Knowles Surname Genealogy

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.

Knowles Resources on

Knowles Ancestry

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

Knolles or Knollys was a bowman from Cheshire who rose through the
fighting in France to lead a company of men which pillaged and ravaged
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,
fact came about because of actions taken by his wife.

, 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
its ranks in the mid 18th century. He
was also, briefly, Governor of Jamaica.
His son, also Charles, commanded ships during the Napoleonic

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

Lancashire. The
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
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.

Ireland. The Gaelic O’Tauthghail sept
in Kildare
sometimes became Newell and sometimes Knowles under English rule; while
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

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
    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
    Knowles departed with his family for Lanark county, Ontario in the
  • while
    two brothers, William and Hugh Knowles,
    set off for Australia in the 1890's. William Knowles became a
    journalist in

Knowles still remain in the
area. David Knowles, for instance, runs a
large dairy farm at Cullybacky near Ballymena.

America. 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.

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
, 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
Bahamas in the 1650’s, but there is no clear link.

, 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
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
    who rose to become the first Chief Justice of the newly independent
    Bahamas in
  • 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
    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.

Knowles Miscellany

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

Knowles Names

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

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)



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