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Below is a family biography included in the Biographical Annals of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania published in 1904 by T. S. Benham & Company and The Lewis Publishing Company; Elwood Roberts, Editor.  These biographies are valuable for genealogy research in discovering missing ancestors or filling in the details of a family tree. Family biographies often include far more information than can be found in a census record or obituary.  Details will vary with each biography but will often include the date and place of birth, parent names including mothers' maiden name, name of wife including maiden name, her parents' names, name of children (including spouses if married), former places of residence, occupation details, military service, church and social organization affiliations, and more.  There are often ancestry details included that cannot be found in any other type of genealogical record.

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JOSEPH FORNANCE, a member of the Montgomery county bar, is the son of Joseph Fornance, also a lawyer, who represented this district in Congress from 1839 to 1844. His mother was Anne B. (McKnight) Fornance. He was born in Washington, D. C. April 24, 1841.

Anthony Fornance, great-grandfather of the subject of this sketch, resided at New Castle, Delaware, where he died in 1768. One of his sons, John Fornance, was born at New Castle, in 1766, removed to Philadelphia, afterwards to Montgomery county, Pennsylvania, and married, in 1791, Elizabeth Roberts, daughter of Thomas Roberts, of Blockley township, Philadelphia county, whose ancestors, Welsh Quakers, came to this country in 1684. They were among the first members of the Friends’ Meeting at Merion, whose two-hundredth anniversary was celebrated in 1895. John Fornance died at Norristown in 1845, and was buried in Montgomery cemetery with his wife and three children. His youngest child, Hon. Joseph Fornance (father) was born in Lower Merion township, Montgomery county, Pennsylvania, October 18, 1804, and was educated in the old academy in that township. A certificate of Noah Leeds, principal of the Lower Merion Boarding-School, dated 7th-mo. 11, 1820, states that “Joseph Fornance, son of John Fornance, has attended the school for about two years, mostly studying the mathematics, such branches as algebra, surveying, navigation, and the most useful problems of nautical astronomy, calculated for a seafaring life to which his attention seems to have been drawn.”

After leaving that school, Mr. Fornance engaged in the occupation of teaching in the schools of this county. About 1829 he relinquished that profession, and began the study of law in the office of Hon. Philip S. Markley, at Norristown. He was admitted to the bar, August 21, 1832, and in 1834 was elected by the Democrats to represent Montgomery county in the state assembly. While a member of the legislature, Mr. Fornance took an active part in securing the abolition of public executions, and advocated a compulsory public school system. After serving one term he was defeated in 1836, through the Muhlenberg division in his party. In 1838 he was elected by the Democrats to Congress to represent what is now the Eighth Pennsylvania District. His duties as a member of the Twenty-sixth Congress were discharged with such ability that he was re-nominated by his party in 1840, and, notwithstanding the excitement that attended the “log cabin, hard cider” campaign of that year which carried the Whig candidates, Harrison and Tyler, into the positions of President and Vice President, Mr. Fornance was triumphantly re-elected. While in Congress he appointed Winfield Scott Hancock, afterwards Genera1 Hancock, a cadet at West Point. Mr. Fornance took an active part in the proceedings of the Twenty-seventh Congress. Speaking of his Congressional career, a writer has said: “Mr. Fornance’s two terms in Congress were distinguished by the bitter controversies in reference to the safe keeping of the public funds, and the institution of the independent Treasury by President Van Buren’s administration. That famous measure had been rejected at the extra session in 1837, but passed both Houses of Congress at the session of 1840. It was regarded as the great achievement of that Presidential term. During all this exciting period, Mr. Fornance steadily sustained the principles of his party and truly represented his constituents. His manner was mild, consistent and firm. On retiring from Congress he held, as he always had, a character above reproach for ability and integrity.”

After serving two terms in Congress, Mr. Fornance resumed the practice of law and devoted the remainder of his life to that profession, acquiring a large and responsible practice. In 1851 he was nominated by the Democracy of Montgomery county as a candidate for president judge of the Seventh Judicial District, Bucks county, being then a part of the district, also presented a Democratic candidate. The party strength in the district thus being divided, both Democratic candidates were defeated by the Whig candidate, Hon. Daniel M. Smyser, of Gettysburg. For a number of years Mr. Fornance served as a member, and as the president of the town council of Norristown, holding that position at his death. He was active in promoting the welfare of the community, and procured the passage of several important laws to lay out and improve the streets. In recognition of his services, one of the streets of the town was named for him after his death.

During his first congressional term, Mr. Fornance formed the acquaintance of Miss Anne B. McKnight, daughter of Captain John McKnight, of Alexandria, Virginia, to whom he was married in the city of Washington in 1840. Her ancestors were all Pennsylvanians, her great-grandfather, John McKnight, being one of the Scotch Irish pioneers who settled in the Cumberland Valley, near Chambersburg, in 1735. Her mother was a daughter of Christian Piercy, a prominent citizen of Philadelphia, and a captain in the Revolutionary war. They had a family of seven children, as follows:

Joseph, subject of this sketch, a full account of whom is hereinafter given. John, who acquired his early education in Treemount Seminary, Norristown, and afterwards graduated as a civil engineer at the Polytechnic Institute, in Philadelphia, in 1861, at the age of eighteen years, and immediately entered the United States navy as an engineer. He was in active service during the entire Civil war, in the Gulf of Mexico and on the Atlantic Coast, taking part in several engagements, and was on the United States Steamer “Nyack” at the capture of Fort Fisher, in January, 1865. After the war he served two years in the South Atlantic Squadron. In 1867 he was. assigned to duty on the United States Steamer “Oneida,” of the Asiatic Squadron, and after a cruise of three years met a heroic death on that vessel, when, with her crew of 112 officers and men, she was sunk in a collision with the British iron steamship “Bombay,” near Yokohama, Japan, January 24, 1870. At this time he was in the twenty-seventh year of his age. A large monument in memory of these drowned officers and men is erected at Yokohama. James Fornance, a pupil of Treemount Seminary, afterward graduated from West Point Military Academy in June, 1871. He was then appointed lieutenant in the Thirteenth Infantry, United States army, and remained in active service with that regiment continuously until his death in July, 1898, being then captain of Company F. His earliest services were on the frontier at different military posts, notably at Red Cloud Agency in 1873. He was with his command in Louisiana during the Reconstruction period, from 1874 to 1879. During the railroad riots of 1877, he served with his command in Kentucky and Pennsylvania, returning afterwards with it to Louisiana. He was afterwards stationed at Fort Wingate, and at Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was instructor at the United States Military Academy at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for several years until 1894. In that year he served with his company in quelling the Chicago riots. From 1894 to 1898 he was senior captain of the Battalion of Infantry at Fort Columbus, Governor’s Island, New York Harbor, and from that post he went with his command to the Spanish-American war. Just before the war with Spain began, he had gone to a sanitarium for medical treatment at the urgent request of the surgeon at Governor’s Island, but at the threatened breaking out of hostilities, although not yet restored to health, he hurried back to his command at Governor’s Island, went with it to Tampa, and thence to Santiago, where he was killed. When in camp at Tampa, and afterwards at Santiago, he was urged to take a staff appointment, but he declined as he considered it his duty to remain with his company. At the battle of San Juan Hill, Cuba, he led his company in the attack on the Spanish entrenchments. Early in the battle he received a bullet wound through the leg, and was urged to retire to the rear, but with the help of his sergeant, while under fire, he bandaged the wound and continued in command of his company, and for a short time, as his superior officers were killed or disabled, he was in command of the battalion. Soon afterwards, when part way up the hill, he received another wound. A second bullet passed through him, entering at the abdomen and passing out near the spine. He fell on the hillside, mortally wounded. Three of his men stopped to care for him, but he, thinking every man was needed in the desperate attack, ordered them to rejoin the firing line. His command kept on, advancing up the hill, and was among the first to enter the Spanish redoubt. He lay where he fell, was gathered in with the wounded after the battle, and was taken to the field hospital, where he died. He was wrapped in a blanket, and buried on the battle field in a pit with nine other bodies. He was married, in 1876, at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Fannie, daughter of Oscar Barbee, Esq., of that city. They had four children. Three of their children died and were buried in the United States Military cemetery at Baton Rouge. His wife afterward died at Fort Columbus, Governor’s Island, New York, 1894. He took her body to Baton Rouge, and buried her by their children. When the government sent his body home from Cuba, it was buried at Baton Rouge, beside his wife and children. His only surviving child is Ione B. Fornance. Since his death the War Department has named, in his honor, Battery Fornance, at Fort Fremont, South Carolina. Thomas Fornance, educated at Treemount Seminary, emigrated to the West, and became sheriff of Wood county, Wisconsin, and afterwards was a resident of Tacoma, Washington. Elizabeth, widow of Edward Price Jones, of Lower Merion, Montgomery county, now residing with her children at Wissahickon, Philadelphia. Catherine, widow of Major Frank H. Edmunds, of the First United States Infantry, whose father, Hon. Newton Edmunds, was at one time Governor of Dakota Territory. At the close of the war with Spain, Major Edmunds, being on the staff of General Fitzhugh Lee, was stationed near Havana, where both he and his wife were attacked by yellow fever, from which he died in a few days, June 18, 1900. His body was sent to Washington, and was buried in the National cemetery at Arlington. His wife recovered, and now lives with her children in New York. At the death of Major Edmunds President McKinley appointed his son Kinzie a cadet at West Point, where he graduated in June, 1904. He is now a lieutenant in the United States army. Mary, unmarried, is a graduate from the Library Department of Drexel Institute, Philadelphia, and is engaged in library work. Hon. Joseph Fornance died at his home in Norristown, November 24, 1852, in the forty-eighth year of his age. His widow survived him nearly forty years. Both were buried in Montgomery cemetery.

Joseph Fornance, the eldest child of Hon. Joseph and Anne E. Fornance, was reared in Norristown, and attended the public schools of that borough, entering Treemount Seminary, and pursuing special studies there under the instruction of the Rev. Samuel Aaron, a teacher of wide reputation. On relinquishing school studies he taught school for several years. Afterwards for a short time he was employed as a clerk in the office of the United States District Court in Philadelphia. He then decided to study law, and entered as a law student the office of Gilbert Rodman Fox, Esq., a noted member of the Norristown bar. Passing the usual examination, he was admitted to the bar of Montgomery county, April 12, 1866, and at once began the practice of law. In 1877 he removed to St. Louis, Missouri, with a view of locating permanently in that city, but after a trial of one year returned to Norristown, where he has ever since resided, engaged in the practice of law. He has met with very gratifying success, and has achieved an excellent reputation as a lawyer. Politically he is a Democrat, but adhered to sound money principles during the temporary deviation of the party from good financial ideas, involved in the nomination of William J. Bryan for the Presidency in 1896 and again in 1900. Mr. Fornance has taken some interest in local politics, though not in any sense an office seeker. He is an earnest advocate of good local government, and exerts his influence in its favor.

Mr. Fornance has for a score of years been deeply interested in matters relating to local history. He took a very prominent part, in 1884, in the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the organization of the county of Montgomery, being president of the Centennial Association which made the celebration so great a success from first to last. Much of the success achieved on that occasion was due to his effective labors and his skill in organizing those interested for the proper commemoration of the event after the lapse of a hundred years. It was also a financial success, there being after the accounts mere closed a balance of twelve hundred dollars, which was turned over to the Historical Society of Montgomery county, Pennsylvania, the celebration having been planned and executed under the auspices of that organization, and the surplus fund so realized ultimately formed the nucleus of the fund used to purchase the substantial building known as Historical Hall for a permanent home for the Historical Society. Mr. Fornance is and has been for a number of years the honored president of that society, laboring for its best interests in every way. He, as chairman of the Publication Committee, has done a large share of the work of editing two handsome volumes of “Historical Sketches,” one of them published in 1895, the other in 1900. His influence has been employed to harmonize all elements in the Society, and to develop its work along practical lines, his efforts and those of his coadjutors being rewarded with a considerable measure of success.

Mr. Fornance married, February 22, 1881, Ellen, daughter of Colonel Thomas P. and Sarah Ann (Leedom) Knox. Their children: Joseph Knox, born September 16, 1882; Eleanor, born November 15, 1883, died July 10, 1893; Lois, born October 28, 1885, now a student at Swarthmore College. Joseph Knox Fornance is a graduate of Princeton University, and is now studying law under his father at Norristown.

The Knox family are old residents of Montgomery county, being of Scotch-Irish descent. David Knox, born in 1700, great-great-grandfather of Mrs. Fornance, came from County Antrim, Ireland, to America, about 1732, with his wife and son Andrew. He settled at what for over one hundred years was the family homestead, situated partly in Whitpain and partly in Norriton township, the farm buildings being located in Whitpain township, and died there in 1780. His son, Andrew, Esq., the father of a rising family, lived there at the time of the outbreak of the Revolutionary war. His active patriotism was obnoxious to the neighboring Tories, who tried to capture him to deliver him to the British. Assisted by some British soldiers, sent from Philadelphia by General Howe, they attacked his house by night. He defended himself and his home bravely until some patriotic neighbors came to his assistance, and the Tories were forced to retire. Two of the attacking Tories were afterwards captured and hanged, and a third made his escape to Canada. Andrew died at the Knox homestead in 1807. His son, Andrew, born there in 1773, removed when a young man to Savannah, Georgia, where in 1803 he married Rebecca, widow of John Pray, and a daughter of Captain Thomas Rice. Thomas Pope Knox, their son, and the father of Mrs. Fornance, was born at Savannah, July 8, 1809. In 1821 the family removed to Norristown, purchased from the estate of General Andrew Porter, the farm in Norristown which is the present residence of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Fornance, and lived there. Andrew Knox died there in 1844, and his wife in 1858. Colonel Thomas P. Knox grew to manhood on this farm which afterwards descended to him. He was educated at the Norristown Academy, and later at Rutgers College, New Jersey, but decided to become a farmer, which occupation he pursued successfully throughout his life. In 1840 he married Sarah Ann, daughter of Dr. Joseph and Eleanor (Conover) Leedom, of Plymouth Meeting, Montgomery county. Dr. Leedom was a descendant of Richard Leedom, of Southampton, Bucks county, Pennsylvania, who emigrated from Micklefield, England, in 1712. Eleanor Conover, of Upper Freehold, New Jersey, was descended from Wolfert Gerretson Van Couwenhoven, of Amersfort, Utrecht, Holland, who emigrated in 1630, and settled on Manhattan Island, New York city. Wolfert’s great-grandson, Peter Van Covenhoven, great-grandfather of Mrs. Leedom, purchased with others in 1699, one thousand acres of land in Monmouth county, New Jersey, and settled there. In time the family name changed to Conover.

Mr. and Mrs. Thomas P. Knox had four children: Isabella, Joseph Leedom, Ellen, and Andrew-all of whom died in early childhood except Mrs. Fornance. Mrs. Thomas P. Knox died February 4, 1846. Colonel Knox was a Democrat in politics, and was elected to the state senate in 1855. During Governor Bigler’s administration, he was appointed Governor’s aid with the rank of Colonel, whence he derived his military title. He was president of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Society, and was at one time a justice of the peace in Norriton township, before the limits of the borough of Norristown were extended to include the farm. He died at Selma Farm, May 29, 1879, universally respected, in the seventieth year of his age.

The residence of Mr. and Mrs. Fornance has long been known as Selma Farm. The name Selma was given to the property by General Andrew Porter, of Revolutionary fame, who bought it in 1786. He erected the present dwelling house there. In 1809 his appointment as surveyor general of Pennsylvania required his removal to Harrisburg, where he lived until his death in 1813, and after his death his widow and family returned to this farm and lived there seven years. His executor sold it to Andrew Knox in 1822. It was then in Norriton township, and contained about 120 acres. Among General Porter’s children born on this place were David Rittenhouse, afterwards governor of Pennsylvania; James M., afterwards secretary of war; and George C., afterwards governor of Michigan. In his will, proved at Harrisburg, General Porter mentions several of his children as “born at Selma.”

When the Knox family became owners of this property, they changed its name to Currant Hill Plantation, but the new name did not suit, so they resumed the use of the old name of Selma which it has borne ever since. The name of Selma street originates from the name of the farm, through which it was afterwards laid. In 1853 Norristown was enlarged, and Selma Farm was all brought within the borough limits. Marshall street was laid out through it, and afterwards other streets were opened. In 1854 Colonel Knox sold from it to Messrs. Hartranft, Boyer & Evans about forty acres, now bounded by Main, Oak, Stanbridge and Buttonwood streets. The purchasers divided their tract into building lots and sold them. The tract is now almost entirely covered with houses, many of them handsome dwellings.

In 1902 Mr. and Mrs. Fornance sold from the remaining land a tract of about twenty-two acres, being the portion bounded by Main, Marshall, Buttonwood and Selma streets, to the Hamilton Terrace Company, composed of several enterprising Norristown business men. The purchaser has opened and graded the streets, platted the land into building lots, and erected on about one-third of the purchase over fifty handsome dwellings, including the large Apartment House at the corner of Main and Hamilton streets.

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This family biography is one of more than 1,000 biographies included in the Biographical Annals of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania published in 1904 by T. S. Benham & Company and The Lewis Publishing Company.  For the complete description, click here: Biographical Annals of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania

View additional Montgomery County, Pennsylvania family biographies here: Montgomery County, Pennsylvania Biographies

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