John L. Kanouse
Morris Co. Up


Biographical and Genealogical History of Morris County New Jersey. Illustrated. Vol. II., Lewis Publishing Company, New York and Chicago, 1899, pp676-681.

[676]To no one more than to Judge John L. Kanouse is credit due for the advancement made in the public schools of Morris county, and in other lines of progress also has he been an important factor, leaving the impress of his individuality upon the substantial development of this section of the state. He is a man of strong mentality, of sound judgement and keen discrimination, and, viewing broadly the needs of the public, he has advocated those interests which tend to produce the best results in the line of educational, material, social and moral improvement. He ranks among the most honored citizens of the county, and his history forms an integral part of its annals.

Judge Kanouse was born at the farmstead of his maternal grandfather, John Low, not far from his present home in Boonton, February 17, 1811, and is a son of Abraham and Elizabeth (Low) Kanouse. The paternal grandfather, Jacob Kanouse (or "Knauss," as the name was originally spelled), was born in the kingdom of Wurtemberg, Germany, and with his brother Heinrich, came to America about 1750. These two brothers, being under age, were accompanied by a half brother, son of the same mother by her first marriage, and to him was intrusted the care of their money, which, although a moderate amount, was sufficient to pay their expenses on the vessel and leave enough to give them a start in the New World. When they arrived in New York this half-brother, under some plausible excuse, but possibly in collusion with the captain, went ashore first and failed to return. They were then told their passage had not been paid, and in compliance with the then prevailing custom they would have to be sold to service to pay their expenses. Accordingly they were sold for a term of seven years each. Jacob, after serving his term, settled, prior to 1766, near Boonton; the house in which he lived is still standing, showing it was a substantial structure. He died in 1821, at an advanced age. He was twice married, and his son Abraham was [677] one of four children born of the second union. The latter received such educational privileges as the schools of those days afforded, and then learned the carpenter's trade, which he followed throughout his life. He was born in 1786 and died in 1868. His children were John L.; Rachel, who died in childhood; and Morris, who also died in early life. The mother, son and daughter all died within three weeks, in 1819, of a prevailing epidemic, leaving the Judge and his father to mourn their loss.

Judge Kanouse acquired his preliminary education in the public schools near his home, and when thirteen years of age entered the private school of Ezra Fairchild, at Succasunna Plains, where he remained for some time. When seventeen years of age he became a student in the Bloomfield Academy, at Bloomfield, Essex county, where he pursued his studies for one year. He then turned his attentions to teaching, but later resumed his studies by matriculating in Union College, at Schenectady, New York, in 1830, as a member of the junior class. In July, 1832, he was graduated at the institution with the degree of A.B.; his standing in his class was "maximum" in all respects. The following year he received notice of his election as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa, a literary society, and since has been honored with the degree of M.A. He has always maintained a strong feeling of interest in the welfare of this college, and has at intervals attended the yearly commencement exercises. In 1882 he was present at the fiftieth met, at Schenectady, one of his classmates, a clergyman from Long Island, who has since died, leaving, to the best of his knowledge, Prof. Charles E. West, of Brooklyn, and himself the sole representatives of the class of 1832. In 1895 he attended the centennial of the college, a memorable occasion, and at the commencement exercises was the oldest graduate present. While a student in Schenectady, in 1830, Mr Kanouse witnessed the grading and building of the first regularly equipped passenger railroad in the United States. It was called the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad, and ran from Albany to Schenectady, a distance of seventeen miles.

A few years after leaving college he engaged in mercantile business, in which he continued for a period of thirty-eight years in the town where he lived.

He has always been a student of political questions, of social problems, and the needs of the country and its people, and his thorough understanding of these things have peculiarly fitted him for office. He has always been particularly interested in the cause of education, and no man in Morris county has done more for the public schools then Judge Kanouse. His sterling worth and pronounced ability led to his selection for official honors, and in 1849 he was chosen to represent his district in the state legislature, [678] and was again elected to that office in 1851. During his service in the assembly he was a member of the committee on education, and in his first term was chairman of that committee. While a member of the legislature he was active in urging the increase of the general school fund, that an increasing appropriation from its income might be given to schools, and thus prepare the way for a general school law, making all the public schools free. He certainly deserves great credit for this work, and as long as the school system of the state stands his name will be inseparably associated with its history. In 1847 he was elected to the office of superintendent of the public schools in Pequannock township, Morris county, —a township at that time in area nearly as large as Essex county. This position he filled most acceptably for sixteen years, his able administration resulting in the adoption of a much higher standard of education than had ever been maintained before. In entering upon his duties as superintendent he found a scarcity of books in most of the schools, and a great need of a better class of text-books in all. To remove this hindrance to improvement he went to the publishers of school-books and made a selection of suitable books, which he bought at publishers' wholesale prices. These books were placed in the hands of the different teachers for sale at the publishers' regular price, and this secured a ready introduction of a better class of books.

The next movement he made was upon the public sentiment in the township, by a carefully prepared report of the existing conditions of school buildings, and the need of improvement in several different ways, to attract better teachers and secure more thorough instruction. This report was read by the superintendent, in the presence of four or five hundred people assembled at an annual town meeting, held in the old democratic way in the the open air, and voting viva-voce. It was favorable received, as evidenced by a resolution unanimously passed before the close of the meeting, ordering several hundred copies of it to be printed in pamphlet form for circulation. To secure thorough instruction, the superintendent believed it necessary that teachers employed should thoroughly understand the subjects taught, and the best methods of imparting their information. He therefore, in 1853, proceeded to organize an association of the teachers in Pequannock, with monthly meetings for self-improvement in their profession as teachers. At the request of the members, the superintendent acted as their leader, which service was rendered gratuitously for one year. This movement was attended by good results, and may be considered as a forerunner of what followed fifteen years later, when, in 1867, in the general free-school law, provision was made for holding teachers' institutes periodically in different counties throughout the state.

He was elected as one of the two chosen freeholders to represent [679] Pequannock township in the county board of freeholders, and was chosen by the board as their director, which position he filled for three years prior to 1850. When in the legislature, in 1850, he attended a meeting of the Prison Reform Society, the object of which organization was to inspect county prisons and make suggestions of some needed practical reform. The membership of this organization consisted of leading philanthropic citizens of the state, such as the governor, the chancellor, judges of the supreme court, and also Rev. Dr. Murray, of Elizabeth, noted as a true Christian and active philanthropist. Mr. Kanouse was deeply impressed with what he heard at that meeting, and after the close of the legislature returned home and prepared a report on the condition of the prison in Morris county and the urgent necessity of reform, which was presented at the annual meeting of the board of freeholders in May, 1850. He stated that the present condition of the prison tended to harden in crime rather than to reform, and that it was thought by many a remedy would be found in substituting useful labor in place of enforced idleness. The report was accepted and approved, and action at once taken to appoint a committee to visit prisons in other states, where this experiment had been tested, and report with what success. John L. Kanouse, Henry Hilliard and William Britten were the committee. The investigation was made without delay, report submitted and approved, with the result that J. L. Kanouse, Henry Hilliard and Abraham Dunn were appointed a committee with power to proceed and erect a work-house adjoining the court-house, which was completed in the year following, and brought into use under a system of rules and regulations drafted by Mr. Kanouse, chairman of committee. This work-house was continued for a few years, when a report was made that the work system was not pecuniarily profitable and the board of freeholders by vote abolished it.

In the year 1850, owing to the growth of population in Boonton, the school became overcrowded and some were asking for a division of the district. The superintendent, who had the power to do so, hesitated, believing it would be most to the advantage of the people to remain i one district and have a free school, and, without intimating his purpose, proceeded to prepare the draft of a bill suited, as he thought, to meet the wants of the case. In November of that year he presented it for consideration at a public meeting called for that purpose and accompanied it with a statement of the advantages of a free school. The proposition and the bill as presented were favorably received, and after further consideration the bill, accompanied with a petition, was presented to the next legislature. It was passed in March, 1851, and went into effect immediately. In this year (1851) a suitable building was erected, and in July, 1852, the school was opened in it. This was the first free school opened in Morris county, and the first by fifteen years [680] before the general free-school law of 1867. Under this law of 1851, with a board of three trustees, the school was operated for twenty-four years, —to 1875. Owing to the rapid growth of Boonton in the eight or nine years after the close of the Civil war much of its population had spread beyond the limits of the school district established in the act of 1851, and the increased number of departments and pupils and other reasons made it advisable to have a new charter, extending the limits and vesting the control and management under a board of education consisting of seven commissioners in place of three trustees. To Mr. Kanouse (who was one of the trustees) was assigned the work of drafting a new bill providing for the necessary changes and the prospective wants of the growing district. He prepared the bill in December, 1874, and it was passed by the legislature on the 5th of April, 1875, and went into effect immediately; and under that act the school is operated now.

In the latter part of January, 1876, Judge Kanouse, while engaged in the court room, was called upon by the county superintendent of Morris county, and requested to write a history of public schools in the three townships of Morris county, Pequannock, Montville and Boonton, for an exhibit in the educational department at the Centennial exhibition to open in May at Philadelphia. The brief time for the performance of the work caused some hesitation in his promising to undertake it; he did, however, prepare it in ample time. The county superintendent had it engrossed, and it appeared in its proper place at the Centennial.

In 1881 W. W. Munsell & Company, book publishers in New York, urged Judge Kanouse to write up a history of three townships, —Pequannock, Montville and Boonton, —to be placed in a history of Morris county which they were about to publish. This was a work which, to be of use, should be reliable, and consequently required much labor and careful and thorough research in the examination of public records and documents, as well as inquiry among the oldest living inhabitants. He completed the work in 1881, and it appeared in the publication in 1882. In the closing pages of this book may be found an appendix containing an analysis of county taxation and expenditures for a period of twenty-five years. This was also prepared by Judge Kanouse, after much careful examination of county records, and may be considered as correct and reliable as a matter of reference.

In 1872 he was elected an associate judge of Morris county, and efficiently filled that office for five years. He has served in various township offices, and is at present filling the position of tax collector of Boonton township, which office he has held for a number of years. He has ever been faithful and discharged his duty with a loyalty and promptness that have known no wavering, and his service has ever won the warm commendation generally of all concerned.

[681] In early life he gave his political support to the Whig party, casting his first presidential ballot for Henry Clay in 1832. At the formation of the Republican party in 1856 he became one of its warm advocates, and was chosen president of the first Republican club in Morris county, formed in Boonton. He has since marched under its banners, doing all in his power to advance and support its principles. During the last presidential campaign (McKinley and Bryan) his whole enthusiasm was aroused; he felt the issues at stake were vital and important, needing careful scrutiny and analysis. He studied them well and thoroughly, and on the eve of election day he made the closing speech of the campaign in the opera house at Boonton. He spoke for an hour, with force and vigor, to a large audience composed of all parties, and at the close of the meeting received the warm congratulations of the leading citizens; it was conceded by those who heard him to have been the speech of the campaign. As a public speaker he has ever been forceful, logical and eloquent, concentrating his thoughts and clothing his ideas in choice language. His memory for dates is remarkable, as all who listen to him as he relates incidents and facts of by-gone days can testify.

The Judge was married at Unionville, Orange county, New York, in December, 1837, to Ann S. Chandler; his children by that marriage were three daughters: Hannah E., deceased; Ann Augusta, wife of John F. Post, of Pompton, New Jersey; and Mary C., who also has passed away. The mother of these children died in June, 1847. In 1852, in Belmont, Allegany county, New York, he married Eliza Thibou; they have one daughter, Adelaide T., wife of Dr. John L. Taylor.

Judge Kanouse has long since passed the Psalmist's span of three-score years and ten, being now (1898) in his eighty-eighth year, but his is an active old age, and his life is crowned with the honors and veneration which follow an upright career.

From 1811 to near the close of 1898, Mr. Kanouse has lived through a most eventful period of our national history, and witnessed great and important changes both in political and social affairs, the contest of party for ascendancy and the strife of politicians for place and power. As the result of his observations and careful thought, he says he has come to the conclusion that true great political power is not achieved by cunning artifice and virtuous pretence, but by an upright and virtuous life; and that evidence of such is to be found in a life of practical sincerity in accordance with the living principles of moral rectitude. What those principles are, may be found plainly stated in the twelfth chapter of Matthew, in the words of Christ, "Love to God and love to fellow man." Therein he believes is the foundation of all true morality and the foundation of all true Christianity.

Transcribed by Brianne Kelly-Bly


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