Jonathan Worth (1802-1869)

Written By North Carolina History Project

Jonathan Worth was born on November 18, 1802 to Dr. David and Eunice Worth in Randolph County, North Carolina.  Raised as a Quaker, Worth was the oldest of twelve children and attended Greensboro Academy with his siblings. Worth later studied law under Archibald Murphey and was admitted to the bar in 1824.

Worth started his law practice in Asheboro, North Carolina. In 1824, Worth married Archibald Murphey’s niece, Martitia Daniel, and they had eight children together. Although Worth struggled with public speaking, he won the 1830 election for the state House.  Worth joined the Whig Party and was ostracized for his strong political stance against nullification. In 1841, Worth was elected to the state Senate and strongly opposed secession; he refused to be a delegate to the May 1861 secession convention.

Despite his previous political positions against secession and his Quaker beliefs, Worth supported his state and became a reluctant Confederate.  In 1862 Jonathan Worth was elected state treasurer, a position he continued to hold throughout the Civil War.  In 1865, as part of a provisional government, Governor William Holden asked Worth to continue his service, but instead Worth decided to run against Holden for governor.  The Randolph countian won and became (and still is )the only statewide Treasurer to become Governor.

As governor of North Carolina from 1865-1868, Jonathan Worth faced a disagreeable legislature and factions throughout the state that remained after the war.  During his second term, the U.S. Congress passed the Reconstruction Acts and imposed military rule on the South.  Worth found himself warding off military encroachments upon civil authority while simultaneously trying to restore North Carolina’s place in the Union.

With the districting of the former Confederacy into military districts and the demands that the national government placed on the restructuring of state government, Worth decided not to run for reelection.  William Holden won the governorship. Refusing to relinquish his duties to Holden, Worth was removed by military force.  

Worth retired to Raleigh where he died on September 5, 1869. Governor Jonathan Worth was buried in Oakwood Cemetery.