The Free State of Jones

Jasper Collins and the ‘Ellisville Patriot’

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.

25 replies »

  1. Unfortunately, I do not have any copies of this publication produced Jasper. Due to my family connection, I would love to have even reprints to put along side my own work. I spent nine years as a journalist, most of them in newspaper and two of them as an editor and publisher in Grand Saline and Edgewood, Texas before I became a teacher. At least I know “ink in the blood,” no matter how short-lived, goes this far back in the family. Thank you, Mr. Payne, for yet another connection to my “renegade” roots.

  2. Ed, My daughter sent me this. It’s a great article! She and my brother Leslie are both into ancestry. Her maiden name is Faulconer and she has found much there. Hope to see you next time I go to MS. Jean

  3. Lydia Bynum was my g-g-g-grandmother, If anyone could give me any futher information on her and her family I would truly appreciate it.

    • Joni,

      I don’t know how much you already know about Lydia Collins, but there are bits and pieces of information on her scattered throughout my Renegade South posts on the Collins family. Lydia was the daughter of Mark Bynum of Jones County, MS, and was married to Simeon Collins. Simeon and several of their sons joined the Knight band during the Civil War in opposition to the Confederacy. After the war, around 1872, Lydia and several of her children moved to Hardin County, TX.

      I include quite a bit of information on Simeon, Lydia, and their children in my upcoming book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, (University of North Carolina Press).

      Vikki

  4. I failed to find a Jasper Collins listed in the 7th Mississippi Infantry, perhaps he served in the 7th Batt. Mississippi Infantry a different unit.

    Maybe Jasper wasn’t against the Confederate cause, maybe he was just against war? I notice he didn’t joint the Yankee bunch either.

    George Purvis

  5. Thanks for your comments, George. You’re right, Jasper was enlisted in the 7th Battalion Mississippi Infantry.

    As for his opposition to the Confederacy, he made that clear on many occasions. He was joined in that opposition by six brothers in both Mississippi and Texas. In his 1895 testimony regarding Newt Knight’s claims for compensation as a Unionist, Jasper described trying to connect the Knight Company with Union forces during the war.

    Vikki

  6. Vikki,

    That being the case on his unit service would you please change the reference to 7th Batt. ? The 7th Infantry is known as one of the best Confederate units in the field. At present we have onlly identified 10 deserters out of 1,100 men.

    I hate to say it but I believe facts are being twisted to fit a situation. Knight was nothing but a deserter no more no less. From what I have read he and his band really did not support either army North Or South in any way, shape or form. Had they been supporting the Union army each and every man had a chance to join that army and face the elephant. Had they been supporting the Union they would have faced the Confederate troops in open battle, yet they stayed in Jones county and did nothing unless the Confederates came after them. I believe when they were finally captured most of the deserters (WERE ALLOWED) returned to their Confederate units.

    The 20 Negro law did set many men against the Confederacy however they did not join a renegade band. I am not saying there were not some Unionist in Mississippi, I am saying Knight and his followers were not Unionist nor pro-Confederates. There were a good many Confederates who believed in the Union, Robert E. Lee being one. Just my honest opinion, they wanted no part of a bloody war. I am not saying your grandfather may or may not have been against slavery or the Confederate Constitution, even though it mirrowed the US Constitution. I am saying the idea that Newt Knight’s band as a Union unit fighting the Confederates against the cause of the Confederacy is more myth than truth.

    I have read those claims and I see nothing to verify Knight’s band as a Union unit.

    I have a friend who does extensive WBTS reserach and has done a bit of reserach on Jones County, I’ll ask him to come here and share some thoughts with you if he will. I think his family is also from Jones county.

    Regards,

    George Purvis

    • George,

      Since you addressed your second message to me, I will add a few thoughts to Ed Payne’s astute response, which is based on his own independent research.

      First, no direct ancestors of mine belonged to the Knight Company. In fact, my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather, both named William Bynum, were opposed to Newt Knight. My work on this topic is as a historian, not a descendant seeking to vindicate the behavior of folks on either side. I find the story of Jones County far too interesting and complicated to reduce it to this person or that person being “nothing” but a deserter or “nothing” but a Confederate supporter.

      If you read my analysis of Newt Knight’s claims process in my latest book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, you will find a judicious treatment of a very long and complex process that involved many people with different perspectives–some of them surprising.

      I respect your opinion. I also stand by the soundness of my research and and the integrity of my interpretations.

      Vikki Bynum

  7. George: As Vikki noted, the 7th Battalion is the correct unit and I’ll ask her to insert the clarification. Later recordkeeping resulted in the accidental assigning of the muster role records of Benjamin, Morgan, and Simeon Collins to the 7th Infantry Regiment–but the actual unit documents at the MS Archives show they were also in the 7th Battalion.

    Jasper’s affinity to the Union cause was very well understood by his contemporaries. Even Ethel Knight, who described most of the Knight Band as being cowardly deserters, made the distinction that the Collins family were principled Unionist. Consider also that less that four dozen white male children in Mississippi were given blatantly Unionist names (Grant, Sherman, Lincoln) in the period between 1860-1870. As I noted in the article, one of these was Ulysses Sherman Collins, Jasper’s first son born after the Civil War. Jasper’s support for the People’s Party in the mid-1890s would have been at least as unpopular with portions of the Jones County population as his Unionist stance three decades earlier. But his neighbors respected him enough to elect him to several terms on the county Board of Supervisors–as they later did his son U.S. Collins.

    I certainly believe that some members of the Knight Band deserted after the siege of Vicksburg because they felt it’s fall and their parole ended the war for them. Plus they were relatively close to home and knew their families were in dire straits. These might be viewed as deserters motivated mostly by war fatigue and economics. But there were committed Unionists within the group and Jasper and his kin were certainly among them.

    Ed P.

  8. Correction: that should read “but the actual unit documents at the MS Archives show they were in the 7th Battalion.”

  9. Vikki ,

    You responded to me, or at least I thought you were responding to me and I did likewise. I was mistaken in thinking that you were the owner of this article. My apologies.

    There are been so much written about Knight and his band, it is hard to separate fact from fiction. In reality I cannot see how Knight can be anything more than a deserter. Unless I am mistaken he never once ventured outside of Jones county to attack a Confederate Unit. In a nutshell he was happy to stay in that area and live out the war and support the winner. Being that he had enlisted in the CSA army for what ever reason, that made him a deserter.

    To be honest, I have no dog in the fight except that I disagree these men were anything but deserters for whatever reason they chose to leave the ranks iof the Confedeate army. To give them any credit as a military unit is a disgrace to the men who wore, fought for and died wearing the blue or gray.

    I would expect anyone associated with Knight to give a sterling testament to his and their actions to try and get a Federal pension. That actually makes good sense to me. My interest is history related and to date I have not found the historical records that show Knight’s band as a partisan unit or any other type of military organized fighting force.

    On another message baord we have discussed the historical accuarcy of the Newt Knight myth. Please go to this link and check out some of the comments. I think you would enjoy a civil historical exchange.

    http://history-sites.com/cgi-bin/bbs53x/nvcwmb/webbbs_config.pl?read=63922

    George Purvis

    • George,

      Of course Newt Knight was a deserter. No one on this blog has denied that. Many Unionists joined the Confederacy in hopes the war would be short, and sooner or later deserted.

      Nor, by the way, has anyone on this blog argued that all the members of the Knight band were “brave patriots.” Some, perhaps many, simply did not want to die, and many became Unionists for personal rather than ideological reasons, as Ed has already pointed out. Again, it’s a complicated story, and one that I have discussed at length in two books.

      I think this discussion has been exhausted. At a certain point it’s wise to simply agree to disagree and move on.

      Vikki

  10. Ed,

    Also my apologies to you for getting you and Vikki confused. it was unintentional and a mis-step on my part.

    You are correct, records and men serving in the 7th Batt. and the 7th Infantry are constantly getting mixed and confused. The 6th Mississippi was first assigned as the 7th Infantry then the 7th Infantry was formed with men of southewest mississippi. This causes even more confusion.

    Sir I am not arguing about the Collins family being Unionist as I pointed out Robert E. Lee was also a Unionist so was Jeff Davis and many men who fought and died honorably for the Confederacy. The war itself was about the union and the abuse of the Constitution by Lincoln.I fully understand the names and what you have pointed out, however these actions do not make Mr. Collins a military man or anything more or less than a deserter when he had ample chance to join the Union Army. I hate to say it but that is the historical facts in a nutshell.I can fully understand why his neighbors may have voted for him, he was most likely a man of his word and offered a change. Maybe he was just a good old boy?? The problems in Mississippi had nothing to do with the Confederacy, in fact the farmers themselves were partly to blame for low prices with over production of crops.

    Your summary would ring true for a lot of families of Mississippi. I have letter my grandfather of the 7th Mississippi Infantry wrote telling about the the horror of losing Vicksburg. Most of those surrendered and paroled returned to the Confederate Army. The difference is these other Mississippians did not take up arms against their fellow Confedertates and do everything possible to avoid confortation with either side. One of my grandfathers deserted, came home and buried his wife and son then went back to war. Another grandfather lost his life at Chickamauga, two brothers at Oxford, one wounded at Jonesboro, Ga. and one wounded and captured at Anthonys Hill. These men deserve the title of soldiers and warriors and all the honors that go with with such a title. They didn’t run and hide anytime a military unit came around.

    I have no doubt what so ever you grandfather was a unionist and I have no problem with that. I would have no problem with him being a Union soldier either. I do have a real problem with the with the idea of promoting the entire newt Knight band as a bunch of brave patriots fighting to save the Union when historical records do not bear out that fact.

    Regards,
    George Purvis

  11. George:

    I think perhaps you are aiming your fire at the wrong target. There are several books on the Knight Band, all differing considerably in their point of view. Tom Knight’s book basically depicted the Knight Band in a Robin Hood manner, even though he personally despised his father. Ethel Knight’s “Echo of the Black Horn” paints a very negative portrait of Newt and the members of his band, making exceptions for the Collins men and a few others. While useful for their stories, neither is a work of history.

    Rudy Leverett made the first solid effort to explore the historical truth behind the folk tales. His book, “Legend of the Free State of Jones” has recently been re-issued. It does not in any way extol Newt or his band. He seriously questioned the political motives ascribed to the band and felt the events had been much overblown for various political reasons.

    Vikki’s book “Free State of Jones” goes into the complexities of how cultural heritage, socio-economics, and kinships shaped local events and attitudes before, during, and after the Civil War. She found clear evidence of Unionism within a core group of families such as the Collinses. Her book is based on heavily researched facts, not mythology.

    Your intended target may be the recently published “State of Jones” which does paint a much more heroic picture of Newt Knight as a Piney Woods abolitionist. Both Dr. Bynum and I have published separate criticisms about what we feel are the liberties this book took with the historical record.

    I am currently researching men who did exactly what you said they did not: leave the Piney Woods and enlist with the Union Army in New Orleans. Thus far, I have identified 46 such persons–one of whom, Riley J. Collins, was a brother of Jasper. Of these enlistees, 15 can be found on the Knight Band rosters. Many of the rest had close kinship connections with those on the rosters.

    In stating all this, I should make one thing very clear: while I have another ancestor who fought with the Army of Virginia during the entire war (and lived to attend the 50th reunion at Gettysburg), I do not agree with anyone who tries to label the Confederate leadership as “Unionists.” That is a serious distortion of language. People cannot fight a bloody, protracted war seeking separation from the Union–whatever their individual motives–and be considered Unionists. And no one was clairvoyant enough to know what Lincoln was going to do with the Constitution when seven states passed proclamations of secession after his election but before his inauguration.

    Like Vikki, I think we’ve all said our piece and need to move on. But I do hope you will read Rudy Leverett’s book and then even consider delving into what Dr. Bynum’s work. It might help improve your aim.

    Ed P.

  12. This is off topic of this blog, so y’all please forgive me.

    Mr. Payne, I read that you are researching soldiers who went to New Orleans to fight for the Union. I have identified at least seven of my relatives who were in the 1st New Orleans Infantry, including my direct relative, Reutilus Hariel, who lived in the area where I currently do, the area where Pearl River, Hancock, and Harrison Counties all come together. After being told since the 4th grade that I had no direct relatives who fought, I was rather surprised to find his name on the roster of this unit just three years ago. Since then, I’ve been discovering more among my Bounds and Smith relatives. Richard Bounds, specifically, was wounded and later captured at Vicksburg before deserting and enlisting in the Union unit. I also have a picture of my Smith relatives which shows five brothers, two of whom fought in the 1st NO, one who fought in the 3rd MS and one in the 17th Battalion Cavalry. This is just one example of my relatives fighting against their kin.

    Being a Southerner to my very soul, it’s been difficult to understand and accept. However, I do wish to learn more about them and have only been able to find a very brief history of the unit. Do you have a website or have written any books or articles where I could read more? I’d greatly appreciate any information.

    Thank you for your time.

    Regards,
    Shelby Harriel
    shar_14_22@yahoo.com

  13. P.S. I inadvertently left out the fact that the two Smith boys who went to New Orleans show up on a roster of the 7th Battalion Infantry. But it appears they never were in camp. I assume they were conscripted but “deserted” and then joined the Union ranks.

  14. Shelby:

    Like you, I was surprised to find my Mississippi genealogy was not as Solid South as I had supposed. It includes on the one hand a Piney Woods Confederate deserter and renegade named Jasper Collins. On the other there is a non-slave owner named Jesse Pack who fought in Robert E Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia through 15 major engagements, including the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg, yet survived to a ripe age. And for good measure, up turned gr-gr grandfather Llewellyn Maddocks, Union veteran from Maine who ended up married to the daughter of a slave-owning Confederate veteran in Perry County. By the way, Llewellyn’s father-in-law despised him until he discovered they shared a love of hunting, after which–as humans are wont to do–he decided he could make an exception for one yankee.

    The Civil War was the pivotal event in American history, so we should attempt to develop some appreciation for the tremendous impact it had on the lives of our ancestors. I do not seek to venerate some while sweeping others under the rug because of the choices they made. My mission is to try, as much as humanly possible, to understand the forces that caused these individuals to make the difficult choices fate forced upon them. My scholarly friendship with Dr. Bynum is based on our shared efforts to learn about, rather than either mythologize or castigate, these people.

    Dr. Bynum can supply you with my email. I will be very happy to add the names of your relatives to my research list of south Mississippi Union enlistees. If I can locate and obtain pension files for them, I’ll let you know. We need to learn more about these men, whose Union service was often obscured in the post war years.

    Ed P.

  15. Mr. Payne, thank you for replying and sharing your story. It is true that we cannot judge the decisions and actions of our ancestors based upon our present sympathies and values as we are a product of our environment. And, naturally, the environment back then was much, much different.

    Dr. Bynum supplied me with your email address, and I will contact you with information on my family members and the picture that I have.

    Thank you both!

    Shelby

  16. You are more than welcome, Shelby. It’s always exciting to hear from an independent researcher who can add to our understanding of the bigger picture of history! We have so far to go if we want truly to understand the Civil War on on its participants’ terms.

    Thanks,

    Vikki

  17. Thank you for this piece! Jasper was a son of my great great great grandfather. All I can tell you about Jasper is that in writings and interviews, he was more forthcoming with pre war era history, and much more reserved when it came to political rants. This is due in part to his Masonic involvement, which discourages political discord. From what I have read and been told by family “historians”, Uncle Jasper enjoyed talking about the untamed wilderness that Jones county was , bountiful with wildlife that is no longer indigenous to the region. My grandaddy knew him as his great uncle , and said that he spoke with a hint of an Irish accent. This makes since, due to the fact that Jasper’s grandparents were Irish imigrants.

  18. Stacy: I appreciate your comments. As I noted in the article, although Frank Parker and Jasper Collins belonged to the same Masonic Lodge, this did not prevent editor Parker from unleashing some decidedly un-brotherly comments about Jasper, his paper, and his Populist beliefs during the heated political campaign of 1895-6. Many years later, just a few months before his death in Aug 1913, Jasper was the subject of a lengthy feature in the ‘Jones County News’ (ironically, the successor to Parker’s paper). I have transcribed the article into a Word format. I’ve also transcribed the ‘Jones County News’ obituary for Jasper, as well as the 3 newspaper columns from 1895 in which Frank Parker excoriated him. If you do not have a copy of these, request it in a follow-up comment and Vikki will provide you with my email address.

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