John Knox? John Not!

Henrietta Knox Kelsey, was my great-great grandmother on my maternal grandmother’s side. Her daughter,  Rose Bannon,  preserved the story of how Henrietta and Richard Bannon met and married. Rose Bannon (my grandmother’s aunt) wrote this in a letter to her niece sometime around 1964. Ms. Betty Ann Bannon of Tampa, Florida provided me with a copy of the letter in 1992:

Henrietta Knox Cummins Kelsey was the daughter of Emily Knox and William Kelsey of Belfast Ireland. They lived on a large estate known as "Plantation". Which was close to Belfast. They were strict Presbyterians and a news paper wasn’t allowed in the house on Sunday.

Henrietta’s mother Emily Knox claimed she was a lineal descendant of John Knox The Reformer.

Henrietta was third youngest of eighteen children’s and all of them received a good educations. Henrietta was sent to a select private school in Belfast, as were her sisters before her, and was well educated.

She had three brothers to come to America and all of them settled in St. Louis. Alexander became Mayor of St. Louis at one time, and was well thought of. Another brother Dwight was a Doctor there, the third brother was Arthur, who operated a farm near St. Louis. They all married and had a family.

When Henrietta was a young lady her brother Alexander and wife came back to Ireland on a visit, and on leaving, induced Henrietta’s parents allow Henrietta to go back to America for a visit with them. She had a wonderful time, and loved America. After a years visit, her mother insisted on her to return home.

She was home but a short time when she met Richard Bannon, who lived in America, but was on a visit to see a cousin who lived in Belfast, which was his birth place. He told his cousin he wanted to meet a nice Irish girl. Through his cousin Henrietta met him, they fell in love and wanted to get married. But her father wouldn’t give his consent, on account of Richard being a Catholic.

She had a brother-in-law in Belfast, Hugh Rea, who took her part. He was a very prominent man in Belfast, was Editor of Belfast Daily News. He said to her father, "Governor if you want consent to Henrietta’s marriage and buy her a nice trousseau I will, and she can be married in my home." Her father gave in and orders for Henrietta to buy what she needed. But her father never spoke to her from that day on.

They were married and had left by train, the train made a stop at a station about thirty miles from Belfast, and the first person she saw was her father. He got on the train and said "Henrietta I couldn’t let you go without my blessing." He shook hands with her husband and wished both of them happiness. She never saw him again.

After his the land estate went to her oldest brother Henderson, which was the law there, and Henrietta received 700lbs, as her inheritance.

When Richard and his wife reached America they were remarried by the Bishop of Covington Ky. who was an old friend of Richards.

Richard business was in Louisville, where his brother Patrick resided. The two brothers built a double brick house in west end, and drew straws to see which side each one would occupy, and they raised their families there. Richard and Henrietta had six children, William P. was the first of the union to be born there, about five blocks from our home was St.Cecelias’[sic] church. They had a very small congregation and most of them in poor circumstances. Richard and Henrietta worked hard to help make money for the church. Even the Priest was so poor, he would come to Henrietta and ask for clothes for himself and Henrietta always helped him. When Richard came home she told him what she had done, and Richard said "Well you didn’t have to give him my best suit."

Richard lived till he was 65 years old, Arthur was only three years old when his father died. Henrietta was a widow for two years, and then married Bernard J. Campbell, who was half brother of Richards, and there was opposition on both sides against the marriage.

Henrietta wasn’t a business woman and taxes on the property Richard left accumulated, Bernard paid the taxes until finally the property fell into his hands. I don’t believe Henrietta ever forgave him for that. Henrietta would often tease me by saying, Rose when it comes time for me to die, I’m going to have a Prodestant [sic] Minister, but I know she didn’t mean it.

In 1914 she hadn’t been well for some time and one evening she called me to her and said, Rose I want you to call Father Fallon and tell him I want to see him". I could hardly get down stairs quick enough to call him. In half an hour he was with her, heard her confession and told her he would be back the next morning to at 7:30 to give her Holy Communions. When he arrived the next morning she was dying, and he gave her last rights of the Church.

Bernard Campbell lived till the following year, Nov. 8. 1915. Aunt Kate, Uncle Joe and Dorothy made their home with me for a year. Aunt Kate wasn’t very sentimental and most things were disposed of. I filled a barrel with things I wanted. Henrietta always wanted Will to have Richard’s old writing desk, which was solid walnut and so heavy it couldn’t be moved. Will didn’t want it so Arthur took it.

I met my future husband in Omaha, where he was a teacher. He was a Protestant and a very good man. We were married in Omaha by a Redemtorest Priest.

We came down to Florida in 1924 and settled in Tampa. He died in 1945. I haven’t any regrets about my life, and am ready to go when God calls me.

In her letter, Rose mentions that Henrietta’s mother Emily Knox claimed she was a lineal descendant of John Knox the Reformer. My great-great grandmother’s mother, Mary Emily Knox, might have been of the Knox family of Londenderry, Northern Ireland and this where the Knox line begins for us. The Knox family of Londenderry probably arrived in Ireland from Scotland sometime in mid-17th C. during Cromwell’s protecterate in Great Britain.

The idea that we (my mother and I) are lineal descendants of John Knox the Reformer is one that presents a bit of a problem. The problem is that it cannot be true. Here’s why…

John Knox the Reformer was born between 1504 and 1514 at Gifford Gate, Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland. He was the founder of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, a contemporary of Edward VI / Mary Queen of Scots / Elizabeth I, and a leading figure in the history of the Protestant reformation. John Knox was married two times and had only five children who survived into adult. He married Marjorie Bowes circa 1553. After Majorie Bowes death, he married the sixteen year old Lady Margaret Stewart in Mar 1563. He died on 24 Nov 1572 at Edinburgh, Scotland.

By Marjorie Bowes, John Knox had two sons both born at Geneva:

  • Nathaniel Knox was born in May 1557. He died in 1580 at Cambridge, England. He was buried on 28 May 1580 at Cambridge, England. He was unmarried and had no issue.
  • Eleazer Knox was born in 1558. He died on 23 May 1591 at England. He was buried in 1591 at St John’s College, Oxford, England. He was unmarried and had no issue.

Children of John Knox the Reformer and Lady Margaret Stewart were as follows: Martha Knox, born circa 1565 and Elizabeth Knox, born circa 1570.

So it goes that John Knox the Reformer had no other descendants besides his two sons who bore the name of Knox and the only line of descent from the Reverend Knox to have survived past the 17th century is the line that descends from John’s youngest daughter Elizabeth who married the Reverend John Welsh in 1594 and had three sons and 1 daughter.

According to "Genealogical Memoirs Of John Knox" by Rev. Charles Rogers (London: 1879):

  • William Welsh, the eldest son, was a physician in the Netherlands and he was accidently killed there.
  • Josias Welsh, second son, became an ordained minister, migrated to Northern Ireland and died in Templepatrick, Ulster.
  • Nathaniel Welsh, third son, died young after being shipwrecked.
  • Louise Welsh, the younger daughter, was born in 1613; she was alive in 1625, and though her subsequent history is not certainly known, it is not improbable that she married and settled in Fifeshire.

Yet this mistake of claiming descent from John Knox the Reformer through a "Knox" line seems to be a common one. For example the Wikipedia article on James K. Polk mistakenly identifies John Knox the Reformer as one of the President Polk’s ancestors when it states: "His mother, Jane Polk (née Knox) was a descendant of the Scottish religious reformer John Knox." and when she is actually a descendant of a man named John Knox who settled in North Carolina.