Jane Phillips: The Washington Family Dynasty of Kinston, NC - Part 1

Jane Phillips: The Washington Family Dynasty of Kinston, NC - Part 1

Part One - John Washington the Patriarch (1767-1837)

I have found John Washington to have been the father of the most illustrious children ever born into a family in Kinston, North Carolina. I have been fascinated for years with the lives of these people. In the 19th century their influence and connections reached from Spanish Florida, to the halls of Congress, to the streets of New York City, to the streets of San Francisco and to the aristocracy of Paris, France.

John Washington

John Washington

John Washington was born in 1767 in Virginia. His family later moved to Northampton County NC. During the latter part of the eighteenth century he made his way to the village of Kinston. Many reports have him distantly related to President George Washington. John apparently came to Kinston as a man of substance. Over time he began to acquire properties throughout Kinston. He eventually owned properties in other counties around the state.

He mingled with the best of families. In 1799 John had been courting and then married Elizabeth Herritage Cobb. She was the daughter of prominent Jesse Cobb, a leading citizen of Kinston and was the granddaughter of highly respected William Herritage of New Bern. Herritage was a wealthy land owner and businessman. John embraced the community and became involved in civic and social activities. He served as a town commissioner for a while and postmaster.

His commentary on Lenoir County, telling of its geographical, agricultural, religious and educational properties was published in a Virginia Newspaper. Perhaps he was trying to entice people to move to Lenoir County.

John and Elizabeth lived at the corner of Gordon and Herritage Streets in a large house where they raised their children. Years later this house would become the St. Charles Hotel that was a gathering place during the Civil War. John operated a store in Kinston. As postmaster more than likely the post office was in his store. Today that site is home to the CSS Neuse II, a full-size replica of a Civil War ironclad gunboat.

John's sons were educated in leading universities of that time. His daughters were provided an education as befitting young ladies of means.

In 1827 John and Elizabeth moved to New Bern, a larger town, and opened another store. His business savvy led to his becoming a leading merchant in the town and adding to his wealth. About once a year he would travel to Richmond or Philadelphia to buy goods for his stores. After ten years John passed away without a will. With his large family this led to problems and hard feelings for many years among some family members. His obituary stated, "he lived a long life and maintained a character of eminent for probity and integrity". His excellent character provided for his children an example of how to live a good life.

The children were now grown and were making their own way in life. There were eight children. Two of them died when children. In the coming weeks I shall tell you of the lives of five of John's children. They each in their own way were extraordinary people. 

  1. Daughter Susan Sarah Washington married William Alexander Graham. She was the beautiful wife of one of the leading political figures of her time.

  2. Widow Elizabeth Washington Grist married Dr. Reuben Knox. He was an adventurer and must have made her life exciting when leaving the security of Kinston behind to go west.

  3. George Lawrence Washington went to Florida on a government job. It was here he met, fell in love and married a Spanish beauty. Louisa was the daughter of Gen. Jose Hernandez of St. Augustine, the leader of Florida and first Hispanic to serve in the United States Congress

  4. Dr. James Augustus Washington became one of the leading physicians in New York City. He was held in high esteem by his peers and his patients loved him. He made advances in medical treatment that benefited many.

  5. Next week I will tell you about the life of John Cobb Washington, the eldest son. John was a planter, businessman and community leader in Lenoir County during the antebellum period, the Civil War and Reconstruction.

The Heritage of Lenoir County
200 Years of Progress
Kinston and Lenoir County by Charles Holloman and Talmage Johnson
Annals of Progress - The Story of Lenoir County and Kinston, North Carolina by William S. Powell
Southern Collection - Elizabeth Washington Grist Knox Papers
Papers of Gov. Williams A. Graham Volume II
Forty-niner Medic

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