Joel Knight

1796 - 1876

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister



For the historical facts in this sketch we are mainly indebted to the autobiographical sketch which Mr. Knight left for publication at his death, and which was published in consecutive numbers of Our Faith. We have, however, gained some additional information from the minutes of Illinois and Vandalia Presbyteries.

Rev. Joel Knight was born at the "Red Banks" (now Henderson) Kentucky, February 22, 1796. His father's name was John Knight, who was born near Baltimore, Md. His mother's maiden name was Ann Roelofson, a native of Pennsylvania. At the time of the birth of Mr. Knight, and for many years after, the Indian wars were frequent and their cruelties horrible. At the time of his birth his oldest brother, Isaac Knight, was a prisoner in the hands of the Indians, where he remained about three years before making his escape. At the age of six years Mr. Knight's father died, leaving his mother a widow with a large family, two children being younger than himself. It is almost needless to say, that at that time and under the circumstances an education was almost out of the question in this Western county. Mr. Knight was what the world would call a self-made, common English scholar. He went to school but little at any time. He speaks as follows of his first religious convictions: "I suppose I was not more than seven years old when I felt that I was a poor sinner, and needed to have sins pardoned in order to be happy hereafter. I often promised in my own mind, and sometimes publicly, that I would do better and try to become good; but again I forgot my promises, neglected private prayer, and was as bad as ever. Sometimes I was even more wild; but when at meeting I always paid strict attention to preaching and religious exercises." At the age of eighteen he was married to Miss Martha Bostick, who was a pious member of the Methodist Church. He seems to have lived on in a semi-careless state for several years. In 1818 he attended a Cumberland Presbyterian camp-meeting near where Evansville, Ind., now stands, at which a number of his friends and relatives professed religion. Here he seemed to be greatly troubled on account of his sins, but he says, "I left a poor, distressed, helpless sinner." He wore off somewhat his distress, and engaged in the busy affairs of the world, as usual. Shortly after this he visited Illinois on an exploring trip, and was so pleased with the new country that he determined to remove thither. In the Spring of 1819 he removed to White county, and settled at "Seven Mile Prairie." Here Rev. David W. McLin had previously settled and started a Cumberland Presbyterian church. Mr. Knight had become firmly convinced that there was a medium ground--which alone was the true ground--between the extremes of Calvinism and the current Arminianism of the country; and when he heard Cumberland Presbyterians preach, their doctrines were just what he believed to be taught in the Holy Scriptures. He became enamored with their theory of the plan of redemption, as alike honoring to God and adapted to the condition of a fallen race. He determined to settle in Mr. McLin's congregation. At this time he had two children. The latter part of the following August a communion meeting was held at Hopewell (now Enfield), where Revs. Wm. Barnett, John Barnett, Wm. Henry, Dr. Johnson and Aaron Shelby were present, besides Mr. McLin. On Monday of this meeting, under a pungent sermon by Rev. John Barnett from John xix. 4, Mr. Knight was brought to see his sins as he had never seen them before. Dr. Johnson preached at night, called the anxious, and Mr. Knight was among those who responded promptly. We give his own words as to his feelings when the great change came. Dr. Johnson was asking him questions while his soul was enveloped in gloom, and almost despair. He says: "He continued to ask until I suppose he saw clearly my state of mind. He then turned my mind to view Christ in his true character, and what he has done as man's security in order to meet and satisfy the law in man's stead. Every word seemed to shed light on the subject. My mind followed him until it was finished. It seemed that a shock of lightning poured through my whole frame, and I thought it was really so (a storm was raging at the time); but I saw the plan of salvation complete, full and free. I saw God could be just and save sinners, for what Christ had done." He seems, however, not to have received the idea that he had really any change at this time. He saw how he could be saved, but yet he did not believe he had complied with the terms of the gospel. He continues: "I continued in this state of mind some four weeks for more, when, at a camp-meeting in Union county, Ky., such a sense of divine love, mercy, goodness, and glory of God burst upon my view as to overpower me. I broke forth into expressions of wonder, joy, and gladness. For a time I was so completely lost in the love of the Savior that I knew not what I did." Mr. Knight returned home, immediately erected the family altar, and resolved he would not drink ardent spirits (although at this time there were no temperance organizations in the county).

He soon began to feel that the Lord had something for him to do in his vineyard which he had not done. He felt a burning anxiety for souls. But he was very poor, had a young and increasing family largely dependent on his efforts for their every day support, and it looked like utter folly, he thought, for such an ignorant and poor man as he was to think of any position in the Church but that of a modest private member. We quote again: "My impressions to warn the unconverted and to try to save sinners continually increased; but I had no knowledge of anything as a science. I had a little superficial knowledge of reading, writing, arithmetic, and nothing more. I had no proper knowledge of the nature and form of letters, and the proper method of spelling words, nor of forming words into a sentence scientifically. Here was my ignorance, poverty, and the weight of a rising family entirely dependent upon my energies for management and support in their helpless and dependent condition, and last, but not least, the awful responsibility of the work. These, all combined, presented obstacles which, to my mind, seemed insurmountable in my peculiar circumstances." To add to this formidable array of difficulties, his health and declined and he was in debt. To human vision these were enough to appall the mind of any one. But the promised "sufficient grace" can surmount all obstacles and remove all mountains.

Mr. Knight finally broke the subject to his wife, fearing she would oppose his efforts to preach; but he was much disappointed in her cheerful willingness for him to do any thing he felt to be duty. Accordingly, in the Spring of 1821 he went to Kentucky to attend the meeting of Logan Presbytery. He was received as a candidate, and from that time Providence seemed to smile on his plans for a living for his family. He set about the study of English Grammar (Murray) without a teacher. He worked hard at manual labor all day, and sat up late and studies his Grammar. Then he arose in the morning before light. He rode on horseback two hundred miles that Fall to attend Presbytery. At the next session (which was a year from his reception as a candidate) he was licensed at Rose Creek, Hopkins county, Ky., with eleven others, to preach the gospel as a probationer. He rode the circuit and preached as much as possible, in his straightened circumstances. Ministers in those days got very little sustenance. Indeed the congregations were few, poor, and scattered over a broad territory. When Cumberland Synod ordered the organization of Illinois Presbytery the first Tuesday in May, 1823, Mr. Knight, with others, was transferred to the care of the new Presbytery. He was present at its organization. We have often heard him describe the occasion.

It will be seen, therefore, that Mr. Knight, as a minister, began with the beginning of our Church in Illinois. No man was better acquainted with its toils, difficulties, and discouragements than was he.

The acquaintance of Mr. Knight with the writer dates back to the Spring of 1849. We then met first in the General Assembly. We had corresponded before. We were placed together on a committee to try to adjust the difficulties arising out of the famous "White and Bonham" case. In 1853 we met again near Edwardsville, at old Goshen church, in a meeting; and shortly after the writer became a member of the same Presbytery, and our relations were henceforth necessarily intimate. Mr. Knight lived to a good old age, and departed to his long home on the 2nd of February, 1876, at his residence in Donnellson, Montgomery county, where he had resided for some years. His death was very peaceful and quiet, without a struggle or seeming pain. He was not able to speak after he was taken ill, and died in a few minutes; but his whole life was a "living epistle," to be known and read by all men. He had lost he first wife several years previous, after having reared a large family. She was a good woman, full of faith, and a help-meet indeed. After being single for a good while Mr. Knight was married to Mrs. Eliza Barber, the widow of Rev. John Barber, Jr., who still survives him. She, too, is a most consecrated, pious lady. His last years were spent free from want, temporal and spiritual, and he went down to the grave beloved by the entire Cumberland Presbyterian Church throughout the State, and mourned by many others besides. He lived to see one Presbytery spread into ten, and a "handful of corn" in the top of the mountains shake its fruit like Lebanon. At the Fall session of Vandalia Presbytery of 1876, of which he had been a member from its organization, that body, in memory of his long, respected and useful life, ordered a funeral sermon to be preached by the writer, which was done before a large and tearful assembly of people, after suitable resolutions had been placed upon the record in regard to his death.

We append the following reflections: Mr. Knight in personal appearance was a hearty, stout, robust man, and at the time of his death would probably weigh nearly two hundred pounds. He was rather slow of speech, but always left the impression upon his hearers that he had thought closely on the subject before he spoke. He was not a fluent speaker or an orator, and yet there was something about his appearance which always and everywhere commanded the respect and attention of the people.

He was a man of very positive convictions. He formed his own opinions regardless of what others might think or not think of the subject in question; and he had the moral courage to do what he thought was right, if he stood alone. He was not strict in parliamentary rules, but he was a good counsellor in the judicatories of the Church, and spent nearly his entire time in studying ways and means to do good. He was well versed in the Scriptures, and had as clear an idea of the theological position of our Church as any man with whom we ever conversed or read after. He was a man of unusual power in prayer, and many time in the application of his sermon he was powerful and convincing. He always used scrupulously good and chaste language, and we never knew him to descend to the low jesting and joking in private circles which so often injure ministerial character and influence. He was one of the oldest citizens of the country, as he was one of the oldest ministers of any denomination, and he carried with him to the grave a character untainted by a single spot through a long and variously active life. He always took a deep interest and bore an active part in sustaining every enterprise of the Church; and, while he loved and had the confidence of all Christians who knew him, he was a firm and unflinching Cumberland Presbyterian in principle, and believed that the doctrinal standpoint of our Church was the point towards which all Christendom, in its theological changes, is tending. In all the relations of life Mr. Knight acquitted himself with like credit. He was the kind husband, the affectionate father, the friendly neighbor, the good citizen, the Christian gentleman, the faithful, successful minister of Christ.

[Source: History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Illinois: Containing Sketches of the First Ministers, Churches, Presbyteries and Synods; also a History of Mission, Publication and Education. By J.B. Logan. Alton, Ill.: Perrin & Smith, 1878, pages 161-167.]

Rev. Joel Knight

Rev. Joel Knight was a member of Vandalia Presbytery when first organized, forty-four years ago; was a minister of the Gospel more than half a century; was known and respected as a pioneer of the Church in the North-west; lived to see the Church increase from none in the State to ten Presbyteries. The following resolutions were passed by Vandalia Presbytery at her recent session:

"Rev. Joel Knight, the oldest member of this Presbytery, and one of the oldest ministers, at his death, in our denomination, departed this life at his residence in Donnellson, Illinois, February 2, 1876, wanting twenty days of eighty years of age.

Resolved, That in the departure of Father Knight this Presbytery has lost a safe and wise counselor, his family a kind husband and father, the country a worthy citizen, and the Church at large a faithful and efficient minister of the Gospel for more than fifty years.

2. That in the character of Father Knight we have an example of diligence in the discharge of duty, punctuality in all his engagements, and a long, unblemished, and consecrated life, which are worthy of our highest emulation, and is a treasure left to the Church far more precious than gold and rubies.

3. That we deeply sympathize with his bereaved wife, children, and relatives, and the entire Church in this bereavement, and we will receive his sudden and unexpected departure as an admonition to us all to be faithful to our vows, and to stand with our loins girt about and our lamps burning, ready for the coming of the Bridegroom.

4. That in memory of the worth of our departed father in Israel, his funeral be preached at the next meeting of this Presbytery; and that a copy of these resolutions be given the widow, and also that a copy be furnished the papers of the Church for publication.

J. B. Logan,
J. H. Hendrick,
J. M. Ashworth,
W. W. M. Barber, S.C.

[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, May 11, 1876, page 1]

The Rev. Joel Knight


The Rev. Joel Knight, or "Father Knight," as he was called, was of especial interest to this community. It was here that he joined the Illinois presbytery, and its first meeting in May, 1823. He was a pastor here, married his second wife here, and spent his last days here in the house lately remodeled by Jack Howard. The Rev. Knight was a man of positive convictions, and he had the moral courage to do what he thought was right, even if he stood alone. He was a good counsellor and spent much of his time studying ways to do good. He was well versed in the Scriptures, and a man of unusual power in payers. He was one of the oldest citizens in the community, and one of the oldest ministers in the Cumberland Presbyterian church. He always took an active part in all the enterprises of the church.

One has said of Mr. Knight that he was a kind husband, an affectionate father, a friendly neighbor, a good citizen, a faithful, successful minister of Christ. He was a strong, robust man, and he and his wife, who was the widow of the Rev. John Barber, Jr., were discussing the prayer meeting from which they had just returned when he became ill quite suddenly. He soon passed to his heavenly home, on February 2, 1876.

Mr. Knight compiled a book of songs which was used in the Cumberland Presbyterian churches for years. He wrote a book on his own life which is full of interesting data.

His influence still lives on.

[Source: One Hundred Twenty Years of Donnellson Presbyterian Church History; 1819-1939. Compiled by Olive F. Kaune. Printed by "The Montgomery News." pages 32-33.]


John Knight
born: 15 January 1749/50 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania or Baltimore, Maryland?
died: c1801
wife: Ann Roelofson
[daughter of Lawrence Roelofson and Mary Smith]
born: Pennsylvania

Children of John Knight and Ann Roelofson Knight:

1. John Knight
married: 23 October 1813 - Henderson County, Kentucky
wife: Elizabeth Willingham

2. Margaret Knight

3. Isaac Knight
born: May 1780 - Washington County, Pennsylvania
died: 16 October 1856
buried: Evansville, Vanderburgh County, Indiana
1st wife: Almira Gillett
2nd wife: Sarah Barnett

4. David Knight
born: 1783

5. Aaron Knight
born: 1789
died: 1819
married: 13 April 1812 - Henderson County, Kentucky
wife: Sarah Smith

6. Abraham Knight
born: 1794
wife: Polly Kimball

7. Joel Knight
Cumberland Presbyterian Minister
born: 22 February 1796 - Henderson County, Kentucky
died: 2 February 1876 - Donnellson, Montgomery County, Illinois
married: 20 February 1814 - Henderson County, Kentucky
1st wife: Martha Bostick
[daughter of Ezra Bostick and Drucila Liles]

Children of Joel Knight and Martha Bostick Knight:

7.1. Isaac Jackson Knight
born: 16 October 1816 - Tennessee
died: 10 July 1881 - Galatia, Barton County, Kansas
married: 23 November 1843 - Bond County, Illinois
wife: Nancy Finley

Children of Isaac Jackson Knight and Nancy Finley Knight:

7.1.1. Mariah Ellen "Nellie" Knight [or Ellen Elizabeth Knight?]
born: 22 January 1850 - Hillsboro, Montgomery County, Illinois
died: 26 September 1921 - Dinuba, Tulare County, California
buried: Smith Mountain, Tulare, California
married: 31 March 1881 - Russell, Russell County, Kansas
husband: Henry McCorkle
[son of Jonathan McCorkle and Julia Ackley]
born: 1855 - Ohio
died: 1898 - Great Bend, Baron County, Kansas

Children of Henry McCorkle and Mariah Ellen Knight: Eugene Henry McCorkle
born: 12 February 1882 - Galatia, Kansas
died: 4 April 1944 - Dinuba, Tulare County, California
married: 19 July 1914 - Pendleton, Oregon
wife: Lucy Benita Buffington
born: 15 January 1888 - Glenwood, Iowa
died: 6 May 1966 - Visalia, California

Children of Eugene Henry McCorkel and Lucy Benita Buffington: Elizabeth Ellen McCorkle
born: 11 July 1917 - Dinuba, Tulare County, California
died: 2 December 1969 - Visalia, Tulare County, California
husband: Gordon Emett Miller Doris Mildred McCorkle
born: 15 March 1920 - Dinuba, Tulare County, California
married: 21 June 1941 - Dinuba, Tulare County, California
husband: Frank Louis Gomes
born: 18 April 1918 - Fresno, California Eugene Vance McCorkle
born: 2 March 1928 - Dinuba, Tulare County, California
married: 6 March 1948 - Carson City, Nevada Minnie Ellen McCorkle
died: 1935 - Santa Rosa, California
buried: Smith Mountain, Tulare County, California
married: 1901 - Tulare County, California
husband: George Frederick ? Inez Fredericka McCorkle
died: 1947 - Jerome, Arizona
married: 1917 - Prescott, Arizona

7.2. Preston Blackbourn Knight
born: 15 November 1818

7.3. John Bostick Knight
born: 17 January 1821
died: 26 August 1841

7.4. Drusilla Ann Knight
born: 12 November 1822

7.5. Nancy McLin Knight
born: 17 July 1825
died: 7 August 1838

7.6. Ezra Porter Knight
born: 5 April 1827
died: 8 January 1838

7.7. William Young Knight
born: 4 March 1829
died: 26 December 1851

7.8. Joel Barber Knight
born: 21 March 1831

7.9. Eliza Foster Knight
born: 31 August 1832

7.10. Cyrus Boon Knight
born: 24 November 1834

7.11. Martha Jane Knight
born: 18 February 1836

8. William Knight
born: 15 July 1799 - Henderson County, Kentucky
died: 6 December 1862
wife: Barsheba Bostick

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Updated May 12, 2009