McKnights of Raphoe, Co Donegal

Through this you will notice the different spellings of McKnight.  I have used the spelling that what was used in the relevant document.  As usual I ask if anyone has any information, photos, letters, documents or family stories relating to anyone mentioned here.  Please get in contact.

Alexander McNeight was baptized on December 10, 1833 at Raphoe, Co Donegal, Ireland.  His parents were Alexander McNeight and Margaret Gregg of Gortaquigley, Co Donegal.  Alexander and Margaret had at least two more children, Eleanor baptized on January 18, 1836 and William baptized on March 28, 1838.  Margaret seems to have died some time between 1838 and the early 1840s.  Alexander had a daughter Jane around 1843 with Jane Ash (daughter of Richard Ash).  I have yet to find her baptism.  Alexander and Jane Ash go on to have the following children baptized at Raphoe:

Elizabeth baptized February 5, 1845

Richard baptized May 12, 1847

Sarah baptized August 26, 1849

Isabella baptized October 20,. 1851

Mary baptized February 7, 1854

Alexander died some time before June 10, 1858 when Jane married James Houston.  Alexander probably died in 1853/54 as it is Jane McNaght as the householder at Gortaquigley in the Griffiths Valuations, not Alexander.  She must have lost the right to this land when she married James Houston or when she died (I don’t have her death date) as there are other McKnights who take over this land by the 1860s.  This was Alexander McKnight and his wife Nancy Porter.

Mcknight house at Gortaquigley near Raphoe Co Donegal
Mcknight house at Gortaquigley near Raphoe Co Donegal 1928

Also living at Gortaquigley was James McNight and his wife Ellen Gregg.  Probably a brother to Alexander who married Margaret’s sister Ellen?  This is not confirmed but highly likely.  They had at least the following children:

Eliza baptized 3 January 1840

Margaret born 1842

Nancy baptized 6 June 1844

Alexander baptized 1 October 1846

Esther baptized 17 July 1848 – died before middle 1849

This family migrated to the United States on board the Hannah Thornton arriving in New York on 2 October 1849.  This ship was one of the Irish famine ships.  Also with them was Jane McKnight aged thirty-two, most probably the sister of James and Alexander.  James and Ellen settled in Damascus, Wayne County, Pennsylvania.  James was working as a labourer in 1850 and they had a daughter also named Esther born in Pennsylvania.  Twenty years later James was a farmer. They had two more children alive born in Pennsylvania, Elenor and William.   In 1900 he and Ellen were in their 80’s and had had nine children, only three of them alive.  Two of them were single and still living with them, Elenor (Ellen) and William.  James died on 23 May 1901 and was buried at Hillside cemetery in Damascus.  Ellen died two years later in February 1903 and presumably was buried at the same cemetery.  They were members of the Presbyterian church at Cochecton in Sullivan county, in the state of New York.  This was just a few miles away from where they lived at Tyler Hill (near Damascus) in Wayne County, Pennsylvania.  I have found the deaths of four of their children, leaving one unknown and Eliza or Alexander unaccounted for and presumably one of them still alive in 1900.  I wonder if they married and have left descendants.  I have ordered some documents that may or may not shed some more light on their lives.

Alexander McNight (baptized in 1833, son of Alexander McNight and Margaret Gregg) married Sarah Jane Dunlop/Delap (daughter of John Dunlop/Delap and Elizabeth Wilson of Cooladerry) at Raphoe first Presbyterian church, Donegal on January 15, 1857.   They were married by licence.  One of their witnesses was Elizabeth Dunlop, I wonder if this was her mother or sister?  The other witness was John Jamison.

Alexander McKnight and Sarah along with Alexander’s younger half brother Richard and sisters Jane and Elizabeth left Ireland and traveled on board the James Brown that left Liverpool on October 15, 1857 and arrived in Melbourne in January 1858.  They are said to have traveled with other family and friends not yet identified.  The surnames around them on the shipping list were Metcalfe, McIntyre, Bond and Daly, all from Ireland.

Later Alexander’s two younger sisters also migrated to Australia but they went to Queensland.  Isabella married George Browne in 1879 in Queensland and Mary married Daniel Raeburn on July 24, 1878 at the Presbyterian church in North Brisbane.  One of the witnesses was Annie Jane Roulston.  A friend or relative from home?  I have not found any information on their sister Sarah yet, whether she remained in Ireland, died young or also migrated.

Nor have I found anything out about Alexander McKnight (senior) and Margaret Gregg’s other two children, Eleanor and William.

Alexander McKnight at Kyneton
Alexander McKnight at Kyneton
Sarah Jane Dunlop with daughter Sarah Jane.
Sarah Jane Dunlop with daughter Sarah Jane.

Alexander McKnight and Sarah Jane Dunlop had the following children:

John Alexander Wilson  (Johnny) – didn’t marry

William James – didn’t marry

Elizabeth Dunlop – married Robert William Douglas

Alexander – married Matilda Elizabeth Servante

Ellen Jane – died aged 2

Martha Isabelle – married Mitchell Reid Smith

Nesbitt Gregg – died aged 1

Sarah Jane – married Ralph Rogerson

Andrew Wilson Dunlop – died aged 13

Margaret Gregg – married James Moore

Many of their children’s names incorporate family surnames and christian names of parents and siblings.  I have yet to locate the connection with Nesbitt which was a surname in the Raphoe area in County Donegal.  It is possibly the maiden name of an earlier McKnight bride or could be maiden name of the mother of Margaret and Ellen Gregg.

Sarah Jane Dunlop
Sarah Jane Dunlop

14 thoughts on “McKnights of Raphoe, Co Donegal”

  1. You didn’t include the older photo of Sarah Jane. I was told she had her first child just after they landed in Australia. Richard McKnight was a cab driver in Melbourne it says so on his wedding certificate

    1. I’ve updated the blog to include the other photo of her Sheryl. You’re right, they arrived in Melbourne January 1858 and she had her first child, John Alexander Wilson McKnight on 10 February 1858. Her journey must have been difficult! I’ll write some more about their children and what happened to them in a future blog.

  2. Lynda can you name these for me please. Mum had aunty doll, min, Elsie, Gerty +? Is Aunty Doll a Mcmahon. Thanks Sharon Giuca (margaret cardwell daughter

    1. Hi Sharon,
      Min, Elsie and Gertie were all McKnights, sisters to your mum’s mum Maggie (Margaret Beatrice). Children of Alexander McKnight and Matilda Elizabeth Servante were Alexandra Gertrude Sarah (Gertie), Alexander Charles, Minnie Elizabeth, Margaret Beatrice, Andrew George, Elsie Linda, Alice Myrtle and Donald Reid. I don’t have Aunty Doll, the name doesn’t seem to fit on the McGrath side either. I’ll ask my mother and see if she knows. Cheers, Lynda

        1. I also think there was a Dolly on the Servante side I need to go through nanas post cards again to double check

  3. This is an interesting piece. I am related to the Alexander McKnight and Nancy Porter you refer to as “taking over the land by the 1860s”. In fact it must have been several years later. They married in 1866 at Ballylennon Presbyterian church. Alexander’s father was William and Nancy’s Samuel. Witnesses James Vance and William Lapsley. Their first child, William Alexander was born 1867 in Coolaughy. The second child, Jane was born in Gortaquigley 1870. So, presumably they took over the land between 1867 and 1870. I would love to know if my Alexander McKnight (McNaught on the wedding details) is related in some way to yours. It is not easy linking all the McKnights in the area together. Do you mean that mine occupied the same plot of land in the Townland of Gortaquigley as yours and lived in the same house as the one you show and describe as the McKnight house?

    1. I think they probably did occupy the same house and land, but I don’t know for sure. This was a small area and would be such a coincidence if they weren’t related in some way or occupying the same property.

      1. This is all very interesting, My Gt Gt Grandfather was the Alexander McKnight (McNaught) who was married to Nancy Porter. His son William Alexander (born 1867) was my Great Grandfather and joined the British Army in 1887. He had 3 sons and a daughter. William George Alexander McKnight (the eldest) was my Grandfather. I have quite a lot of information regarding this line of the family. Robert Grieve (earlier post) has also quite a bit of information on the extended family still here in the UK. Do you have all the information listed about Alexander’s family as this has been the area I’ve found difficult to trace. Are you sure that they could all be related.


        Paul McKnight

        1. Hi Paul,
          I have the transcriptions of the baptisms of Alexander McKnight and Margaret Gregg’s children giving them as living at Gortaquigly, then the children of Alexander McKnight and Jane Ash (after Margaret Gregg’s death) also as living at Gortaquigly. James McKnight and Ellen Gregg were also having children, in the 1840s, and their place of abode was Gortaquigly. Alexander and Jane’s last child was born in 1854 and they were still at Gortaquigly. In the Griffiths valuation it is Jane McNaght at Gortaquigly, Alexander had died. Alexander’s son Alexander married and migrated in 1856 with three of his half siblings and Jane McKnight (nee Ash) remarried in 1857 – to James Huston. Her youngest two daughters with Alexander McKnight migrated to Australia in the 1870s.
          I’ll email you privately.


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