KNOWLES (New Bedford family). The family bearing this name in New Bedford, where it is one of nearly one hundred years’ standing one, too, of prominence and wealth, is a branch of the ancient Knowles family of the town of Eastham, Barnstable county, this Commonwealth. Reference is made to some of the descendants of the brothers Thomas and James H. Knowles of Eastham, several of whose sons – at least two of the former and one of the latter – in their earlier manhood cast their lot with the people of New Bedford. The firm of Thomas Knowles & Co. for many years was one of the greatest engaged in the whale fishery business in New Bedford; and its members in turn have been succeeded in business by younger generations who have most worthily worn the family name and sustained its reputation; and today the name continues of record in and about the city of their birth connected prominently with many of the most extensive commercial establishments and banking institutions of the locality.
Across the water, in Lincolnshire, England, was born one John Knowles, who pursued his studies at Magdalen College, Cambridge. In 1625 he was chosen a Fellow of Catherine Hall, where he had full employment as a tutor. At one time he had forty pupils, many of whom afterward became well known – some distinguished as preachers, and others eminent as statesmen. He was for a period at the invitation of the Mayor and Aldermen of Colchester their lecturer. He came to New England in 1639, and in December of that year was ordained second pastor of the church in Watertown, in connection with Rev. George Phillips. In the early part of 1642 a Mr. Bennet from Virginia arrived at Boston with letters to the ministers of New England, earnestly requesting that they would send persons into that destitute region to preach the gospel. It fell to the lot of Mr. Knowles to be one of those who went in response to the call from Virginia to that locality. He later returned to Massachusetts and the Watertown Church. In 1650 he returned to England and there became a preacher in the cathedral at Bristol, where he was useful and highly respected. He later preached in private in London. He is represented as having been “a godly man and a prime scholar.” He died in 1685, at a good old age.
This Rev. John Knowles is believed by Rich, the author of “Truro, Cape Cod, or Landmarks and Seamarks” (1883), to be the father of Richard Knowles, the ancestor of the Cape Cod Knowleses. This fact, however, does not seem to be any too well established, and further evidence should be adduced before it is wholly accepted, and for that reason Richard is designated as Generation I in the history that follows:
- Richard Knowles was of Plymouth as early as January, 1637-38; a proprietor in 1638-39. In 1640 he had land at the head of George Bower’s meadow. In August, 1639, he married Ruth Bower, and their children were:
- Samuel, born Sept. 17, 1651, likely in Plymouth, died in 1737, married in 1679 Mercy Freeman (died 1744), daughter of John Freeman, of Eastham, and became one of the most eminent men in Eastham, for years representing his town in the General Court, and also serving as selectman
- Mehitabel died at Eastham May 20, 1653
- Barbara was born in 1653
- Mercy married in 1668 Ephraim Doane
- John was born about 1640
John Knowles, the last named son of Richard, was the ancestor of the Eastham-New Bedford branch of the Knowles family. He married Dec. 28, 1670, Apphia Bangs, who was born Oct. 15, 1651, daughter of Edward and Lydia (Hicks) Bangs, he coming from Chichester in England in the ship “Anne,” which landed at Plymouth the last of July, 1644, and settling in Eastham on Cape Cod; Lydia Hicks was a daughter of Robert and Margery Hicks. Mr. Bangs superintended the building of a barque of forty or fifty tons, which, says tradition, was the first vessel built at Plymouth; he was deputy to the Colonial Court some five years and held many other public offices. John Knowles was killed in King Philip’s war, 1675-76, and is referred to in Freeman’s “Cape Cod,” provision being especially made by the court for “Aptha, widow of John Knowles of Eastham, lately slain in the service.” The children of John and Apphia (Bangs) Knowles were:
- Edward, born Nov. 7, 1671
- John, born July 10, 1673
- Deborah, born March 2, 1674-75
Col. John Knowles (2), son of John, born July 10, 1673, married prior to 1696 Mary Sears, born Oct. 24, 1672, who died Nov. 17, 1745, in the seventy-fourth year of her age. He married (second) May 6, 1746, Mrs. Rebecca Chauncey, and died Nov. 3, 1757. His children, all by the first marriage, were:
- Joshua, born in 1696
- John, June 28, 1697
- Jonathan, June 28, 1698
- Seth, Aug. 7, 1700
- Paul, Aug. 8, 1702
- James, Nov. 4, 1704
- Jesse, April 1, 1707
- Mary, in October, 1709
- Willard, in 1711-12
Through Joshua and Paul Knowles have descended the Knowleses of Truro; and through Willard, who bore the title of colonel, the New Bedford branch of the Eastham family.
Col. John Knowles (2) bought the old Knowles farm in Eastham from Samuel Treat, probably some time just prior to his death, and it has remained in the Knowles family since that time, being now owned by James G. Knowles, of Boston, a son of Seth, born Dec. 8, 1821. Samuel Treat was a minister to the Indians for forty-five years.
Col. Willard Knowles, son of Col. John (2), born Feb. 8, 1712, or Nov. 8, 1711, married in 1733 Bethia Atwood, who was born in 1716. She was also a descendant of Apphia Bangs, having been the daughter of Joseph Atwood and Bethia (Crowell), he a son of Stephen Atwood, who married Apphia (Bangs) Knowles, he a son of Stephen Atwood and Abigail (Dunham) The children of Col. Willard and Bethia (Atwood) Knowles were:
- Hannah, born Oct. 27, 1733
- Joseph, Oct. 22, 1735
- Willard, Oct. 4, 1737
- David, Sept. 27, 1739
- Bethia, June 13, 1741
- John, June 9, 1744
- Mary, Oct. 22, 1746
- Temperance, March 9, 1749
- Eelessa, April 12, 1751
- Seth, May 16, 1753
- William, May 14, 1755
Seth Knowles, son of Col. Willard, born May 16, 1753, married in 1776 Hannah Hatch, born in 1756, daughter of James Hatch and granddaughter of Benjamin and Nancy (Bangs) Hatch. Mrs. Knowles died July 26, 1823. The children of this union were:
- Thomas, born Aug. 9, 1777, is mentioned below
- Mary, born Nov. 29, 1779, married Nehemiah Smith
- Bethia, born Aug. 9, 1781, married a Mr. Bangs
- Seth was born Jan. 3, 1784
- Hannah, born Feb. 8, 1786, married a Mr. Gould, and died March 8, 1872
- Winslow Lewis, born Jan. 4, 1788, died Jan. 26, 1870
- James Hatch, born Jan. 18, 1791, died Aug. 8, 1872
- Alice, born March 11, 1793, married David Smith
- Joseph M., born Sept. 12, 1796, died young
- Kuth Freeman, born Sept. 20, 1801, married Timothy Smith, and had a son, Timothy Smith, of Boston
- Nancy Bangs, born April 4, 1803, married Prince Harding, of Eastham
Seth Knowles, the father, became a prominent citizen of Charlestown, Mass., and was one of the original members of the Bunker Hill Monument Association and of its board of directors. He had much to do with the negotiations for the purchase of the land and was also on the building committee. (From “Old Charlestown” by Timothy T. Sawyer.)
Thomas Knowles, son of Seth, born Aug. 9, 1777, died Nov. 15, 1820. On Oct. 3, 1800, he married Alice Pepper, who was born March 10, 1781, daughter of Joseph and Zylpha Pepper, and died Feb. 17, 1820. Their children were:
- Capt. John P.
- Henry (lost at sea), who married Betsey
- Mehitable, who married Elkanah Paine
- Harriet, who married Eben Chapman
- Hannah, who married Joseph Cummings
Thomas Knowles, son of Thomas and Alice (Pepper), was born Dec. 31, 1803, in the town of Eastham, Mass., and in early life settled at New Bedford, perhaps, being for a time at Nantucket. He became engaged in the whale fishery industry, establishing the well known house which long bore his name, and prosecuted it with that great effort, care and industry that proved the means of his accumulating great wealth.
Besides being a successful and prominent business man Mr. Knowles was distinguished in the community for his clearness of thought and his independence of expression in all matters in which he felt an interest. While conducting his business with great energy and ability, he was at the same time in sympathy with all movements for the promotion of the moral and intellectual welfare of his fellow citizens. He felt a deep interest in national politics until the abolition of slavery was accomplished, invested his large means unhesitatingly in the war bonds of the government and with powerful and convincing logic claimed for it the support of all good citizens. During his life he advocated temperance reform and though very averse to holding public position he accepted the nomination for mayor of New Bedford as a temperance candidate, but was defeated by a small majority. His discernment in financial matters was unexcelled, and for the last twenty years of his life he was a director of the National Bank of Commerce. His early religious teaching was received in a home in which the Puritan traditions almost without change were still accepted as the guides of life and thought. But his mother being converted to the Baptist faith, Mr. Knowles on coming to New Bedford attended the Baptist Church out of regard for his mother’s memory and continued a member of the society, but not of the church, for many years. In the later years of his life he attended the Unitarian Church, where he found the preaching of Rev. Mr. Potter in complete accordance with the enlarged views which a life of earnest and truth-seeking thought had ripened within him. He died Aug. 29, 1877, and Mrs. Knowles died Oct. 20, 1881.
Mr. Knowles married Mary Keith Eaton, of Middleboro, a direct descendant of Francis Eaton, who came over in the “Mayflower,” and of Rev. James Keith, who was born in 1643 in Scotland, was educated at Aberdeen in that country, came to Boston about 1662, and became the first ordained minister of the church at Bridgewater in 1664. The children born of this marriage were:
- Thomas H., of New Bedford
- Mary E., born Oct. 15, 1839, who married Josiah N. Knowles, of San Francisco
- Martha, born in 1842, who married Dr. Charles D. Prescott, of New Bedford, and died in September, 1890, leaving one son, Dr. Henry D. Prescott
- Sidney W., born June 5, 1844, formerly a merchant in New York
- Charles S., born Feb. 3, 1850, who married (first) Sadie P., daughter of Capt. M. L. Eldridge, of New Bedford, had by that union a son, Sumner Prescott (died in infancy), and married (second) Oct. 13, 1886, Nina B. Adams, of San Francisco, by whom he has a son Richard L. (born Jan. 1, 1889).
Mr. Knowles was a director of the Acushnet and other cotton mills, and of the New Bedford Gas Light Company. He was president of the City Manufacturing Corporation and of the Bristol Manufacturing Company. He was a director of the Merchants National Bank from 1872, and its vice president from 1903; and was a trustee of the Savings Bank. It goes without saying that in all of these relations he had the confidence and esteem of his business associates who valued his prudent counsel, good judgment, and his wise forethought at their proper worth.
In his political affiliations Mr. Knowles was a Republican, but while ever interested in public questions, both local and national, and to the extent of discharging his duties as a citizen along these lines, he had no taste for political preferment. His fellow citizens, however, at times deemed it to the interest of the city to have the benefit of his rare good judgment in the conduct of local public affairs and called him to positions of trust and responsibility. As a member of the common council and board of aldermen his services were of a kind that were valued and appreciated. He, too, gave the public good service as a trustee of the Kempton Library Fund. For some years he was an efficient member of the board of overseers of the poor. He was a member of the First Congregational (Unitarian) Church of New Bedford, and served it in the capacity of clerk for about eight years.
Mr. Knowles was twice married, marrying (first) Mary H. Swift, born March 9, 1844, who died May 3, 1881, leaving one son, Henry Swift, born April 14, 1881; he married Sept. 2, 1909, May E. H. Barnes. Mr. Knowles married (second) Annie D. Swift, of Acushnet, born April 23, 1848, daughter of Rodolphus N. and Sylvia H. (Nye) Swift, and a daughter, Sylvia Hathaway, born Aug. 7, 1891, came to this marriage.Capt. John P. Knowles, son of Thomas and Alice (Pepper), was born Oct. 14, 1805, in the town of Eastham, Mass. At the age of thirteen, in 1818, he embarked as a cabin boy on the brig “Warren,” commanded by his uncle Winslow L. Knowles, and owned by Seth Knowles, of Boston, bound for Bolivia, South America. On the return voyage the vessel was wrecked on the Skiff Island shoals, off Martha’s Vineyard, Nov. 25, 1818. While off the Bermudas on the voyage he had a marvelous escape from death. Falling from aloft, in his descent he barely escaped the rail of the vessel and fortunately struck the water without injury. The brig was under full sail, a breeze springing up, and he was unable to swim. His uncle, seizing a line, promptly sprang overboard but failed to reach him and was drawn on board. Before the vessel could be hove to and a boat lowered she was nearly a quarter of a mile away. His coolness and presence of mind enabled him to keep afloat until he saw the men descending into the boat, when, completely exhausted, unable longer to maintain himself on the surface, and without hope of rescue, he bade them goodbye, threw up his hands, and lying upon his back slowly began to sink. He had nearly lost consciousness when the boat by rare good fortune happened to pass directly over the spot. A sailor saw him, succeeded in reaching him and drew him into the boat. He met with a second shipwreck on the coast of Chili, near Valparaiso, while mate of the ship “American Hero,” in 1827. He continued to follow the sea in the merchant service for sixteen years, during which for four years he commanded the brigs “Algerine” and “Russia” in the European and South American trade, to the entire satisfaction of their owners. On returning from a successful voyage in 1835 he visited his brother Thomas, who had established himself in New Bedford some years before, and was persuaded to give up his seafaring life and join him in business. From that time until 1844 the firm name was Thomas and John P. Knowles. In the year last named their cousin, Joseph Knowles, who had been in their employ for several years, was admitted as partner. The firm was thereafter known as Thomas Knowles & Co. They engaged extensively in whale fishing, being principal owners at one time of eleven vessels, all of which were repaired, fitted and sailed for many voyages under their management. The firm continued in active and successful business for half a century.
Captain Knowles served the city as member of the council in 1859-60; was one of the original stockholders of the Citizens’ National Bank and was one of its board of directors up to the time of his death. Though of delicate health in his youth, and looked upon as marked for an early grave, he survived the dangers and hardships of the sea, his partners for so many years and numerous old time friends, and at eighty-seven took a lively interest in the events transpiring around him. He died Dec. 27, 1896.
On Sept. 5, 1830, Captain Knowles married Susan Crosby, of Orleans, Mass., who was born June 3, 1810, and nine children blessed the union (seven of whom survived the father), namely:
- Daniel, born July 1, 1831, died Oct. 10, 1838
- Mary A., born Aug. 9, 1832, married Oct. 10, 1855, John P. Jenney, who died Oct. 23, 1895, and their three children were
- Susan (born in July, 1857, now deceased)
- Frank (October, 1858, now deceased)
- Mabel A. (May 1, 1868), the last named married to Edward Otis Knowles.
- John P., Jr., was born Sept. 24, 1835
- Joseph C. was born Nov. 3, 1837
- Daniel M. was born June 29, 1840
- Henry M. was born Dec. 14, 1842
- Edward, born Jan. 17, 1845, died Dec. 27, 1904. He married Mary L. S. Briggs, daughter of George A. Briggs, of Dighton, and she died July 3, 1904, leaving a son, Henry M. (2), now of Fairhaven, Mass.
- Susan C, born Feb. 25, 1847, died Aug. 1, 1851
- Caroline E., born June 4, 1851, married Silvanus Bourne, and has children
- John K.
- Ralph H.
John P. Knowles, Jr., son of Capt. John P., was born Sept. 24, 1835. He acquired his education in the Middle street school in New Bedford, and then learned the carpenter’s trade, which he followed for three or four years, after which he entered the store of Thomas Knowles & Co., as clerk, becoming a partner in the firm about the same time as did his cousin Thomas H. Knowles, and he continued in that relation until the closing up of the business. He was a director of the New Bedford Gas & Edison Electric Light Company, of the New Bedford City Mill, and of the Bristol Manufacturing Company. He was a member of the First Universalist Society of New Bedford, of which Mrs. Knowles, who survives him, is a devout member. Mr. Knowles died Aug. 16, 1902.
Mr. Knowles married Lucy Ann Ormsbee, who was born in Brooklyn, N. Y., May 25, 1840, daughter of Caleb L. Ormsbee and his wife Lucy Ann (Studley) Ormsbee, the latter born Feb. 8, 1817, in Providence, daughter of Major Studley (born in Falmouth, Mass., Feb. 22, 1787) and his wife Eunice (Nelson) Studley (born in Harwich Dec. 14, 1786). Three children were born to John P. Knowles, Jr., and wife, namely:
- William H., April 22, 1859
- George Mortimer, Oct. 24, 1861 (died Aug. 29, 1864)
- George Mortimer (2), Feb. 16, 1866 (died Dec. 7, 1868)
William H. Knowles, son of John P., Jr., born April 22, 1859, resides in New Bedford, where he is successfully engaged as a manufacturer of mill supplies, under the firm name of William H. Knowles & Co. He is a member of the Wamsutta and Dartmouth Clubs and of Lodge No. 73, B. P. O. E. On March 2, 1881, Mr. Knowles married Mary Louise Williams, who was born April 13, 1862, at Mystic, Conn., daughter of Thomas H. and Cynthia W. (Wolfe) Williams, of Mystic. Mr. and Mrs. Knowles are members of the First Universalist Society.Joseph C. Knowles, son of Capt. John P. and Susan (Crosby), was born in New Bedford Nov. 3, 1837, and was educated in the public schools of his native city, passing through the high school, and then later graduating from a boarding school at Middleboro, Mass. He became a bookkeeper for Joseph Hicks, of New Bedford, proprietor of a men’s furnishing goods store, where he remained a number of years. He had become interested in photography, and this he later followed until about three years before his death. For a few years he had a Mr. Hillman as a partner in the photographic business, but the greater part of the time was alone, being one of the earlier photographers in New Bedford. His studio was located on Purchase street. In his tastes he was quiet and domestic. His rather frail constitution caused him to seek outdoor amusements, and he spent some time each year in hunting and fishing. At one time he was a member of the Wamsutta Club.
In 1858 Mr. Knowles married Mary J. Morton, daughter of Thomas and Mary (Bassett) Morton, at that time a Cape Cod family, the former a native of Duxbury, the latter of South Yarmouth. No children were born to them. Mr. Knowles died Nov. 19, 1901.
Daniel M. Knowles, son of Capt. John P. and Susan (Crosby), was born June 29, 1840, and was educated in public and private schools in New Bedford. After leaving school he served an apprenticeship at tinsmithing, and followed that trade. In his earlier life his work was almost wholly in connection with the fitting of whale ships, when that industry was at its height, not only at New Bedford, but at other whaling points, notably at New London, Conn. He followed this line until within a few years of his retirement, when he became engaged in a general business, which latter he carried on until about 1884, the date of his retirement. In the prosecution of his business he was for many years connected with the firm of Wood, Brightman & Co. He was a thorough mechanic, and secured patents on several devices, some of which became very popular. He was the patentee of the metal strips used in binding linoleums and oil cloths. In politics he was a Republican, but was never active in party work, though always interested is aiding good men into office. In his religious faith he was a Universalist. His death occurred Feb. 1, 1899.
Mr. Knowles married Caroline M. Chase, and they had two sons:
- Walter I., born April 10, 1863, who married Emma F. Palmer, of New Bedford, is connected with the Dusto Manufacturing Company, of New York
- Edward Otis was born July 19, 1872
Mr. Knowles during his business life at Cleveland was for a period secretary and manager of the Cleveland Spring Company and of the Union Iron Works Company. Since returning to his native city his time has been taken up by the management of the interests of his father’s estate. He is a director of the Acushnet Mills Corporation and of the New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company, and was a director of the City Manufacturing Corporation. Socially he belongs to the Wamsutta and Country Clubs, of New Bedford, is a member of the Union Club of Cleveland, and the Ottawa Shooting Club, also of Cleveland.
In 1865 Mr. Knowles was married to Lucretia Bourne, of Wareham, Mass., and they had three children, all now deceased. Mrs. Knowles and one daughter, Nannie, perished in the Ashtabula disaster. Mr. Knowles married (second) June 5, 1883, Helen L. Dykes, daughter of Alfred and Harriet (Collins) Dykes, the former of Leeds, England, the latter of Sandwich. They have had two sons:
- Henry M., Jr., born April 7, 1884, who died Sept. 5, 1885
- Robert W., born May 22, 1891
Edward Otis Knowles, son of Daniel M. and Caroline M. (Chase), was born July 19, 1872, and educated under private tutors and in the high school of New Bedford, taking a special course. He completed his schooling in 1891. For a short period in the summer of 1891 he was with the Wamsutta mills as shipping clerk in the yarn department, but in September of that year he entered the employ of the City Manufacturing Corporation, and remained until 1893, when on the construction of the present plant of the Bristol Manufacturing Corporation he took charge of the office under Benjamin Wilcox, then treasurer. In 1895 the Whitman mill was built, and he went there and remained until December, 1896, when he again went to the Wamsutta mills, as assistant to Edward T. Pierce, who had succeeded his father as treasurer of that concern. He remained there until September, 1901, when he was elected treasurer and agent of the Bristol Manufacturing Corporation to succeed Mr. Wilcox, and this place he continued to fill acceptably until Nov. 22, 1909, when he resigned. He has had a wide experience in bis line of business, both in weaving and spinning, the City Manufacturing Corporation having been manufacturers of yarn, the Wamsiitta mills turning out cloth, and yarn. Mr. Knowles proved himself especially valuable to the corporation because of his extensive and thorough knowledge of all parts of the business. His position in the cotton business in New Bedford is of his own making. Since February, 1911, he has been engaged in the cotton cloth and yarn brokerage business in New Bedford. Mr. Knowles was a director of the Bristol Manufacturing Corporation, and was at one time a member of the executive committee at the New Bedford Textile School, and for a number of years clerk of the corporation and now a member of the board of trustees. Socially Mr. Knowles belongs to the Wamsutta, Dartmouth, Country, Yacht and Brooks Clubs of New Bedford, and to the Arkwright Club of New York.
On Dec. 10, 1910, Mr. Knowles married Mabel Albio Jenney, of New Bedford, daughter, of John P. and Mary A. (Knowles) Jenney.
James Hatch Knowles, son of Seth and Hannah (Hatch) Knowles, born Jan. 8, 1791, died Aug. 8, 1872. He married (first) Ruth Doane, born Sept. 23, 1798, died June 4, 1842, (second) in 1843 Widow Sally Freeman, who died in 1844, and (third) in 1846 Widow Martha D. Brackett, who died in 1853. His children were:
- Joseph, born Sept. 23, 1819, died in May, 1876
- Seth, born Dec. 8, 1821, died in 1905
- James, born July 24, 1824, died in September, 1876
- Abigail, born Sept. 10, 1827, died March 13, 1836
- John Pepper, born Feb. 4, 1830, died Sept. 20, 1891
On Nov. 14, 1844, Mr. Knowles married Jedidah, daughter of Beriah and Elizabeth (Cole) Doane, of Orleans, Mass. Their children were:
- Helen D., born July 21, 1847, married Charles D. Milliken, and had children
- Grace (born Feb. 6, 1873)
- Joseph K. (born July 5, 1875)
- Charles Alfred (born Nov. 17, 1879)
- Elizabeth, born Sept. 10, 1851, married William H. Wood and has one daughter, Mildred K.
- Joseph F. is mentioned below
- Arthur, born May 20, 1857, died Feb. 10, 1909. He married Harriet Nickel, and they had two children
- Frederick A. (born April 25, 1884)
- Elizabeth F. (born Dec. 25, 1885)
Though active in business and lavish with his time and energy, in everything connected with his family and its welfare, Mr. Knowles yet had time for many public services. He was a member of the Protecting Society; served four years as alderman; was an advocate of a free public library, and later a trustee of the New Bedford Free Public Library, the first actually free public library in this county. He was a member of the North Congregational Church, and active in all church work, both in Sunday school and in church.
For an estimate of Mr. Knowles’s character, we quote from those who knew him intimately, and wrote as follows in the New Bedford Mercury of May 29, 1876:
“Mr. Knowles was a member of the board of aldermen for two years under the mayoralty of Hon. John M. Perry and for the same period while Mr. Richmond was mayor, discharging the duties with rare good judgment and singular fidelity. He was repeatedly urged to accept a nomination for mayor, but as often declined, though willing to give his full time and effort in the service of the city. He was devoted to his business and had earned the reputation of sterling integrity and probity in his transactions. Unassuming in his manners, he was firm of principle and courageous in his convictions, and no man was held in higher respect or more fully enjoyed the confidence of his fellow citizens.”
We also quote from James B. in the twenty-sixth annual report of the trustees of the Free Public Library:
Joseph Frank Knowles, the third child of Joseph and Jedidah (Doane) Knowles, was born Oct. 10, 1853, in New Bedford. Mr. Knowles was educated in the private schools of New Bedford, preparing at the Friends’ Academy for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At the Institute he chose to follow the course in civil engineering. On the completion of this course, and in accordance with the wishes of his father, he went into the dye house of the Star mills in Middleboro to acquaint himself with this branch of textile manufacturing. In 1876, on the death of his father, he returned to New Bedford in order to be with his mother. Shortly thereafter he went into the office of Jonathan Bourne and there acquired his first mercantile training. In 1879, at the suggestion of Mr. Bourne, he entered the employ of the Union Cotton Manufacturing Company of Fall River. He remained in Fall River until 1882, when with the assistance of Mr. Bourne and Mr. Thomas E. Brayton of Fall River, he interested capital to organize the Acushnet Mills Corporation in New Bedford. In December, 1888, the Hathaway Manufacturing Company was organized. Of these two mills Mr. Knowles was treasurer and clerk, and so continued up to the time of his death.
“Joseph Knowles claims a prominent place in our necrology of the year. As a merchant he was enlightened, enterprising and the soul of fidelity; as an alderman of the city he was sagacious in council, faithful to every conviction of duty, firm and unmovable when not to be firm was to be false to the convictions of his understanding, kind and courteous to all, who had claim upon his attention; as a trustee of the library, he had clear apprehensions as to the methods to be pursued and an abiding conscientiousness in the discharge of every trust. Those who have known him. as a leading merchant of our city, and those who were his associates in the city council and upon the board of trustees of the library, all bear testimony to Ms gentlemanly bearing in his business and official intercourse, and all unite in assigning to him an elevated position among the active and public men of our city. In his daily walk and conversation he was an example of those virtues which are lovely and of good report. ‘There was a daily beauty in his life’ which won and retained the affection and respect of all with whom he came in contact. There was in his character and conduct those evidences of fidelity to the right and an affectionate interest in the welfare of others, which inspired confidence and esteem.”
When the Dunnell Manufacturing Company of Pawtucket was reorganized, about 1890, Mr. Knowles became a director and its president, and remained in office until the Dunnell Manufacturing Company was combined with other printing plants in 1897 to form the United States Finishing Company. In 1901 Mr. Knowles organized the Mount Hope Finishing Company of North Dighton, becoming a director and president, which offices he held until his death. Mr. Knowles was also a director of the Union Cotton Manufacturing Company and the Pocasset Mills of Fall River.
When the New England Cotton Yarn Company was formed, in 1897, although Mr. Knowles was not an owner in the property, he was prevailed on to accept an active part in the management of this new combination of mills and until his resignation, in 1903, as chairman of the executive committee, he carried a very heavy burden in the administration of this company. As a member of the New Bedford Cotton Manufacturers’ Association Mr. Knowles’s opinions carried great weight. He was often chosen on the important committees of this association and by reason of his rare ability and clear foresight contributed largely to the uninterrupted development of New Bedford’s cotton industry.
To all who came to him for advice or information Mr. Knowles gave freely, and one could always obtain from him a positive expression of his opinion. Although business claimed a great part of his attention, Mr. Knowles found the opportunity to give liberally of his time to his own family.
The success of the manufacturing companies in which Mr. Knowles was the directing force, and the high esteem in which he was held by his associates, are best expressed in the following resolution voted at a meeting of the directors of the Acushnet Mill Corporation and the Hathaway Manufacturing Company on the Monday following his death:
“The directors of the Acushnet Mill Corporation and of the Hathaway Manufacturing Company wish to place on their records an expression of their sorrow at the death of Joseph F. Knowles, the treasurer of both corporations from their beginning, and of their appreciation of the great value of his services and of his loyalty to the interests confided to his care.
“The Acushnet Mills were organized by him in 1882 and the Hathaway Mills in 1888, and during the years that followed he gave to both corporations unflagging energy and rare ability. The signal success of the enterprise tells better than words can express what the stockholders in both corporations owe to Mr. Knowles.
“As one of the pioneers in the particular line of cotton manufacturing, which has brought prosperity to the mills of this city, the whole community is indebted to him for the wise foresight and good judgment, which helped to choose the successful path in which the main industries of the city have since been directed.
“He was a man of strong character, with firm convictions and great courage; but underneath was a sensitive nature, which was little understood except by those closest to him. His associates on both boards feel that in his death they have lost a warm and faithful friend.”
On June 3, 1886, Mr. Knowles married Angeline W. Bourne, daughter of George A. Bourne, of New Bedford. Their home for many years was at No. 181 Hawthorne St. They attended the Unitarian Church. They had three children:
- Lora Standish Knowles, born June 4, 1887
- Joseph F., Jr., born July 23, 1888
- George B., born June 28, 1890, all of whom survive them.
Mrs. Knowles died Aug. 14, 1904. Mr. Knowles died suddenly Nov. 8, 1909.