Capt Gilbert G. Knapp

Capt Gilbert G. Knapp

Chatham, Barnstable County, Massachusetts, USA
Death 31 Jul 1887 (aged 88)
Racine, Racine County, Wisconsin, USA
Burial Racine, Racine County, Wisconsin, USA
Memorial ID 80854582 · View Source
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Father: John Knapp, b. ~1766 England, d. after 1798 (probably) Poughkeepsie, Dutchess Co., NY.

Mother: Sarah Smith-Knapp, b. ~1768 England, d.after 1798 (probably) Poughkeepsie, Dutchess Co., NY.
See also, memorial of his sister, Sarah: FAG #109633548.
Founder of Racine, Racine Co., Wisconsin.
"HISTORICAL NOTES" - In 1832, just after the Blackhawk War, the area surrounding Racine was settled by Yankees from upstate New York. In 1834 Captain Gilbert Knapp, USRM founded the settlement of Port Gilbert at the place where the Root River empties into Lake Michigan. The area was previously called Kipi Kawi and Chippecotton by the indigenous peoples, both names for the Root River. The name "Port Gilbert" was never really accepted, and in 1841 the community was incorporated as the village of Racine. After Wisconsin was admitted to the Union in 1848, the new legislature voted in August to incorporate Racine as a city.
"BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH" - Gilbert Knapp was born at Chatham, Cape Cod, {Barnstable Co.}, Mass., Dec. 3, 1798, came to Racine in November, 1834, was the founder of the city, and Its first settler. He died in Racine, Sunday, July 31, 1887.

Source (Google Books): "History of the First Methodist Episcopal Church, Racine, Wisconsin...", page 36, 1912, by: Eugene Walter Leach.
m1. Apr-1821 to: Maria Annan, b.~1800, d.1828 Eire, PA. (apparently due to childbirth), daughter of Robert J. Annan of Annandale, Scotland. She died leaving 4 children.
m2. 1831, to: [Name?] Annan (sister of 1st-wife), b.~1802, d.1832 Racine, Racine Co., WI. No issue.
m3. 25-Oct-1837, Clinton, NY., to: Almira Meach, b.~1802, d.1876 Shawano, Shawano Co., WI. No issue.
Biographical Sketch: "CAPTAIN GILBERT KNAPP" - The narrative of the settlement of Racine and of the territory united thereto, at the out start, possesses an unusual degree of interest, because of the character and deeds of him who is entitled to the honor of making the original claim to the land on which the city is built. Capt. Gilbert Knapp, who still lives to witness the success of his undertaking is worthy of the opening page in the history of this prosperous region. Capt. Knapp was born at Chatham, Cape Cod, Mass., December 3, 1798, and is the son of John and Sarah Smith-Knapp, who came of English stock, and settled at Horseneck, Conn., early in the eighteenth century. John Knapp was a soldier in the Revolutionary war, and when peace was restored, became engaged in the interest peculiar to the region in which he lived. For several years, he commanded a merchant vessel, trading with European ports. The later years of his life were spent at Poughkeepsie, NY., where he carried on a successful mercantile business. The mother of Capt. Knapp was a daughter of Elijah Smith, an Englishman by birth, who located at Barnstable, Mass. In early life, Capt. Knapp received such educational training as the facilities of his native place afforded, and devoted special study to the science of navigation, in furtherance of his boyish love for the sea. When but fifteen years of age, he shipped before the mast, in a vessel commanded by Capt. Childs, an uncle by marriage. His first voyage was to Davis Straits, from whence, he sailed to Cadiz, Spain, and was gone from home nine months. Immediately after the declaration of war with England in 1812, he shipped as master's mate, on board the Leo, a private armed vessel, bearing letters of marque, carrying 17 guns and 150 men. The vessel was under the command of Capt. Be Sonne, and was chartered by the American Government to carry dispatches to France. In order to do this, it was necessary for the vessel to run the English blockade at the French ports, and to avoid capture by English men of war. The duty devolving upon the young mate was not only highly exciting, but was also encompassed with great danger. Three successful voyages were made. It is related that during one of the trips, while off the Western Islands, the Leo encountered a British ship laden with silks and cochineal. The rich prize was captured after a sharp engagement, for it proved that she too carried letters of marque, and was armed. The crew were mainly Portuguese and Spaniards. In the cabin was found $40,000 in gold, and the cargo was valued at $500,000. Elated over this brilliant capture, the Captain placed a crew on board, and ordered the ship to a French port. For nine days, the vessel sailed unharmed but on the tenth, a British frigate overhauled the prize, and recaptured her, thus depriving the men of their expected share in the booty. On a subsequent voyage, the Leo had an engagement with the letter of marque ships, meeting them in the night. At one time in the fight, the British vessels maneuvered to place the Leo between them and succeeded so well, that the Americans received several broadsides. They finally escaped with the loss of one man. The third voyage was equally hazardous, for they fell in with an entire fleet of British men of war, and were assailed vigorously. After showing the character of her shot to good effect, the Leo sailed away. It was during those years of intense excitement, that Capt. Knapp formed the acquaintance of several naval officers who had been with Perry's fleet on Lake Erie. Those gentlemen prevailed upon the Captain to transfer his scenes of operations to the lakes, and devote his time to the study of the geography of their coasts. In 1818, he went upon a cutter and spent two years in study visiting the harbors, and tributary rivers of the great lakes. In 1819, he was commissioned Captain, and placed in command of the A. J. Dallas, then stationed at Detroit, where he remained about ten months. Shortly after this time, he succeeded in breaking up the extensive smuggling trade in furs, which was carried on in the vicinity of Mackinac, to which place the Government assigned him. He remained at that northern station for eight years, and in 1828 left the service.

CAPT KNAPP VISITS ROOT RIVER - During one of his many cruises on Lake Michigan, Capt. Knapp halted off the mouth Root River, and went ashore to explore the region roundabout. He then secretly resolved to make a more detailed examination of the place, with a view to settlement, as soon as such movement could be made. After quitting the service, Capt. Knapp located at a point on Erie, in Chautauqua County. NY. There he engaged in the forwarding and commission business for about two years, and became interested in merchant marine. In the summer of 1834, Capt. Knapp concluded to improve the long desired of settling at Root River, which plan was then rendered feasible by the approval of the treaty of 1833. Although the Indian title was still good, the Captain concluded to wait longer, at the hazard of losing the site through the location of some prior claim, rather to venture upon forbidden ground, and at once disposed of his property in New State. He proceeded at once to Chicago, where he interested Mr. Gurdon S. Hubbard, one the early settlers of that place, and secured his co-operation in the plan of proposed location. Securing the services of an Indian guide, the Captain started for the trading post at Grove, and after a horse back journey of no special interest, reached the Indian camp in safety. At the grove, he obtained the services of another guide who was acquainted with the region, and came eastward to the lake. Capt. Knapp then spent two days in exploring there, and in viewing the river with a professional eye, in anticipation of possible harbor improvements. The result of these inquiries were confirmatory of his first opinions, and he returned to with a satisfactory report.

THE FIRST SETTLEMENT - In the month of November 1834, Capt. Knapp returned to the river, bringing with him two men: William and A. J. Luce who were brothers, and a man named Welch. These men immediately proceeded to erect a small cabin of materials brought from Chicago. The cabin stood near where the planing mill owned by Miner & McClurg, now stands. This was the first building ever erected by a bona fide settler in the territory, now known as: Racine, Kenosha, Walworth, and Rock Counties. The river flowed through devious channels in the early years, as the mouth of the stream was alternately filled with sand and opened by high water. At the period of settlement, the mouth was between the present lines of Second and Third streets, but it was subsequently as far south as Seventh. Capt. Knapp did not remain on his claim during the winter of 1834-'35. After he had formally taken possession of the tract, and had made the necessary preliminary improvements, he returned to Chicago and the East, leaving the Luce brothers as his agents in the cabin. Among the Captain's friends in Buffalo, NY., was Mr. Jacob A. Barker, a gentleman of means, who had signified his desire to join in any venture which might be deemed profitable. It then transpired that Mr. Hubbard was willing to share with Mr, Barker in the responsibilities and benefits of the newly designed town, and thereupon those three gentlemen became equally interested in the matter. The original claim embraced the east fractional half of Section 9, subsequently known as Lots No.s 1 and 2, on the north side of the river, containing seventy-four acres, and Lot No. 6, on the south side of the stream, containing sixty-six and ninety-eight one-hundredths acres This claim was announced as a village site, and the town containing one cabin and three men, was christened "Port Gilbert" in honor of the founder Gilbert Knapp.

SOURCE (Google Books): "The History of Racine and Kenosha Counties, Wisconsin", 1879, pages 288, 289, by Western Historical Co.

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BIO - "ship captain, land speculator, politician, b. Chatham, Mass. During the War of 1812 he served as a sailor on a privateer, and after the war entered the U.S. revenue marine service as captain of a Great Lakes revenue cutter. While serving on Lake Michigan, Knapp noted the mouth of the Root River in Wisconsin as a possible site for future settlement. In 1828 he went to New York where he engaged in the mercantile business, but in 1833 sold his business interests and moved west. In Nov., 1834, he made his way to the Root River, where he established a pre-emptor's claim. He secured capital from friends in Chicago and New York, and in 1835 platted lots for the townsite of Port Gilbert (now Racine). A Democrat, when Wisconsin Territory was organized, Knapp was elected to the upper house of the legislature and served from 1836 to 1838. In 1838 he was among a group of early settlers who gave financial backing to the establishment of the Racine Argus, the first newspaper in the village. During the same years, Knapp was engaged in a struggle to establish legal title to his land claims, a job made difficult because of the federal law of 1836 forbidding pre-emption of lands platted for townsites. His title was eventually secured in 1842 when the county seat was established on his claim. Knapp again served in the U.S. revenue service both before and after the Civil War. He was state assemblyman (1861), and for a number of years commanded the Great Lakes revenue cutter "Fessenden." He retired from active service in 1874, and spent the remainder of his life in Racine. J. G. Gregory, ed., S.E. Wis. (4 vols., Chicago, 1932); R. H. Whitbeck, Geography and Econ. Development of S.E. Wis. (Madison, 1921); Racine Daily Journal, Aug. 6, 1887; WPA MS."

SOURCE: Wisconsin Historical Society.
On December 3, 1798, there was born, at Chatham, Massachusetts, a boy that was destined to play a conspicuous part in the early history of Racine County, and city. That boy was named, Gilbert Knapp. His parents John and Sarah Smith-Knapp, came from England in the early part of the Eighteenth Century, and settled at Horseneck, Connecticut. When the Revolutionary War broke out, John Knapp entered the Continental army and remained in the service until the independence of his country was assured. He was then master of a merchant vessel which traded with European ports, and upon retiring from the sea, engaged in the mercantile business at Poughkeepsie, New York. Gilbert Knapp attended the schools of his native borough until he was about fourteen years of age, when he shipped as a sailor before the mast on a vessel commanded by Captain Childs, an uncle by marriage. His first voyage lasted nine months and upon his return home, he found the United States at war with Great Britain. He immediately shipped as master's mate on board the Leo, commanded by Captain Besonne. The Leo had been chartered by the United States Government to carry despatches to France, carried seventeen guns, and a crew of 150 men, and was provided with letters of marque which enabled her to prey upon the enemy's commerce. To enter the French ports, it was necessary to run the English blockade, and in this, young Knapp found all the excitement that an adventurous lad of fifteen could desire. He made three successful voyages with the Leo, and was several times engaged with British cruisers and armed merchantmen. Toward the close of the war, Captain Knapp formed the acquaintance of some naval officers who had served with the commodore Perry on Lake Erie, and through their influence, he transferred his marine operations to the Great Lakes. In 1818, he went upon a government cutter, and for over a year, was employed in visiting and studying the harbors and tributary rivers of the lakes. He was then placed in command of the cutter, A.J. Dallas and at the same time, was promoted to captain. For ten months, he was stationed at Detroit. At the end of that time, he was sent to break up a smuggling trade in furs that was going on about Mackinac, in which he was eminently successful. Just before retiring from the government service in 1828, while on one of his cruises up the west shore of Lake Michigan, he dropped anchor off the mouth of the Root River, and went ashore to take a look at the country. Then and there he made up his mind to make a more extended examination with a view to establishing a settlement, but the land was still in the hands of the Indians, and this fact, with other circumstances, prevented him from carrying out his intention until several years later. Not long after his visit to the mouth of the Root River, Captain Knapp quit the lakes, and went to a small town on the shore of Lake Erie, in Western New York, where he engaged in the forwarding and commission business. When he learned of the treaty of September 26, 1833, by which the Indian tribes claiming the lands in Southeastern Wisconsin had relinquished their title, the old desire to found a settlement at the mouth of the Root River was revived. The treaty gave to the Indians the right to remain upon the ceded lands for three years, but Captain Knapp concluded that he would rather take his chances in going upon forbidden ground, than to lose the coveted site through the activity of some other claimant. Accordingly, early in the summer of 1834, he sold his interests in the State of New York, and went to Chicago. There he succeeded in interesting Gurdon S. Hubbard in the project, and secured his co operation. Leaving Chicago on horseback, with no companion but an Indian guide, he made an uneventful journey to Jambeau's trading post at Skunk Grove. There, he obtained the services of another guide, and spent two days in examining the shores of the lake and the river to ascertain the possibility of establishing a harbor. Returning to Chicago, Captain Knapp made a report to Mr. Hubbard, which was evidently satisfactory, as that gentleman agreed to bear his share of the expense in locating a claim and starting a settlement. In November 1834, Knapp returned to the Root River, bringing with him, from Chicago, the materials for a cabin, and three men to assist him in building it. Those men were A.J. and William Luce, and a man named Welch. Soon after the cabin was erected, Knapp left the Luce brothers as his agents to hold the claim, and went back to Chicago. After a consultation with Mr. Hubbard, he went to Buffalo, New York, where one of his friends, Jacob A. Barker, expressed a desire to become a partner in the enterprise. Captain Knapp returned to Chicago, and submitted the proposition to Mr. Hubbard. Under date of March 30, 1835, he wrote to Mr. Barker, offering him a one third interest for $1,200. The offer was accepted and the three men: Knapp, Hubbard. and Barker laid claim to the east fractional half of Section 9, the government survey had not then been made, containing 140.98 acres of which seventy-four acres were on the north side of the river, and the remainder on the south side. Upon this claim, the proprietors established the Town of Port Gilbert, the first white settlement in Southeastern Wisconsin.

SOURCE (Google Books): "Racine, belle city of the lakes, and Racine County, Wisconsin: a ...", Volume 1, pages 66-68, by Fanny S. Stone, 1916.
i. Robert Annan Knapp, born March 3, 1822, was a midshipman in US Navy, but later, was in railroad business in Racine, being an officer of the Racine-Janesville & Mississippi Ry. He died in Racine, in August 1876.
ii. Gilbert Knapp, Jr. studied law, but not liking that profession, engaged in farming, and became a planter at Little Rock, Arkansas.
iii. Mary Annan Knapp, his daughter, married Alexander McClurg, of Racine.
iv. [Name?] Knapp, gender unknown, probably born 1828, and probably soon after the mother. No further mention of a 4th child is made after 1828.
Died at home of his daughter, Mary Annan Knapp-McClurg, on Main Street, Racine.
His DEATH AND BURIAL - Captain Knapp died in Racine, July 31, 1887, and the funeral was held August 3, following, from the home of his daughter, Mrs. Mary Annan McClurg. Flags were flown half mast from the public buildings, and from ships in the harbor. The members of the Racine Business Men's Association, the Old Settler's Society, the City Council, and the crew of the Revenue Cutter, "Andy Johnson", attended in bodies. His only {surviving} son, Gilbert was also in attendance, from Arkansas. The sermon was preached by Rev. Mr. Schultze. The honorary pallbearers were: Jas. R. Doolittle, Chas. E. Dyer, Jerome I. Case, Mayor D.A. Olin, F. M. Knapp, J. M. Osgood, and the officers of the "Andy Johnson" - Captain, J. G. Baker, and Lieutenants, W. S. Baldwin, Edmund Burke, and J. H. Starkweather. The pall bearers were six members of the crew of the revenue cutter.

SOURCE (Google Books): "Racine, an Historical Narrative", page 20, by Eugene Walter Leach, Order of United Commercial Travelers of America (Wisconsin). Racine Council No. 337, United Commercial Travelers of America. Racine Council no. 337 (Racine, Wis.).
Gilbert Knapp spent the last 15 years of his life living at his daughter Mary's house, now headquarters of the current Veterans Center at 820 Main Street. He died in that house on July 31, 1887. Knapp was buried in Mound Cemetery. His grave site was unmarked until 1944, when the VFW donated a marker, 57 years after his death.

Source [link]:
The first Territorial election was held on the second Monday of October 1836 and Gilbert Knapp and Alanson Sweet were elected from Milwaukee County to the first territorial council .

SOURCE (Google Books): "History of the First Methodist Episcopal Church, Racine, Wisconsin: With a ...", page 36, by Eugene Walter Leach.
"US CENSUS 1840"
Name: Gilbert Knapp
Event Place: Not Stated, Racine, Wisconsin Territory
Page Number: 82
Affiliate Publication Number: M704
Affiliate Film Number: 580
GS Film number: 0034498
Digital Folder Number: 004410741
Image Number: 00175

SOURCE: US Federal Census, 1840.
Source [link]:
"US CENSUS 1850"
Name: Gilbert Knapp
Event Type: Census
Event Date: 1850
Event Place: Racine, Racine, Wisconsin, United States
Gender: Male
Age: 54
Marital Status:
Race (Original):
Birthplace: Massachusetts
Birth Year (Estimated): 1796
House Number: 5
Family Number: 6
Line Number: 24
Affiliate Publication Number: M432
Affiliate Film Number: 1004
GS Film number: 444991
Digital Folder Number: 004206490
Image Number: 00039
Household Gender Age Birthplace
Gilbert Knapp M 54 Massachusetts
Elmyra Knapp F 48 Massachusetts
Mary Lambert F 24 Michigan
Maria Lambert F 3 Pennsylvania
Eunice Cook F 25 Vermont
Mary Mccarty F 15 New York
Anne Coffman F 15 Germany

SOURCE: US Federal Census, 1850.
Source [link]:
"WI CENSUS 1855"
Name: Gilbert Knapp
Event Place: Racine, Racine, Wisconsin
Number of White Males: 1
Number of White Females: 2
Number of Black Males:
Number of Black Females:
Foreign Born: 1
Line Number: 35
GS Film number: 1032688
Digital Folder Number: 4245039
Image Number: 00557

SOURCE: Wisconsin State Census, 1855.
Source [link]:
"US CENSUS 1860"
Name: Gilbert Knapp
Event Type:
Event Year:
Event Place:
Minor Civil Division: The First Ward City Of Racine
Age (Expanded): 62 years
Birth Year (Estimated):
Page: 21
Household ID:
Affiliate Publication Number: M653
GS Film number: 805427
Digital Folder Number: 4300453
Image Number: 00025

SOURCE: US Federal Census, 1860.
Source [link]:
"US CENSUS 1880"
Name: Gilbert Knapp
Event Type: Census
Event Date: 1880
Event Place: Racine, Racine, Wisconsin, United States
Gender: Male
Age: 83
Marital Status: Widowed
Occupation: U.S. R.M. Capt
Race (Original):
Ethnicity: American
Relationship to Head of Household: Father
Birthplace: Massachusetts, United States
Birth Date: 1797
Spouse's Name:
Spouse's Birthplace:
Father's Name:
Father's Birthplace: Massachusetts, United States
Mother's Name:
Mother's Birthplace: Massachusetts, United States
Page: 335
Page Letter: A
Entry Number: 2055
Affiliate Film Number: T9-1443
GS Film number: 1255443
Digital Folder Number: 004244771
Image Number: 00279
Household Gender Age Birthplace
Self Mary A. McCling [sic] {McClurg} F 54 Michigan, United States
Daughter Maria L. McCling [sic] {McClurg} F 36 Pennsylvania, USA
Son Alexis McCling [sic] {McClurg} M 17 Wisconsin, United States
Father Gilbert Knapp M 83 Massachusetts, United States
Other Emily Abendroth F 19 Wisconsin, United States
Other Mary Roony F 18 Wisconsin, United States
Other John Jacobson M 22 Wisconsin, United States

SOURCE: US Federal Census, 1880.
Source [link]:

Family Members



Capt. Gilbert G.
Founder of Racine
Born Dec. 3, 1798 Chatham, Cape Cod, Mass.
Died July 31, 1887 Racine, WIS.
Erected by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1391. [Not stated on stone, but dedicated on May 30, 1944.]

Gravesite Details Block: 6.



  • Maintained by: Robert Kuhmann
  • Originally Created by: Lisa Hartlund
  • Added: 22 Nov 2011
  • Find A Grave Memorial 80854582
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Capt Gilbert G. Knapp (3 Dec 1798–31 Jul 1887), Find A Grave Memorial no. 80854582, citing Mound Cemetery, Racine, Racine County, Wisconsin, USA ; Maintained by Robert Kuhmann (contributor 46567652) .