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Sarah Kemble Knight, a third-generation American, was born in Boston. She was the daughter of Thomas Kemble, a Boston merchant, reportedly an agent of Cromwell in selling prisoners of war and Elizabeth Trerice. Prior to 1689 she married Captain Richard Knight, a shipmaster and a widower considerably her senior. The only record of their marriage is a document stating Richard Knight's intention to marry her in 1688.
Sarah Kemble Knight
After her husband's death, Mrs. Knight engaged in a variety of employments not usually associated with the women of her times. She conducted a writing school for a time in 1705 where it was traditionally reported that she learned something of the law, and seems occasionally to have employed such knowledge in the settlement of estates and in other semi-legal activities. She probably owned a stationary shop on the ground floor of her home. "Madam" Knight, as she was known, also owned a boarding house in Boston. "Madam was an eighteenth century term used for middle-aged matrons. In the early years of the eighteenth century, she showed that a woman could be quite successful in management and business activities.
The death of a relative left her with an estate to settle, and on October 2, 1704, she set off on horseback from Boston to New Haven, Connecticut, and then on to New York until March 3, 1705. Much of the country through which she traveled was still unexplored and dangerous for any horseman let alone a woman who was thirty-eight years old. She wrote a journal not intended for publication. As most journals written, it was intended to keep her memory fresh and to relate events of the travel to her relatives. It is an important testimony to her courageousness, quick wit, and keen sense of humor not usually represented, especially not by a woman of American life at that time. It is an excellent source of colonial customs and conditions. Her narrative reflects her middle-class, merchant-class attitudes of gender, class, and race. Madam Knight comments on the morals and manners of the social classes. Her writing is certainly the beginning point for American writers in the areas of written social and economic issues.
The grave of Madam Knight in New London, Connecticut
Its stark portrayal of the New England backwoods to the refined prosperity of New York reminds us that the Puritan community was soon confronted with another America, in which, by 1704, world prosperity and secular sophistication and in strong contrast with large areas of ignorance, violence, and backwardness.
In 1712 Madam Knight move to Connecticut, where she controlled property in both Norwich and New London. She engaged in Indian trading and and became the owner of several farms. She also kept a shop and a "house of entertainment." probably an inn. At one point she was fined for selling liquor to the Indians. Due to her stature as a business woman, she received a designated pew at the Norwich church meeting house. At her death on September 25, she left an estate of £1,800, then a considerable sum, a testimony to her skill as a businesswoman. Sarah Kemble Knight is buried at Ye Antientist Burial Grounds in New London.
Source: Transcription by Bryan Wright
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