Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

Michael Johnston Kenan


"Michael Johnston Kenan . . . was born at Milledgeville, Georgia. He married Catherine Anna Spalding, and they settled near Catherine's home in McIntosh County. Kenan was an attorney by profession, but he abandoned his practice because of deafness and became a planter. As a young man, Kenan was appointed by Governor Troup as secretary of the commission to investigate the murder of General (Chief) McIntosh by Indians near Carrolton, Georgia. Although this experience convinced Kenan that whites were treating Indians unfairly, he was later given credit for the removal of the Cherokee Indians from Georgia when he was a colonel on General Winfield Scott's staff." [Bio/History Note, Michael Johnston Kenan Papers, Georgia Historical Society, Savannah, Georgia] [The papers collection includes a manuscript volume containing "Kenan's original verse and essays."]

The following obituary appeared in the Union Recorder [Milledgeville, Georgia] for October 26, 1875:

Captain M.J. Kenan died at the residence of Dr. C.H. Hall, in Macon, on Thursday last.  His remains were brought to this city for burial on Saturday.  Mr. Kenan was long a prominent citizen of this county.  He was a gentleman of learning and extensive information and exerted a wide influence, but never sought or held office, preferring the station of a private gnetleman. For several years previous to his death he was confined to his bed by disease, and during a long term of suffering obtained a precious knowledge of salvation through faith.  He beguilded the tedious hours of sickness with reading and writing.  Some of his articles appeared in this paper.  Expecting a suitable tribute to his memory from the pen of one who knew him well, we failed to obtain the data necessary for the preparation of such an article as we desired, and write this brief notice just before going to press.

[The Kenan obituary was made available to us by our correspondent in Milledgeville, Georgia, Hugh T. Harrington, the author of Remembering Milledgeville: Historic Tales From Georgia's Antebellum Capital (The History Press, 2005) and Civil War Milledgeville: Tales From the Confederate Capital of Georgia (The History Press, 2005). Harrington informs us that Kenan is interred in Milledgeville (which was the capital of Georgia from 1803-1868) at Memory Hill Cemetry and that Kenan was born February 22, 1806 and died October, 1875. We also learned from Harrington that Henry Denison, another lawyer/poet is interred in Milledgeville.]

[We've had the good fortunate over the years of corresponding with scholars, poets, and family members about the lawyer/poets featured on this website. Few have been more knowledgeable than Hugh Harrington. When we inquired further of him about Kenan he told us about the life of Michael Kenan's brother, Augustus Holmes Kenan. Harrington writes that Augustus Homes Kenan was a "[l]awyer, politician, statesman of the Confederacy.  On top of that he somehow managed to marry a 19 year old woman when he was 59.  A year after his death his young widow married a man close to her own age. The new husband within a couple of months murdered Augustus Holmes Kenan's son Lewis in front of witnesses in the middle of Milledgeville's main street." Augustus Holmes Kenan (1805-1870) was born in Montpelier, Georgia and served in both the Georgia house of representatives (three terms) and the Georgia state senate. He was a delegate to the Georgia secession convention in 1861 (where he argued and voted against secession) and a delegate from Georgia to the Confederate Provisional Congress (1861-1862) and a representative from Georgia to the Confederate Congress (1862-1864). He died in Milledgeville, June 2, 1870 and is interred at Memory Hill Cemetery, in Milledgeville.]