1843: John Le Grand Knox to Elizabeth Carter (Sigourney) Knox

John Le Grand Knox

This letter was written by John Le Grand Knox (1803-1879) of Troy, Rennselaer, New York, to his wife, Elizabeth Carter (Sigourney) Knox (1813-1885). John was the son of Hugh Knox (1780-1858) who was born on the island of St. Croix where his father, Rev. Dr. Hugh Knox was a Scottish-born Presbyterian clergyman and physician. John’s mother was the daughter of Governor Simmons (Island of Saba). Unfortunately, both of Hugh’s parents died before he was 10 years old so he was sent to Norwalk, CT. and raised by Rev. Matthias Burnet. As an adult, he became a business partner with Samuel Cannon and married Samuel’s daughter, Henrietta, in 1803. (See Hugh Knox’s biography in footnotes.)

John’s wife, the former Elizabeth C. Sigourney, was the daughter of Charles Sigourney (1778-1854) and Jane Carter (1783-1818) of Hartford, Connecticut. After Elizabeth’s mother died in 1818, her father took Lydia Howard Huntley (1791-1865) as his second wife. Lydia is not so well recognized today, but in the 1830’s to 1850’s, Lydia Huntley Sigourney was arguably the most popular female poet in America.

From this letter, it isn’t clear what “business” has taken John Knox into the Adirondack Mountains and into Vermont but it must have been associated with the “wholesale dry goods” business he and his partner, John H. Whitlock, conducted in Troy, New York (see biography in footnotes). The family that John stayed with in Chester, Warren County, New York, just previous to writing this letter was that of John Richardson Thurman (see biography in footnotes) who later was elected as a Whig to the Thirty-first Congress.

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[Addressed to Mrs. E. C. Knox, care of Knox & Whitlock, Troy, N.Y.]

Schroon, Essex County, N.Y.
Sunday A.M. 22 January 1843

My dear Elizabeth,

Here I am, in a small tavern by the side of a lake, surrounded by mountains, with perhaps a dozen houses in sight – a beautiful spot in summer but rather dreary now. I am very comfortable, however – a good bed last night, nice trout for supper & breakfast, & a warm fire to sit by while writing. I staid at Chester (15 miles below & 75 from home) two days. I met John R. Thurman at the village, Friday, rode out to this place, 3 miles, & spent the nights. Had a very pleasant visit – his wife & Miss M. Tibbetts [are] very well. They were happy to see me [and] treated me with great hospitality. Sarah thought I might have brought you & the baby & staid with them until my return. As they have no neighbors, it is quite a relief to have a visitor. They live very handsomely & contentedly, as near as we can judge from outward appearances. Sarah has been more fortunate than most girls. I think John a fine man. He has changed materially since his marriage (always honest & well meaning). He has become very thoughtful, wishes to be good himself, & have his influence make others so.

About 9 P.M., the household were called together [and] he read a chapter in the bible, & then prayers. In the morning, the same. It seemed to have an effect; everything was quiet & orderly. They have a fine child. It came to me & I had a fine frolic with it. [It is] very healthy [and] weighs 21 lbs. It brought to mind our dear little one & caused me to think more of home. How I should enjoy being with you today. It appears so long since I left you [and] not hearing [from you] either. But I hope to at Ticonderoga where I expect to go this afternoon. I shall send this from there & will let you know where to write to me next. Do write me good long letters, how you are, & all about you. I have been delayed in my journey thus far — some of my business taking longer to accomplish than I expected.

Ticonderoga, Monday morning.

I arrived here last night 6 hours from Schroon (21 miles) part of the way in a sleigh & the other in a waggon. Very tedious. This is a miserable place to stay in – nothing to eat that is passable. The weather is delightfully warm but too much so for travelling. You may write me first to Keeseville [N.Y.], then to Burlington, Vermont. Kiss our little darling many times for me & put her in mind of her father that she may not forget him.

Love to father & mother, & any thing to your dear self.

I did not get letters here but could not much expect them in the last mail. Left Troy Friday. I hope to get there tomorrow where there will be another mail. I had them sent forward. I shall leave here today for Port Henry. I am very well. The travelling agrees with me. Hoping you are all well.

I am your dear darling husband – J. L. K.

  • From the History of Rensselaer County, New York, by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester:

John Le Grand Knox was born at Norwalk, Conn., Nov. 15, 1803. His grandfather, Rev. Hugh Knox, deceased, was a native of Glasgow, Scotland, where he was liberally educated and became a minister of the Scottish Kirk. He had a strong, well-trained mind, accomplished literary powers, rare ability in the pulpit, and was the author of several works, of which “Sermons,” in two volumes, Glasgow, 1776, and “Essays,” in two volumes, of later date, are the most valuable. For many years prior to 1800 he was settled as a minister of the gospel at Bass End, Santa Cruz, W. I., and there married a Danish lady, the daughter of the governor of the Danish West Indies. At this time he became acquainted with Alexander Hamilton, then a boy in a counting house at Bass End, and discovering his remarkably bright intellect, both taught and aided him, and finally sent him to a friend in New Jersey for the promotion of his education and future welfare. This gentleman procured him a situation in a lawyer’s office, and secured his admission into Columbia (then King’s) College, which wee the preliminary steps in the history of one of the greatest men of the age.

Dr. Knox died in the island of his adoption, about the year 1800. By reason of the insurrection of the negroes in Santa Cruz, in 1802, the family was obliged to leave the country. In their hasty flight they left behind their estate, property, and records, and sailed for Scotland. Hugh Knox, son of Dr. Knox, was born at Santa Cruz, in 1780; he was sent to Norwalk, Conn., at the age of eight years, and places under the tutorship of his father’s friend, Rev. Matthias Burnett, D. D. Here he grew up, and was graduated from Yale College in the same class with the late Samuel B. Huntington, of Troy, Roger M. Sherman, of Connecticut, and others. He married Henrietta, daughter of Samuel Cannon, of Norwalk, Conn., and sister of Le Grand Cannon, of Troy, N. Y. He was a lawyer by profession, yet on account of feeble health never practiced much. His wife died in Norwalk, in 1812, but he subsequently married Martha Keeler, daughter of Stephen Keeler, of Norwalk, and moved to Troy about 1840. He died in Troy, in 1858, aged seventy-eight.

John Le Grand Knox was the only son of Hugh and Henrietta (Cannon) Knox. In early life he received a good education and such practical training as develops a large and honorable type of manhood. In 1816 he was sent to Troy to the school of Dr. Stoddard, and march 9, 1820, began business life as clerk in the dry goods house of Southwick, Cannon & Warren, where he became conversant with every detail of that business. After seven years spent in this house he embarked in trade for himself, and for many years was familiarly known to the citizens of Troy as a prominent dry goods merchant, retaining (by the strict integrity and good judgment manifested in all his business operations) the full confidence of the business public. He had associated with him at different times Francis Morgan, John H. Whitlock, and Gould Rockwell.

After his retirement from mercantile trade he assumed a position of trust in the extensive manufacturing and commercial interest of Troy Iron and Nail Factor of H. Burden & Sons, which position he retained from 1857 to 1876, when he retired from the active duties of life.

Mr. Knox early became impressed with the principles of the old Federalists, a party with which his father was connected in its early history; he was subsequently a member of the Whig party, and during the latter years of his life he cast his vote with the Republicans, although taking an independent position in politics.

He was never active in politics or solicitous of political preferment, but always interested in all questions pertaining to local or national legislation. Upon the whole, there have been few men in the community who, for so long a term of years, have gone in and out on terms of confidence and intimacy among the most influential, cultivated, and worthy people of the city as Mr. Knox, who was a marked gentleman in deportment and at heart, amiable and kindly in every feeling towards others, and deeply interested in every true interest of his fellow citizens.

Mr. Knox was twice married: first, to Mary M., daughter of the late Stephen Warren, of Troy, N. Y. She died without issue. His second wife, Elizabeth Carter, daughter of Charles and Jane (Carter) Sigourney , of Hartford, Conn., was born Aug. 6, 1813. She is a lineal descendant of Andrew Sigourney, who lived in Rochelle, in France, when the edict of Nantes was revoked, Oct. 22, 1685, and who came to Boston with other Huguenot emigrants in the winter of 1686, where he died April 16, 1727, aged eighty-nine.

The children of Mrs. and Mrs. Knox have been the following: Mary E. (1842-1875), wife of C. E. Dudley Tibbits, of Troy (deceased); Chas. Sigourney (1843-?), assistant master in St. Paul’s School, Concord, N. H.; John Hugh (1845-?), merchant in Troy, N. Y.,; Stephen Warren (1847-1867); James Carter (1849-?), assistant master in St. Paul’s School, Concord, N. H.; and Henry Cannon (1851-1872).

John Le Grand Knox died at Troy, N. Y., August 21, 1879, in the seventy-sixth year of his age.”

  • From the Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College by Franklin Bowditch Dexter:

Hugh Knox, the youngest child of the Rev. Dr. Hugh Knox (Princeton 1754), a native of Ireland, who was long settled over a Presbyterian Church in the island of St. Croix in the Danish West Indies, was born on that island on December 19, 1781. The wife of Dr. Knox was the youngest daughter of Governor Simmons, of the Dutch West Indies.

He lost his mother at the age of six, and his father three years later; but shortly before this last bereavement he was sent to the care of the Rev. Dr. Matthias Burnet (Princeton 1769), of Norwalk, Connecticut, by whom he was prepared for College. He did not enter until after the opening of the Freshman year.

When he graduated he began the study of law with Roger Minott Sherman (Yale 1792) in Fairfield, but abandoned it on account of his health. He then formed a business connection with Samuel Cannon, of Norwalk, whose eldest daughter, Henrietta, by his wife Sarah Belden, he married early in 1803. Mrs. Knox died in 1812, at the age of 28; and he next married, in 1818, Martha, daughter of Stephen and Margaret (Pynchon) Keeler, of Norwalk, born July, 1783.

In 1840 he removed to Troy, New York, and died there on August 8, 1858, in his 77th year. His children (by his first wife) were two sons, of whom the younger died in infancy. His strong religious feeling and great taste for reading were prominent traits of his character.”

  • From a History of Troy Citizens Corps by Harry Pratt Judson:

John H. Whitlock was born at New Haven, Conn., in October, 1811. He was the only son of the Rev. Samuel Whitlock, rector of Trinity (Episcopal) Church, in that city. Being designed for mercantile life, after an apprenticeship in the employ of a Vermont merchant he came to Troy about 1828, and obtained a clerkship in the dry goods store of Knox & Morgan, on the corner of River and State streets. After several years of faithful service, he became a member of the firm ; and for some ten years Knox & Whitlock did an active business in the wholesale dry goods trade. After the dissolution of that firm, he entered upon the manufacture of britannia ware, and finally was engaged with the Lilly Safe Co. He died at Glens Falls, N. Y., July 1, 1866, and was buried in Oakwood cemetery in this city. His wife, daughter of the late Judge Samuel G. Huntingdon, survives him. Mr. Whitlock was a communicant at St. Paul’s Church, and was always active in its work. In his younger days he was busied in both choir and Sunday school.

He was an early member of the Corps, and a staunch one. We find his name in the list of privates in 1839, among those who went to the Helderbergs. In 1846 he was elected first lieutenant, and served in that capacity for the ensuing year. On the resignation of Capt. Van Schaick, in July, 1840, John H. Whitlock was chosen to succeed him. He was reelected at the next annual election, November, 1849, and served with credit to himself and to the company. He was also elected captain in 1853, on the resignation of Capt. Jones, but business engagements prevented his accepting.

Captain Whitlock was an upright and high-minded man in all the relations of life, and as an officer and member of the Corps always did good service.”

  • John Richardson Thurman, “a Representative from New York; born in New York City October 6, 1814; was graduated from Columbia College in 1835; moved to Warren County, near Chestertown, N.Y., and engaged in agricultural pursuits; held several local offices; elected as a Whig to the Thirty-first Congress (March 4, 1849-March 3, 1851); declined to be a candidate for renomination in 1850; devoted his attention to the management of his estate; died at Friends Lake, Chester Township, Warren County, N.Y., July 24, 1854; interment in the family cemetery; reinterment in Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, Rensselaer County, N.Y.” [Editor’s note: John Thurman married Sarah Tibbits Lane (1820-1887) on 2 June 1841 in Troy. The baby mentioned in this letter was Caroline Tibbits Thurman, born 4 April 1842.]
  • As a point of interest, John Le Grand Knox’s grandfather, Rev. Dr. Hugh Knox, is often credited with having recognized the talents of a very young Alexander Hamilton. He was a mentor and even helped finance his education.

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