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Archive for October, 2009

When Steve Tatum recently contacted me about his Knight ancestors (see here), I assumed we would quickly locate a link between his branch and that of Jones County. There were two key similarities: the appearance of the name “Newton,” as in Joseph Newton Knight, and the intermarriage of this Knight with Rebecca Jenkins, a woman of mixed ethnic ancestry.

The photo that Steve sent certainly gave me pause; it wasn’t Jones County’s Newt and Rachel, but it was eerily suggestive of them:

Rebecca Jenkins and Joseph Newton Knight

Rebecca Jenkins and Joseph Newton Knight

In fact, however, Yvonne Bivins and I have searched our records and found no links between this Tennessee couple and the multiracial Knights of Jones County, Mississippi (specifically Newton and Rachel Knight). Nevertheless, the similarities are intriguing, and I am posting Steve’s information on his family in hopes that Knight family historians from near and far might recognize a link to their own ancestry and volunteer more information about these particular Knights.

The following are Steve’s own words about his ancestors:

All I know is that when my grandmother, Bradie (Knight) went to Red Boiling Springs (Macon County), Tennessee, she made mention of a relation to her father (Walter Houston Knight). The name she mentioned was “Newt” Knight. I thought that was an odd name until I understood later that it was short for “Newton”; this was long before any research or information was available on the Internet.

“Newt” & Rebecca Knight were the parents of Walter Houston Knight who was my paternal grandmother’s father. I remember standing by my great grandfather (Walter’s) bedside when I was a young boy, we called him “Pappy” Knight. (Walter H. Knight was born in 1880, married to Pennsylvania Piper (Knight) b. 6 Apr 1874 -d. 26 Dec 1939.

My grandmother was so dark skinned with her olive complexion, that we used to question her a lot about it and she would always say that her family was always called “Black Dutch.” I always suspected that she had either Native American or African American ancestry or a combination of the two. Which would all make sense if she is indeed from the Joseph Newton Knight line. She always made mention of her first true love being a “Gypsy” boy, which would have been taboo in a traditional southern “white” family in those days.

 This mix of races could also be the very reason that it is difficult to find any written records as well. I know that many would attempt to conceal any interracial mix in the early days, particularly in the “old south” unless it was to their advantage to be connected with those of a different race, This still stands true today with some of the older folks there.

I know in some cases, for example, African-Americans marrying a Native American would mean they automatically became “free persons of color”, so there was probably much of that going on between the Blacks, Cherokee, Choctaw, etc.

Walter Knight, photo courtesy of Steve Tatum

Walter Houston Knight, photo courtesy of Steve Tatum

If any of  you recognize this line and have additional information or insights to offer, please consider adding a comment!

Vikki

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Amos Deason Home, site of Maj. Amos McLemore's murder, Ellisville, MS. Photo by Victoria Bynum

Amos Deason Home, site of Maj. Amos McLemore's murder, Ellisville, MS. Photo by Victoria Bynum

 There’s an interesting new blog, Across and Back, written by “Red,” a descendant of Amos McLemore who recently made an odyssey to her ancestral home of Jones County, Mississippi, to learn more about the fate of her kinfolk.

The murder of Confederate Major Amos McLemore on October 5, 1863, allegedly by Newt Knight and two of his accomplices, is famous for being the opening shot–literally–for a band of Confederate deserters’ and Unionists’ insurrection against the Confederacy. Major McLemore was visiting the home of Confederate Rep. Amos Deason when intruders entered the home and shot him dead. The reason? McLemore’s efforts to round up local deserters. Shortly thereafter, on October 13, the Knight Company was born, with Newt Knight elected its captain.

That story has been repeated over and over, but the story of what happened to the McLemores after his murder has never been told–hence, Red’s trip back home to try and recover that hazy past. Give Across and Back a visit–you might see someone you know!

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Last month, Renegade South posted a query from Lea Worth, an Austrialian Ainsworth seeking to link her international ancestors to the American Ainsworths.  Then, just a few days ago, I received the following email from Glenn McNeil via my Renegade South Website:

Sampson J. Ainsworth is my Third Great-Grandfather. His daughter Arenna Renee married William McNeil who I think was conscripted in the Civil War. He is the Mystery Man my Family has been searching for for years. He lived near Taylorsville, Ms. Help!!

Lea Worth and Glenn McNeil’s questions stimulated me to read further into the history of the Ainsworth family.  Consulting the research of Ainsworth descendants, including Shirley Pieratt of Texas and Gerald Johnson of Mississippi, reveals that the 19th century Ainsworths, who swept across the American Southwestern frontier from South Carolina to Texas, were an integral part of the settlement process. Some mixed their lines with Choctaw Indians and multiracial slaves of Indian, African, and European heritage.  According to Shirley, the frontier Ainsworths were:

“an engaging lot of kinfolk: slaveowning entrepreneurs, hard-scrabble farmers, a country schoolteacher, Choctaws, blacks, put-upon women of all races, two county judges, an accountant  for a race track, Sam Houston’s nemesis, a justice of the peace-sheriff-preacher—and a rogue medicine-show man.”

[Shirley Insall Pieratt, frontispiece, The Ainsworth-Collins Clan in Texas, 1838, 2004.]

I have had the good fortune to meet and correspond with both Shirley Pieratt and Gerald Johnson. Back in 1998, Gerald provided me with my most important insights into the Unionist branch of the Welborn family for my book The Free State of Jones. Although he mentioned his research on the Ainsworths to me, they did not fit into the story I was telling at that time.  Only later did I recognize the Ainsworths’ importance to the history of the Southwestern frontier (as well as to the postwar Knight family, as Yvonne Bivins has shown).

My knowledge of the Ainsworths increased substantially after I contacted Shirley in 2004 on the advice of Gerald. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet this preeminent historian of the Texas branch of the Ainsworth family. Shirley and I shared lunch in the small town of Buda, Texas, midway between her home in Austin and mine in San Marcos. We had a great time together,  eating chicken and dumplings while making connections between the Texas and Mississippi Ainsworths and the Ainsworths and Collinses families (Collinses who were related to none other than Stacy Collins–it’s a small world!)

Knowing that I was working on a new book, Shirley generously gave me several Ainsworth files. So, after hearing from both Lea Worth and Glenn McNeil, I returned to those files. I knew that Shirley’s book included material on Sampson Ainsworth, and I eagerly searched for some mention of William McNeil. Alas, no luck, although the book does list Arenna as one of the many children of Sampson and Ann Ainsworth (p. 110). 

While searching for McNeil, I was delighted to discover that Shirley’s files contained excerpts from broader works on the Ainsworths.  For example, it contained the front page of Francis J. Parker’s  Genealogy of the Ainsworth Family in America, (1894), which refers to the Ainsworths of Lancashire and contains a drawing of the very coat of arms described by Lea.

I also found excerpts from the April 1991 issue of the genealogical newsletter, Ainsworth Trading Post,  which featured an article on the origins of Ainsworths who settled in American and elsewhere. It’s interesting that Lea described her GG grandfather, Thomas Hargreaves Ainsworth, born in Lancashire, as having established a cotton weaving school and factory in the Dutch town of Goor, because this article identified the Lancashire Ainsworths as “engaged in a wide variety of industrial and commercial occupations, predominantly in bleaching and the manufacture of textiles.”  The economic importance of the English Industrial Revolution to the Ainsworths seems clear, then, although the ancestral names provided by Lea don’t appear in this essay. 

How interesting that the American Ainsworths would be so identified with the raw frontier of America, in contrast to their European kin! One wonders if the Americans represent a branch of the family that deliberately rejected the industrializing world, or one that simply failed to make good as entrepreneurs during those tumultuous, insecure economic times of change.

Having gotten this far and failing to find definite answers to Lea and Glenn’s questions, I hope that other Ainsworth researchers will chime in. Perhaps there are non-American researchers who can help link the Ainsworths across the oceans. Or perhaps someone has information on Arenna’s husband, the elusive William O’Neil. If so, we’d love to hear from you.

Vikki Bynum

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