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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


James Hume Knowles

Among the men who gave the strength of their best years toward the development of the resources of Sonoma county, few are more kindly remembered than James Hume Knowles, who for a period of nearly fifty years gave the vigor of his manhood toward developing the latent resources of the Pacific slope. A native of England, he was born near Manchester in the year 1831, and in young manhood he came to the United States, landing in New York City. The news of the finding of gold in California found him apparently expecting and waiting for just such an opportunity as this seemed to offer, and he at once made ready to set sail for the land of opportunity. After his passage was paid for he had just twenty cents in his pocket, but this condition of his finances did not disturb his peace of mind, but rather served as a spur to his already hopeful and daring disposition. The voyage was made around Cape Horn on the clipper ship North America, in 1852, and in due season it reached its destination, San Francisco. He immediately sought work, and was fortunate in the search, remaining there variously occupied for some time.

Whatever he could save from his small earnings Mr. Knowles laid by for future use, and when he finally came to Sonoma county in 1854 he had quite a nest-egg with which to make a start in the world. Settling in Petaluma, he entered enthusiastically into the activities of the growing town, in recognition of which his fellow-citizens made him marshal of the town, a position which he filled acceptably for about fourteen years. He might have filled the position indefinitely had he so desired, but in order to devote his time more closely to private interests he resigned the position at the end of the time mentioned, and gong to Cazadero, purchased a ranch of eleven hundred and twenty-five acres, upon which he lived for the following nine years. It was then that he came to Bloomfield and purchased the ranch upon which he was living at the time of his death, in 1895. Not every man in a community by any means is fitted to be a leader of his fellows, but Mr. Knowles possessed the requisite qualities in ample measure, and in a becoming and self-forgetful way he put those qualities to good account in every locality in which he made his home when called upon by his fellow-citizens. In private affairs as well as in public matters he led the way and others followed, undertaking ranching on a large scale and planting crops as yet untried in this part of the state. Not only for his success as an agriculturist and his ability as a public officer did he gain esteem, but his personality was such that all who came in contact with him admired his strength and stability of character, and although it is sixteen years since he passed from the scenes of earth, he is still kindly remembered by the many who were associated with him in days gone by.

In his wife, formerly Miss Clara Canfield, and to whom he was married in 1857, Mr. Knowles had a true companion and help-mate, one who shared his joys and sorrows. She was a daughter of W. D. Canfield, who was also a well-known and honored pioneer settler of Sonoma county. The only child born of this marriage was William Henry Knowles, of whom a sketch will be found below. Fraternally Mr. Knowles was a Mason and Odd Fellow, in both of which orders he was an active worker and a member highly esteemed by fellow-members.

History of Sonoma County, California
Biographical Sketches of The Leading Men and Women of the County Who Have Been Identified With Its Growth and Development from the Early Days to the Present
History By: Tom Gregory
Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California (1911)

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011