north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     Jonathan Worth found his Quaker upbringing and temperament tested by the trials of Reconstruction. The first of Dr. David and Eunice Gardner Worth’s twelve children, Jonathan Worth was born on November 18, 1802, at Center in Randolph County. He received a basic education in local schools and at the Greensborough Male Academy. Worth learned law as a student of [Archibald D. Murphey, G-9} and received his license in December 1824. He moved to Asheboro to establish his practice. Jonathan Worth married Martitia Daniel, niece of Murphey, in 1824; they had eight children, six of whom survived their father.

Worth possessed an inhibited personality and found public speaking distasteful and laborious; consequently, his early law practice floundered. He was more successful in business, investing in early textile mills as well as navigation and plank road companies. Believing that politics might help him overcome his professional handicaps, he entered the race for the state House in 1830 and was elected. There he voted against resolutions endorsing the administration of President [Andrew Jackson, L-9] yet spoke out strongly against the concept of nullification. Ostracized for standing on principle, he returned to his law practice and prospered.

During the 1830s, Worth became a devoted member of the Whig Party, viewing Democratic doctrine as subversive to good government based on the federal Constitution. He spent three terms in the state Senate between 1840 and 1861 denouncing the Democratic policies. Twice he ran for Congress but was defeated. Worth bitterly opposed secession and refused to be a delegate to the May 1861 convention that took North Carolina out of the Union. He detested war or any form of violence owing to his Quaker heritage but, faced with the inevitable, chose to support the Confederate cause, even though he thought it likely that it would eventually fail.

Jonathan Worth frequently disagreed with the Confederate national administration. He supported the Conservative Party in 1862 and was elected state treasurer on December 3. Despite his hatred of war, Worth never publicly became associated with the peace movement led by influential newspaper editor William W. Holden, as he wished to remain on good terms with both Holden and Governor Zebulon Baird Vance. Privately, Worth supported peace efforts as long as they were made on the basis of restoration of the Union as it had been before the war and would not involve North Carolina’s unilateral withdrawal from the Confederacy. At the close of the war, Worth was asked by Holden, now provisional governor of the state, to continue as state treasurer as part of the provisional government. Worth resigned on November 15, 1865, to run against Holden for governor in the general election called by the convention that met earlier in the year. He won by nearly 6,000 votes.

The new governor faced major obstacles: quarreling factions within the state that needed to be reconciled; skepticism of North Carolina’s sincerity towards reunion by President Andrew Johnson; and a Congress increasingly concerned about the treatment of African Americans and former Unionists under the new Southern governments. Worth strongly favored a North Carolina under the leadership of former white Unionists like himself which rejected the influence of former secessionists and Confederates but at the same time sought to preserve as much of the old racial status quo as possible and deny African Americans the benefits of full citizenship. Ongoing unrest in the South led to the passage of the Congressional Reconstruction Acts that placed the former Confederate states under military administration, the first of which passed shortly after the beginning of Worth’s second term as governor. The governor developed a good relationship with Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, who had charge of the Second Military District. Sickles frequently asked for and followed Worth’s advice. He was replaced by Gen. Edwin R. S. Canby in August 1867, with whom Worth had more conflict due to the former’s more overt support for Congressional Reconstruction policy. With new elections ordered for 1868, Worth refused to run against Holden, now a Republican, who was certain to win. A military order directed Worth to turn over the governor’s office to Holden on July 2. In failing health, he retired to his home, “Sharon,” in Raleigh where he died fourteen months later on September 5, 1869. He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery.

William K. Boyd, ed., Memoirs of W. W. Holden (1911)
Cyclopedia of Eminent and Representative Men of the Carolinas in the Nineteenth Century, II (1892)
John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, XXIII (1999)
Governors’ Papers, Jonathan Worth, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh
J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton, ed., The Correspondence of Jonathan Worth (1909)
Jonathan Worth Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Richard L. Zuber, Jonathan Worth: A Biography of a Southern Unionist (1965)
Location: County:

Original Date Cast:




north carolina highway historical marker program

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources