Book Review | The Knight Family Legacy
Author: Marilyn R. Hill-Sutton
This is an incredibly detailed, meticulously researched piece of historical writing. I should emphasize that this is not a novel, more of a record of one family’s struggle to claim their rightful inheritance. I would liken it to a textbook for a course on the Civil War or early law.
Major John Knight, Jr. died in 1886, without a written will. He called five witnesses to his deathbed and gave an oral (or noncupative) will. He left all his estate to his former slaves. His mistress and their children. Because they were all owned by his estate before the Civil War, they all had the surname Knight. His only son, Jacob, took up the challenge and successfully followed the will through the courts of law and satisfied his father’s last wishes.
The early part of this book covers Major Knight’s parents, John Sr. and Hollon, their deaths and the settlement of their estates. The lists of the assets of their plantation is a little unsettling to read, as their slaves are listed along with their other livestock with their values. Let’s see: cow, pig, negro male, ox cart, horse, negro woman, chickens… Even the children are listed as being worth $200 each. It saddened me to read this but at the same time it was morbidly fascinating to find that the cost of seven slaves accounted for more than half of their wealth at an appraised value of $2,825. Their land alone was valued at $1,000. The entire estate was valued $5,756.25.
The book goes on to cover Major Knight’s career in the Confederate army and his involvement in the Civil War. After the war ends, and the slaves were freed, the author details the lives of Violet, John’s forbidden love for her and their children. His untimely death by a horse buggy accident and his determination to see his unconventional family rightly settled was controversial for the time. The courts took over 5 years to settle the estate of John Knight Jr.
If you have an interest in the Civil War, law or the history involving the emanicipation of the slaves of the South, this book is for you. Marilyn R. Hill-Sutton is the wife of one of John Knight’s descendants and has laid out an invaluable piece of American history for them and for all whose families have any connection to the Southern United States.
*I received a copy of this book to review but I was not financially compensated in any way. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my observations while reading this novel.*