Entertaining real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life
Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life. The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on August 5th, 2014

Juan Knight: How he, an ex-slave became a vastly wealthy man.

Dear Reader: This is an incredible but true story.

John Knight was born into slavery in Alabama in 1844 or 45. He and his mother were owned by Daniel Upton, a tobacco grower, for whom she labored in the fields.

But Mr. and Mrs. Upton loved John and although it was illegal to educate a slave, they secretly educated him.

When the U.S. Civil War ended in 1865, John like all slaves was freed. Penniless, he walked hundreds of miles to New Orleans where he became a wharf laborer for a fruit importer.

John was bright, friendly and well-educated and despite the widespread bigotry against blacks, he became highly respected.

He was so respected that in 1866, John's employer sent him to Yucatan in Mexico, putting him in charge of packing and shipping fruit to New Orleans.

John did an outstanding job for his employer, but saved his money and eventually left the firm and formed his own company.

John then relocated to Guatemala, learned Spanish and changed his name to Don Juan Knight.

Juan's big break came when the Guatemalan government gifted him 50,000 acres of land to plant pineapple and banana groves.

In return, he exported fruit from Guatemala to the U.S. by using his New Orleans contacts. This brought vast sum of money into that poor nation.

This deal made Juan a fortune. He expanded into coffee, vanilla beans and citrus fruits, becoming one of Guatemala's largest employers.

Juan continued to expand his financial empire into banking, gold mining, and shipping and even into diplomacy. When Mexico and Guatemala were about to go to war, Juan negotiated a peace between them, so that no-one lost his life.

Meanwhile in his personal life Juan married a Guatemalan woman, and over time their marriage was blessed with seven children, each of whom received an advanced education in the U.S.

But here is the most remarkable part of our story:

In 1888, Juan, now one of the richest men of his time, visited the Uptons.

Juan knew the education he secretly received from them was the foundation for his success and he recalled how much they loved him.

But the Upton family had gone broke.

So Juan hired George Upton, the widowed Mrs. Upton's son to work for him.

And Juan rescued Mrs. Upton, giving her a large sum of money so she could live comfortably for the rest of her life.

In a biblical style parable, Juan, who had been an Upton family slave, lovingly became their financial savior.

Editor's Note: Thank you to my friend Nelson Davis for sharing this story with us, a story published in the Baltimore Herald on May 29th, 1898.

In the next KazanToday: A woman who created books the blind and sighted could read together.

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