788.  Some of these Knowles had moved onto Indiana by 1820. 

Caribbean.  The Knowles name first appeared in Bermuda in the late 1620’s where Damon Knowles was a tenant farmer and slave-owner for close on forty years.  Some have sought to connect him with the Knowles who were among the early settlers in the Bahamas in the 1650’s, but there is no clear link. 

James Knowles
, a mulatto plantation owner on Long Island in the 1750’s, was the first of a growing number of Knowles of white, black and mixed race backgrounds in the Bahamas.  They have included: 
  • William Knowles, a sea captain who went to Key West in Florida in the late 1880’s.  He and his wife Araminta raised twelve children there.  Many other Knowles followed him from Bahamas in the next twenty years.
  • Leonard Knowles, who rose to become the first Chief Justice of the newly independent Bahamas in 1978. 
  • Mathew Knowles, who moved from Alabama to Houston and became a music executive.  He managed the group Destiny’s Child and his daughter is the mega-star Beyonce Knowles.  Mathew is also the father-in-law of the rapper Jay Z.  
  • and Mark Knowles, a doubles champion in the world of tennis recently retired.
Select Knowles Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Knowles Names

Sir Francis Knollys was a leading English courtier and statesman at the time of Queen Elizabeth. 
James Sheridan Knowles
, Irish-born, was a prominent actor and playwright in London in the early 19th century. 
Andrew Knowles
founded the company of his name which was to dominate coal mining in Lancashire during the 19th century. 
Beyonce Knowles
is an American mega-star singer.  Her father is of Caribbean Bahamas background, her mother of Creole roots.

Select Knowles Today
  • 26,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 11,000 in America (most numerous in Florida) 
  • 12,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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