KNAUT, PHILIP AUGUSTUS (sometimes referred to as George Philip or John Philip), furtrader, merchant, and local official; b. 1716 in the Electorate of Saxony (German Democratic Republic); m. 30 July 1750 Anna Grob at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and they had three surviving children; m. secondly on 15 July 1781 Jane Brimner at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia; d. 28 Dec. 1781 at Lunenburg.
Philip Augustus Knaut accompanied Edward Cornwallis’ expedition to Nova Scotia in 1749, and he soon secured a pass to travel on business anywhere in the province; since the pass was in French it is likely he was trading in furs with the Acadians. Although not associated with the general migration of foreign Protestants, in 1753 he accompanied the Germans to Lunenburg, where he quickly won the confidence of the government at Halifax and received small official positions such as justice of the peace, militia officer, and coroner. One of the first storekeepers in the town, Knaut was also operating a sawmill near Lunenburg as early as 1754 and accumulating wood lots to supply it. In 1755 Lieutenant Governor Charles Lawrence* bought the entire output of the mill to encourage this kind of entrepreneurial activity.
A German who spoke English, Knaut had the trust of his fellow Lunenburgers, and in the elections to the first House of Assembly in 1758 he had the support, almost to a man, of the 44 freeholders with foreign names. Knaut was elected for the township of Lunenburg and remained a member for either the township or the county of Lunenburg until his death. As an assemblyman, he considered it almost his only function to act as a spokesman for his constituents. Thus in his first two sessions he sought an English speaking minister and schoolmaster for the German community and protection for its outsettlers against the Indians.
After the Halifax merchant Benjamin Gerrish had acquired a near monopoly of trade with the Indians in 1760, he made Knaut the Indian truckmaster at Lunenburg, one of six such salaried officers. Since the bargain with Gerrish proved disastrous for the government, Lieutenant Governor Jonathan Belcher terminated it on instructions from London. The lieutenant governor was also ordered to take other action that would have been injurious to Gerrish and his brother Joseph. To forestall steps to implement these measures, the Gerrishes organized a strike by some members of the assembly and prevented it from meeting between October 1761 and March 1762. For taking part in the strike, Knaut was stripped of the offices he held under commission. Apparently indignant, he absented himself from the meetings of the commission for assigning lots in Lunenburg and finally resigned in “a churlish manner.” Knaut later reinstated himself, however, and in November 1767 he again became a justice of the peace. Although by now a veteran member of the assembly, he played only a minor role in its proceedings and committee work. He continued to air his constituents’ grievances, however, appearing twice before the Council in 1774 to press their land claims.
All the while his business operations had prospered, and the result at his death was an unseemly contest for the control of his estate between his second wife, who had remarried within six weeks of his death, and his daughters and sons-in-law. In the end John Newton, collector of impost and excise at Halifax, who had married Knaut’s elder daughter Catherine, was granted letters of administration and the guardianship of Knaut’s third child, Benjamin. The estate’s net value of about £9,000, a small fortune in the 18th century, represents one of the first success stories in the Lunenburg region.
Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), K58 (original estate papers of Philip Augustus Knaut). N.S., House of Assembly, Journal, 1758–81. Bell, Foreign Protestants, 346, 483, 485n, 539, 540, 575n. Brebner, Neutral Yankees (1937), 58–65. M. B. DesBrisay, History of the county of Lunenburg (2nd ed., Toronto, 1895), 110.