Like so many genealogy stories, this one, I'm afraid, will remain unfinished. An additional trip to Alabama, the eighth, failed to provide a hint as to how Joseph Knowles got out of prison so quickly. Again, we went to the State Archives, looking at newspapers and executive office records, to no avail. I was assured by archivists that a legislative pardon was unthinkable. An exhaustive search of Governors(Winston and Moore's)administrative papers revealed nothing on Joseph Knowles. Among the numerous letters of appeal, and petitions for clemency, was one to Gov. Winston from Henry Harrell, who was taken to the penitentiary on the same day as Joe(fruitless, as he was still in prison in1860). There was also a letter from Gov. Winston to the Prison Commissioners, concerning the large number of escapes. I suppose that it is possible that Joseph Knowles was among those, however, it seems highly unlikely that he would have remained free, while using the same name. We moved on to Wetumka, and to Coosa Co., where we learned that all of the Circuit Court records were not destroyed(I failed to inquire about fires)-but, we were unable to find any records(during the proper time-frame)relating to Joseph Knowles. So, the questions remain. Perhaps one day, a descendant who has a pardon certificate, or other evidence, will learn of our search and be able to write the final chapter to this remarkable story. For now, we must be content with the drama, and mystery of Joseph Knowles' life.
While the conclusions reached in this report are based on a massive amount of information, from the J.B.K. diary, and public records, they remain somewhat circumstantial, as the diary made no direct link to the Knowles families of Dooly or Baker County Georgia. There is no question that the man from the diary, who murdered George T. Sharp, was tried twice, found guilty-and sent to the Alabama State Penitentiary in 1855, was "my Uncle Joe". A bit unsettling, however, is the fact that the "other" Joseph Noles(1850 Autauga Co. Alabama, page 2)was in the area of the crime, precisely fit the age given after the Governor's proclamation, and also had a wife named Mary! Still, this family's son, Hardy, seemed to be too old to be the unnamed son described in the Supreme Court transcript. Perhaps more troubling, I have been unable to find this family on the 1860 census! Nevertheless, until such time that information proves otherwise, I will always believe that we got the right man, that the preponderance of evidence is overwhelming. "Uncle James Gray" of Baker County seems to be the key, being mentioned in the diary only during the crime/trial period, and providing indirect proximity with the South Georgia Knowles families. All other questions appear purely coincidental.
I have been honored to uncover this exceptional story. I am thankful for the James B. Knowles diary, and its custodian, the late Walter O. Knowles(1st cousin, twice removed)-without whose stewardship, my family's history would have been greatly diminished. I would also like to thank my friend, Harry Alexander, for his assistance in researching this story. Harry's impatience was sorely tried-but he, like me, found Joe's story irresistible. Harry, a retired airline employee, visited Joe's grave, and supplied the photos which, I'm afraid, didn't reproduce too well. Thanks too, to Elaine-Harry's wife, for putting up with our many genealogy trips, on Joe, and on many other family lines. Her patience is endless!
L.C. Knowles-Jan. 20 1998
(Revised/reformatted: April 30 2000)