In 1850, Levi J. Knight Opposed Secession

 

 Reynolds's Political Map of the United States Designed to Exhibit the Comparative Area of the Free and Slave States and the Territory open to Slavery or Freedom by the Repeal of the Missouri Compromise with a Comparison of the Principal Statistics of the Free and Slave States, from the Census of 1850


Reynolds’s Political Map of the United States Designed to Exhibit the Comparative Area of the Free and Slave States and the Territory open to Slavery or Freedom by the Repeal of the Missouri Compromise with a Comparison of the Principal Statistics of the Free and Slave States, from the Census of 1850

In 1850 Levi J. Knight opposed secession. Knight, who  was a Whig in politics,  in 1834 had been a leader in the effort to form a State Rights Association at Franklinville, GA,  along with  William A. Knight,  Hamilton W. SharpeJohn Blackshear, John McLean, John E. Tucker, William Smith   Lowndes, at that time included most of present day Berrien County, as well as the community  settled by Wiregrass pioneer Levi J. Knight  which would later become known as Ray City, GA.  In 1835 on Independence Day Knight toasted States Rights at Franklinville, then the government seat of Lowndes County.  In 1836, Lowndes County moved the county seat to Troupville, named in honor of “the great apostle of state rights,” George M. Troup.

An ardent advocate for State Rights, Knight was still opposed to secession in 1850. But on this issue in Lowndes County, his was a dissenting voice. It was a turbulent time in Georgia politics.  In the U.S. Congress, Henry Clay had engineered the Compromise of 1850. Its provisions were these: to admit California without slavery; to permit New Mexico and Utah to settle the question for themselves; to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia; and to re-enact a law compelling the return of escaped slaves…  Georgia’s entire delegation supported the compromise, whigs and democrats uniting. But the secessional fires kindled in Georgia…. were still crackling…

A state convention was called in Georgia to consider the impact on the state’s federal relations. Every county was to elect representatives to this convention. In Lowndes county, the pro-Union candidates were Levi J. Knight and Mills M. Brinson. The pro-secession candidates were William L. Morgan and Dr. William Ashley, All four of the candidates were slave owners.

  • Mills M. Brinson (1812-, prominent planter of Lowndes County; member Salem Primitive Baptist Church; pro-Union Democrat; Chairman, Democratic Party of Lowndes County, 1848; in 1850, owner of 24 enslaved people.
  • General Levi J. Knight (1803-1870), state assemblyman; planter; Indian fighter; member of Union Primitive Baptist Church; in 1850, owner of 6 enslaved people, father-in-law of Thomas M. Ray,; organizer of the Berrien Minute Men, 29th Georgia Regiment.
  • William L. Morgan, Esq. (1811-1862), attorney; resident of Troupville, GA; 1st Lieutenant, Lowndes Hussars, 81st Georgia Regiment, 1848;  pro-secession Democrat; in 1850, owner of 7 enslaved people.
  • Dr. William Ashley, (1824-1863); physician and planter; resident of Troupville, GA; pro-secession; in 1850, owner of 5 enslaved people.

A local history item in the Clinch County News recounted the election of delegates, and the state convention:

Clinch County News
August 2, 1929

Anti-bellum Politics

        Away back in 1849 when California was admitted as a state by Congress, politics seethed and Southern senators thundered forth against the motion. The average book you pick up does not deal with the situation except from a national viewpoint. Few people now living, know that Georgia came near seceding from the Union in 1850. It was due to the level-headedness and cool-headedness of certain state leaders that things were kept in check. The Whig party which was beginning to crumble slowly, used its influence against disunion, and they were aided by some Democratic leaders though most of the Democrats were crying for secession.
       The admission of California as a state was viewed by most Georgia people as simply taking land or territory owned by all alike, slaveholders and non-slaveholders, and then excluding slaveholders from moving there with their slaves, and then admitting it as a state. Our people viewed it further, that it was unfair to other states to take territory that was bought and paid for and set it up as a state equal with other sovereign states; that such territory should never be anything other than property held in common, subject to territorial supervision and management by the United States government; and Georgia democrats openly advocated secession. The Democratic papers boldly demanded “Give us liberty from that infamous pack of states, or give us death.” Democratic congressmen warned congress that it might mean secession in some of the Southern states.
      When the legislature of Georgia met in 1850 things were red-hot and the secessionists were running things then. A pretty strong effort was put forth to get the legislature to declare Georgia free and clear of the United States. They confided their plans then to get other states to follow suit.
      The argument about secession was a subject that consumed most of the attention and time of the 1850 legislature which convened in January. Whig legislators, while deprecating the California occurrences, extolled loyalty to the flag and talked about the glory of the good old U.S.A., and counselled working within rather than without the Union. Democratic speakers answered that they had already tried to get justice with in the Union. Whig speakers rejoined that if the Democrats would step out of the way and turn it over to the Whigs in Washington, they could smooth it out. Thus, it went.
            The resolution favoring secession was referred to the committee on —-of the Republic, and the committee reported out substitute resolution directing the Governor to call a convention of the people to vote upon it. The legislature thus washed its hands of the matter, and —-it on which was probably a —- thing as events finally proved.

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In Lowndes County, a coalition of Whigs and moderate Democrats met to form a local party supporting election of pro-Union delegates…

Milledgeville Southern Recorder
November 19, 1850

At a meeting of a large portion of the people of Lowndes County, for the purpose of nominating two candidates, for Delegates to represent the county of Lowndes in the Convention to be held in Milledgeville on the 10th of December next, on motion, Messrs. William C. Knight (W.)[Whig] and M. Brinson (D.)[Democrat] were called to preside over the deliberations of the meeting; and Charles S. Rockwell requested to act as Secretary. The following resolutions were adopted:

Whereas a Convention of the People of Georgia has been called by the Governor of our State in pursuance of an act of the Legislature approved Feb. 8th, 1850, and we the People of Lowndes County, believing that no just cause of resistance now exists, therefore resolved:

1st. That we will not support any man as a candidate for the said Convention, who does not pledge himself, that he will commit no act or give his vote for any measure that will tend directly or indirectly to subvert the Constitution of Georgia, or the United States.

2nd. That we believe the people of Georgia may honorably acquiesce in the action of the last Congress of the U. S. in reference to the subject of slavery-

3d. That in supporting candidates for said Convention, we will vote for one man of each political party, provided the above required pledges are given by them.

4th. That we recommend to the members of the Convention, the exercise of “Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation.”

On motion, a committee was appointed by the Chairman, to report the names of two suitable candidates to represent the county of Lowndes in the convention, who having retired for a short time, reported the names of Gen. Levi J. Knight (Whig,) and Miles M. Brinson, (Dem.) The report was confirmed by the meeting. The gentlemen selected by the meeting as candidates then expressed themselves willing to subscribe in full to the foregoing resolutions.

After requesting the above proceedings to be published in the Macon Journal & Messenger, Southern Recorder, and Savannah Georgian, the meeting adjourned.

WM C. KNIGHT.
MILES M. BRINSON }Pres’s
Chas. S. Rockwell, Sec’y

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The 1929 Clinch County News continued with additional history of the state convention…

The election for delegates to the convention was held Nov. 24, 1850, and two delegates for each representative in the legislature was elected.

The convention was to meet Dec. 10, 1850.

In Clinch County, Union men were elected; Ware elected Union men but Lowndes county sent delegates in favor of secession. The candidates and the vote they received, from these three counties, were as follows: Union men in the first column of names and disunion men in the next column or row:

[UNION]

Ware:      James Fullwood   199
               J. Walker             125
Lowndes: L. J. Knight          309
               M. M. Brinson       97
Clinch:    Benj. Sirmans     266
               Jas. W. Staten    155

DISUNION

Ware:       Nathan Brewton    98
Lowndes: W. L. Morgan        321
                W. Ashley            315
Clinch:     Simon W. Nichols 29
               John H. Mattox     20

The result of the election was a great majority for the Union advocates. The total votes cast was 71,115 votes,

The Augusta Daily Chronicle & Sentinel reported that on the evening of December 11, 1850, between sessions of the Georgia Sate Convention, a group of Georgia’s leading Union men met in Milledgeville to organize a Georgia association for a new national political party, the Constitutional Union Party.  Levi J. Knight was appointed as a representative to attend a national convention of the new party. This Grand Union Meeting was to be held in Washington, D. C. on February 22, 1851 but never materialized.

Meanwhile, at the Georgia state convention…

…the Union Men mostly Whigs, had a majority in the state of 22,117, and controlled two-thirds of the convention. Thomas Spalding of McIntosh county, a Union man, was elected president of the convention.The tide had turned -secession was defeated. 

Space forbids more details about this interesting event in our state history, other than to say that [after] several days’ oratory the committee reported out a set of resolutions which condemned the admission of California as a state; condemned the pernicious activities of the Free-soilers or Abolitionists; excoriated the Democratic party for its alleged failures; praised the administration of President Fillmore, and patriotically declared for the Union and eulogized the good old U.S.A.

Thus was averted civil war eleven years before it had to come.

The report of the state convention became known as the Georgia Platform of 1850:

Setting forth Georgia’s strong attachment to the Union, it deplored the slavery agitation, asserted the right of the state to settle this question for themselves, avowed a willingness to accept the compromise measures of Mr. Clay [Compromise of 1850], but declared it to be Georgia’s duty and determination to resist any measure of Congress to disturb the peace or to invade the rights of the slaveholding states…Georgia’s action produced a tranquilizing effect upon other states and…deferred the great Civil War for at least ten years. – A standard History of Georgia and Georgians

In 1860, when the election of Abraham Lincoln was imminent, Levi J. Knight formed a company of infantry called the Berrien Minute Men, which fought with the 29th Georgia Regiment in the Civil War.  In 1861, the 29th Georgia Regiment was detailed to defend the Sapelo Island plantation of Thomas Spalding and the port of Brunswick, GA.

Berrien Minute Men on Sapelo Island: Part 2

Berrien County in the Civil War
29th Georgia Regiment on Sapelo Island
Part 2: Place of Encampment

Berrien Minute Men on Sapelo Island

  1. Arrival On Sapelo
  2. Place of Encampment
  3. Camp Spalding
  4. Election of Officers
  5. Tidewater Time
  6. In Regular Service
William W. Knight wrote home from Camp Spalding, Sapelo Island, GA.

William W. Knight wrote home from Camp Spalding, Sapelo Island, GA.

The  Berrien Minute Men were two companies of infantry that went forth from Berrien County, GA during the Civil War. From October, 1861 to January, 1862, the campfires of the Berrien Minute Men  were made on the coast of McIntosh County at Sapelo and Blackbeard islands protecting the approaches to Darien, GA on Doboy Sound and the Altamaha River.  The Berrien Minute Men arrived on Sapelo in early October and were stationed on the island along with the Thomas County Guards, Thomas County Volunteers and Ochlocknee Light Infantry.

The regimental encampment on Sapelo was Camp Spalding, on the 4000 acre Sapelo Island plantation which had been established by Thomas Spalding.  Spalding, in 1827 served on a commission which attempted to survey the Florida-Georgia border and kept a journal of the journey.  The expedition bushwhacked its way from the east coast through largely unexplored areas of north Florida and south Georgia,  a portion of the route passing through Lowndes County to intersect Coffee’s Road near William Blair’s place just west of Sharpe’s Store.  The Coffee Road was cut in 1823 from Jacksonville, Telfair County, GA to Tallahassee, FL ; It was the only improved road through Wiregrass Georgia at that time and passed seven miles west of Ray City, GA.

According to New Georgia Encyclopedia,

“Thomas Spalding (1774-1851), noted antebellum planter of Sapelo Island, was one of the most influential agriculturists and political figures of his day in Georgia…He cultivated Sea Island cotton, introduced the manufacture of sugar to Georgia, and promoted Darien and the coastal area as the economic center of the state…Spalding was an influential Democrat and a pro-Union advocate.  As the sectional crisis worsened in the late 1840s he was instrumental in ensuring the support of Georgia for the Compromise of 1850.

Thomas Spalding, a pro-Union man, was elected president of the convention at the Georgia State Convention of 1850, convened to deliberate Georgia’s immediate secession or its alternatives. He led the convention with a majority of Union Men, mostly Whigs, to conditionally accept the Compromise of 1850 in a resolution known as the Georgia Platform. The act was instrumental in averting a national crisis, as other southern states soon followed the Georgia example.

…Despite his ownership of more than 350 slaves, Spalding had considerable misgivings about the institution of slavery, exemplified by his reputation as a liberal and humane master. He utilized the task system of labor, which allowed his workers to have free time for personal pursuits. Slaves were supervised not by the typical white overseers but by black managers, the most prominent of whom was Bu Allah (or Bilali), a Muslim and Spalding’s second-in-command on Sapelo.” 

The Muslim community at Sapelo Island was among the earliest in America, and some scholars believe the ruins on Sapelo include the foundations of one of the first mosques in the country.  Descendants of the 400 enslaved men, women and children who lived on Thomas Spalding’s antebellum plantation still reside on Sapelo Island in the Hog Hammock community. In the description of Sherpa Guides,

“The Gullah village, with its unique cultural, artistic, and linguistic traditions, is without a doubt the most unusual community in Georgia. Old timers speak geechee, a colorful creole that blends English with a number of African languages, primarily from the western coast. Hog Hammock was created in the early 1940s when R.J. Reynolds, who owned most of the island, consolidated the scattered black land holdings around the island. Blacks exchanged their holdings in Raccoon Bluff, Shell Hammock, and other communities for property and small houses with indoor plumbing in Hog Hammock.”

Thomas Spalding’s South End Mansion on Sapelo Island had been inherited by his son, Randolph Spalding.  Randolp Spalding and his five siblings had received the  slaves from their father’s estate, as well. In Sapelo’s People: A Long Walk to Freedom, William S. McFeely writes, “Randolph Spalding, unlike his scientific father, better fit the popular image of the Southern plantation grandee; in his thirties as the war approached he liked fast horses and big house parties.”

At the outbreak of the Civil War, the sea islands were among the most exposed and vulnerable southern properties.  For the tidewater plantation owners, “fears were great of a ‘plundering expedition’ aimed at the huge population of slaves along the coast.”

In McIntosh county 78 percent of the population was enslaved. In neighboring Glynn county 86 percent were slaves and the enslaved populations of the coastal Georgia counties were nearly as great: 67 percent in Camden county, 74 percent in Liberty, and 71 percent in Chatham.

1861 Harpers map of Georgia Slavery - detail of coastal counties.

1861 Harpers map of Georgia Slavery – detail of the Georgia coast showing the percentage of enslaved population in Chatham, Liberty, McIntosh, Glynn, and Camden counties.

“Charles Spalding, Randolph’s brother, wrote to an official of the Georgia militia on February 11, 1861 ‘that there are on the Island of Sapelo…about five hundred negroes which might be swept off any day unless protected by a small detachment of infantry on the island.” Spalding feared not only slave raiders, but the slaves themselves: ‘there are on.. [the nearby Altamaha rice plantations] some four thousand negroes, whose owners will continue to feel very insecure until some naval defenders are placed upon these waters.'”

That responsibility fell for a while on the Berrien Minute Men and the 29th Georgia Regiment. On Sapelo Island, the 29th  had duty manning Sapelo Battery  near Sapelo Lighthouse as well as additional gun batteries near Dean Creek.  A gun battery on Blackbeard Island at the Atlantic Inlet to Blackbeard Creek was the site of Captain Knight’s encampment. These positions were important in defending the northern delta of the Altamaha River and the port at Darien, GA from intrusion by Union forces.

A number of Civil War letters of John W. Hagan document the experiences of the Berrien Minute Men. Writing from Sapelo Island on October 11, 1861, Hagan gave his wife, Amanda Roberts Hagan, an update on her brothers Ezekiel W. Roberts and James S. Roberts, cousin Stephen N. Roberts, and the other soldiers of the Berrien Minute Men.

Sapelo Island, Ga.
Oct. 11, 61

My Dear Amanda,
I have imbraced the present opportunity of writing you a short letter which leaves my self and all the company in good health with a few exceptions. We landed in Savannah on Monday night at 8 Oclk and taken the Steamer on Tuesday eavening for our place of encampment which is on Sapelo Island. We landed on Sapelo on Wednesday morning & the same eavening Capt. L. J. Knight’s compny was removed to Sapelo all so and I found Ezeakle & James in good health & in good spearet. There is four companies stasioned hear now the Thomasvill guards & the Oclocknee light infantry & Capt Knights company and the company I came with. The health of the men on this Island is verry good and as to the reports which was going the roundes in Lowndes in regard to yellow feavor that is all faulce. Some of the men of Blackbeard did not take care of themselves, & by exposure and exerting too much they became bilious & I was realy surprised when I found all the boys in so fine health. As to James, Ezeakle & Stephen you would hardly know them. Ther is but four or five on sick report at this time and nothing is the matter with but colds & risings &c. Ezeakle will I think go home on the first boat & he will give moor satisfaction in regard to our fair than I can by writing. We have drew rashings but havent elected any of our offiscers for the company yet. We feel assured that John C. Lamb of Milltown will be our Capt but we know not who will be our Leutenants. All the boys was glad to see us and I think we will get along as well as any solders could expect. Capt Knights company has not drew any money yet but is to draw as soon as the Capt gets abble to go to Savannah. He has the Bloody Piles and is not able at present to travel. We have on this Island five canon mounted. The largest carries 16 lbs balls. The others are smaler & we calculate to mount moor as soon as posable. I do not apprehend any danger heare at present. There was a blockade came in sight here yesterday & we thought we should have a fight. The 3 companies was marched to the Battery or a detachment of the three companies. The cannon was uncovered & loaded & nessery arrangements was made for a fight when all at once the ship taken a tack in a different directsion. We do not now realy whether it was a blockade or an Inglish ship expected & last night at 11 Oclk a small steamer started out so that in case it should be an Inglish vessel they could convey her in.

Amanda, we are not regulated yet & I can not give you a full deatail but in my next letter I hope I shall be able to write something interresting. Some of the boyes are writing, some singing, some fiddleing, some dancing, some cooking, some play cardes & some are at work cleaning off our perade ground & places to pitch our tents. Cience I have bin hear I have seen several of the Thomas county boys. 2 of the old Allen Hagans boys from Thomas is heare. I feel satisfide that we will be healthey & fair as well as we could wish &c.

Amanda, Old man Crofford seemed to be in the nosion to buy my land when I saw him at Nailor. He said he would give me $1500 for my place if he traded with your father providing I would give him two payments from next January. Tel your father to make any trade with Crofford that he thinks proper, but if he wants time he must pay interrest on the payments. I must close for this time & I hope you wil write soon  & I think we had better change our Post office to Nailor because you can send evry Satterday or every other Satterday & get your mail shure & where we send too at present it is unsirtin when you get it. When you write you must derect it as I derect you nothing moor. yours affectsionate husband Til Death. John W. Hagan

N.B. address your letters to
John W. Hagan
Sapalo Island Ga
in care Capt Knight

N.B. Kiss Reubin for me
J. W. H.

By mid-October, 1861 the sick of the regiment on Sapelo Island were more or less recovering from their initial illness.  William Washington Knight wrote on October 12, “There is fourteen on the sick list but none of them very bad all able to be up some little.” Ten days later, William Washington Knight was himself sick with a “bowel complaint.” Of the Berrien Minute Men, he added, “father [Captain Levi. J. Knight] has been very sick but he is getting better so as to be about and attend to his businefs.    There are several of the recruits sick,   five that tolerable bad off although I do not think any are dangerous.    Some of the old company (Company C) are sick yet,    three pretty low.”  But by the end of October, a number of men had given up the regiment. Of the Thomas County Guards, James M. Blackshear provided a substitute and left.  Sixteen-year-old Elias Beall and W. R Pringle apparently went back home.    William A Jones left the Berrien Minute Men and went home on leave to Berrien County, never to return. Jones died of measles in Berrien County on January 18, 1862, leaving behind a pregnant wife  and a young son.

Measles would spread among the regiment  in the coming months at Camp Spalding.

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