Joe Knight and Reg Summerfieldtell of their grandfather's adventures
Joe and Reg share two grandparents - the amazing Joe Knight and his wife Mary. Joe first told the story at one of the BCMC meetings and then Reg added further information. This is their combined story.
Our grandfather was Joseph Knight and his brother was Edward Knight. (We think there was also a third brother, Peter, and a sister). We do not have their dates of birth but the family had originally come from Ireland. The family name had been Kelly but, like many Irish people, they changed it when they came to this country and called themselves Knight. Joseph and Edward ran away together when they were aged about 15. This would have been some time around 1865 to 1875. They went to Liverpool and worked their passage on a sailing ship to the United States. It was only when they got to New York that they realised what they had done. Joseph joined the 5th Cavalry and Edward joined the infantry. That was the last they saw of each other.
This is the only known photograph of Joe Knight
|Mary Anne Delaney is on the right and her sister Katherine is on the left.
My grandfather wandered round America for many years, doing odd jobs in the towns here and there, always working his way down south and to Mexico during the winter and then working his way back up north again when the warmer weather came. He reckoned you would never get lost if you remembered that moss always grows on the north side of a tree.
Joseph was fond of a drink and once, when he had been celebrating a bit too well, he was arrested and put in prison. He was thrown into a large cell with a lot of others. He noticed that everyone was keeping to one side of the cell, taking care to avoid one man who was left isolated on the other side. He asked what was going on and was told to keep clear of that man because he was a cannibal. It turned out that the man was a miner and he and several others had been mining up in the mountains when the snows came and they were trapped there. When they ran out of anything else to eat, they started to eat each other. This man was the only survivor and was now being prosecuted for the murder of his companions.
Our cousin, Margaret Guest, is Joe Knight's grand-daughter. Her father, Jim Knight, often spoke to Margaret and her husband, Jim Guest, about Joe and some of the people he met in America. Apparently he became quite friendly with Frank and Jesse James. He got on well with Frank but didn't like Jesse very much as he was moody, cold and unfriendly. Jim Knight used to recall that when an early version of the Jesse James story appeared at one of the cinemas Jim took Joe to see it. This film was portraying Jesse James as a kind of Robin Hood type - a lovable rogue who helped poor people from time to time. About half way through this film Joe walked out, saying that the film was a load of rubbish and that Jesse James was a crook and a murderer, who never helped anyone other than himself.
Joseph returned to England about 1890. On board the boat he met an Irish girl called Mary Anne Delaney. Mary originated in Ireland where her family name was O'Shaugnessy, but she had changed it to Delaney when she arrived in England. She and her sister Katherine (Kate) had gone to America as teenagers, where they had worked in service. When she met Joe on the boat they discovered they had both lived in Bilston without ever meeting each other. The boat they were on was presumed lost at sea and the Lutine bell was rung for it. But it did get back safely - 28 days late into Liverpool. Joe and Mary duly came back to Bilston and they duly got married.
Although Joseph had not seen his brother since they got to the States, it seems they had kept in touch from time to time, and Joe still has a letter which Edward sent to Joseph and their sister. This is what it says:
|Dallas Tex the 17.19.2[number missing]
Dear sister and brother I received your kind and ever welcome letter and was very much please to hear from you all. But sorrow that my dear little sister was sick so long i hope God will Bless you all with good health until i see you again i have been feeling myself this year for the first time since i left home i have being away els i wouild have rote sunner so you must excuse my short letter for this time. i would like to had being with you all this Christmas but i couldnt make it so i will close for this time as i wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy new year with my respects and kindest regards to my dear sister and Brother and all the youngsters i hope god will Bless you all from your brother till Death rite me some E Knight
3205 Main Street Dallas Tex
The letter is very neatly written but Edward seems to have had as much trouble with numbers as spelling, because Joe has another letter which shows that some years later Joseph was trying to contact his brother again. He seems to have shown this letter to his parish priest, who wrote to the Catholic church in Dallas. Joe has a copy of their reply in which they say there is no 3205 Main Street but there was a 3201 Main Street and they confirm that Edward Knight lived there. But he had moved and they had no new address for him.
On returning to Bilston Joseph had a number of jobs but it is well remembered that he had a smallholding on which he reared chickens and a few pigs and grew produce, all of which he sold in his shop at 19 Temple Street, Bilston. One of the many things he sold there was lamp oil and the shop always seemed to smell of it.
Joseph always retained an American accent and seems to have kept another habit of the Wild West - he was always ready for a fist fight. He would fight anyone. And he didn't lose. On one occasion he was dozing by the canal when a man tried to pinch his gold watch chain from his waistcoat. Joseph jumped up and immediately knocked the would be thief into the canal. The police talked about prosecuting him for attempted murder as the man nearly drowned. But nothing came of it.
One night Joseph heard noises at the back of his house and, fearing for his chickens in the yard, went out and found a man there. Joseph asked him who he was an what he was doing. The man said he was Police Constable Day and he was investigating a disturbance. Without hesitation, Joseph knocked him out. That misunderstanding was also sorted out but not before the local newspaper had displayed the headline: "Knight knocks out Day".
Sometimes Joseph's abilities were put to better use. One Cow Wednesday cattle had, as usual, been taken from the train at Bilston station to be transferred to the paddock in Temple Street, from where they would go to the abattoir. But one of them escaped and ran off down the road. Joseph ran after it, caught it up, leapt on to it and wrestled it to the ground. When the owners had run up and secured the errant beast, Joseph stood up, brushed the dust off his hands and strolled off, loudly announcing, in his best American drawl: "That's how we did it in Texas".
Frank Sharman adds this note:
When Joe first told me this story I was amazed and delighted. I used to take an interest in legal history. There were three famous instances of people being prosecuted for eating other people in order to survive - one English, one Australian and one American. And Joseph Knight was locked up in a cell with the American case!
In the USA judges are often appointed on political grounds and sometimes are even elected. In this case the judge was a keen member of the Republican party. When Joseph's cell companion had been found guilty, the judge yelled at him: "There are only six Republicans in the whole of this county and you, you b*****d, have eaten five of them!"; and then sentenced him to death.
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