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The Knutsford Family

Last Updated 19 April, 2011

Stephen Knutsford occupies a mysterious and fascinating  place in the history and folklore of Rockport. We cannot be sure of the veracity of local stories of how Mary Andrews wandered the family grounds for years looking for someone she was sure she would come to her, and how one day a sailor washed up on the shore almost at her feet.  We do, however,  know they have some basis in fact.

Solley writes that, as far as he can tell, every individual by the name of Knutsford living in America in 1924 can trace his family back to Stephen Knutsford. Today, it is believed that there are only one hundred sixty or so individuals with this surname living around the world.  

Stephen (or Thomas) Knutsford of Rockport Massachusetts is the subject of a commonly recounted Cape Ann folk tale  He was a member of the crew of a Brig that sailed from Nova Scotia in 1775, loaded with cattle for the British soldiers occupying Boston. The ship was taken by local fishermen and brought ashore, Thomas fled capture and hid for some time, eventually joining the Continental Army, or so the story goes.

The story is based on factual events. The brig, known as the "Dolphin", was captured in September of 1775, the first of many such maritime actions on Cape Ann during the Revolutionary War. It was bound for Boston from Quebec with a cargo of sheep and oxen, the gift of the Governor of Canada for his friend General Gage. The ship was taken by an armed contingent of militia under Capt. John Rowe between Straitsmouth and Thatcher's Island. The captured brig was unloaded in Rockport, and the Captain, crew and passengers were allowed safe passage to the British lines in Boston. The ship was afterwards brought to Gees Point in the Anisquam River where she hove over at low tide and sank. Her ribbing was visible a hundred years later. Although there is substantial documentation of this incident in American Naval records, there is no record of a Stephen or Thomas Knutsford among the passengers or crew.

Another story, penned by several Cape Ann writers over the years, recounts how Lieutenant Stephen Knutsford, the second son of Lord Knutsford of Ireland, served under British General Burgoyne during the Battle of Saratoga. He was aboard a ship returning home with the General when he was cast off or swept overboard off Andrews Point in 1778. There he was found by Mary Andrews while walking along the shore. This version is allegedly supported by a deposition made by Stephen Knutsford in 1805 and supposedly on file at Gloucester City Hall. This deposition remains undiscovered in Gloucester archives despite a diligent search by the compiler and Archives staff.. Moreover, there is no record extant of any Lieutenant Knutsford serving anywhere in the Royal Navy, Marines, or Army at this time in British military records.

The truth about Steven is somewhat more mundane (sad to say). Although we have no definitive record of his birth, he is supposed to be born on 7 March 1752, the third son of Thomas Nutsford and Mary Eaton of Tarbock, Lancashire England The family resided in Lancashire as long ago as 1664.  There is no further account of him until the record of his marriage in Gloucester Massachusetts to Mary (or Polly) Andrews on 5 November 1778, on which he is listed as a "Sojourner" or non-resident.  With Mary, he had eight children.  Their second child, Polly, married Daniel Rowe in 1797,  parents of Mary Rowe who married George Wainwright.  Fourth child Thomas Knutsford married Elizabeth Dennis Rowe, Mary Rowe's third cousin.  Seventh child John Knutsford married Hannah Marshall,  Mary Rowe's second cousin and daughter of Benjamin Soper Marshall by his first wife.  Thus, the Knutsford family maintained close family ties with the Rowe and Wainwright families at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Stephen Knutsford was warned out of the Town of Gloucester along with his wife and family on 15 August 1790, on the same warrant as Thomas Wainwright.

Stephen made his home west of Pigeon Hill, Rockport.. Throughout his life, he was very secretive about his former life and military rank, probably due to the fact that he had been born in England and was still, according to the British, subject to British law. He was a schoolmaster for several years at the Fifth Parish, suggesting that he was formally educated.  He was by accounts a lovable man, a good conversationalist, and possessed a beautiful writing hand.  Stephen died in 1807;  Mary in 1834.  Mary and many of their children and grand children are buried in two family plots at the Seaside Cemetery in Rockport Massachusetts.

Although he is called Stephen Knutsford in the Gloucester Vital Records, Ebenezer Pool, in his extensive writing about the Knutsford family,  refers to him both as Stephen and Thomas. As he named his first born son Thomas instead of Stephen, we are left to wonder what this man's real name was, and why he might have changed it.

Whether or not the stories about him are true, it is curious that so many stories have been told so many times about Stephen Knutsford.  Could they have a basis in truth?  We may never know.

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