He was born in Marlborough, Vermont, on September 13, 1800, to Joseph Knight Sr. and Polly Peck Knight. Joseph moved his family to the state of New York, when Newel was nine years of age, and settled on the Susquehanna River, near the town of Bainbridge, and stayed there two years. He then moved down the river six miles into Broome County, town of Colesville, where he stayed for nineteen years.
Joseph Knight owned a farm, a gristmill, and a carding machine and hired men to work for him. In this manner, Newel met one of the day laborers, Joseph Smith, in 1826 and Newel became attached to him. Newel said Joseph’s “noble deportment, his faithfulness and his kind address, could not fail to win the esteem of those who had the pleasure of his acquaintance.”
In 1825, Newel married Sarah Coburn. The first years of their marriage were difficult&emdash;Sarah’s health was delicate and their first child died at birth. His own health was challenged in his grist mill business and he was diagnosed with consumption. Newel and Sarah moved back to Colesville.
- My oldest brother, Nahum, was married, and lived close at hand; also my sisters Esther and Anna, with their husbands William Stringham, and Freeborn Demill, so that I was happy, not only in the society of my father’s immediate family, but also of many relatives who lived in the same vicinity. Peace, prosperity and plenty, seemed to crown our labors, and indeed we were a happy family, and my father rejoiced in having us around him.
- During this time we were frequently visited by my young friend, Joseph Smith, who would entertain us with accounts of the wonderful things which had happened to him. It was evident to me that great things were about to be accomplished through him&emdash;that the Lord was about to use him as an instrument in His hands to bring to pass the great and mighty work of the last days. This chosen instrument told us of God’s manifestations to him, of the discovery and receiving of the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, of his persecutions for the gospel’s sake, and many other items of his eventful life.
Before his baptism, Newel had a unique experience with the Prophet.
- One day, Joseph invited him to pray at a meeting, but Newel said he would rather pray alone in the woods.
- The next morning, Newel went to the woods and tried to pray. An uneasy feeling came over him, and it grew worse as he started for home. By the time he reached his house, the feeling was so oppressive that he begged his wife, Sally, to get the prophet.
- Joseph hurried to Newel’s side and found family members and neighbors watching fearfully as the young man’s face, arms, and legs contorted wildly. When Newel saw Joseph, he cried, “Cast the devil out!”
- Joseph had never tried to rebuke the devil or heal someone before, but he knew Jesus had promised His disciples the power to do so. Acting quickly, he caught Newel by the hand. “In the name of Jesus Christ,” he said, “depart from him.”
- As soon as Joseph spoke, the contortions stopped. Newel slumped to the floor, exhausted but unharmed, muttering that he had seen the devil leave his body.
- The Knights and their neighbors were astonished by what Joseph had done. Helping them carry Newel to a bed, Joseph told them it was the first miracle performed in the church.
- “It was done by God,” he testified, “and by the power of godliness.”
In May 1830, Knight was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Seneca County, New York, by David Whitmer.
He was the president of the branch of the Church in Colesville, New York, and between April and July of 1831, he led the branch in relocating from Broome County, New York, to Jackson County, Missouri (see Doctrine and Covenants 52:32; 56:6–7). He was the recipient of an early revelation (Doctrine and Covenants 54) while he was serving as a leader of these Saints.
In November 1833, he and other Latter-day Saints were expelled from Jackson County and resettled in Clay County, Missouri. In July 1834, he was appointed to the Zion high council there.
After the death of his first wife in September 1834, he married Lydia Goldthwaite Bailey in November 1835. During 1837 and 1838, he served on the Zion high council in Far West, Missouri. In 1839 he moved to Commerce, Illinois, which was later renamed Nauvoo, where he served on the high council until 1845. He left Nauvoo in 1846 and died the following year in Nebraska.
His wife Lydia wrote:
- “On Monday morning, January 4th, 1847, Brother Knight, whose health had been failing for some time, did not arise as usual, and, on my going to him, he said, “Lydia, I believe I shall go to rest this winter.” The next night he awoke with a severe pain in his right side, a fever had also set in, and he expressed himself to me that he did not expect to recover. From this time until the 10th of the month, the Elders came frequently and prayed for my husband. After each administration he would rally and be at ease for a short time and then relapse again into suffering. I felt at last as if I could not endure his sufferings any longer, and that I ought not to hold him here. I knelt by his bedside, and with my hand upon his pale forehead asked my Heavenly Father to forgive my sins, and that the sufferings of my companion might cease, and if he was appointed unto death, and could not remain with us, that he might be quickly eased from pain and fall asleep in peace. Almost immediately all pain left him, and in a short time he sweetly fell asleep in death, without a struggle or a groan, at half past six on the morning of the 11th of January, 1847. His remains were interred at sunset on the evening of the day he died.”