An indentured bricklayer and laborer, John Knowles worked at Mount Vernon from 1773 until 1784, as well as from 1786 until 1790. Knowles, along with his wife, began working for George Washington as an indentured servant in December of 1773. Washington purchased Knowles' indenture for forty-five pounds, six shillings, and eight pence.
Knowles received his "freedom dues" in 1777 and then remained at Mount Vernon afterwards. Knowles was also hired by Washington in 1786, and again on July 7, 1789. In this last instance, Washington hired Knowles as a bricklayer and his wife Rachel as a house servant.1
Washington also referred to Knowles as a stonemason and to his wife as a spinner. From 1782 until 1784, Knowles worked on a variety of jobs at Mount Vernon, including laying bricks, repairing the Lime Kiln & Mill, whitewashing and cleaning walls in the mansion, digging foundations, building an Ash House, constructing the Wash House chimney, and underpinnings for the Coach House. In 1774, Knowles was provided with a suit of clothes, two pairs of shoes, and a waistcoat and breeches.2
By 1778, Knowles was being paid at a rate of ten shillings per day, though that rate dropped to four shillings in 1780. Between March of 1782 and May of 1783, Knowles' account was charged for eleven barrels of corn and 200 shad. By 1784, Knowles' salary remained at four shillings per day.3
1. The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, Vol. 10, ed. W.W. Abbot (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia), 137, 137n-138n; "John Knowles and George Washington, July 7, 1789, Articles of Agreement," George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 4. General Correspondence. 1697-1799.