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In the New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library
Thomas Knowles (1803-1877), was born in Eastham, Massachusetts, and moved to New Bedford, Mass., in the late 1820s. He established himself as a trader and was joined by his brother, John Pepper Knowles (1805-1896), in 1835 in a partnership known as T. & J. P. Knowles. As part of their mercantile activities, the brothers engaged several local residents, chiefly women, to make clothing through the piece-work system. In 1844, a cousin and former clerk for T. & J. P. Knowles, Joseph M. Knowles (1819-1876), became a partner in the firm, which changed its name to Thomas Knowles & Company. This organization sold groceries, provisions, and dry goods; continued to commission piece-work sewing of mattresses and pillows; and also acted as agents for numerous whaling vessels, including the Edward (Bark), Falcon (Ship/Bark), Hecla (Bark), Minerva 2d (Ship/Bark), Tamerlane (Ship/Bark), and Wave (Bark). By 1867, John Pepper Knowles II (1835-1902), and a son of Thomas Knowles, Thomas Henry Knowles (1837-1909), were full partners in the firm. Thomas Knowles & Company continued to exist until 1894, although the junior partners in the firm began to pursue independent commercial ventures as well after the deaths of two of the elder Knowles' in 1876 and 1877.
Other Knowles family members who were merchants and businessmen in New Bedford and vicinity during the nineteenth century include John Pepper Knowles Jr. (1830-1891), a brother of Joseph Knowles. He began his career as a clerk for Thomas Knowles & Company in 1852, and by 1859, had established his own business as a wholesale grocer. Like his cousins, he also became an agent for several whaling vessels.
Charles Sumner Knowles (1850-1911), another son of Thomas Knowles, was a manufacturer of wax and rubber in New Bedford and Boston, Mass. Several New Bedford city directories as well as a Knowles family genealogy state that he was also involved in electrical engineering.
Most of the records in this collection concern the business affairs of Thomas Knowles & Company of New Bedford, Mass. These materials, which are organized in Sub-group 2 of the inventory, primarily consist of the ship's papers for twelve whalers for which the company acted as agents from 1844-1889. Of particular note among these records are letters to and from captains, crew members and their families, as well as business associates; agent/owner accounts, which contain detailed information about the outfitting, overall expenses, and profits of individual whaling ventures; and crew papers, including Whalemen's Shipping Papers, crew lists, settlements, certificates of discharge, agreements and other legal documents, and receipts. Other ship's papers in this collection consist of consular records, chiefly protests, claims, and bills concerning damage to vessels and loss of cargoes; custom records, including certificates of clearance and manifests; insurance policies on vessels, outfits, and catches; bills of exchange and lading; bills and receipts relating to costs of outfitting, repairing and recruiting vessels during a voyage; and memoranda concerning supplies and catches. Ship's papers are most numerous for the Falcon (Ship/Bark), 1849-1889; Minerva 2d (Ship/Bark), 1844-1874; Tamerlane (Ship/Bark), 1850-1880; and the Wave (Bark), 1850-1888. Records for the Minerva, 2d, reflect that vessel's Involvement in the 1871 Arctic Disaster. Those papers for another Knowles' vessel, the Isabella(Bark), include materials relating to the capture of the bark by the Shenandoah during the Civil War. These records have been arranged under the names of individual vessels, first by voyage dates, then according to the types of documents which relate to each voyage. A final series in Sub-group 2, contains bills and receipts of Thomas Knowles & Company which do not seem to concern whaling ventures.
This collection also contains records of T. & J. P. Knowles, organized as Sub-group 1, and papers relating to individual Knowles family members, which have been arranged in series in Sub-group 3, according to each person's date of birth. Records of T. & J. P. Knowles consist of piece-work sewing accounts, 1832-1839, giving the names and wages of numerous workers; bills and receipts, 1835-1845, and an 1839 insurance policy. Papers of Thomas Knowles, 1825-1842, contain bills and receipts concerning his business activities prior to forming a partnership with his brother, as well as personal tax receipts. John Pepper Knowles' papers, 1842-1846, and those of Joseph Knowles, 1842-1852, consist of tax receipts which relate to their personal activities. John Pepper Knowles II is represented by agent/owner accounts and other ship's papers for the barks Avola, 1874, and John and Winthrop, 1876-ca. 1877. Thomas Henry Knowles' papers reflect his duties as treasurer of the New Bedford Tanning Company (later called the New Bedford Tannery) from 1863-1871. These materials include stock records, cash accounts, trial balances, and bills and receipts. Finally, papers for Charles Sumner Knowles consist of an account book relating to his activities as a wax manufacturer in New Bedford, Mass., from 1892-1897.
Researchers should note that the Old Dartmouth Historical Society manuscript collection also contains twenty-seven log books compiled during voyages of Knowles' vessels between the years 1845 and 1888. These volumes, which have been transferred to the log book collection, are described in the separations list concluding this inventory.
A published work which may serve as a guide to the persons represented by papers and records in this collection is Decendants Of Richard Knowles. . . , By Virginia Knowles Hufbauer, 1974.
Arrangement of Collection
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New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library Mss 55, [sub-group, series, sub-series, folder/volume as appropriate], [item]
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Removed to Log Book Collection
Edward (Bark), 1845-1849; ODHS # 551
Exchange (Bark), 1847-1849; ODHS # 11
Exchange (Bark), 1849-1850; ODHS # 33
Falcon (Ship/Bark), 1852-1855; ODHS # 288
Falcon (Ship/Bark), 1865-1867; ODHS # 905
Falcon (Ship/Bark), 1875-1879; ODHS # 349
Hecla (Bark), 1856-1859; ODHS # 104
Hecla (Bark), 1867-1869; ODHS # 259
John Carver (Bark), 1870-1874; ODHS # 973
John Wells (Ship/Bark), 1850-1854; ODHS # 101
Mary and Susan (Bark), 1877; ODHS # 814
Mary and Susan (Bark), 1877-1881; ODHS # 138
Robert Morrison (Bark), 1868-1871; ODHS # 263
Tamerlane (Ship/Bark), 1873-1877; ODHS # 779
Tamerlane (Ship/Bark), 1873-1877; ODHS # 975
Tamerlane (Ship/Bark), 1877; ODHS # 676
Tamerlane (Ship/Bark), 1877-1880; ODHS # 481
Tamerlane (Ship/Bark), 1888; ODHS # 39
Wave (Bark), 1867-1869; ODHS # 345
Wave (Bark), 1867; ODHS # 479A
Wave (Bark), 1869-1870; ODHS # 346
Wave (Bark), 1871; ODHS # 479B
Wave (Bark), 1871-1873; ODHS # 347
Wave (Bark), 1872-1876; ODHS # 355
Wave (Bark), 1874; ODHS # 480
Wave (Bark), 1876-1879; ODHS # 348
The major portion of the records in this collection were donated to the Old Dartmouth Historical Society by the estate of Andrew Snow Jr. on 17 March 1919. Other records were given to the Society by Mrs. Walter S. Wheeler on 28 February 1946 and July 1961; Charles R. Phillips Sr. on 30 April 1965; George B., James T., and William S. Knowles on 8 March 1973; and Sylvia H. Knowles on 3 April 1973. The records of the barksEdward and John Carver were donated by Mrs. Micheal Knauer on 21 November 1983.
Processed by: Judith Downey with assistance from Margaret Brightman, Barbara Groves, Henry Kette1, and Henry Sherman, ca. 1982
Encoded by: Kermit Dewey, 24 March 2012
Funds for processing this collection were provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Please Consult Research Library for Detailed Description of Collection
Account books--New Bedford, Mass.--1838-1839
Account books--New Bedford, Mass.--1845-1873
Account books--New Bedford, Mass.--1892-1897
Arctic disaster, 1871
Business records--Mass.--New Bedford
Collisions at sea
Commercial agents--Mass.--New Bedford
Grocery trade--Mass.--New Bedford
Insurance, Marine--Mass.--New Bedford--Policies
Knowles, Charles Sumner, 1850-1911
Knowles, John Pepper 2nd, 1830-1891
Knowles, John Pepper Jr., 1835-1902
Knowles, John Pepper, 1805-1896
Knowles, Joseph M., 1819-1876
Knowles, Thomas Henry, 1837-1909
Knowles, Thomas, 1803-1877
Merchant seamen--Mass.--New Bedford
Merchant seamen--Mass.--New Bedford--Salaries, pensions,etc.
New Bedford Tannery, New Bedford, Mass.
New Bedford, Mass.--Commerce
New Bedford, Mass.--Industries
Pierce, Abraham W., fl. 1869-1872
Ship chandlers--Mass.--New Bedford
Ships--Equipment and supplies
Ships--Maintenance and repair
T. & J. P. Knowles, New Bedford, Mass.
Thomas Knowles & Company, New Bedford, Mass.
United States--Claims against Great Britain
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Claims
Waxes--Trade and manufacture--Mass.--New Bedford
Charleston Packet (Bark)
Ellen Morrison (Bark)
Gay Head (Bark)
John Carver (Bark)
John Wells (Bark)
John Wells (Ship)
John and Winthrop (Bark)
Mary and Susan (Bark)
Minerva 2nd (Bark)
Minerva 2nd (Ship)
Robert Edwards (Ship)
Robert Morrison (Bark)