It is clear that the Knees of Newfoundland are all descended from a Philip Knee, who had 5 children to begin the family tree in 1794. The best evidence suggests the following offspring:
Philip Knee born 1794 (m Jane Barnes 1817), John Knee b 1796 (m Esther Feltham 1815), Nicholas Knee b1798 (m Jane King 1818), Jane Knee b 1802 , Sarah Knee b 1804 (m William Feltham 1818).
There is some confusion around about the identity of Philip Knee and whom he might have married. A Philip Knee born 1745 (originally Knie but changed to Knee) arrived in the US from Germany and he often comes up to confuse on internet searches. Jane Barnes was the wife of Philip Knee (Junior b 1794) and she is often linked without evidence, to Philip Knee (Snr).
Frank Knee has produced an extract from the Lester Diaries (Lester the man who controlled the Poole/Newfoundland cod industry) which mentions a Philip Knee. It would therefore seem reasonable to suggest that Philip arrived on a fishing vessel in the later part of the 18th century. Further scrutiny of this Diary may be useful – it can be done on line:
Bromham in Wiltshire, England is the cradle of the Knees. The origin of the surname suggests a link with the important Wiltshire cloth industry. Bromham was a key centre of this industry. Some Knees left to marry and work elsewhere but the majority were born in Bromham. This suggests that Philip came from here. However, there are no records of a Philip Knee born in England in the mid 18th century.
My best guess is that Philip may have changed his name. One possibility was that he was born out of wedlock (e.g. Jacob Knee b1753 in Bromham to Bridget Knee and with no record of any marriage or his death in the UK). (Bridget’s brother William was my ancestor who I trace back to a Robert Knee of Bromham in the 1520s).
Emigration and name change in such difficult circumstances are not unlikely bedfellows. We know that Methodism was arriving in Newfoundland in the 1790’s – Wiltshire was a hot bed of non -conformity. Philip’s children were all baptised in Newfoundland as adults which indicates that Philip was either a Methodist or Baptist. It may be that someone with the name of Jacob would much prefer the New Testament/Fisherman’s name of Philip. This is, of course, speculation.
There are several Jane Barnes born in Wiltshire in the mid 18th century. A Jane Barnes emigrated to Nova Scotia in 1760.
All we can say at this stage is that Philip Knee was probably a sailor in a fishing fleet and that he most likely descends from the heart of the Knee family in Bromham, Wiltshire. The Knees, in common with Wiltshire folk, were hard working and independently minded. Add to this the harsh life on fishing boats travelling between Poole, Dorset and Newfoundland and you have the sort of pedigree required of the man who began it all on Fool’s Island.
My thanks also to wikipaedia for the reference on Benjamin Lester