IF YOU GO
Kathryn Hall-Knight is kicking off her national book tour from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 3, at the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation’s History Research and Education Center, 21 E. Plant St. She will be reading and signing copies of her book, “Fate & Freedom, Book I: The Middle Passage.”
WINTER GARDEN — As a child, Kathryn Hall-Knight used to spend hours in the Beulah Cemetery with her great-grandmother, picnicking among her ancestors’ gravestones and learning stories about each of the family members who went before her. Hall-Knight is a seventh-generation Winter Garden resident; the first in her family to settle in the Beulah area was Rawlins Lowndes Reaves (1810-1901), who is buried in the cemetery off of Beulah Road south of West Colonial Drive in Winter Garden.
She found documentation in archives and court records, lending credence to her great-grandmother’s stories, and before long, she was researching her family tree, discovering roots in some familial lines as far back as the 600s. She was able to trace her husband Tom’s ancestors back to the 1600s, and in December 2007, she gave her father-in-law, Bo Knight, a family tree of his direct lineage back more than 400 years.
But, he wanted to know, what about the Minorcan heritage he always heard about through his grandmother’s line, the senator’s wife?
This sent Hall-Knight on a journey that traced his ancestry to prerevolutionary times and to the founding of America. She also discovered that his heritage was not Minorcan, but Melungeon, a mixture of English, African and American Indian. And the senator was actually Bo Knight’s grandfather, whose wife’s mother’s line was Melungeon.
“What I didn't expect — none of us did — was tracing his ancestry back to Colonial times, to the very founding of our country, would allow me to discover Margaret and John, two of the first Africans to arrive in the settlement of Virginia in 1619.”
Margaret, at one time an indentured black servant, is the ninth great-grandmother of Hall-Knight’s husband.
WRITING IT DOWN
The genealogist, using the pen name K.I. Knight, has written a book based on the information she unveiled during a seven-year search. “Fate & Freedom, Book I: The Middle Passage” is a fictional story told using historically documented facts and people. It takes place from 1619 to 1623.
Hall-Knight describes her book, which publishes Feb. 1:
“‘Fate & Freedom’ reveals the story of two young children, Margarita and Juan, captured during the Portuguese invasion of the Kingdom of Ndongo, high in the mountains of Angola. The year is 1619. Brutally, they are enslaved and shipped some 4,000 miles away to their doom in the silver mines of Mexico.”
This ship was the San Juan Bautista, later dubbed the “Black Mayflower.”
The description continues: “But, before the slaver can reach its destination, the ship is pirated by two English corsairs, and the children’s fate is set in motion by the Calvinist reverend turned privateer, Captain John Jope. Their new destination becomes a small English settlement in the new world, which will eventually become known as America.”
The rescuing ship was the White Lion.
Until recently, the story of the 8- and 6-year-old children — whose names were Americanized to Margaret and John — was merely reduced to them being among the Africans transported by a Dutch captain to the shores of Virginia.
Hall-Knight did a genealogical check on every person she wrote about and researched all the locations and descriptions she discovered to ensure accuracy.
Research was tedious, and at times, the writer felt like ending the project. But she kept receiving signs to move forward, she said, such as the random picture of a ship that had been among several paintings in a bulk purchase her husband made. It matched nothing else in the house, so she hung it in her home office. On one particularly frustrating day, she said a prayer and asked for guidance, “a sign that I should continue,” she said. She continued searching online, looking for information about the White Lion.
“The first image to pop up was the same random picture that was on the wall above my desk,” she said.
She continued her work.
In another instance, after Hall-Knight commissioned Richard C. Moore to create the cover for her book, she learned that the artist’s wife is a direct descendant of the man who commissioned the San Juan Bautista to be built.
In still another, she was faced with a stack of research books and frustration was mounting because she couldn’t find a missing piece of information, so she walked outside for some fresh air and a prayer, and when she returned to her office, a breeze blew a small paper book off her desk and upside-down onto the floor. When she flipped the book over, she said, the elusive fact was on that page.
TAKING IT ON THE ROAD
On Tuesday, Feb. 3, Hall-Knight will read an excerpt from her book and sign copies at the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation’s History Research and Education Center. The event starts at 5:30 p.m.
Next month, the genealogist-turned-writer is attending a book-signing event in Jamestown, Virginia, one of the settings in her book, and will visit other historic cities nearby. In Hampton, Virginia, where a monument recognizing the “20 and odd” is being erected in 2019, she will speak at the Virginia Historical Society. She recently participated in a three-hour documentary with African Network Television, and it will be shown in an international broadcast at a later date, she said.
A sequel to “Fate & Freedom” is finished and is now with an editor, Hall-Knight said. It will be published in the fall. She is writing the third book now.
The author is a member of the National Genealogy Society, as well as those in Florida and Virginia; and she belongs to the Virginia, Florida and National Maritime historical societies. She also writes the genealogy blog Kinfolk Detective.
Her 400-page book is available in hardback on her website, firstfreedompublishing.com, as well as at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The website also offers it in electronic book format.
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].