Hampden Heritage

Archaeology, History, and Heritage in Central Baltimore

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Who Was John Knight? (The Long-Awaited Conclusion . . . Sort Of)

The answers to the questions I posed at the end of my last blog post are a bit surprising. In the 1980s a descendant of John Knight contacted the Lovely Lane Museum to find some genealogical information, and at least part of this correspondence has been saved in the vertical file for Hampden United Methodist Church. According to research already done by his descendant (and which I was able to confirm during a trip to the Baltimore County Historical Society Library just this morning), John Knight was the son of one Horace Knight, millwright, and his wife Catherine—née Gambrill. Catherine Gambrill was the first daughter of John Gambrill, one of the founders of the textile industry in Hampden-Woodberry.

What is the significance of John Knight’s family connections? For one thing, the fact that his father was a millwright means that Horace Knight was a skilled artisan, likely a partner of John Gambrill’s at some point. At the very least he was no mere operative. Thus, it would seem unlikely that the grandson of a capitalist and the son of an artisan would himself be a mere unskilled (or little-skilled) mill worker. Indeed, while the photograph of John Knight’s Clipper Road home reproduced in Rev. Stone’s history seems modest enough, the portrait of John Knight himself is striking: he is wearing a full suit and holding a top hat—hardly the attire of a wage worker. So what exactly was John Knight’s position in the mills? Was he, in fact, a manager? And if he was, then why would Rev. Stone, writing in 1917, have suggested (without explicitly saying so) that Knight was an average operative? Was this merely a misinterpretation of source material on Rev. Stone’s part, or did he have some political reason for wanting to represent Knight as a working-class man? What might such a reason have been? Was the MP Church largely a working-class church at this time? Or can it just be chalked up to Christian humility?

My second question was, why did John Knight, whose portrait is reproduced in much of the historical literature produced by Hampden United Methodist Church over the course of the 20th century, disappear from Rev. Stone’s history of the church as soon as worship services left his home and moved to Cox’s Chapel in 1868? According to the letter written in response to his descendant, John Knight was admitted on trial to the Baltimore Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South in 1873. (Recall from my last post that the ME Church, South split from the ME Church over the issue of slavery, with the latter church supporting its continuation.) Knight continued on trial until he withdrew from the church in 1876. During that time, however, he had appointments as a circuit rider (a preacher who traveled to a number of churches over a large area that were too small to have their own full-time ministers) in Howard and Harford counties.

Why (and when) did John Knight leave the MP congregation that he founded? Was it because he felt more in tune with the ME Church, South’s pro-slavery stance? (But keep in mind, the Eastern Conference of the MP Church, headquartered in Baltimore, was also largely pro-slavery—and slavery had been legally ended by this time, anyway.) Why did he subsequently leave the ME Church, South? Did he leave his position at the mills (whatever it was) when he became a circuit rider? Did he go back to the mills after he left the ME Church, South? John Knight died in 1888 in Remington, and the location of his grave is unknown, although his wife, who died in 1919, is buried in the churchyard of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Hampden—perhaps he joined her in the Episcopal faith. Unfortunately, important parts of John Knight’s life still remain a mystery.


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