Miami County, Ohio Genealogical Researchers -- Sponsored by the Computerized Heritage Association


    The specific and distinctive office of biography is not to give voice to a man's modest estimate of himself and his accomplishments, but rather to leave the perpetual record establishing his character by the consensus of opinion on the part of his fellow men. That great factor, the public, is a discriminating factor, and yet takes cognizance not of objective exaltation nor yet of objective modesty, but delves deeper into the intrinsic essence of character, strikes the keynote of individuality, and pronounces judicially and unequivocally upon the true worth of the man--invariably distinguishing the clear resonance of the true metal from the jarring dissonance of the baser. Thus in touching upon the life history of the subject of this review the biographist would aim to give utterance to no fulsome encomium, to indulge in no extravagant praise; yet would he wish to hold up for consideration those points which have shown the distinction of a pure, true and useful life,--one characterized by indomitable perseverance, broad charity, marked ability, high accomplishments and well-earned honors. To do this will be but to reiterate the dictum pronounced upon the man by his fellow men.

    James Lincoln Goodknight was born on a farm in Allen county, Kentucky, August 24, 1846, and traces his ancestry back to Germany. The first of the name in America took up their abode in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and subsequently removed to Rockbridge, Virginia, whence representatives of the name went to Mecklenburg county, North Carolina. The great-grandfather of Dr. Goodknight was Michael Goodknight, who removed to Kentucky from North Carolina, and his son Isaac was the first white child born in that state. Michael Goodknight was twice married; his first wife he wedded in Germany. He had seventeen children. After the death of his first wife he married Miss Mary J. Landes and they became the parents of seven children. Two sons served in the Revolutionary war. While returning from a trip to North Carolina he was killed at Crab Orchard, Kentucky. Among his descendants is Charles Goodknight, "the cattle king" of Texas, who is said to own more land than any other one man in the United States. Isaac Goodknight, the son of Michael, took up his abode near Gainsville, Warren county, Kentucky, where he spent his remaining days. Jacob Goodknight, the grandfather of our subject, married Elizabeth Conder and resided in Lincoln county, Kentucky. Their children were: Mary, who married James McMurry and died in Scottsville, Kentucky; John, who wedded Miss Landes and after her death married Agnes Wharton; Elizabeth, who became the wife of John Billingsley and died in Kentucky; Isaac, the father of our subject; Thomas, who wedded Miss Dawson and removed to Missouri; Margaret, wife of J. H. Porch, of Ladoga, Indiana; and Sarah who married Mr. Harney, of Indiana.

    Isaac Goodknight, father of the subject of this sketch, was a native of Lincoln county, Kentucky. He was born on farm and in early life was apprenticed to learn the coppersmith's trade. Because in that business it was necessary for him to make stills and the worms for whisky stills, he abandoned this vocation and learned the tanner's trade with his brother-in-law, James McMurry Subsequently Isaac Goodknight and his brother, Henry, established a large tannery in Allen county, and at one time conducted the most extensive business in their line in that part of the state. Henry died early, leaving the whole business to Isaac. In 1850 the latter turned his attention wholly to his farm, where he engaged in the raising of grain and stock till 1870. His last days, however, were passed in Franklin, Simpson county, Kentucky, where he died in July, 1871. He married Lucinda Billingsley, a daughter of Captain John and Mary (Doak) Billingsley. The Billingsley family is of English origin and was founded in America by three brothers who came from the "merrie isle" to the United States, one locating in Pennsylvania, another in the Carolinas, while the third made his way to the northwest. The Doaks were of Scotch-Irish lineage. Captain John Billingsley was born in North Carolina and won his title by commanding a company in the war of 1812. In his own family were ten children, namely: Alexander, who married Elizabeth McMurry; Jane, who became the wife of Henry Goodknight, and after his death married William Blackburn; Malinda, who became the wife of William Gee and removed to Pinckneyville, Illinois; Lucinda, mother of Dr. Goodknight; Minerva, who became the wife of William Harrison, of Pinckneyville, Illinois; Talitha, the wife of Hosea Thornton, of Pinckneyville, Illinois; Rev. John Mitchell, who was a captain in the civil war and married Alice Lambert, of Kentucky, and made his home after the civil war in Flora, Illinois; Valeria C., who became the wife of Joseph Hinton and died in Kentucky; and Thomas Henry, of Texas, who married Miss Ryan, and after her death married Mary Short. The fifth member of the family was Lucinda Billingsley, who became the wife of Isaac Goodknight and the mother of our subject. She survived her husband several years and died in May, 1877. They were both leading and active members in the Cumberland Presbyterian church, in which Mr. Goodknight served as elder, and, in connection with Elder Willis Hinter, he built a Cumberland Presbyterian church on the Goodknight farm. The parents of our subject had a family of eight children: John Jackson, who married Melvina Reeder; Jacob Henry, who married Nannie Guy, who died in Woodburn, Kentucky, in 1876; Thomas Mitchell, who wedded Miss Middleton, and after her death married Norah Murphy; Mary Helen, who became the wife of William L. Lively, who died in Arkansas, her home being now in St. Paul, that state; Alexander Rowland, who died at the age of seven years; Isaac Herschel, who married Ella Hoy and resides in Franklin, Kentucky, where he is known as a very prominent man, having twice been a member of the state legislature and three times represented his district in the United States congress, while at the present time he is serving as circuit judge; and Margaret E., who became the wife of C. C. Stephenson and died at Boise, Idaho, in 1884

    Dr. Goodknight spent his boyhood days in his native state and acquired his preliminary education in an old log schoolhouse, which was situated two miles from his home. School privileges were then very primitive, the teachers often being inefficient, while text books were old-fashioned. He possessed a studious nature, however, and eagerly embraced every opportunity that offered. He was not noted, as a boy, for rapid advancement in his studies, but laid the foundation for the scholarly attainment which has since given him pre-eminence in ministerial and educational circles. During the periods of vacation he worked on his father's plantation. In order to inculcate habits of thrift and encourage the boys to put forth energetic efforts, his father allotted to each of them a portion of ground which they might cultivate for themselves, the half of each Saturday being allowed for this work. Because T. M. Goodknight, the older brother, went into the ministry, the management of the plantation devolved upon the Doctor, who was then only fifteen years of age, but his ambition caused him to look beyond the plow and he quietly and persistently prepared for the ministry. As a means to this end he began teaching, accepting the charge of a school notorious for the bad conduct of the pupils. His two predecessors had been run off by the scholars, but in Dr. Goodknight they found their master, because he was a personal friend; he not only being able to maintain discipline but also awakened among them interest in their studies, which led to marked intellectual advancement. He remained in charge of that school for one year and then spent the following year in Franklin Academy, Kentucky, after which he entered Cumberland University, at Lebanon, Tennessee. In the meantime he had united with the Logan Presbytery. On the completion of his college course he was graduated with honors in the class of 1871, and the following year he taught in the Little Muddy school, Kentucky. The trustees urged him to take the school for a period of five years, at a salary of one thousand dollars per year, but he had determined to enter the work of the gospel ministry and instead of taking the school he accepted a pastorate in that place, where the salary was only two hundred dollars per year. At the end of four years, how-ever, his salary had been increased to eight hundred dollars per year and he was offered a thousand to remain. His younger brother and sister having in the meantime completed their education, Dr. Goodknight then determined to pursue a theological seminary course, and in 1876 entered the Theological Seminary of New York, in which he was graduated three years later. He received calls from several churches, offering salaries as high as eighteen hundred dollars per year, but he regarded not the money side of the proposition, considering only the question of where he could do the most good. Accordingly he accepted a call from the Cumberland Presbyterian church in Covington, Ohio, which paid a salary of only six hundred dollars. He filled that pastorate until 1889, covering a period of ten years, and his influence was most marked and beneficial in the community. During that time, as a result of his earnest labors, a new church edifice was erected, worth more than fifteen thousand dollars, and the membership of the church was increased from some one hundred and fifty to about five hundred. In 1884 Dr. Goodknight was sent as a delegate to the Pan-Presbyterian Alliance, held at Belfast, Ireland. Upon resigning his pastorate in Covington he went to the World's Sunday School Convention, in London, and then traveled for the summer, and settled at Edinborough, Scotland, to pursue post-graduate studies and take a special course in philosophy. He took first honors in philosophy at the University, and while abroad also made a special study of the methods of conducting university work. He also carried his investigation into the realm of the home and foreign policy of Great Britain, as the question of government has ever been one of deep interest to him. Proceeding to the continent he pursued a special course in pedagogy in the University of Jena, Germany, under Dr. Rein, studied biology under Haeckel and philosophy under Leipmann. He also noted the methods of conducting German schools and universities, visiting many of the most noted institutions of learning in his ancestral fatherland. In the interim he journeyed all over Europe, making a close study of the people and their customs, gaining thereby that knowledge, experience and culture which only travel can bring. Subsequently he continued his researches in Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt, and by way of Port Said went to Joppa, thence through Palestine and Syria. By way of Damascus and Balbeck he proceeded to Bayreuth, thence to Smyrna, in Asia Minor, and on to Ephesus and Constantinople. In the latter city he closely noted the methods pursued in Roberts College. He viewed the ancient city of art and learning--Athens, Greece--thence continued his journey to Sicily and on the west coast of Italy visited Naples, Vesuvius and Pompeii. He also visited Rome, Pisa and Florence and other cities in Italy, attended the Paris exposition and thence returned to the world's metropolis, London. In July, 1891, Dr. Goodknight returned to his native land. While in Germany the degree of doctor of divinity had been conferred upon him by Waynesburg College, of Pennsylvania, and while in Germany he received a call to the pastorate of the church in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Accepting this, he entered upon his duties on the 1st of October, 1891, there remaining until June, 1895, when he was elected president of the University of West Virginia. Under his guidance that institution made rapid progress, but in 1879 he resigned because of political changes in the state. When elected and during his stay at the university he had the unanimous and hearty support of the board of regents, but that board was legislated out of existence and a new board appointed. During his presidency the attendance at the university was doubled, the press of the state becoming a unit in its support for the first time, and all denominations became its advocate. With the assistance of others in the university he drew up what is known as the "engineering experiment station bill," and secured its introduction into the house and senate of congress. Two-thirds of the house and three-fourths of the senate were pledged to support the bill, but when Dr. Goodknight passed out of his educational position there was no one to push the measure and it was not passed. Through his special effort, with the support of loyal friends and farsighted business men, the Citizens National Bank of Covington, Ohio, was organized. As a witness to his business ability and the confidence of directors he was made cashier of this bank. Returning to Miami county in 1897, the Doctor located upon the farm where he is now living in retirement. He has been three times married. In 1882 he wedded Miss Williams, of Nashville, Tennessee, who died in Covington the following year. In 1885 he married Miss Alice Cleaver, of Lincoln, Illinois, who died in 1887, and in 1889 Mrs. Ella Biddle Elliott, of Piqua, Ohio, became his wife. By his first marriage he had one child, C. Williams, who is now a student in the high school. By his second union there was one son, Allie Cleaver, who is also pursuing a high school course in Covington. In his political views the Doctor is independent, supporting the men and measures that he believes will best advance the nation's welfare. Socially he is a valued member of the Masonic fraternity and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. A man of high intellectuality, broad human sympathies and tolerance, he is imbued with fine sensibilities and clearly defined principles. Honor and integrity are synonymous with his name, and he enjoys the respect, confidence and high regard of the community.

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