“Nathaniel Knox was an Ulster Man”

Matthew Knox was the first of his family to cross the mountains and enter Mississippi. The covered wagon he drove pulled a milk cow while two sows and a collie dog trailed along, and his wife sat in the back. Under the tarpaulin, among the farm implements, resting neatly next to a jug of clear whiskey medicine, was a small bible his grandfather, Jeremiah Knox, had given him in 1862 when he went off to fight in the Confederate War. Together Matthew and this bible had survived the war and would stay together throughout the tense aftermath.

This song tells the history of how Matthew’s Scots-Irish family came to America from Ulster, carrying with them the generations of Knox forebears as documented in the family bible.

Nathaniel Knox was an Ulster Man

Nathaniel Knox was an Ulster man
A staunch Presbyterian
Sold his labor for a six week voyage
With a wife and two small boys

Traced his line to 1621
To his great-great-grandad Tristan
They came to Ulster from County Galloway
Nathaniel Knox sailed away

It was a small thing that he took
A list of names in a holy book
Every Knox that’ll come along
Will write more names of his own

Nathaniel Knox went to Carolina
Took his grandson Jeremiah
Who was the first Knox American-born
In seventeen seventy-four

It was a small thing that he took
A list of names in a holy book
Every Knox that’ll come along
Will write more names of his own

It ain’t rained for six weeks now
Jeremiah watched his fields turn brown
One minute he’s cooking molasses from sugar cane
Then everything he’s built goes up flames

Matthew Knox was Jeremiah’s grandson
He left Carolina for Meridian
Mississippi soil is rich and dark
Matthew Knox has an Ulster heart

It was a small thing that he took
A list of names in a holy book
Every Knox that’ll come along
Will write more names of his own

© 2020 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Elijah “Lige” Langford (1874-1925)

Elijah “Lige” Langford was the patriarch of a strict Presbyterian family of Scots-Irish descent from Mississippi by way of North Carolina (see article “The Knox Family” and song “Nathaniel Knox was an Ulster Man”).  His daughter Emily married into a less religious family, the Littlejohns, and eventually along came Levi Hooper.

Emily Langford (1900-1977)


Emily Lankford was the sweet daughter of Elijah Langford a strict religious man who raised her to certainly not fall in love and marry someone like George Littlejohn. At least he didn’t think he wanted George Littlejohn in his family.  But as it turned out George was a good husband to Emily and became someone Lize liked and respected.

The Littlejohns were a family of hell-raisers and Lize Langford wanted nothing to do with them.  However, George was not cut out of the same cloth, and Emily saw him for who he really was.  George had a good singing voice and the story goes that when Lize Langford would not let him in his house to see Emily, George stayed outside on the porch and sang all night.  He usually accompanying himself on a handmade dulcimer.

George and Emily left North Carolina and moved to Mississippi, their daughter Marjy Littlejohn was Levi Hooper’s maternal grandmother.

Anse Littlejohn (1871-1961)

Anse Littlejohn was Levi Hooper’s great-great-grandfather on his mother’s side.  Anse was the patriarch of a family of ner-do-wells.  His son George, however, fell in love with Emily Langford, one of the children from a church going family.  When George and Emily married these two families merged, softening the Littlejohns but also undercutting the piety of the Langfords.

George Littlejohn (1896-1944)

George Littlejohn, the “lone white sheep in a family of black,” was the son of Anse Littlejohn.  While his father, and brothers, were hard-nosed, severe and difficult to get along with North Carolinians, George was pretty much the opposite.  However, he was a strong individual, a quality which allowed him to defy his father and marry Emily Langford, the daughter of a strict Presbyterian family.

George and Emily left North Carolina and ended up in Mississippi, they were the great grandparents of Levi Hooper.