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Monday, December 11, 2006

The McKnights of Galloway

The ancient kingdom of Galloway sits in the wild and isolated southwest corner of Scotland.  It is now split into two counties, Wigtownshire in the west, pointing toward Ireland, and Kirkcudbrightshire (or the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright) in the east, bordering Dumfriesshire, and facing south to the Solway Firth.

McKnights have lived in Galloway for centuries, ever since an estate was granted to a John MacNacht or MacNauchtan by the King of Scotland in the 13th century.  I have traced my McKnight line back to John McKnight, a blacksmith, born about 1796 in Girthon Parish.  He married Marion McJennet around 1825.  They first lived in Kelton, then Balmaghie, and finally Kirkmabreck.  Their son Robert, born around 1838, married Mary Dobie in 1858 in the city of Dalbeattie, in Urr Parish.  The Dobies came from equally long Galloway lines of Dobies, Griersons, Hunters, and Lindsays.

An industry that was growing quickly in Dalbeattie and elsewhere in Kirkcudbright was the granite industry.  Kirkcudbright granite was salt-resistant, thus useful for building piers.  It was also used extensively in building roads throughout Great Britain - cobblestones, curbstones, and gravel.  Robert worked in the granite industry, and eventually became a foreman of a quarry.  Two of his sons, David and Robert, became granite hewers, or stonecutters.

David was the first to leave Scotland.  He came to America around 1882, through the port of Belfast, Maine, apparently.  He married a woman named Arbella, who had been born in Maine, and by 1890 he was working in Barre, Vermont, as a stonecutter.

His brother Robert, in the meantime, had met Olivia Farrel or Farrell, who was working as a housemaid in Dalbeattie, and had begun having children by her.  Olivia was six years older than Robert, and had been born in Borgue Parish.  Her father, John, was from Belfast, Ireland, and her mother, Jane Moore, was from Monaghan County in Ireland.  Jane and John had married in Belfast, and soon after had skipped over the Irish Channel to Kirkcudbright Town.  John worked as a shepherd and a gardener, and died of pneumonia at the age of 44.

It appears that Robert emigrated alone to America in 1887 to meet up with his brother David.  Then he went back to Kirkcudbright, married Olivia, packed up his two children and his parents, and off they all went to Barre, Vermont.  They had five more children in Barre, including Howard McKnight, my grandfather.

Robert worked as a stonecutter until his death in 1919 at age 51.  He is said to have died from an accident in the stone-shed where he worked.  Olivia lived until the ripe age of 94.


Related websites:
MacNauchts in Galloway
Dalbeattie Town History
Vermont Granite Quarries
Barre City Directory 1905