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, Confederate veteran, and the convention delegate representing Berrien, Lowndes and Clinch counties.  He was six feet tall, with fair complexion, light hair and blue eyes.

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, Company C, 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 while the Berrien Minute Men were stationed at Causton’s Bluff, near Savannah. On this same date, his brother-in-law, James Aaron Knight,  enlisted at Smith’s Island and joined Berrien Minute Men Company C.

The officers election of May 7 notwithstanding, Jonathan D. Knight was made Captain on May 13, 1862   This  appointment would be officially confirmed by officers’ examination conducted July 1862 at Causton’s Bluff.

In July 1862, regimental records note Captain J. D. Knight was sick.  In a letter from Causton’s Bluff, John W. Hagan reported “The company is very sickly & dose not seem to improve. The health of the troops at this post is very bad. We have had 3 deaths in 24 hours & others expecting to die evry day.”

From November 1862 to December 8, 1862, regimental records note Jonathan D. Knight was present with the Berrien Minute Men at Camp Young and that he was “in arrest.” The records of December 8, also note that he was sick. The charge must have been minor or was dismissed, for in December he was present with the unit at Camp Clingman.

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.)

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The Grand Jury of 1868, Berrien County, Georgia

The Grand Jury of 1868, Berrien County, Georgia

Moses C. Lee,  his brother-in-law Samuel E. Register,  and Jonathan D. Knight, all early settlers of the Ray City area, served together on the 1868 term of the Berrien County Grand Jury, as did Benjamin Perry Jones, who would later engage in banking at Ray City and Valdosta, GA

The Court of 1868 was convened at a time following the Civil War, when the business of the county was in disarray.  A Berrien County Centennial edition of the Nashville Herald observed in retrospect, “Pillage and plunder, indignities and overbearing had galled the necks of Berrien County taxpayers for  three years or more; the loss of their boys on the front was still a cankering sore in the hearts of the fathers and mothers bereaved by the war’s toll on human life and wanton destruction of property.”  The county government had reached a financially unsound state and the taxpayers wanted an accounting.

The Grand Jury was faced with investigating the cause of the fiscal problems. The members were frustrated and perhaps contentious in reaching a conclusion in the matter, and their deliberations were inordinately extended. Jury members were at odds over who was to blame for it all.  Eventually, Judge Hansell, the presiding magistrate, adjourned the Court even though the Grand Jury had not concluded.

The Judge’s action  led the members of the Grand Jury to make a General Presentment that was harshly critical and highly publicized. This was despite the fact that when the court was convened, the Judge had notified the jury of his intention to adjourn on schedule that he might return to the bedside of his wife, who was in poor health.

The minutes of the court provide the following:

“We the jury chosen, selected and sworn to serve at this court respectfully ask for the appointment of a judge that would do justice to our county.

” We denounce Judge Hansell for adjourning the court  and leaving the business of the grand jury unfinished, and in such condition that it is impossible for us to proceed further.

“We denounce the course of all our county officers who are connected with the financial matter of our county, in that we find it impossible to make a proper investigation on account of the negligence of the officers.

“We, finding it impossible to arrive at the financial condition of the county, we recommend that no extra tax be levied on the county till the county records of the treasurer be ascertained by the succeeding grand jury, of the county.

“We respectfully ask the Clerk of the Court to place on the minutes these resolutions and to furnish Maj. Pendleton with a copy of same for publication.”

D.G. Hutchison, Forman
Thos. D. Lindsey,
P. Tison,
Malcolm McMillan,
B.P. Jones,
A. H. Turner,
Moses C. Lee,
M. C. Futch,
J. B. Giddens,
M. Tison,
John McMillan, Jr.,
John Hesters,
Wiley Tison,
H. B. Dodson,
S. E. Register,
J.D. Knight,
T. Mathis,
John G. Taylor,
T.J. Lindsey.
William Folsom

Major Pendleton was the editor of the Valdosta Times.  The jury’s denouncement was published in the Times, followed by a backlash against the jurors – who received  “the indignant criticisms this episode created, so great was the love and esteem which was extended for Judge Hansell,”   by many citizens in the Southern Circuit.

It is said that many of the jurors of the 1868 term later regretted their actions in regards to Judge Hansell.  And while this smirch on his record may be preserved in the minutes, it was far outweighed by another 35 years spent on the bench following the 1868 term.

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Henry Harrison Knight Among Earliest Teachers in Berrien County

Henry Harrison Knight,circa 1896, located at Ray’s Mill, holding Levi, Jr.

Henry Harrison Knight is a well documented historical figure of  Ray City, GA.  He was born on November 17, 1840 in that part of Lowndes County which was later cut into Berrien County.  His father was John Knight and his mother was Sarah “Sallie” Moore.  “His father, John Knight, had held various county offices during his lifetime and died in 1876. Henry’s education was limited to that of the common schools of the county.”  His uncle, General Levi J. Knight, organized the first Civil War unit to go forth from Berrien County, the Berrien Minute Men.

Henry Knight, himself, was a Confederate veteran, statesman, civil servant, and merchant.

A recently encountered news clipping from the 1956 Berrien County Centennial edition of the Nashville Herald, gives testimony that Henry Harrison Knight was also among the early educators in Berrien County.  In his day, however, the role of teacher may have been more of a community service than an occupation.

Although modern American usage of the word is restricted almost exclusively as a verb, the online dictionary gives a definition of the word “found” as a noun:

found -noun .

something that is provided or furnished without charge, esp. meals given a domestic: Maid wanted, good salary and found.
Consider then, this note from the Herald’s centennial history  about the early educators of Berrien County:

First Teachers in Berrien County Paid in “Found”
      In the early history of Berrien county education was eagerly sought by parents for their young, and making an impress upon the minds and hears of what are now, the older citizens, were the early teachers who taught the various schools around the county.
     Among these were Martin Miller, Jonathan D. Knight, Lacy E. Lastinger, W. H. Griffin, Henry H. Knight, Henry B. Peeples.
    These men taught in the little one room log house schools and were often paid in “found.”

Henry Berryman Peeples (1849-1909), son of Henry Thompson Peeples and nephew of Richard A. Peeples, was one of the early teachers in Berrien County, GA

Henry Berryman Peeples (1849-1909), son of Henry Thompson Peeples and nephew of Richard A. Peeples, was one of the early teachers in Berrien County, GA

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