George Allen Knight

The Overton County Heritage Museum has some interesting books for sale, and among those are three that have been written by George Allen Knight. Mr. Knight once lived in the Taylors Crossroads community of Overton County. I never had the opportunity to meet him, but certainly wish that I had. Mr. Knight was born September 16, 1877. I am taking portions of one of his books entitled "The Knights On Obeds River" written in 1969. Included in this book is an excerpt from Tim Huddleston’s "Pioneer Families of Pickett County, Tennessee" about Mr. Knight’s grandfather, Joseph Fiske Knight, as follows: "Joseph Fiske Knight, a native of New Hampshire, nephew of Moses Fiske, youngest son of James Robert Knight, graduated from Harvard where he excelled in mathematics, was persuaded by his Uncle Moses Fiske to come to Tennessee. He assisted his uncle in the Overton County Academy and taught mathematics at the Academy of Monroe which was directed by Sidney H. Little, son-in-law of Moses Fiske. Later a school house was built on his farm near Eagle Creek on Obeds River where he operated a private school. Some of the students of Joseph Fiske Knight have the names: Boles, Huddleston, Windle, Allred Parris, Harrison, Hill Sprouls, Goodpasture, Smith, Copeland, Clark Godsey, Sells, Nelson, Garrett, Sevier, Taylor, and Little. Joseph Fiske Knight is said to have brought the first piano to Pickett County. He is also said to have brought the first Morgan horses to the Upper-Cumberland. He was an accomplished man. He was a musician, mathematician, surveyor, breeder of horses, farmer, teacher, and operator of a private school."

Here are bits and pieces about the life of George Allen Knight that seem to come right out of a "Gone With The Wind" setting. He writes as follows: "My grandfather, Joseph Fiske Knight, was born in 1820 and was in his forties during the Civil War. My father, John Robert Knight, was born in 1857, so he was a small lad during the Civil War strife. Their home was in what was then Overton County, but is now Pickett County. Grandfather Knight came to the Upper Cumberlands as a school teacher after his graduation from Harvard University. His uncle, Moses Fiske, operated the Fiske Female Academy at Hilham in Overton County, and it was here Grandfather did his first teaching. Grandfather Knight located in the lowlands on Obeds River and then his three sons, John Robert, George, and James located in this area.

The Joseph Fiske Knight colonial home once stood in the Boom community of Pickett County.

"Father’s house, just as Grandfather’s, faced Obeds River. Not all homes in this mountainous Upper Cumberland region were the dog-trot style, made of split logs with rock and clay chimneys. Grandfather’s home was a large white colonial style with columns. My parent’s home was less impressive, but it was a very large two-story frame structure with a spacious porch all the way across the front. Grandfather’s home was in such a secluded spot on the banks of the Obeds River that it was not pilfered and burned during the Civil War.

"Father and Mother’s home, on an eminence in a V-shaped cove, was built of walnut, oak, pine and all-heart cedar. It was a house affectionately built. The giant sleepers were hewn out with a broadax. In fact, all the timbers were hand-hewn and pillars of strength. This stately, impressive house had a more modest beginning. It was first two hand-hewn log houses, one for cooking and eating, and the other one for living and sleeping. Father added to and joined the two houses and the larger, sprawling one emerged. The family lived in part of the house while the other part was under construction. Father was a very self-sufficient man and did much of the building of our home, however he employed some skilled workmen to assist him. Another group of skilled workmen assisted Father with the chimneys, windows and certain details. The four men that assisted Father the most in the construction of our home were David Sells, David Godsey, Samuel Brannum, and Charlie Pritchard.

"The completed house was a two-story frame type, weather boarded with fine dressed poplar lumber which was pained white. The roof was hand-made shingles and when it was recovered, the new roof was put on top of those already there. The front porch or portico was the entire length of the house and twelve turned wood column posts supported the roof. On the first floor were five large rooms. There was the same amount of space on the second floor. All the rooms were spacious. In fact, whole houses built today could fit into one of our rooms. The floors were of oak lumber with the boards all of one width and one length. The walls and ceiling were of oak and walnut. Giant trees were used to obtain the wide boards for the paneling. Some of the walls and ceilings were painted white. Fireplaces were seven feet wide.

"The parlor was papered in a design of rose vines and red roses, the wall to wall carpet was the hand-made oriental type and was laid in strips and in color that matched the red roses. The wallpaper can be found in one of the ancestral homes at Williamsburg.

"Father’s idea of perfection in a landscape was plots sown in grass, but we had trees and shrubs. Our front lawn was quite formal with box woods, an avenue of holly trees and also an avenue of lily bushes. The lily bushes were kept like a hedge. Bedding was sometimes sunned on them and Mother and my sisters once in a great while dried the clothes wash on them. We had large live oaks that shaded a space with a diameter of 100 feet. In the back yard were cabbage roses and ramblers on the back fence, hollyhocks, spider lilies and daffodils. A white paling fence enclosed the large lawn. One entered a swinging gate and a board walk through a rose arbor led to the front porch. Outside the fence was the style block, hitching racks and parking place for buggies and surreys.

"The house was resplendent with English furnishings to match the taste of Grandfather, however some of the furniture was made locally by skilled workmen. There were walnut and cherry chests and beds, good walnut cupboards, cradles that the babies were rocked in, good quantities of silver, pewter, iron, brass, woodenware and crockery that was made in the area, but our dinnerware, wallpaper, organ, carpets, trunks, and some of our clothing were produced elsewhere, sometimes in other countries. We had plenty of bedding and extra linens, including flax linen tablecloths, napkins, and tea towels that came from the British Isles.

"We had a pump house that supplied our water. We also had a smoke house, a wash house, a toolshed, a surrey house, a blacksmith shop for shoeing the horses and mules, a corn crib, a duck house, a hen house, and a wheat house. Mother and the girls made most of their clothes. Coats were ready-made and silk hose were made in the United States, France, or England. Steamboats loaded with goods came up the Cumberland River from Nashville and on up Obeds River when the tides were high. They brought the latest fashions in clothes and dress materials for the women and fine leather shoes and broadcloth suits for men. Our place reflected cleanliness, order and beauty. Great pride was taken in our grounds, in our house, and all the hundreds of acres spread along the banks of the Obed River. Father’s farm of over five hundred acres bordered Obeds River. The land reached almost to the Boom church which was two miles from our home, meandered to the Jack Huckleby Springs and Will Reynolds Spring and to the Emily Hill Estate on the other side. In later years, three good size farms were cut off Father’s estate, one for my sister, Lizzie and her husband, Henry Holbert, another for my sister, Mary Ellen and her husband Porter Smith, and one for me. Mine was at the top of the hill overlooking Obeds River and Father’s home.

"Father’s farm was thickly forested except for the bottom land, fields, and pastures. We used large quantities of timber for our buildings, fence laying, and our firewood for heating the house, cooking and the wash house. We also used firewood for hog killing, lard rendering, soap making, and sometimes we dyed quilt linings. We cut our beautiful cedar trees for shingles, fences, and fence posts. We raised a great variety of crops on Father’s farm, especially wheat, corn, oats, rye, tobacco, beans, potatoes, hemp, flax, and some cotton. We always had a large cane crop, made our own molasses. We had pastures and fields of hay, a large vegetable garden, and with all this, we were kept busy nine months of the year. We alternated our farming with off-season logging, rafting, and work in the timbered land.

"I guess our manner of living was a heritage from England for we, like our English forefathers, took much pride in our well-kept farm, fine cattle, our beautiful horses, delicious fruits and foods, and even our manicured lawn with its lily trees, box woods, and daffodils. We saw farming principally as a good way of life and the cutting and selling of timber as another cash income. We sold hogs on the hoof, as lard, and as cured meat. Tobacco was sold in unmanufactured form. We pulled fodder in mid-August. This was stripping the blades while the ear, now fully grown, was left on the stalk. We tied the blades into bundles and this was the winter forage for our stock. Corn gathering did not come until November and this meant taking the shuck and all. Corn shucks were a valuable addition to the food supply for the stock. Our cows ate the small corn (nubbins) with the shuck on them. The shucks served other useful purposes. Mother made mud-mats that she placed by the doors out of shucks. There were the shuck-tick (mattress) that went between the feather-bed and the bed-chords. I have know my mother to entertain my younger sisters by making shuck dolls for them.

"When not in school, my early youth was spent listening, hunting, fishing and rummaging over the hills, hollows and meadows. Our house was a long way from neighbors, so I seldom saw other boys except at school. I never knew anything but to develop my own ways of being happy. I came to love and study nature, to know something of the birds and the beasts, the trees and the flowers. I loved the outdoors and I spent a great dal of time there. I always liked fresh air and seldom closed my doors only at night in both summer and winter unless it is freezing cold. I enjoyed the woods, the creeks, and Obeds River. None of the hills were too high for me to climb. I enjoyed the caves, the sinkholes, the bluffs, the waterfalls, the brooks, the glades, the meadows, and the stretches of heavily timbered land. This was home and all this is a part of my heritage."

The book I have taken this information from also contains a lot of early Tennessee history and a chapter titled "An Expedition to Cuba." George Allen Knight was married to Nora Clark. They had three children, Orbitt Lloyd; Inez; and Agnes. He died in 1973 while living with his daughter, Agnes Knight Campbell, in Knoxville, Tennessee.