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Archive for March, 2009

William Wesley Sumrall is the only man with the Sumrall surname listed on Newt Knight’s roster (see related post, “1870 Knight Company Roster”). He and his brother, Harmon Levi Sumrall, were nonetheless among Jones County’s strongest Unionists.

Being over the age of military conscription, Harmon Levi never joined the Knight band, but was every bit—perhaps more—of a Unionist than his younger brother. Born in 1817, H.L. was 23 years older than W.W., and may have been more like a father to him than a brother, especially given that W.W. lived with him and his family in 1860. It’s quite possible that H.L. influenced W.W.’s views on secession and his decision to ditch the Confederate Army and join the Knight band. In fact, H.L. seems to have been one of those “old and influential” citizens described by Confederate Col. William N. Brown (of Col. Lowry’s raid) as having imbued the younger generation with “Unionist ideas” based on the principles of the “agrarian class.”

If by that remark, Brown meant independent and prosperous nonslaveholding farmers who believed secession was madness, Harmon Levi indeed fits the description. He was also one of five men, all past the age of conscription, who signed a letter of support for Newt’s claim in 1870 (see related post, “1870 letter of support for Newt Knight”). Those five men were of an older generation that opposed secession and likely encouraged their sons, nephews, and younger brothers to desert the Confederate Army, just as Col. Brown reported. They also fed, hid, and even helped arm those young men during the war. After the war, they supported their petitions for federal compensation for having served as unofficial Union soldiers in the Knight Company. Again in 1890 and 1895, H.L. Sumrall testified on behalf of Newt Knight’s claim (on Newt’s claim, see related post “Newt Knight vs. the Court of Claims”).

As we’ve come to expect, ties of marriage and kinship bound the Sumrall brothers to other men and families who joined or supported the Knight Company. And, again, the Collins family was their strongest kinship tie with the band. In 1861, the same year the Civil War erupted, William Wesley Sumrall married Nancy Emeline Collins, daughter of Simeon and Lydia. That meant that he joined the Knight Company along side a father-in-law and three brothers-in-law.

Long after the war ended and his first wife had died, W.W. Sumrall married Mary Olivia (Mollie) Knight, daughter of Newt Knight’s cousin, George Baylis (Clean Neck) Knight. At the time of their marriage, W.W. was 68; Mollie was 24. The couple had one son together.

Harmon Levi Sumrall also had close ties to the Collins family. One of his daughters, Sarah Palestine (Pallie), married Thomas Jefferson (Jeff) Collins; another, Lucinda, married Morgan Collins. Both Jeff and Morgan were sons of Simeon and Lydia Collins. H.L.’s son, Benjamin Franklin, also married a Collins (Sabra), while other of his children married into Unionist branches of the Mathews and Valentine families.

The Sumrall brothers’ immersion in the Knight Company reinforces two important points about the Jones County Civil War uprising: first, that branches of at least eight area families—including Collinses, Bynums, Valentines, Mathews, Welborns, Welches, Walters, and Knights—exhibited strong Unionist views traceable to an older generation of pioneers born before 1820; second, that this network of families intermarried extensively, reinforcing cultural and economic principles that would predispose them to oppose secession in 1861.

By late 1863, many men from these families were not only unwilling to serve in the Confederate Army, but had organized and armed themselves to fight for the defeat of the Confederate Government. Their Knight Company did not secede from that government, however, as “Lost Cause” legends claimed. In their minds they had never signed on in the first place.

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The following post is reprinted by permission from Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi: A Weblog by Terry Thornton. It was originally posted on Terry’s website on August 27, 2007. Terry graciously granted myself and Robert Moore of Southern Unionists Chronicles permission to re-post it. I am certain you will enjoy the story he tells as much as we did!

(Terry Thornton’s weblog is now listed on the Renegade South blogroll.)

Monday, August 27, 2007
Shhhhhhhhhhhhh! Let’s not talk about this . . .
by Terry Thornton

I am a Mississippian by birth and I am a Mississippian by choice. Of the forty-seven years that have passed since I turned twenty-one years of age, I have spent the majority living in other states electing to return to inside the Magnolia Curtain to live out my retirement.

I am a Southerner.

Growing up in the Hill Country of eastern Monroe County during those peaceful decades prior to the turbulent 1960s, I learned some about our region’s history and heritage but little about my Thornton family history. My father was somewhat distant to his larger family both in temperament and in geography — that, combined with the Thornton tendency to withhold information mitigated against my learning much about my ancestors.

I got most of my information from overhearing snatches and snippets of conversations while listening from the chimney corner. And as I grew older I learned that perhaps not all of the solid Southern unity was as it was rumored and taught to be — that perhaps there were cracks in the solidarity in the Hill Country Confederate unity during that difficult time some seventy-eight years before I was born.

Some things didn’t add up.

But when I would ask, I was told, “Shhhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about that.”

One of my favorite places to play during those safe years when children were permitted to play unsupervised away from home was at the New Hope Cemetery which was about one-half mile west of my home. Down the gravel road we would walk (no soccer moms with vans back then — nor any other vehicle; kids walked or rode bicycles) sometimes eight or ten or more to play all afternoon among the cool stone markers in the graveyard. Although the graveyard then was kept free of grass (as was the custom for most Hill Country houses: the yards were bare of grass), the cemetery had overgrown with trees creating large dense shaded places. And our favorite game to play in one of the large ornately decorated plots at the cemetery was “Civil War draft dodger.”

The older kids taught us how to play the game; they had been taught the game from the generation just older than them; and they in turn probably heard the stories from those who lived the experience upon which we had made a game. To play the game, one had to hide from the CSA draft enforcers. The place to hide was a special room underground at the cemetery in a specific family plot which had a false grave built for the purpose of hiding out. When the enforcers were in the area, you had to hide in the grave; when the enforcers were not close by, you had to hide in the dense woods and creek bottom just to the south of the cemetery.

When I was a child playing there, the family plot had been modified; the false grave had been used for an actual burial. So when we hid in the special “room” we just lay between the graves crowded into that family burial plot with its interesting stones and low fencing all around.

If the enforcers came and stayed a few days, the ones hidden in the grave were nourished by “grieving” mothers, sisters, or girlfriends who would come to the graveyard with baskets of flowers which contained food and water. And as the grieving females knelt there “praying” they were really whispering the latest news to those hidden just below.

I could never decide which role I enjoyed playing best: enforcer on horseback charging up and dragging folks off to fight or dodger lying there in the cemetery while all the pretty girls brought me food, water, and flowers and whispered directions to me as I rested in the perfect pacifist position.

To play “draft dodger” when I was a child involved a large cast of characters. There were roles for everyone no matter who all came to play that day — and we played the game often. But as I grew older, I listened to my teachers who were of the opinion that all true Southerners were loyal and 100% committed to fighting the Yankees!

If that were the case, I thought, then why were there hidden rooms in the graveyard at Parham? Maybe I had it mixed up; maybe those hidden men were really good brave loyal Southerners hiding from the Yankees.

Again came the, “Shhhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this” from the adults in my life.

But the older kids checked the story out with the older ones who would tell us the straight of it — the ones hiding were hiding from the Southern draft enforcers.

Then I overheard a conversation between my father and one of his relatives.

What? Some of the Thorntons were in the Union Army? Whoa! I thought. How did that happen? And no one would talk to me about the event or even acknowledge what I had overheard.

“Shhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this.”

As I got older I also questioned why the given name Sherman was widely used in my family: my grandfather had Sherman as one of his given names; my father had Sherman as one of his given names; my brothers has Sherman as one of his given names; and I have at least two cousins with Sherman as one of their given names. Somehow this choice of given name didn’t square with my conception of the turmoil that ripped through the Hills of Alabama and Mississippi some seventy-five years before I was born.

General Sherman was not one of my favorite people — he was not presented in any favorable light in any of the lessons in history I had at Hatley School. So what was I doing in a family with so many males named for Sherman? Oh well, I was told, they are named for someone else but that someone was never identified.

And if I persisted, out came the, “Shhhhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this.”

About 1970, my father asked my wife and me to go with him to Lann Cemetery, Splunge, Monroe County, Mississippi, to visit the grave of James Monroe Thornton. James Monroe Thornton was my father’s grandfather — James Monroe Thornton was the one who first named a son with the moniker “Sherman” — in 1865 he named a son John Sherman Thornton.

And while at the cemetery, my father told my wife what he had never told me: James Monroe Thornton served in the Union Army. Basically all he would or could tell me was that his grandfather, he had been told, was on the staff with General Sherman, had attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and so admired the General that he vowed to name the first of his sons born after the war for the general.

James Monroe Thornton survived the war and when the first child born after the war was a son, he named him John Sherman Thornton.

Be damned if I would listen to another “Shhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this” again!

During the next year or two, I started my reading and researching of the Thornton family. I learned that during the awful war years, both before and after, that they lived in the general area of Walker and Fayette Counties, Alabama. The Thornton family did not arrive in Mississippi until between 1905 to 1910. I discovered the gem of a book, Tories of the Hills, by Wesley S. Thompson (Winfield, Alabama: The Pareil Press. 1960). [My edition is the Civil War Centennial Edition, a limited-re-printing from Northwest Alabama Publishing Company, Jasper, Alabama.]

Thompson states in his Introduction “those opposed to the Secession . . . were called . . . Tories from the hills. . . met in a Convention July 4, 1861, and drew up resolutions to secede from the State [of Alabama]. When this . . . failed [the Tories] took to the coves and mountains for hiding rather than go to the Confederate Armies . . . there followed one of the bloodiest struggles of guerrilla-warfare ever fought on American soil.”

Suddenly the region known as “Freedom Hills,” a rugged area that spreads across the hill country of Alabama and west into Mississippi took on a new meaning.

Freedom! . . . no “Shhhhhhhhhh, let’s not talk about this” was going to stop me now.

So obviously the opposition to serving in the Confederate cause was as far west as the Hill Country in Monroe County, Mississippi, if hide-outs and resisting the draft were so commonplace that children’s games were organized and played almost 100 years after those sad events unfolded.

But learning more information from my father or from his larger family of their time in Alabama and of the Union Army connection to General Sherman was not to be. My father died a few years after telling me about his grandfather; the other older family members either didn’t know the family history or were not willing to talk about it. Some were of the opinion that we should not talk about the possibility of such an involvement!

And there I was, blocked in with “Shhhhhhh, let’s not talk about this” from cousins far and wide. But upon probing deeper, it was obvious that my cousins knew less than I about this part of our family’s history. The “Shhhhh, let’s not talk about this” mentality had prevented some of the most basic of family information from filtering down.

Several years went by and I began an email correspondence with a cousin, Lori Thornton, who was an experienced genealogist and computer expert. Lori and I compared notes and within a few months, I had the first documented evidence that my great-grandfather [and Lori's great-great-grandfather] James Monroe Thornton had indeed served in the First Alabama Cavalry USA.

And upon learning about this documented fact, I had relatives to send me word, “Shhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this.”

The first evidence I had of James Monroe Thornton’s military service in the First Alabama Cavalry U.S.A. was from Glenda McWhirter Todd’s in-depth study, First Alabama Cavalry USA: Homage to Patriotism (Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, Inc. 1999). There on page 368 is this entry, the first evidence I had of my great-grandfather’s involvement:

Thornton, James M., Pvt., Co. A, age 38, EN 3/23/63 & MI 3/24/63, Glendale, MS, on daily duty as teamster, MO 12/22/63, Memphis, TN.

James Monroe Thornton enlisted in the First Alabama Cavalry USA at Glendale, Mississippi on March 23, 1863. The next day he was mustered into service. He was assigned to Company A; he was given the rank of Private. He was 38 years old. He served daily duty as a teamster and was mustered out of service just before Christmas, December 22, 1863, in Memphis, Tennessee.

My father had been misinformed about James Monroe Thornton’s rank — there had been some huge and grand promotions for Private Thornton to have attained the lofty status of Lieutenant Colonel — whether that embellishment in rank was done by James Monroe Thornton himself (he lived to the ripe old age of 88 years) or by others is unknown.

Lori and I ordered the service record and the pension file for our common ancestor — and there learned for the first time the extent of his military service. James Monroe Thornton indeed was in the First Alabama Cavalry USA; he was a Private. He was at home in Alabama hiding out from the Confederate enforcers most of the time he spent in the service of the Union. He accompanied a small group in June who was returned to Walker and Fayette County and while there became ill. His family hid him in the woods from July through early December when he returned to camp.

James Monroe Thornton was absent with leave from June 29, 1863 through about December 13, 1863 when he returned to duty just in time to be mustered out on December 22, 1863.

He was not, however, a Lieutenant Colonel nor was he an aide-de-camp to General Sherman! He drove a team of mules or horses and hauled materials with a wagon as a Private doing teamster duty.

In all of this research, however, the harsh reality of what happened to my Thornton family in the Hills of Alabama has been slowly uncovered. Lori and I are continuing to examine records that are telling us the painful story of our family — a story that heretofore had been so suppressed within the family that our generation had no clue to its reality. Here is a brief summary of some of the major discoveries.

Two of James Monroe Thornton’s brothers also served in the First Alabama Calvary USA. Those two brothers died in service. No one in my family of my generation had any knowledge of these men. As far as I know, their names were not known as family. The grave of one has been located at the Nashville National Cemetery where I conducted a memorial on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of his death. It is believed that the first time that any of this young man’s family visited his grave site was 140 years after his death.

The “Shhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this” time was over.

A third brother may have been killed by Confederate enforcers as he was making his way to the Union lines to volunteer. Lori and I are still working on this possibility. We know that a third brother disappears from all records during the Civil War years and we are intrigued by a statement recently discovered in his mother’s federal pension file about this possibility. More work is needed.

And perhaps the saddest chapter in all of this that was never talked about in my family is evidence that three of James Monroe Thornton’s brothers also served in the Confederate Army. One was captured in battle in Kentucky and eventually exchanged/released in Mississippi. We think he returned straight to North Alabama, visited briefly with his wife and child and other family nearby, and then with his older brother, James Monroe Thornton, walked over to Glendale, Mississippi and enrolled together. James Monroe survived; the brother he enlisted with died.

The youngest brother in that large family also died in the service of the Union Army. He and another brother had enrolled in the Confederate Army and both are listed as deserting at Tuscaloosa. The younger brother shows up on the First Alabama Cavalry USA enlistment rosters a month later; the other brother disappears from the records. It is presumed that he is the one his mother later states was killed by enforcers while making his way to the Union line.

So I can’t tell you about a great-grandfather who was a Lieutenant Colonel in General Sherman’s army — but I can talk a bit about his service as a Private, as a teamster, during a few short months during the Civil War. I can tell you a bit about the history of the South and can confirm that the solidarity and Confederate unity wasn’t what we’ve been taught in the public schools of Mississippi.

But, listen, someone is saying, “Shhhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this!”

[Editor's (Terry's) Note: This recollection was submitted to the current Carnival of Genealogy. The 31st Carnival has as its topic Confirm or Debunk: Family Myths, Legends, and Lore, and is being hosted by Craig Manson at GeneaBlogie.]

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For those of you interested in North Carolina Civil War history, please visit my latest post at Robert Moore’s Southern Unionists Chronicles. Nancy Brewer’s application for compensation from the federal government for property confiscated by Yankees during the Civil War is a wonderful example of how many people in the South suffered at the hands of both Union and Confederate soldiers. But it offers even more–a tantalizing glimpse into a marriage between a free woman of color and an enslaved man.

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Many people, perhaps most, think of “race” as an objective reality. Historically, however, racial categorization has been unstable, contradictory, and arbitrary. Consider the term “passing.” Most of us immediately picture a light-skinned person who is “hiding” their African ancestry. Many would go further and accuse that person of denying their “real” racial identity. Yet few people would accuse a dark-skinned person who has an Anglo ancestor of trying to pass for “black,” and thereby denying their “true” Anglo roots!

So why is a white person with an African ancestor presumed to be “really” black? In fact, in this day of DNA testing, it’s become increasingly clear that many more white-identified people have a “drop” or two of African ancestry than most ever imagined. Are lots of white folks (or are they black?) “passing,” then, without even knowing it?

Having said all that, I’d like to provide some historical examples of the shifting and arbitrary nature of racial categorization. Those familiar with Newt Knight already know about the 1948 miscegenation trial of his great-grandson, Davis Knight. According to the “one drop rule” of race, Davis was a black man by virtue of having a multiracial great-grandmother (Rachel Knight). Yet, social custom and the law differed. One was legally “white” in Mississippi if one had one-eighth or less African ancestry, and Davis eventually went free on that legal ground.

Despite Davis Knight’s legal victory, custom (and often the law) at times went even further than applying the “one drop rule.” After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation of the races was legal (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896), census enumerators in the segregated South of 1900 were instructed to list people’s race as either “black” or “white”; there were to be no “in-between” designations. Some enumerators went even further than that. To reinforce the image of a racially-segregated society, they categorized many formerly white-identified people as “black” simply because they lived in multiracial neighborhoods. Hence, Newt and Serena Knight, and their children who lived (and married) among Rachel and her children, were listed as “black” in the 1900 federal manuscript census.

Similar contradictions of racial identification may be found throughout Southern court records as segregation ordinances were written into law. An example of one absurd, yet utterly serious, effort to determine whether an individual was “white” or “black” (which I pieced together from North Carolina state and federal records) follows:

In 1884, Mary Ann McQueen, a young white woman about 33 years old, was suspected of having “black” blood. So strong were these suspicions that her mother, who had always been accepted as white, swore out a deed in the Montgomery County Court that “solemnly” proclaimed her daughter to be “purely white and clear of an African blood whatsoever.” But why did suspicions about the “purity” of Mary Ann McQueen’s “blood” arise in the first place?

It all began before the Civil War, when Mary Ann’s mother, Diza Ann, ended her marriage to Mary Ann’s father, Calvin McQueen. Almost immediately afterward, she married Wilson Williams (aka Wilson Wright). By 1861, when the Civil War began, Diza had given birth to four more children. Meanwhile, Mary Ann’s father, Calvin, enlisted in the Confederate Army in February 1862 and marched off to war. Barely five months later, in July 1862, he was dead from wounds suffered in the battle of Mechanicsville, Virginia. Calvin had lived and died as a white man.

The same was not true, however, of Diza’s second husband, Wilson Williams, who was listed as a “mulatto” by census enumerators. This meant that Mary Ann McQueen grew up in a multiracial household with a stepfather and several siblings all classified as mulattos. By 1884, as segregation expanded and lines of race correspondingly hardened, many folks wondered how this white woman could have mixed-race kinfolk without being mixed herself.

With racially discriminatory laws a fundamental part of segregation, Mary Ann had a lot to lose in civil rights, as well as social standing, if she could not rid herself of the “one drop” taint. Perhaps because she lived in a small community with a long memory, her mother’s sworn statement, which reminded the court that Calvin McQueen and not Wilson Williams was Mary Ann’s biological father, seems to have won Mary Ann her whiteness, at least legally. By 1900, the federal manuscript census for Montgomery County, N.C., listed a Mary McQueen, born 1851, as “white.”

That does not mean however, that Mary Ann’s social status was restored. If this is our Mary Ann, she apparently never married, despite having given birth to a son, also listed as white. Were Mary Ann’s chances at marriage to a white man compromised by her mother’s interracial marriage? In the era of segregation, most certainly they were.

Today, most scientists agree that there is no genetic basis for the idea of humans as separate “races,” or subspecies. But, as we see in the case of Mary Ann McQueen and the more recent trial of Davis Knight, societal beliefs about race were written into law and political policy, and reflected historical struggles of power over slavery, segregation, and civil rights.

NOTE:  The stories of Davis Knight and Mary Ann McQueen are discussed in my new book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War.

Vikki Bynum

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One of the genuine surprises of my research on The Free State of Jones was the discovery that my own Bynum ancestors were deeply involved on both sides of Jones County’s inner civil war. I learned about the Free State in a history book, not from my father, who never mentioned Newt Knight or the Knight Company to me before his death in 1990. In that way, I’m like a lot of folks who had no idea their ancestors were in the middle of such an important Civil War story until later in their lives.

There were many Jones County families, like the Bynums, who supported opposing sides of the war. My great-grandfather, William A. Bynum, son of William, born 1795, son of “Old” William, born 1763, fought on the side of the Confederacy. Like many Jones County men, he deserted the Army for a time and was charged with being AWOL. However, rather than join the Knight band, he rejoined the Confederacy. During Reconstruction, he, his father, William Senior, and his brother, John H. Bynum, all signed petitions opposing Newt Knight and his followers.

But it was a very different story for Tapley Bynum, who was a half-brother to my GGGrandfather, William Senior. Tapley deserted the Confederate Army, joined the Knight band, and was shot to death by Confederate soldiers, allegedly while at home visiting his newborn daughter.

Why were such different courses taken by members of the same family? A careful study of family alliances offers at least a partial answer. It appears that certain branches of the same family were pulled in different directions according to the families they married into. And here is where the Collins family once again emerges as one of the most important Unionist families in the region. It appears that if a branch of a family married into the Collins line, they were especially likely to be Unionists before, during, and after the war.

Newt Knight himself was influenced by the Collinses. At the end of his long life, he credited Jasper Collins with convincing him that the Twenty Negro Law made the Civil War a “rich man’s war and poor man’s fight.” Jasper then deserted and Newt did, too. It’s not so much that folks became Unionists after meeting or marrying a Collins; rather, it seems that such connections solidified their own Unionist tendencies. Jones County voters, after all, elected an anti-secession delegate to the 1861 Mississippi State Convention.

The importance of family alliances is demonstrated by two sons of Old William, Mark and Benjamin, both of whom were Unionists. During the war, “old man Mark Bynum” (born 1801) delivered a wagonload of provisions and arms to the Knight band. And well he might: his daughter, Lydia, was married to band member Simeon Collins. Benjamin Bynum was married to Simeon’s sister, Margaret. Their son, Prentice M. Bynum, joined the Knight Company during the war. Oh, and Mark and Benjamin also had a sister, Nancy Bynum, who married the oldest Collins brother, Vinson, another staunch Unionist. These branches of the Bynums married into Unionist branches of the Mauldin, Welch, and Holifield families as well. Opposition to secession and, later, the Confederacy, was most certainly a family affair.

In contrast to the above Bynums, however, who were prosperous but nonslaveholding farmers, there was a slaveholding branch of the family. Old William, the original migrant to Mississippi, had owned three slaves. He passed these slaves onto his oldest son, William, who owned them at the time of the war (this William’s son, William A. Bynum, was my direct ancestor). Not surprisingly, these Bynums married into other slaveholding families. And, during the war, they identified their fortunes with those of the Confederacy.

Tapley Bynum, the last of Old William’s sons (William was 74 years old when Tapley was born!) seems to have been raised primarily by his older brother Benjamin, and Benjamin’s wife, Margaret Collins. He was only eight years older than their son, Prentice, and the young men may have joined the Knight band together. On a cold January morning, the decision to defy the Confederacy cost Tapley his life. Later, Confederate Col. Lowry’s raid on the county convinced Prentice to flee to New Orleans, where he joined the Union Army and survived the war. During the 1890s, Prentice Bynum became a Populist, as did his uncle, the venerable Jasper Collins.

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By Ed Payne

(NOTE:  This brief history of the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the Ellisville Patriot is being posted both to explain the newspaper’s relationship to the theme of the Renegade South and in the hopes that someone may possess some yellowing remnant of this fleeting Piney Woods publication–Ed Payne.)

On April 26, 1895 the citizens of Ellisville, Mississippi were greeted by the appearance of a third weekly newspaper in their small community, the Ellisville Patriot.  While the rival Ellisville News acknowledged the event with a few dry comments, the more partisan New South launched a vicious attack upon the upstart publication, its politics, and most especially its co-founder, Jasper Collins.  The fact that New South editor Frank Parker and Jasper Collins belonged to the same Masonic Lodge did not inhibit Parker, who characterized his journalistic rival as “the old Beelzebub”—which was among his milder invectives.  But the sparks emanating from this newsprint tempest were short lived.  Within two years the Ellisville Patriot and the cause it espoused had passed into history.

For many Southern renegades, their actions during the Civil War marked a single instance in which they felt compelled to defy the expectations of the larger Southern community.  The increasing glorification of the Lost Cause during the late 19th Century caused some of these renegades to affect a selective amnesia about their wartime activities.  But others, such as Jones County native Jasper Collins, never apologized for their opposition to the Confederate cause.  Indeed, Jasper’s actions during the Civil War were just one example of a lifelong willingness to take stances that ran counter to those of the prevailing Southern culture.

Although he receiving only minimal schooling, Jasper Collins was by all accounts a well-read and thoughtful man.  He enlisted in the 7th Battalion Mississippi Infantry in May 1862 only when confronted with the threat of conscription.  While in that unit he participated in the Battles of Iuka and Corinth.  However, the passage of the “20 Negro Law” by the Confederate Congress—which granted military exemptions to slave owners at the rate of one per 20 slaves owned—outraged his sense of Jacksonian democratic egalitarianism.  In a characteristic display of his sense of propriety, Jasper informed his company commander of his impending desertion, giving the reason for his actions.  He returned to Jones County where his involvement in the Knight Band has been described in Victoria Bynum’s Free State of Jones.

After the war Jasper continued to exhibit an independence of thought and action.  In 1867, he named his first son born during the Reconstruction era Ulysses Sherman Collins.  However, he and others—whether former secessionists or Unionists—had their hands full trying to adjust to the harsh realities of the post-war Southern economy.  A decade and a half after the defeat of the Confederacy, the 1880 census listed Jasper heading a household composed of a wife and five children.  That year he reported a farm income of $250, about average for those trying to scrape a living out of the Piney Woods soil.

It was the plight of the agricultural economy that compelled Jasper into another noteworthy period of contrarian political action.  In the final decades of the 19th Century farmers throughout the United States became entrapped by an ever-tightening economic squeeze.  The combination of government action to reduce the amount of currency in circulation as part of its return to the gold standard and the increase in agricultural output emerging from newly settled prairie lands produced a protracted deflationary spiral.  Farmers received less and less for their crops while paying off bank loans and purchases in ever more scarce dollars.  As their situation worsened, those who tilled the soil came to see both the Republican and Democratic parties as captives of Eastern financial interests.  Out of this frustration grew the Farmers Alliance cooperative movement and, when its leadership proved reluctant to adopt an openly political role, the People’s Party—more commonly referred to as the Populist Party.

In the South the rise of the Populist Party was greeted first with skepticism and then hostility by the Democratic press.  Even though former slaves and their descendants were being steadily disenfranchised, any political movement that offered the faintest hint of a return to a two-party system threatened the status quo.  And protecting the status quo united Southern political, journalistic, and religious leaders in sounding a chorus of alarm.

Jasper Collins took part in the Farmers Alliance and its transformation into the Populist Party.  His most active accomplice in this endeavor was his youngest son, Loren Riley Collins.  Even more than his father, Loren had a passion for politics and political journalism.  Twenty months in advance of the crucial 1896 election, father and son launched the Ellisville Patriot to provide a voice for the Populist cause in Jones County.

During its brief heyday, Populist Party candidates achieved some electoral successes in agricultural states, including some in Mississippi.  But the movement failed to transform itself into a viable third party.  Democratic Presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan so successfully espoused Populist themes that officials at the 1896 national Populist convention convinced delegates to choose Bryan as their Presidential candidate as well.  As a result, the Populists went down in defeat with the Bryan-led Democrats and, in the process, managed to hopelessly compromise their independent status.

It seems likely that the Ellisville Patriot ceased publication by the spring of 1897.  What little we know about its run comes from the comments of its competitors.  No copies have been located, nor has republication of content from it been found in surviving issues of other state Populist periodicals.

Four years after the demise of his newspaper, Jasper Collins participated in another event that seems to have constituted one final expression of his dissatisfaction with the status quo: he helped found a Universalist church near his farm in Moselle.  Jasper may have come to view his native Baptist church as too closely aligned with the Democratic power elite he opposed.  If so, it would not have been a trivial decision.  The Collins family had long-standing, if occasionally contentious, ties with Primitive Baptist congregations.  There can be no doubt that Jasper had received a lifetime’s worth of highly articulated descriptions of the eternal damnation awaiting those who took the wrong spiritual path.

Iconoclasts who live long enough may eventually gain respect for, if nothing else, sheer endurance.  Jasper Collins outlived many of his detractors.  In April of 1913, at age 86, he was the subject of a lengthy article by the editor of the Jones County News.  The paper was a renamed offshoot of his old nemesis, the New South.  The article recounted his descriptions of antebellum life in the Piney Woods.  When he died that same August, the News paid him glowing tribute—although carefully omitting any mention of his Civil War or Populist activities.  Instead, it judiciously observed that the deceased “was ever noted for his independence of action and great force of character, and when he believed that a cause or principle was right, he espoused the same and heeded not public censure or applause.” His neighbors respected Jasper’s independence enough to have elected him to several terms on the county Board of Supervisors.  Later they would elect his defiantly named son, Ulysses Sherman Collins, to the same post. ‘Lyss’ Collins would also win several countywide elections, including two terms as Chancery Clerk.

After the 1896 election effectively sounded the death knell of the Populist Party, Loren Collins became a lifelong Republican.  This relegated him to the role of a political gadfly whose sole outlet was sending oppositional letters to the editor to newspapers in New Orleans, Vicksburg, and Jackson.  Late in life he typed up a collection of these epistles along with a brief autobiographical sketch, but he included no mention of his tenure at the Ellisville Patriot.  Loren’s aversion to the single-party political establishment did not mean he disavowed all Southern customs.  His vision was of a healthy competition between Southern-based Democratic and Republican parties, both lily white.  He railed against the blacks who held the reins power over Mississippi’s token Republican apparatus and who dispensed patronage—often to white Democrats—during Republican presidential administrations.  At the time of his death in 1952, Loren was engaged in a quixotic campaign as the Republican candidate for Congress.  Another dozen years would pass before the Presidential bid by conservative icon Barry Goldwater finally make it palatable for large numbers of white Mississippians to cast ballots for a Republican candidate.

Jasper Collins and his son Loren serve as two examples of how the Renegade South manifested itself not only during the Civil War, but also into the 20th Century.  If any copies of the Ellisville Patriot could be uncovered, it would shed new light on this history.

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On the advice of Kevin Levin, moderator of  Civil War Memory , I have restructured the sidebars on Renegade South’s home page. The search box now appears first, and I encourage you to use it to search for names or places that may appear in various posts, if you haven’t already done so. Next are the “Recent Posts” and “Recent Comments” boxes that allow you to quickly access the newest additions to the blog.

I have also expanded the categories list so that the posts are cross listed more effectively. Specifically, I added “North Carolina” and “Texas” categories to allow visitors to find those posts more quickly, especially given the multitude of “Free State of Jones” material contained on Renegade South.

I hope you find Renegade South to be more user friendly as a result of these changes!

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