Jonathan David Knight, Signer of the Georgia Constitution of 1877

Preamble to the Georgia Constitution of 1877

Preamble to the Georgia Constitution of 1877

In 1877, Georgia was emerging from the federally directed period of Reconstruction that followed the end of the Civil War.  Under the terms of Reconstruction, Georgia had adopted a new state constitution in 1868 that was distasteful to many Georgians.  Although the delegates to the 1868 State Constitutional Convention had included some antebellum Georgia political leaders, such as General Levi J. Knight, of Berrien County (subject of previous posts), many Georgia natives felt that the drafting of the Constitution of 1868 had been dominated by northern Republicans and northern sympathizers. When the Constitution of 1868 had been completed and the vote came up on the question of its adoption, General Knight was absent and did not vote.

As Reconstruction came to a close southern Democrats regained control of the state government and called for a new constitutional convention in 1877.  On July 11, 1877, 193 delegates met  in Atlanta to draft a new constitution.  Among them was Jonathan David Knight, a son of General Levi J. Knight and the delegate representing Berrien, Lowndes and Clinch counties.  Jonathan D. Knight made his home in the Rays Mill district of Berrien County, GA, the 1144 Georgia Militia District.  When the Constitutional Convention adjourned on August 25, his signature was on the new constitution. Georgia voters ratified the new constitution in December of 1877.

When the Georgia Constitutional Convention convened on July 11, 1877 the Atlanta Constitution printed “Sketches of the Members:”

Jonathan D. Knight   

 Jonathan David Knight, of Berrien county, was born on the 2nd day of April, 1840, in what was then Lowndes county. He is the son of Hon. Levy J. Knight, who represented the county of Lowndes in the Legislature from 1835 to 1854.
   He entered the army with the second company from his county on July 28, 1861, in the Twenty-ninth Georgia Regiment. He was elected Second Lieutenant after two months service as a private, and was, on the reorganization of the regiment in 1862, elected First Lieutenant, and soon afterwards was made Captain. He served with this rank in all the severe campaigns in the West, and was among the few were not disabled when this gallant regiment returned home at the close of the war.
    He taught school before the war, but held no civil office. After the war he was elected to the Convention of 1865, and in 1872 was elected to the Senate from the Sixth District and served four years.

Jonathan D. Knight had been educated in the common schools of the county.  William Green Avera, great educator of early Berrien County, wrote:

“Eighty percent of the age eligibles for the Civil War service were illiterates. But among all this illiteracy, a number of boys received inspiration from these early teachers that made them colossal powers in our day — in legislative, judicial, and literary circles. A few of the names are; Hon Jonathan D. Knight, a noted teacher and who served more terms in the House and Senate of the legislature of Georgia than any other man in the County (he died while Senator); Hon. Lacy E. Lastinger, a noted teacher , lawyer, and judge of the Court; Hon, W.H. Griffin, a noted teacher, lawyer, and member of the legislature, and a judge; Hon Henry B. Peeples, a successful lawyer, Judge, and senator; Hon Henry H. Knight, a successful merchant and Senator.”  – W.G. Avera, 1937

Jonathan D. Knight joined the Berrien County Minute Men, 29th Georgia Infantry Regiment, as a private on August 1, 1861. He was elected Junior Second Lieutenant of Company D, November 7, 1861. On May 7, 1862 he was elected First Lieutenant, and made Captain on May 13, 1862.

Jonathan D. Knight suffered from serious illness in 1863 and was absent sick from the unit.  In a letter home dated March 19, 1863, John Hagan, a solider of the 29th wrote, ” Capt. J. D. Knight is yet absent from the company and we are all very anxious to see him with us again. He has had a hard spel of sickness I know or he would have returned before now.”

Knight did recover and return to his unit. He was captured near Decatur, GA on July 22,1864 and held as a prisoner of war until released at Fort Delaware, DE on June 17,1865.

In 1872, the CSA veteran was nominated for State Senator. Under the terms of Reconstruction, this was the first post-war free election of state officers in Georgia.

Atlanta Daily Sun, Sep. 8, 1872 — page 2
Sixth Senatorial District
A convention of the Democrats of the above district, was held in Valdosta on the 3d inst., and Capt. J. D. Knight, of Berrien county , was nominated for State Senator.

He was elected and served for four years before serving at the Constitutional Convention in 1877.  At the conclusion of the convention, he was the 99th representative to sign the new Georgia Constitution. The 115-page constitution written by this convention was approved by the voters and went into effect December 21, 1877.  The Georgia Archives provides links to the Preamble, the Bill of Rights (Section I), and nine pages of signatures.

Signature of Jonathan David Knight, of Rays Mill, GA, on the Georgia Constitution of 1877

Signature of Jonathan David Knight, of Rays Mill, GA, on the Georgia Constitution of 1877

Jonathan D. Knight born April 2, 1840, died March 9, 1884. He was buried in Old Town Cemetery, Milltown, Ga. (now Lakeland, Lanier County, GA.)

Related Posts:

The Grand Jury of 1868, Berrien County, Georgia

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