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Governor: 1865-1868

by Jerry L. Cross

Research Branch, NC Office of Archives and History, 2001.

See also: Jonathan Worth, Dictionary of North Carolina Biography

Jonathan WorthJonathan Worth (1802-1869) 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 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 yet spoke out strongly against the concept of nullification. Ostracized for standing on his principles, 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 his state.

Jonathan Worth frequently disagreed with the Confederate administration but, despite his hatred of war, never became associated with peace movements. He supported the Conservative Party in 1862 and was elected state treasurer on December 3. At the close of the war he was asked by Governor William W. Holden to continue in that office as part of the provisional government. He 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. A combination of Worth’s popularity and Holden’s lack of it led to Worth’s victory by nearly 6,000 votes.

The new governor faced major obstacles: quarreling factions within the state that needed to be reconciled; a president in Washington whose skepticism of North Carolina’s sincerity had to be assuaged; and a hostile Congress demanding satisfaction from increasingly stringent rules and regulations. Worth enjoyed moderate success in the first two, but the last proved intractable. He had barely taken the oath of office for his second term when Congress passed the first of the Reconstruction Acts that imposed military rule upon the South. 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 and the situation changed. Worth found himself working simultaneously to restore North Carolina to the Union while trying to fend off military encroachments upon civil authority. 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.


Cyclopedia of eminent and representative men of the Carolinas of the nineteenth century, v. 2 North Carolina. 1973. [S.l.]: Reprint Co.

Garraty, John A., and Mark C. Carnes. 1999. American national biography. New York: Oxford University Press.

Jonathan Worth Papers, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC, USA

Jonathan Worth Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

William Woods Holden (1818-1892): Memoirs of W.W. Holden. 2000. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Libraries, University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill.

Worth, Jonathan, 1802-1869; Hamilton, Joseph Gregoire de Roulhac, 1878-1961. 1909. The correspondence of Jonathan Worth.

Zuber, Richard L. 1965. Jonathan Worth; a biography of a Southern Unionist. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Image Credits:

"Jonathan Worth." Accession no. H.1978.171.1. North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, NC, USA.

Origin - location: 



If I'm not mistaken, Gov Worth was born in Asheboro. Do you know where or how I can find out? I think my home sits on that property.



If there is a local history museum in Asheboro, I'd check with them. If not, check with your local public library. Many have a local history room that can assist you.

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library


This biography should be associated with biographies of Randolph County, but does not appear when searching in "Biographies by County" in ncpedia.

Jonathan Worth is also associated with the Cedar Falls Mill in Randolph County, as a key player in its charter, principal investor, and president of the company, according to the NC Historical Marker Program at


Thank you for this additional information! You are right! We missed tagging this with the county when we initially obtained the ability to do so. It has been corrected. Luckily, the other article we have on Jonathan Worth from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography was already tagged with Randolph County, so if someone was browsing by county they still would have found some information on him.

Thank you for your assistance!

Michelle Underhill, Digital Information Management Program, NC Government & Heritage Library


I am researching my family tree. I need to know if Thomas Clarkson Worth b. 8-18-1851, died 4-3-1888 and buried in Thomas Worth Family Cemetery in Creston, Ashe Co., NC is a descendant of Governor Jonathan Worth, and what is the relationship. Thank you for your time.

Comment response:

Thank you for taking the time to post your question here. I am forwarding your inquiry to Genealogical Services at the Government & Heritage Library.  Someone should be in touch with you soon.

Good luck in your research! 

Michelle Czaikowski, Government & Heritage Library


Jonathan worth was my grandmother's grandfather. My law office is 3 blocks from Lenoir street, the location of his Raleigh home"Sharon". Please pardon my poor punctuation. According to memoirs of the Daniels family the home became "the colored school." There is a Worth street nearby which runs to Chavis Park yet Chavis' school pre-dated Worth's purchase of Sharon. Any information is welcome.

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