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Knox County History

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County: Knox
Organized: February 14, 1845
Named after: Gen. Henry Knox of the Revolution
County seat: Edina




Picture taken March 19, 1968, portrays the Historical Room Museum 
located in the southwest corner of the Knox County Court House. 
Due to limited facilities, future plans are to move to a more spacious structure. 
Membership dues and contributions will hasten that day.


It may seem odd at first that I am starting with the history of Lewis county but that is because Knox was apart of Lewis County until February 14, 1845.


Up to 1804 the Sac Indians occupied the territory now Lewis County, and for many years afterward, annually visited it.  About the beginning of the nineteenth century a Frenchman named LESSEUR built a hut on the west bank of the Mississippi River at the site of the present city of LaGrange, and commenced trading with the Indians.  Lesseur was only a temporary resident and occupied his hut only during the fall and summer months.  According to the most reliable tradition and record, the first one to become a permanent resident and to cultivate the soil was JOHN BOZARTH, a native of Grayston County, Kentucky, who, in the spring of 1819, settled near the site of  the present city of LaGrange, and broke twenty acres of land, which he planted with corn.  In November of the same year he returned to Kentucky and removed his family and slaves, in all eighteen people, to his new home.  ISAAC NORRIS and ROBERT M> EASTON entered land in what is now Union Township.  On the next day, April 21, WILLIAM PRITCHARD filed his claim to land in what is now, Canton Township, and three days later ROBERT JONES entered land in what is now the upper part of Union Township, and AARON T. CRANE entered land in what is now Canton Township, settling near Pritchard.

     No other entry of land was made until June 2, 1819, when LLEWELLYN BROWN filed on land near Bozarth.  In a few years others settlers located near the Mississippi, and along the Wyanconda bottoms.  In ten years after the first settlement was made there wner more than one thousand people in the territory.

     The first town was laid out in the territory now Lewis County, in 1820-1, and was called Waconda (Wyaconda).  There was located the first mill in this region, run by JOHN McKINNEY, and the place was also known as McKinney’s Mill.  The town was washed away by the river nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

     Lewis County was organized by legislative act approved January 2, 1833, and named in honor of Captain Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and Governor of the Territory of Louisiana from 1807 to 1809.  The commissioners appointed to select a permanent seat of justice were WILLIAM BLAKELY, WILLIAM F.FORMAN and JOSHUA FEAZEL.  Later STEPHEN CLEAVER was appointed one of the county seat commissioners.  They selected a tract of sixty acres now part of the site of Monticello.  This tract was donated to the county by ANDREW P. WILLIAMS.  A year later the land was surveyed under the supervision of SILAS REDDISH, who had been appointed commissioner of the seat of justice, snd was named Monticello after the country residence of Thomas Jefferson.

     The first County Court of Lewis County met at the house of John Bozarth, a short distance below the present site of  LaGrange, on Wednesday, June 5, 1833.  GREGORY F. HAWKINS and JOHN TAYLOR was the first clerk, and CHILTON B. TATE the first sheriff, and both were in attendance and presented their credentials.  The absent judge, ALEXANDER McMORROW, forwarded his resignation to the court , and JAMES A. RICHARDSON was appointed his successor.

     The third term of the county court met at the house of MORTON BOURNE; the fourth term was held at the house of the U. S.  GREGORY, at Canton; the fifth at the house of JOSEPH TROTTER, at Canton and the sixth meeting held on June 2, 1834, was in the new courthouse in the town of Monticello.

     The first Circuit Court for Lewis County was directed to meet July 14, 1833, at the house of JOHN BOZARTH.  Judge PRIESTLY H. McBRIDE failing to appear, on July 17th, the sheriff declared the court postponed.  The first meeting of the court was held October 14, 1833, at the house of U. S. Gregory, in Canton, Judge Priestly McBride presiding.  The first lawyers to be admitted to practice before the courts of the county were THOMAS L. ANDERSON, URIEL WRIGHT and STEPHEN W. B. CARNEGY.

     In 1832, the first church organization of Lewis County was formed by the members of the Methodist Episcopal denomination at the house of Captain WILLIAM PRITCHARD, on Cottonwood Prairie.  The first ministers of the Methodist Church were Rev. Mr. DOLE and Rev. L. B. STALEY.  In 1855 a Baptist minister, Rev. J. M. LILLARD, preached in different parts of the country.

     The population in 1900 was 16,724.

In the year 1804 the population of what is now Knox County was perhaps 1,500 or 1,800.  The exact figures can not now be determined, since the territory was then included in Lewis, and its census included in that county.  It is quite certain that by this time nearly every quarter of the present county had been explored, and that the squatters’ and settleres’ cabins were in all parts, except in the middle of the wide prairies.  Newark and Edina had been laid out, Copper & Roberts mill, at Millport, and Fresh’s, near Newark, were in operation, and one or two distilleries were running.  Roads had been laid out between the important points, and the foundations for a thorough civilization were fairly laid.

     Succeeding the year 1840, came the Irish settlement, which is described elsewhere.  Clearings were now made in the timbered reginons of Greensburg, Bee Ridge and Bourbon, and farms were opened in the prairies.  Year by year additions were made to the population, and by the year 1845 the county had advanced to the extent that its complete organization was warranted.

     The first settlers in the county came originally form Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, and from  other counties in Missouri.  Some of the best families were from Maryland.  There were, however, a few representatives from each of the Sates of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.  The few Norwegians on the headwaters of Black Creek, the German, Von Carnip, and the progenitors of the Irish colony comprised the foreign pioneers.

(When completed I will place link here)


     It is customary to indulge in the great deal of gush and extravagant adulation in speaking of the first settlers of a country.  Their virtues are extolled immoderately, their weaknesses – it is never admitted that they had any vices = are seldom or ever hinted at.  The true-hearted pioneers of Knox County would not wish to be written of other than fairly.  Our first settlers were mere men and women, with all the virtues and graces, and all of the vices and frailties of that number of people taken at random from rural communities.  They were neither any worse nor any better than their descendants.

     The pioneers were hospitable and generous as a rule; their …

Sorry, I will have to go back and find the book I got this from (listed below).  I didn’t seem to copy all I wanted. Sigh

The above taken from: The ENCYCLOPEDIA of the HISORY OF MISSOURI, Vol. IV, pp 29-31; edited by Howard L. Conard, puplished 1901 by the Southern History Company, New York, Louisville & St. Louis. It should be noted that this source is not completely reliable.  Be advised, therefore, to use this little introductory histories with caution.  There are many other books in circulation against which Conard’s facts can be checked.

Knox County is situated in northeast Missouri, and is the second county west of the Mississippi River and the second county south of the Iowa state line.  The soil is a rich black loam and is very productive.  The Fabius, with its many tributaries, flows diagonally across the county, thus affording ample drainage to the fertile upland.  The name Fabius is derived from an early French trapper.

Two events occurred in the 1820's which were instrumental in the future development of Knox County.  First, Missouri, the second state to be carved from the Lousisiana Purchase, was admitted to the Union in 1821.  Secondly, in 1824, the Iowa, Sac and Fox Indians ceded their territory in northern Missouri to the state.  Thus, with the security of state-hood and the danger of Indian raids over, citizens in the eastern states became interested in the land west of the Mississippi.  The early pioneers came mainly from Ohio, Indiana, Maryland and Kentucky and settled along the numerous creeks and streams.  Thus, James Fresh, credited to be the first settler of Knox County, settled in Newark in 1833, along the Fabius where his family was later to erect a mill.  The early pioneers were followed by a large Irish immigration and also a number of Germans in the late 1830's.  One of the first Catholic parishes in northeast Missouri, St. Joseph's, was formed in the county in 1837.  Today's church is the third one to be built and was erected in 1873-1875.  The first Protestant church was the Methodist Episcopal, a log church built three-fourth mile south of Newark in 1836.

Knox County was named after General Henry Knox of Revolutionary War fame and the first Secretary of War under George Washington.  The area was first part of Scotland County but by 1843 was populated enough to become a county and became so in 1845.
During the Civil War, Edina was occupied July 30, 1861, by Colonel M. E. Green and the pro-southern State Guards at Newark.  Union leaders, led by Captain W. W. Lair, surrendered to the Confederates, under the command of Colonel Joseph C. Porter, August 1, 1862, after a sharp skirmish.

Upon the organization, at the first session of the county court, in April 1845, the coulnty was divided into four municipal townships, Benton Center, Fabius and Salt River.

Two additional townships were formed before 1860, according to the Goddspeed history (pages 741 and 742).  Greensburg Township (Congressional Township 63, Range 13 west) was orgainzed May 3, 1859.  Jeddo Township (Congressional Township 61, Range 10 West) was orgainzed in October 1859.


Congressional Townships within Knox County, Missouri 
(T = Township; N = North; R = Range; W = West)
Knox County, Missouri, in 1860 
(Township divisions based on the descriptions in the Goodspeed history)
Knox County, Missouri, before 1860

Early schools in Edina were St. Joseph Academy, now a grade school, founded in 1865; Lyon Academy, 1866; Edina Seminary (Knox Collegiate Institute), 1878; St. Joseph College for Boys, 1833; and Novelty, Oaklawn College, founded in 1876.

In November, 1845, a seal was ordered made for the county.  The seal is a raised circle at the outer edge 1/16 of an inch in width and the words, Seal of Knox County Court, engraved inside.   Inside of this is a buck sheep, without horns.

During the 19th century Knox County had only one courthouse. Edina became the county seat in May 1845, and for the first two years the county rented facilities. On November 9, 1847, the county appropriated $1,600, which was borrowed from the internal improvement fund, for a 40-by-30-foot, two-story building to be built in the center of the square.

Apparently, the court drew the first plan, which was then elaborated by Martin Baker, Jr., who had been appointed commissioner in 1846. In May 1848 a $1,650 contract was given to James W. Baker (see Figure 1). The building had been unoccupied for some time and in deplorable condition when fire destroyed it on Christmas Eve 1885; although arson was suspected, a contemporary report claimed that the county was not too concerned about apprehending the offenders.

Knox County continued without a courthouse, renting facilities for county business until 1934 when the county collector proposed the idea for building a new one; the court encouraged him to investigate grant possibilities. For several months a small informal committee worked surreptitiously making preparations (the county collector was accustomed to this; a few months later he was indicted after almost $30,000 was missing from county funds). The committee contacted an architect for preliminary sketches, which they submitted with a grant request to the Public Works Administration before making their actions publicly known in Knox County. The grant was approved, providing that the county pass a bond issue, which they did in August 1934. The grant was for $80,000; 70 percent of it was for a government loan. The court then formally approved architect William B. Ittner's design, which had accompanied the initial request for a two-story, brick building with stone trim. The courtroom and jail were on the second floor.

The building contract was let to J. E. Williams, St. Louis, for $61,882 in November 1934, and ground breaking took place December 18, 1934; cornerstone ceremonies were conducted April 6, 1935; the building was dedicated September 13, 1935 (see Figure 2). Total costs came to about $80,000. Ittner was a respected St. Louis architect known principally for his school buildings. This is his only courthouse work in Missouri.

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History of Lewis, Clark, Knox and Scotland Counties. St. Louis: Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1887.  
You can find copies of this book at the Edina Library and the Genealogy Library in Independents MO.

Judy has the book 'History of Lewis, Clark, Knox and Scotland Counties, Missouri' , 1887 by Goodspeed.  It has several bios, and she would be willing to do look-ups if anyone is interested.
She also has the book 'A History of Knox and Lewis Counties, Missouri', written by Hazel Bledsoe Smith. Contact Judy in VA    fishnskimore at earthlink dot net
-----  Volunteer of Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness

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