Mississippi

Origins of “Jones County Jubilee”

Many readers have written to tell me how much they enjoy listening to “Jones County Jubilee,” over on my Free State of Jones website. The song is performed by Doctor G and the Mudcats, and was written by Doctor G himself, aka Gregg Andrews. Gregg, who wrote the following post, is a historian as well as singer/songwriter, and has published numerous books and articles, including his own community study, City of Dust: A Cement Company Town in the Land of Tom Sawyer (Univ. of Missouri Press, 1996). I’m proud to note that Gregg is also my husband.

Vikki Bynum

The Origins of “Jones County Jubilee”

By Gregg Andrews

As a singer/songwriter, historian, and teacher, I like to use music as a teaching tool to reach students. I grew up in a cement company town just outside Hannibal, Missouri–Mark Twain’s boyhood home–on the banks of the Mississippi River. My father, who drilled holes and set dynamite charges in the cement plant’s limestone quarries, died at the age of 48, but he taught me to play the guitar shortly before he died. I was 15 years old at the time. The first song I learned from him was Jimmy Rodgers’s Depression-era “Waiting for a Train.” That song about hard times symbolized the cultural legacy he passed on to me–a love of traditional country music and the blues, along with a deep interest in the struggles and culture of working people. A few years later, I discovered the exciting music of Tony Joe White and Credence Clearwater Revival, which added a swamp vibe to the mix of influences on my music.

My song, “Jones County Jubilee,” had its roots in the first trip I made with Vikki to Jones County, Mississippi, on a hot August day in 1992. I was driving our car, trying unsuccessfully  to find a local landmark in the area. When I spotted a guy in his truck out in the field, I pulled over and suggested that Vikki get out of the car and walk over to ask him for directions. He told her to have me pull the car up in the shade and motioned he’d join us there in a few minutes.

The next thing we knew, we were in the truck with Julius Huff, who took us to the Jackie Knight cemetery, where several members of Newton Knight’s band of Unionists were buried after being hanged by Confederate forces. I got my first good feel of Jones County history, folklore, and culture as he got a key to unlock the gate guarding the bumpy old road down into the swamp. I still remember the chills running up and down my spine when I saw the tombstone inscription, “Executed for the courage of their convictions.” Looking back, I think that was the starting point for my song, even though I didn’t write it til years later.

Mass gravestone of Knight kinfolk executed by Col. Robert Lowry, Jackie Knight cemetery

Mass gravestone of Knight kinfolk executed by Col. Robert Lowry, Jackie Knight cemetery

We spent delightful hours with Julius, who stressed how beautiful Rachel was, how she “HOO-DOOED” Newt. Julius took us to a number of other places and gave his views on the history of Newt’s campaign against local Confederate officials during the war. We picked our way through the thick brush and kept an eye out for snakes as he showed us where Ben Knight and Sil Coleman were hanged after Confederate hound dogs had tracked them down. After Ben’s executioners refused his last request for water, according to folklore, water began to bubble up near his grave.

One other experience on that first trip to Jones County, in particular, helped to establish the feel of “Jones County Jubilee.” It was Earle Knight who rode with Vikki and me as we tried to locate the cemetery where Newt and Rachel are buried. Earle, who was 89 years old at the time, strained his eyes as I drove our new Ford Taurus down what had once been a pretty primitive dirt road. As I maneuvered the car to straddle washed-out gullies and drove through weeds that came up over the hood of the car, I started having second thoughts about just what in the hell we were doing. I mean, here we were, down in the swamp, dependent on the memory of an 89-year-old man who hadn’t even been to the cemetery in years. The rumble of thunder off in the distance added tension and a bit of urgency to our search for the graves. Then, at one point, Earle asked me to stop. Telling us to stay in the car, he got out and in a few minutes suddenly vanished in the brush. Oh, great, I told Vikki! What if he’d have a heart attack or something out there searching in the sweltering heat? Besides, the old road had taken so many twists and turns and the weeds were so high that we’d never find him or our way out of there. About that time, Earle reappeared and summoned us. He’d found the graves. “Praise the Lord,” I think I muttered at the time.

Separate photos of Newt and Rachel's graves, Newt Knight Cemetery

Separate photos of Newt and Rachel’s graves, Newt Knight Cemetery

Over the next ten summers, I served as Vikki’s research assistant as we became familiar faces to many in the Jones County area, especially to members of the Knight family. In particular, Florence Blaylock opened her house to us, prepared fantastic meals, introduced us to members of the Knight family, and took us with her to services of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. In Jackson, the owners of a local restaurant (Martins, if I remember right) near the old Mississippi Department of History and Archives greeted us by name each summer, giving us free pieces of pie after we had filled up on their delicious cafeteria-style food.

I didn’t set out to write a song about the Civil War history of Jones County. I had never even thought about it, in fact, but one day years later when I sat down with my guitar to write something with a good swamp feel, out came the words “way down in Mississippi.” And then it just flowed. I wanted to title the song, “Free State of Jones,” but when I did a google search, I discovered a great song by Cary Hudson, of Sumrall, Mississippi, that already had that name. That’s when I became first acquainted with the music of Cary and his band, Blue Mountain. What a treat when, a few years later, Vikki and I got to hear Cary perform the song at Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, Texas, while he was on a Texas tour. About 7 months later, Cary and I did a show together at Cheatham Street, and he quickly became one of my own favorite songwriters.

Cary Hudson on harmonica with Doctor G and the Mudcats, Cheatham Street Warehouse, San Marcos, TX

Cary Hudson on harmonica with Doctor G and the Mudcats, Cheatham Street Warehouse, San Marcos, TX

“Jones County Jubilee” soon became popular among fans (including many pro-Confederates) as I began to perform it with my band, Doctor G and the Mudcats, here in south central Texas. We included it on my CD, Mudcat (Cheatham Street Records), which was produced by Kent Finlay and released in September, 2005.

Gregg Andrews (Doctor G)

San Marcos, Texas

 

24 replies »

  1. Dr G.

    Only sorry that our paths didn’t cross when you were a student at UCSD in 1982-83. So sorry that Vikki and I have never met face to face either. Perhaps someday……

    In addition to be the proud owner of Vikki’s two books, I also LOVE your Jones Co Jubilee musical contribution!!! Better even that Credence Clearwater Revival music. Who knew ithis would ever be possible? The Newton Knight story in itself is a fascinating tale. And to put this story to music ever better! Thank you! Thank you!

    Since I added this to my “favorites”, I never log on without hearing Dr G and his Mudcats before signing off. So if I log on three or more times a day, as I sometimes do, well, that’s how often I enjoy the music of Dr G doing his blue grass best.

    Warmest regards,

    (another) Vikky …….Please note, I arrived on the planet first. Thus, I was also the first to be so named. I hope this counts for something. Probably not. (I hate it when this happens)

    • I should add to Vikky Anders’s post that she and I first “met” via the genforums when I was researching Free State of Jones. Vikky is descended from the Wilburn/Welborn lines, so she might have a very distant connection to Newt’s wife, Serena, whose grandmother was a Welborn (Ruth Welborn, who married Williams Duckworth).

      Vikki

  2. Hey, Vikky–I’m sorry, too, that our paths didn’t cross at UCSD. Glad you like the way the Mudcats and I put the Jones County story to music–a good down and dirty sound with a spooky feel. I understand your roots are in Jones Co., too. Thanks for getting multiple daily fixes of my song. Hope we get a chance to meet.

  3. Thank you, Dr. G! I, too, am a fan of Jones County Jubilee, having recently downloaded it onto my iPod. Both it and your story here evoke the eerie, suffocating stillness of the swamps. Thanks again for taking me there.

  4. Hi Dr G. Vikki too,

    I have good news and bad newss to share. First let me start with the bad news. Nope! I’m not related to the Welborns who also settled into Jones Co MS. Different emigrant Welborn/Wilburn line. It took me years to disprove myself. Once I did, DNA tests verified that FINALLY I got this right.

    Now for the good news! (At least in some quarters.) Barack Obama shares a consanguineous relationship with the Jones Co MS Welborn families.

    Unfortunately,since being elected President, Obama hasn’t done anything right. For starters, he got the wrong dog. It gets worse. He has allowed Michelle to bare arms. Just the other day while watching the news, I discovered that Michelle was wearing shorts. This upset me so much that I ran from the room, stubbing my toe in the process. And it really hurt! Again, Obama’s fault for my pain. I voted for him, too. What was I thinking?

    BTW, I loved the gravesite run episode. Very compelling. Who doesn’t love a good story?

    I would STRONGLY encourage a documentary about Newt Knight & company. Naturally, the the twangy great sounds of Dr G and his Mudcats would render this project a hit! Perfect for PBS. Calling Ken Burns……

    Vikky (Wilburn) Anders (Note here:) I am also of mixed heritage. Half Californian and half Appalachia Kentuckian. That should explain everything.

  5. Hi Dr. G,

    I just finished listening to Jones County Jubilee.

    You got it. That’s it. You captured in music the swamp and bloody moon and stifling suffocating heat of the deep south.

    I live in the part of Florida that is full of swampland and big oaks with Spanish moss hanging off of them and huge alligators sunning themselves on logs when you boat down a pitch black river, so I know a little about it.

    Hey, I have even been called a “conjure women” myself (really!!) for sitting in sweat lodges with my Cherokee and Seminole friends, and for practicing owl medicine, so I can relate to Rachel Knight.

    One question Dr. G: are you now proclaiming yourself an expert on the history of Jones County, Mississippi, or do you leave that area of expertise to the professional historian, your wife? On second thought, don’t bother to answer that. I think I know the answer, even though I have not met either you or Vikki. I would be willing to wager that you know the difference between art and history.

    All kidding aside, it is truly nice to meet you, Gregg. The song is terrific!

    Sherree

  6. Vikki,

    Maybe you should, lol. If you do, let me know, and I’ll join you. Until then, I’ll be hiding out in the swamp with Newt’s ghost and the rest of the gang! Sherree, aka conjure woman

  7. HEY YOU GUYS! I TOO, LOVE YOUR MUSIC, DR G. AND THE MUDCATS.
    I LIKE THE TITLE OF YOUR GROUP. I CAN JUST IMAGINE THOSE OL’ MUDCATS WHOOSHING AROUND IN THE MUD.

    I LOVE RENEGADE SOUTH! WHY? ‘COS I LOVE THE IDEA OF RENEGADES.
    THE WORDS THAT YOU USE, VIKKI, -UNRULY WOMEN-
    I CAN’T WAIT TO READ YOUR BOOKS.
    WHERE CAN I OBTAIN THEM IN AUSTRALIA?

    I AM STILL EXCITED ABOUT FINDING THE KNIGHT- AINSWORTH-SMITH CONNECTION AND THE HESTERS HAVE A TWIG ON THE TREE TOO, I THINK.

    TAKE CARE, BOTH OF YOU. LEA

    • Thanks from both Gregg and me, Lea! I so hope that the leads you now have for making Ainsworth connections across the ocean prove fruitful.

      My books can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or directly from the University of North Carolina Press.

  8. Tim,

    Newt Knight’s grave is located within his family cemetery, which is located on private property. My husband, Gregg, and I were taken to the Newt Knight cemetery by the late Earle Knight, who obtained permission and a gate key from the owner of the land on which it is located. Because it is a private cemetery, I do not feel it is my place to publish its location.

    Vikki

    • Where any of the whitehead brothers buried there or do you have any pics of John”Jackie” Knight’s tombstones and do you know where Mary Ann Knight and husband John Whitehead are buried. I am kin through their youngest son George Whitehead which was my great-great-great-grandfather.
      Thanks,
      Curtis

      • Hello, Curtis, it’s nice to meet you. John Thomas Whitehead, son of Mary Ann Knight and John Whitehead, is buried in the Jackie Knight cemetery. There is a triple headstone there that is marked with his name (he is misidentified as T.H. Whitehead), and also those of Sil Coleman, and Thomas Yates (Ates). The headstone says that the men were “buried here in unmarked graves,” and that they were “summarily executed by the Confederate cavalry during the War Between the States because of their honest convictions.”

        I will post a photograph of the gravestone (which is reproduced in my book, The Free State of Jones), as soon as possible. I’ll also check my notes and see if I have any information on the burial spots of Mary Ann and John Whitehead.

        Meanwhile, I invite readers to contribute additional information on the Whiteheads for Curtis.

        Thanks for your comment,
        Vikki

  9. Being nosey, I checked into my Family Treemaker database. I knew that I had one Whitehead entry. Okay, no leads there. So I went on to the Whitehead genforum. On a hunch, I punched in the name Welborn and found this post. “George F Whithead b c 1837 m Elizabeth Ann Welborn” from Covington Co MS. By applying the “duck theory”, I am assuming that these Whitehead and Welborn families of Covington MS are related to the Jones Co MS families of same surnames.

    I do so love this blog.

    Vikky (Wilburn) Anders

  10. I am confused the George Whitehead I am kin to is the youngest son of Mary Ann Knight and John Whitehead, according to his tombstone he was born November, 1852 and died on November 30, 1928. George Whitehead married Nancy Ellen Chain who was born November 1851 and died on January 22, 1930. And renegadesouth, you have listed on Appendix I under John “Jackie” Knight and Keziah Davis desendents Marry and Knight married John Whitehead having seven children, the youngest being George (b. 1852) on page 192 of The Free State of Jones

    • Hmmm, certainly sounds like Vikky Anders’s George Whitehead is not yours. I will check files for another George, although there aren’t that many Whiteheads in Covington County.

      Vikki

  11. My most sincere apologies. I merely meant to SUGGEST that George F Whitehead who married Elizabeth Ann Welborn was related to the Whitehead families of Jones Co MS and that Elizabeth Ann Welborn of Covington MS was also kin to the Welborn families who settled in Jones Co MS. Chances are good (to my mind,) that Ernest Welborn Whitehead who while living in OK, during World War 1, listed his birthdate as April 28 1891, is also related. Albeit distantly.

    This

    • I caused the confusion, Vikky, by proclaiming your find a “match” without checking my files (or my own book!). I have since found your George F. Whitehead in my files, however. He was the son of William and Ali Whitehead, and he appears in their household in the 1850 census for Covington Co., MS.

      His father, William Whitehead, was one of three brothers: John, Riley, and William, who were the sons of Daniel Whitehead.
      Thus, Curtis’s ancestor George was the first cousin of this George F. Whitehead.

      I’m sorry, Curtis, for the confusion that my hasty reply caused!

      Vikki

  12. Thanks! As you can tell I’m fairly new on my geneology esp. this part of my family. They did not talk about their ancestors. I thank both of for your help, and I try to unravel my families history.
    Curtis

  13. Is there anyone who can tell me who to contact to see the Jackie Knight cemetary. My email is curtdawg1985@hotmail.com. I drove and drove on where I believe the cemetary is located yesterday, so undoubtedly it is off of the main road behind one of those iron gates. Thanks ahead of time for your input. The locals had never heard of it.

    • Curtis, I wish I could help you. Almost twenty years ago, when Gregg and I were searching for the land once owned by Newt Knight’s parents, we ran into Julius Huff, who was working in his field. When Julius learned that I was working on a history of the Free State of Jones, he took us to the Jackie Knight cemetery (and also to Ben Knight’s grave). Not being familiar with the area at that time, I have no idea how we got there. I do know that he had to use a key to open the gate to the land where the cemetery was located, and that in 1992, it was owned by a lumber company.

      Hopefully a reader will supply more precise information.

      Vikki

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