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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Thomas McKnight. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

MCKNIGHT, Thomas. (Augusta County, VA, Mar. 10, 1787-Dubuque, IA, Dec. 1,1865). At the age of sixteen, McKnight's father gave him a few dollars and told his son it was time for him to go out on his own. In 1803, he invested his few dollars in a stock of goods, which he carried from door to door. A few years later, he extended his trade and travels to Nashville, Tennessee and, in 1809, to St. Louis, Missouri.

He formed a partnership with his brothers James and Robert, and Thomas Brady, with branches at St. Genevieve and St. Charles. In 1822, he was elected to the St. Louis City Council and served as a director of the first "Bank of Missouri." McKnight was a merchant in St. Louis in 1809, two years before a steamboat was built on the western river, eight years before steamboat trade reached St. Louis, over twenty years before a railroad was built on the continent, and thirty years before the telegraph was invented. He moved on to become the Assistant Superintendent of the Government of the LEAD mining district of Galena.

In 1833 McKnight, with Patrick J. QUIGLEY, surveyed the site north of Dubuque known as Peru. McKnight was later the postmaster of Peru before being appointed receiver in the Dubuque Land Office. It was believed at the time that McKnight collected and paid more to the government under the LEASING SYSTEM than all his successors had in twenty years. With his partners, he constructed and operated the first hot-air smelting furnace in the Dubuque mines.

On October 10, 1836, McKnight was among the three senators elected to represent that portion of Wisconsin Territory west of the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. McKnight practiced law and in 1846 lost an election by only 247 votes to Ansel BRIGGS who became Iowa's first governor.

McKnight was appointed by President Van Buren, Receiver of the Land Office at Dubuque, and continued through the next Administration, and was removed by President Polk in 1845. Upon his administration coming into power, President Taylor appointed him Register of the same office, which he held until 1853.

Upon his death, the Old Settlers' Society held a meeting which was largely attended, and, although the weather was very inclement, the association and a large number of citizens accompanied the remains to their burial place in LINWOOD CEMETERY.



Oldt, Franklin T. The History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880, p. 975