Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kitty Knight 1775-1855 - Eastern Shore Heroine in War of 1812

Article from The Salisbury Times (now called The Delmarva Times), Salisbury, Maryland - December 1, 1958 from the Delmarva Heritage Series, by Dr. William H. Wroten, Jr.

On the banks of the Eastern Shore's Sassafras River lie the twin villages of Fredericktown and Georgetown - the former on the north bank in Cecil County and the latter on the south bank in Kent County. The tranquility of these charming villages was upset by fire and when British forces made one of their invasions of the Eastern Shore during the war of 1812.

During crucial periods such as war, individuals of great courage and leadership often come forth when the occasion demands. Such a person during the War of 1812 was the heroine, Catherine Knight. Better known as Kitty Knight, this brave woman was to become well-known all over the Eastern Shore for her display of courage in the face of the British army.

Kitty Knight was the daughter of John Leach Knight and Catherine Matthews Knight, who lived for sometime at Knight's Island before moving to Georgetown in Kent County. The father was a prominent and active citizen of the area, and her mother's twin brother, Dr. William Matthews, had served in the General Assembly of Maryland and was also a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1797 to 1799. Miss Knight, who became a celebrity in her own right, was born about 1775.

When the approach of British forces was rumored (Miss Knight was then about 38 years old) in the Sassafras River area, and for that matter all over the Eastern Shore, worry and excitement prodded men into collecting guns and arms in hopes of repelling an invasion. The old men, women and children remained at home to guard personal items, but with the arrival of troops, many of these inhabitants fled to the interior seeking safety for themselves, and hiding places for their valuables.

After the British forces landed, they proceeded to burn Fredericktown and the lower part of Georgetown, coming finally to two brick houses atop a hill overlooking the river. In one of these lived an old woman, destitute and ill to the extent that she was unable to flee. The torch had already been applied to her home, when Kitty Knight arrived at the scene to plead with Admiral Cockburn to put out the flames to avoid burning the old woman alive. Although he complied with her wishes the soldiers then fired the neighboring house which was only a few feet away. Miss Kitty again pleaded with them not to burn the house, as it would surely ignite the old woman's home.

According to one version, she twice stamped out the flames, and the young officer in charge finally gave the command to leave the house standing. But as the soldiers trooped out of the house, one struck his axe through a panel of the front door, leaving a mark which was pointed out to visitors for years to come. Kitty Knight later purchased this house, which probably accounts for the story that one of the houses she saved was her own.

Frederick G. Usilton, in his History of Kent County, wrote that 25 years after this event, a gentleman from Kent County was touring in England when he met Admiral Cockburn's aide. Learning that Miss Knight was still living, the aide requested that his "sincere compliments" be sent to her.

In the twin towns, the sum total of property destroyed has been recorded as $35,625.88¼. About the only buildings in Georgetown which were not totally or partially destroyed by this invasion were the two brick houses on the hill and the church. A local newspaper of Nov. 22, 1855, in an article referring to Miss Knight's recent death, printed that "by her heroism at the burning of Georgetown ... she saved several families from being made homeless and friendless by the fire and sword ...her appeal so moved the commodore that ordered the troops to their barges and left unburned a church and several houses now standing there as monuments to her memory for this noble and hazardous act ..."

In 1899, a steamboat which for many years operated upon the Sassafras River and in the Chesapeake Bay, was rebuilt and named the KITTY KNIGHT, the owners doing so to honor her role in the defense of Georgetown.

Kitty Knight, the Eastern Shore's own heroine of the War of 1812 died in 1855. She is buried in the Knight's family plot in the graveyard of St. Francis Xavier Church, Warwick, Cecil County.