Multiracial Families/Communities

Which Newt Knight is this?

Newton Knight or Joseph Newton Knight?

by Vikki Bynum

Steve Tatum  recently sent me the above photograph in which he identified the bearded old man as his ancestor, Joseph Newton “Newt” Knight of Tennessee. This Newt Knight, readers may remember from my earlier post, married Rebecca Jenkins, a Native American woman, and never lived in Mississippi, He had no apparent connection to Newt Knight of Mississippi, leader of the “Knight Company,” the notorious Civil War guerrilla band that fought against the Confederacy in the infamous Free State of Jones.

The problem is that the old man in this photo has also been identified as Mississippi’s Newt Knight! I first encountered a poorly-produced photocopy of this photograph around 1992 while searching through folders contained in the genealogy files of the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. I chose not to use the picture in my book, The Free State of Jones, because its quality was so poor and because there was no donor listed from whom to seek permission.

I next saw the photograph in The State of Jones (Doubleday 2009), where authors John Stauffer and Sally Jenkins identified its subjects as Mississippi’s Newt Knight and John Howard Knight, son of former slave George Ann Knight and, allegedly, Newt Knight. I should add that while several Knight researchers agree that this is a picture of Mississippi’s Newt Knight, there is disagreement over the identity of the boy standing behind the old man. Yvonne Bivins believes that John Howard Knight, born in 1875, would have been much older than the boy pictured here at the time the photo was taken. More likely,  she believes, that boy is a grandson of Newt Knight.

But now we have an unrelated branch of Knights claiming that this is in fact their ancestor. How did this happen? Could it be that the photo was reproduced on the internet, and then discovered by a member of the Joseph Newton Knight family who understandably assumed it was their Newt Knight, standing with one of his Native American descendants? I honestly don’t know. As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, historians are often at the mercy of their donors when it comes to identifying subjects of photographs.

Steve Tatum notes that the Tennessee Newt Knight strongly resembles the old man in the picture, and so he does. But so also does the Mississippi Newt Knight, whose photo is below that of Joseph Newton Knight, bear a strong a resemblance to the same man. I wonder if any readers have an original copy of the photo of the older Newt Knight with the young boy standing behind him, or additional photos of the boy that might in turn verify whether he was a member of either the Tennessee or Mississippi Knight family.

In any case, this is yet another lesson of the difficulty of identifying photo subjects, particularly with the ease of exchange and reproduction made possible by the Internet.

Rebecca Jenkins and Joseph Newton Knight of Tennessee, courtesy of Steve Tatum

10 replies »

  1. You may have heard of the genealogy-tracing NBC program “Who Do You Think You Are?” A program like that, concentrating on Southerners, would be revolutionary. So many Southern whites have been taught that glorification of the Confederacy is essential to their identity and regional pride. Southern mores (such as glorification of the Confederacy) can only really be defeated by other Southern mores. Love of family is one.

  2. A.D.,

    Yes, I agree. The tracing of one’s genealogical past, with attention to the actual documented histories of one’s forebears, has revolutionary potential. So much of what we “know” about our past is mythic–designed to justify present policies and beliefs, and mystified by generations of retelling among families.

    I have encountered many, many folks who have been transformed in their thinking about the past after discovering ancestors who believed and behaved in ways they had never fathomed. And, yes, love of family plays an important role in transcending nostalgic sentiment in favor of discovering hidden pasts.

    Vikki

  3. Loving the posts and photos! I’m not entirely sure of the exact lineage, but I know that I’m a decendent of Newt Knight, my mother’s maiden name is Knight, her father was Curt Knight, and we still own about 100 acres in Laurel, or Jones County, on Knight’s Circle. I’m really interested in learning more about the history, do you have any suggested reading?

    • Dear Jessica: I am also a decendant of Newton Knignt. My mother’s maiden name is Knight and her father was the grandson of Newton Knight. Our family has been researched to death and there are muliplte theories on how we all came to be. My mother an father had retired back to the family land in Soso Mississippi.

      Newton Knight had two lines of decendants: One with Rachel (Mullato) and one with Serena (White). I am a decendant of Rachel. I am not sure which line you are a member of, but over the last 15 years or so, we have met many decendants of both lines. My cousin Sondra is the family historian and has much information on both lines.

      My mother and others met Ethel Knight before she died and Vickie. NPR actually came to our last reunion and was very interested in our history.

      There is a Knight family reunion in Soso Mississipp every other year and there is one this year. It starts July 14th and runs through the 17th.

      I hope that this is helpful.

      • Thanks for your informative comment, Linda. Newt Knight has a third line of descent as well, doesn’t he? That would be through George Anne, Rachel’s daughter.

        Vikki

  4. Hi Jessica,

    Thanks for your comment; I’m pleased that you are enjoying this site.

    As for what to read on the history of the Jones County Knights, you could begin with my book, The Free State of Jones! There’s also Tom Knight’s bio of Newt and Ethel Knight’s Echo of the Black Horn. There are some good genealogies as well: Earle Knight, et al, on the John “Jackie” Knight family; Ken Welch and Jan Sumrall, Knights and Related Families. On the legend of the Free State of Jones, see Rudy Leverett. My new book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, also includes several essays on the Knights and the Free State of Jones. Sally Jenkins’s and John Stauffer’s State of Jones is an exciting read, but filled with errors and exaggerations.

    Vikki

  5. Dr. Bynum,
    I grew up in Jones County in the Indian Springs community. I haven’t lived there for more than 15 years, but still have strong ties there. My grandmother was a Knight and the first to tell me stories about Newt and his men. I read Echo of the Black Horn as a child, and even had Aunt Ethel sign of copy for me at one of our reunions. I haven’t thought about the book for several years, but find it fascinating that there’s so much new information about the Free State of Jones available now. I always believed it to be only of interest to Mississippians. I’m glad to see the history is being more deeply researched. I’ve just ordered a copy of your book and am looking forward to reading it. My grandmother always said we were not directly related to Newt. I didn’t understand that since we attended reunions with his descendants. Can you tell me where to find the family tree? My great, great grandparents were Champenois and Vernetti Windham Knight. I believe Aunt Ethel married my great grandfather’s brother. My gg name was Snowy Drift Knight. Have you run across them in any of your research or can you tell me where to start looking? I haven’t had much luck on ancestry.com. Thanks and looking forward to your book.

    • Hello, Ryan; thanks for your questions and comments. I can give you some information about your family line. Your descent from Champenois Knight places you in the Daniel and Elizabeth Coleman Knight line. Daniel Knight was a son of John “Jackie” and Keziah (Davis) Knight. He was a brother to Albert Knight, who was the father of Newt Knight. So, while you are not descended from Newt Knight, you are directly related to him: Daniel Knight was Newt’s uncle; Champenois was his cousin.

      Hope you enjoy the book. There’s some material in it on members of your family line, especially Mary Coleman, the mother of Elizabeth Coleman Knight.

      Best,
      Vikki

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