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Archive for April, 2009

Is THIS Rachel Knight?

Is THIS Rachel Knight?

At long last we return to the question of whether a photograph of Rachel Knight exists. (see my earlier post,  “Rachel Knight: Does a Picture of Her Exist?”).  I am pleased to now be in touch with Yvonne Bivins, who has been researching the Ainsworth/Smith/Knight family lines for many years.

Yvonne believes that the woman identified as Rachel on the cover of my book, The Free State of Jones, is probably Anna Knight, daughter of Georgeanne Knight and granddaughter of Rachel. Based on her grandfather’s description of Rachel, she believes the woman in the above photo is much more likely to be Rachel. Grandfather Warren Smith, she writes, “described Rachel as a ‘Guinea Negro,’ meaning she was racially mixed but did not look white nor was she light-skinned, but with “nice hair” not kinky and shoulder length.”

Further descriptions by Warren Smith of Rachel’s appearance led Yvonne to conclude that Rachel’s daughter, Martha Ann Knight, most resembled her.  Photographs do exist of Martha Ann, who, Yvonne notes, looked very much like an “Australian Aborigine.”  Because the woman in the above photo sharply resembles Martha Ann, Yvonne hypothesizes that this just may be a photo of Rachel.

Yvonne makes another important point: “My grandfather,” she states, “said that Rachel’s children did not appear as white as most would believe. They had complexions that ranged from dark olive to light brown, most with coarse black hair with a few red-heads in the mixture. The infusion of fair-skin came from the Ainsworths and not the Knights.”

This is all very fascinating, and I’m sure we haven’t yet heard the final word on Rachel Knight and her progeny.  Thank you, Yvonne, for sharing your research and perspective with us.

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By Sherree Tannen

When the moderator of Renegade South, Vikki Bynum, asked me to write an essay for her blog concerning my history, I was honored. I was doubly honored that she asked me to include the essay in the category she has designated “multiracial.” I informed our moderator that this category was not correct for my history in the strictest sense, then I gave her more details of the history. She encouraged me to write the essay anyway, since my history indicates that the racial lines in the South were not as rigidly adhered to as is broadly thought. I thank our moderator for this opportunity.

First, why would our moderator think that I am of mixed race? Because I am of mixed race. But of mixed race so lost to history, that that history is almost impossible to recover. One set of my ancestors emigrated from the county Donegal Ireland to Virginia in 1739. These ancestors, who were Scots Irish, then migrated to the mountains of Virginia in 1781 and stayed in the same geographical area for over two hundred years. Along the way, they intermarried with the Germans and the English, and also with the Cherokee. So, technically, I am of mixed race, and of mixed ethnicity as well, as are most Americans. Why do I not then say that I am of mixed race? Because that is unfair to my Indigenous brothers and sisters who are struggling today to reclaim their culture and their identity. It is also unfair to my white ancestors. I was not brought up Cherokee. I was brought up white. The ways of white culture and of Cherokee culture were intermingled, however, and I attribute the worldview of my ancestors to this rich intermingling of cultures. In addition, my family was deeply connected to the black community of our area for over five generations, beginning with the generation that included a Confederate veteran, who one day shocked everyone by having the black man who was his friend and who had been working in a field with him, sit at the table with him and eat.

The example that my great-great-grandfather set became the benchmark for the relationship of my family with the black community. Why my great-great-grandfather did what he did, I do not know. I am glad he did it, though. My grandmother, granddaughter of the unorthodox Confederate veteran, sold her tobacco farm and bought a restaurant in a nearby town and ran it. The restaurant was called “The Townhouse Café.” This is where the color line broke down. The black women who worked at the restaurant did not work for, but with, my grandmother. This was told to me by members of the black community, not by my grandmother. One black woman in particular with whom my family was very close, told me that one day my grandmother insisted that she sit at the table and eat a steak while she, my grandmother, finished mopping the floor, mirroring the action of my great-great-grandfather.

The black and white women in the Townhouse Café formed a community of their own, and in this community, after the doors were closed at night, there was no Jim Crow. I was known as the “Townhouse baby.” I was born in a small clinic, and the women who worked with my grandmother came to see baby me. Since the women could not come into the clinic because of the color of their skin, my mother held me up to the window. No, I am not making this up. These black women were not “mammy” figures. They were outside of all categories that we understand today. There is no “category” for them. They were the backbone of the nation–of the world–and I was their child, just like their own children were. They are in me–in my mind, my heart, and my soul. Their brave black faces are me. It was a privilege to even be in their presence, much less an integral part of their lives. I salute them. I salute them all.

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(This post is also published on Southern Unionists Chronicles)

The following is a story of Civil War Unionism and its persecution in the Hill Country of Texas. Its narrative and documentation was gathered and provided by Betty Zimmerman of Woodville, TX, whose husband is a descendant of the story’s main figure, Henry Flaugher (pronounced “Flour”). For this essay, I have compressed and rearranged her material, but the history of this murder was essentially written by Betty and members of the Flaugher family.

The story passed down in Flaugher family oral history is as follows: By fall of 1860, many southerners were expressing “feelings of hatred” toward former northerners who had moved South. Such a family was that of Henry Flaugher of Burnet County. Flaugher’s son-in-law, John T. Malone, and his daughter, Allie, were frightened enough by events to leave the state shortly before secession was achieved. Not long after they left, the Malones learned that a gruesome murder of some 36 men suspected of Unionism had taken place in their former home county, and that Henry Flaugher was among them. Twenty-five of the 36 men, according to the story, were hanged over the mouth of a saltpetre cave (there are many such caves in Burnet County), the ropes then cut so that the bodies dropped into the cave, seemingly out of sight forever.

Some two years later, the bodies were discovered by family members, perfectly preserved in the cave. Henry Flaugher was given a decent burial. His personal history, and the events leading to his gruesome murder, remind us that the Civil War ripped apart communities as well as a nation. Flaugher’s simple move from a free state to a slaveholding one, more than a decade before the war, set in motion events that led to his violent death.

Sometime around 1848, Henry Flaugher moved his family from Illinois to Burnet County, Texas, where he settled near present-day Marble Falls. His decision to move South, into a slaveholding state just as the nation’s sectional crisis was heating up, may not have been an easy one. Two of Henry’s grown children from the first of his two marriages did not make the move, but his sons, John and Adam, and daughters, Allie and Catherine (Kitty), plus his second wife Eliza and their six children, were soon transplanted to the beautiful Hill Country of Texas, where Henry bought 139 acres of land on the Colorado River, and commenced buying and selling stock.

Around 1856, Henry’s eighteen-year-old daughter, Allie, married widower John T. Malone, who lived nearby. Twenty-eight-year-old Malone, a master stonemason born in Ohio, was also a relative newcomer to Texas. John had lived in California and Missouri before making his way to Texas; in 1850, he mined for gold in El Dorado, CA. John, then, was well aware of heated national debates over whether slavery should be allowed to move into the western territories. That very year, California was admitted into the Union as a free state, following a bitter political battle between pro- and anti-slavery forces.

In 1860, as southern states moved toward secession, some of John T. Malone’s neighbors suspected that he and his father-in-law, Henry Flaugher, were not “sound” on the slavery issue. John was even accused in a court of law of having assisted slaves in escaping North. Although he was acquitted, threats and suspicions continued, causing him and Allie to flee Texas, first to Iowa, then to Washington Territory, by wagon train. It was late fall, and John left behind property, tools, and an uncollected payment on a stone mill he had built.

Allie’s father, Henry Flaugher, was expected to follow, but decided to wait until after his crop was in. The results of his fateful decision are seared in the memories of his descendants. One daughter and three granddaughters of Allie Flaugher Malone told essentially the same story: Henry Flaugher was taken prisoner by a group of men while fetching a bucket of water from the river. However, a letter written by Henry’s sister, Catherine Flaugher Wilson, on May 25, 1868, differs somewhat in details. Catherine claimed that Henry and a hired hand had gone into the timber woods for a load of wood. His wagon, she said, was found half loaded, but Henry was no where to be found. Family members later found the cave, with a gallows erected by the “REBELS,” and Henry’s body in the cave. While Catherine mentioned that some forty additional bodies were found in the cave, she did not claim they had been killed alongside her brother.

Catherine Flaugher Wilson’s 1868 description dovetails nicely with a story published in a 1941 issue of Frontier Times: “Disaster at Dead Man’s Hole,” by Walter Richter. Richter was writing the story of one Adolph Hoppe, but a secondary figure in this history was a “Mr. Flour,” surely the Henry Flaugher of this story. According to Richter, Hoppe and “Flour” were loading cedar posts in a wagon and had just started for home when they were halted by a ranger and a group of men. Accused of attending secret Union meetings, both men were “tried” on the spot, and “Mr. Flour”–but not Adolph Hoppe–was found “guilty” of Unionism. The ranger let Hoppe go, but left the man now believed to be Henry Flaugher in the hands of the vigilantes. For being in the company of a Unionist, however, Hoppe was pursued by the vigilantes as soon as the ranger went on his way. His body was recovered from the cave known as “Dead Man’s Hole” in 1866.

Although Hoppe rather than Flaugher was the subject of this essay, it seems clear that both men were murdered and dropped into the cave. The separate stories tell essentially the same story, and it is reasonable to assume the men met their fate together. What is not clear, however, is that 36 men were killed that same day. The story of Adolph Hoppe describes two men meeting their deaths at the hands of secessionist vigilantes. I suspect, and Betty Zimmerman concurs, that those 36 other dead men were probably victims of murders that took place throughout the Civil War, as pro- and anti-Confederates fought it out on Civil War home fronts. Like Catherine Wilson, Richter pointed out that many other bodies were found in the cave: “thousands of bones,” he reported, were brought up from “Dead Man’s Hole” in 1866.

My thanks to Betty Zimmerman for sharing this important Civil War story with us.

Vikki Bynum

Note: Walter Richter’s article, “Disaster at Dead Man’s Hole,” is from Frontier Times Magazine, vol. 18, No. 6, March 1941.

For more on this story, see “Dead Man’s Hole: The Murder of German Texan Unionist Adolph Hoppe in the Texas Hill Country

 

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A few days ago, the post “Life and Death of Davis Knight,” received a visit and comment from Deborah Jiang Stein. Noting that she has her own blog, I decided to check it out. I so liked what I read that I added her to the Renegade South blogroll.

I want especially to encourage those interested in multiracial issues to visit Deborah’s site (she also posts regularly on the Huffington Post). You’ll find her essays variously funny and sad, lighthearted and thought-provoking–a wonderful combination of irreverent thoughts and nurturing insights from a woman fully engaged with life.

Visit Musings for Mutts at  http://www.muttslikeme.wordpress.com

See also: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deborah-jiang-stein

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The Leaf River, where Newt Knight and his band of men hid out during the Civil War

The Leaf River, where Newt Knight and his band of men hid out during the Civil War

I recently received a message from William “Jeff” Knight (a descendant of Newt Knight’s brother Albert) that reminded me of how little I know about the geography of the Jones County area. As most of you know, or have figured out by now, I was not raised in Mississippi, although my Bynum ancestry is deeply rooted in Jones County.

Jeff’s remarks so intrigued me that I decided, with his permission, to post his descriptions and questions about artifacts and locations of Newt Knight’s Civil War world. The following are excerpts from his message to me. I hope readers will respond with their own observations (hand drawn maps are welcome!) about the area that Newt and his men occupied.

I was wondering where Newt’s hide out was. I do know that the picture that you have in your book, The Free State of Jones, of the Leaf River on the Covington Jones county line by Sullivan’s Hollow is about 100 yards or so from the ferry site. Up river from there in the swamp is a petrified log with all the names carved in it of the Knight band. Also there is a creek with a cave. The cave site was known as the Devils Den. I do not know where the cave is but I could find it if I could get a map of the area from that time.

My grandfather would talk to us about his uncle Newt. He as a young man knew him well. My father would tell us about things and places that were important to that time and before. Some of the things he told us about didn’t relate to Newt; like there was an oak tree in south Forrest County with Greek writing on it somewhere around Skull Fork. The tree had a large metal rod that went through the middle of it and it pointed to the ground. He also told us about Buffalo roaming on top of a very large hill just out side of Ellisville before the time Newt was in that area. In Eastabutchie, just south of Moselle, there is a Knight graveyard in the back of a man’s field by Farris Falls. I remember snake hunting with my brothers and walking by the site. There were three old home sites there. Also south of there, there is another graveyard where my brother is buried that has Knights buried in it from the Civil War. To the south of that graveyard is what I believe to be a slave graveyard. To the east of where my brother is buried is a graveyard where a black Confederate solder is buried. In the Eastabutchie swamp there are 5 to 10 union cannons in the water. That is where Confederate solders pushed them after a fight. Eastabutchie I was always told was named that due to it being called East Of The Butchery.

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james-a-keith-reward1

One of the grisliest mass murders of Southern Unionists occurred in 1863 in Madison County, North Carolina. Popularly known as the “Shelton Laurel Massacre,” this Civil War story was told by the late historian, Philip Paludan, in his moving book, Victims: A True Story of the Civil War (1981). Robert Moore revisited the story on Southern Unionist Chronicles in 2008, and you can also find detailed descriptions of the murders on the Southern Unionist Forum hosted by Genforum.

Back in 1983, while researching my first book, Unruly Women, at the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh, I transcribed and copied several documents detailing this case that I would like to share with you.  In the Governors’ Papers, for example, I found S. A. Merrimon’s report of Feb. 24, 1863, to Governor Zebulon Vance. Merrimon told Vance that at least 13 men and boys were taken into the woods, made to kneel down, and shot to death on the mere suspicion that they had participated in a robbery in the town of Marshall. Three of the murdered “men” were described as 13, 14, and 15 years old. Merrimon added that “several women were severely whipped and ropes were tied around their necks.”

The man who ordered the murders was Lt Col. James A. Keith of the same county. In his defense, Keith claimed that Brigadier General Henry Heth had directed him to kill the Madison County Unionists and deserters, to take no prisoners, and to file “no reports” of the matter. Heth responded that he had advised Keith to take no prisoners only in the event that there was an “engagement” between forces, but denied that he had authorized maltreatment of prisoners, women, or children. (Some believe that Gen’l Heth was indeed complicit.)

The Governors’ Papers also contain a petition signed a few months later, on May 1863, by eleven Shelton Laurel women who requested that Gov. Vance appropriate money for them to buy provisions, “being as we will be bound to suffer on account of [Confederate] troops eating up all our provisions & killing our men and property and destroying the country.” The women included seven with the surname Shelton–Judah, Sarah, Marthy Jane, Rachel, Elizabeth, Polly, and Margaret–as well as Rody Hall, Nancy King, Liney Norton, and Emeline Riddle.

Efforts to prosecute James A. Keith dragged on for years. You can clearly see Sheriff S.G. Brigman’s frustration and desperation to apprehend Keith in the two letters he wrote to Provost Marshal Edward W. Hinks on September 18, 1867 (the letters are quoted below). Those letters apparently resulted at long last in Keith’s arrest on several counts of murder.  On February 22, 1869, however, Keith escaped from the Buncombe County Jail along with two other prisoners (see reward notice, above). Keith was never recaptured. But even had he not escaped, President Andrew Johnson’s Amnesty Act of 1868 caused all charges against him to be dropped.

[Excerpt from letter #1 from Sheriff S.G. Brigman to Provost Marshal Edward Hinks]:

Col: In compliance with your request endorsement Sept. 3, 1867 I have the honor to make the following report of James A. Keith – He is full six feet high, Dk hair, and very heavy black beard, generally wears his beard long,–weighs 180 to 185 lbs,–rather slow spoken but very intelligent and well posted on matters of history, etc.—was in the Mexican War and practicing physical while in this county. Age, about 43 or 45 and, while talking or interrogated, keeps one eye shut. The said James A. Keith was at one time a Col in the Rebel Army but was dismissed for robbery, murder, and a general plunder. He then organized a band of robbers and went about plundering & murdering on his own hood. He remained in the county (Madison Co) until about the time of the surrender, when he left and went to Greenville Dist., South Carolina, where he now lives.—Keith formerly lived in this County, in fact he has lived here all his life until he left about the [time of the] surrender. He bought the farm formerly owned by Col. L. M. Allen on South Tiger River 3 miles or 6 miles from Weavers old factory .— He bought this farm with property stolen from this country   —.

                His residence is 18 miles from Greenville C.H. North near the Spartanburg Dist. Line, not very far from the foot of Blue Ridge – Near a road leading from Henderson, N.C. to Spartanburg C. H., S. C.— Lives in a nice small white house [with] a portico in front, stables, and out houses below, stairway going up in center. It appears from the statement that the officer who made the search did not go near the directions, as this man Keith who he arrested lived in Pickens Dist., while James A. Keith lives near the Spartanburg line, the opposite direction. South Tiger River is very noted and he lives ¼ of a mile of said river. This same man Keith was seen but a few weeks ago lurking in this county and is well known and feared by every man in Western Carolina.

                Keith has a wife and one or two small children, his wife’s maiden name was Jones and lived in Tenn – Keith was [arrested?] one time before the war for forging a Bank Check.

                Keith’s Post Office is Travellers Rest.—I forwarded you last Mail affidavits of his guilt and Certificates of Clerks. I have capias, State warrants, and all manner of papers against Keith. He would likely be very easily arrested now, but soon he will commence his  ramble of plunder.

                If anything further is required of me you will advise me of the same.

                                                I am Col Very Respectfully

                                                Your Obdt Servant

                                                S. G. Brigman

                                                Sheriff of Madison Co., N.C.

[Excerpt from letter #2]:

I have the honor to forward affidavits of Several persons in regard to James A. Keith murdering several union men in this county. I can if you require send more than fifty affidavits of this kind. There are several true bills against him in the courts of this county for murder and one for arson for burning Thos. S. Denver’s mills long after the surrender. The said James A. Keith . . . intended to burn and destroy every union man in the county –commencing on T. S. Denver, a leading union man.—Denver has again rebuild his mills at the cost of several thousand dollars. Keith has since been seen lurking about and has said they should not stand long. I have had capias and papers against him and have them now but he is [beyond?] our search. If Keith could be arrested and brought to the county there is sufficient charges against him to hang 500 men.

S.G. Brigman, Sheriff of Madison Co., N.C.

                                                               

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By Vikki Bynum

In 1998, I published an article on Davis Knight’s miscegenation trial in The Journal of Southern History (Vol. LXIV, No. 2, May 1998). Subsequently, I included his story in my book The Free State of Jones (2001). Davis, the great-grandson of Newt and Serena Knight, was also the great-grandson of Rachel Knight, a former slave of Newt’s grandfather. Because of his slave ancestor, Davis was convicted in 1948 for having crossed the color line when he married Junie Lee Spradley, a white woman.

The case is significant because the Mississippi State Supreme Court remanded Davis’s case in 1949 on grounds that the lower court did not prove that Davis had 1/8th or more African ancestry. Legally, regardless of custom, the “one drop rule” did not determine one’s racial identity. Davis thus avoided going to prison for having married across the color line (a crime in several states until 1967). For the rest of his life, he lived as a white man.

It turned out, however, that the rest of Davis’s life would be quite short, as was the marriage that he suffered to defend in court. Some years ago, Ken Welch of Soso, MS, provided me copies of Davis’s divorce and death records. They show that in 1954, five years after his Supreme Court victory, Davis sued Junie Lee for divorce on grounds she had abandoned their home in 1951. The couple had no children, and Davis claimed that Junie Lee had given birth to another man’s child during their separation. The marriage was officially dissolved on July 20, 1954.

Soon after, Davis moved to Channelview, Texas (near Houston), where in 1959 he would lose his life in a fishing accident. Before that tragic day, Davis married for a second time, to Evelyn (Evie) Wilburn, and worked as a painter’s helper for Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation. When I interviewed Ethel Knight (author of Echo of the Black Horn) in 1992, she told me that Davis had abandoned Junie Lee for a rich, white, older woman who lived in Texas. If Davis’s divorce testimony is to be believed, however, it was Junie Lee who left him. And while his new wife, Evie, was fourteen years older than him, and white, I have found no evidence that she was rich. Evie had been twice divorced, and had two sons, Joel G. Hill, age 31, and James W. McDonald, 24, who were closer in age than she to her new husband.

On the morning Davis Knight died, he had just embarked on a fishing trip at the Sheldon Reservoir with his stepson, Joel. According to Joel, he first waded and floated out to a small island where the two men intended to fish. Davis followed, carrying his fishing rod and wearing a life preserver. As he entered into deeper water, the preserver slipped upward and he was momentarily submerged, causing him to panic and thrash about. Several fisherman came to his aid, but by then Davis had been under the water for 3 to 5 minutes and could not be revived. An autopsy ruled his death an accidental drowning.

Davis’s Texas death certificate described him as a 34-year-old white man. Although the Mississippi Supreme Court had granted him the same status, the “one drop rule” of race meant that most people who knew his roots would never accept him as white. So, like many kinfolk before him, Davis escaped the dangers and degradation of being labeled a “black” man by leaving the state. For him, that escape proved all too brief.

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For those of you interested in learning more about the role played by Harmon Levi Sumrall in the Free State of Jones, please visit Robert Moore’s  Southern Unionists Chronicles .  There, I have posted and analyzed excerpts from depositions provided by H.L. Sumrall on behalf of Newt Knight for the U.S. Court of Claims in 1890 and 1895.

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