Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Horn Riley Kneass (1812-1861)

  A fairly recent discovery as far as strangely named political figures are concerned, very little information has come to light in regards to Horn R. Kneass, a prominent Pennsylvania lawyer who served a brief stint as District Attorney of Philadelphia in the early 1850s. Other than a few brief lines mentioning his being Philadelphia's D.A. and his Odd Fellows Lodge activity, not much else in known of Mr. Kneass, hence why his article here will be on the short side!
  From the few biographical sources that mention him, it has been found that Horn Riley Kneass was born in Philadelphia on June 24, 1812, the son of Christian and Sarah Polhemus Kneass. It is unknown at the time of this writing why this couple endowed their son with the unusual first name "Horn" and his birth year is also under dispute, occurring in either 1812 or 1813.
   Horn Kneass entered the University of Pennsylvania in 1827 and graduated from in the class of 1830. He studied law under Philadelphia native (and future Vice President) George Mifflin Dallas in the early 1830s and was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1833. Kneass married on December 10, 1839 to Delaware native Sarah Emerson Williamson (1819-1898) with whom he would have five children: Sarah Williamson (died young), Nicholas Williamson (1840-1896), Christian (1842-1891), Horn Riley Jr. (born 1845), Robert Knight (born 1847) and Juliette Bradford (birthdate unknown).
   After being admitted to the state bar Horn R. Kneass quickly established a reputation as a lawyer of "integrity and liberality of character" and by the late 1840s had become one of the most prominent figures in Pennsylvania law circles. Over the course of that decade, he served as Solicitor for the Moyamensing district of Pennsylvania (1839-1842), Philadelphia County (from 1847-1848) and Penn Township, 1848-50. 
  The Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, Volume 7 notes that Kneass's public profile received a significant boost in 1850 when he was nominated by the Democrats as their candidate for attorney for the newly consolidated county of Philadelphia and in November of that year won the election. His year-long term in this office was cut short by an electoral quagmire instigated by his Whig opponent William Bradford Reed, who had contested Kneass's election. After a substantial amount of political bickering between both parties, Reed and the Whigs claimed victory and he was installed as Philadelphia's attorney, serving until 1856.
  Although Kneass was put out of office in rather abrupt fashion, he continued to be a prominent figure in other walks of Pennsylvania public life. The Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania gives note that he was an "eminent member of the order of Odd Fellows" and later held the "position of Grand Master of the Order of Pennsylvania." Kneass was also honored by the Odd Fellows fraternity as Grand Sire of the Grand Lodge of the United States in 1847, and he is also listed as being a prominent member and Master of the Washington Lodge # 59 of Free and Accepted Masons. 
   Horn Riley Kneass died in Philadelphia of an undisclosed illness on December 12, 1861. He was 49 years old at the time of his death and was later interred at the Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia. The rare portrait of Kneass shown above (and in all likelihood the only one you'll ever see) was featured on an 1853 Klauprech and Menzels lithograph of past "Sires of the Grand Lodge of the I.O.O.F".  


  1. I have a Polhemus in my family, so I was curious about this profile.

    All I could find was a findagrave memorial at http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=104269620 that said:

    Christian Kneass (1787-1845) was the son of Christopher Kneass (1756-1793) and Anna Justina Feltman (1764-1843).

    Christian was the husband of Sarah Axford (1790-1863). They had at least twelve children: Caroline Axford Kneass (1811-1886), Mrs. James Magee; Horn Riley Kneass (1813-1861); . . .

    It appears that his brother John (1783 - 1849) was married to Margaret Polhemus. Can you help me puzzle this out?



    1. Hello!

      Not sure how much help this will be but there are a number of "Horn R. Kneass" listings on Familysearch. com which notes of his marriage to Sarah Williamson. There's also this tidbit (link below) which notes of John (uncle of Horn) and Margaret Polhemus' marriage and that they had a son, Christian, in December 1821. Familysearch is an excellent resource for family information for some of the odd named folks featured here, and I hope that it will aid you in your own research!