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Archive for the ‘The Free State of Jones’ Category

Note from Moderator: Jonathan Odell has given me permission to reprint the following essay.  For more of Jon’s creative writings, visit him at http://jon-odell.com/




Rachel Knight: Slave, White Man’s Mistress and Mother to a Movement”

by Jonathan Odell


Rachel’s Children

I can’t help but think of the Old Testament Abraham when I hear stories about Newt Knight. Both men sired children by a wife and a slave. In Newt’s case it was Serena and Rachel. With Abraham, Sara and Hagar. According to religious texts, one of these women went on to become the matriarch of God’s chosen people. Exactly which one depends on what you happen to be reading, your Bible or your Koran. Jews and Christians claim the wife Sarah and Muslims claim the handmaiden Hagar. Several Crusades were launched trying to settle thatmatter.

In Jones County, there’s always been a fierce crusade of competing stories about Rachel, the white account versus the black account. Like most stories, the white interpretation gets written down and called history, while the black story gets handed down by word-of-mouth and called folklore.

Growing up as a white boy, I swore by Ethel Knight’s written-down version. According to her, Rachel was a light-skinned temptress with blue-green eyes and flowing chestnut hair. But evil as the day is long. Ethel alternately calls her a vixen, a witch, a conjure woman, a murderer and a strumpet.

Serena, Newt’s white wife, is but an innocent captive, forced a gunpoint to live in this den of iniquity, and like Newt, powerless as Rachel’s sorcery wrecked and degraded their family.

As a child of Jim Crow, this narrative satisfied my budding sensibilities about race. In my white-bubble world, there could never be any possibility of true love or affection between a white man and a black woman. Nor would any white man sire children by a black woman and then choose to live amongst his mixed-race offspring. Unless of course, the black woman had either seduced him unmercifully or mysteriously conjured him, or both. It just wasn’t possible that he actually loved her, or her children.

Imagine my surprise when I heard, as they say, “the rest of the story.” It was as shocking as sitting down in church and listening to the preacher get up and declare from the pulpit that Abraham’s birthright went to Hagar’s kid Ishmael, instead of Sarah’s son, Isaac, and it was we Christians who were the infidels!  Boy would that turn some peoples world upside down!

I felt something akin to this when I listened to a gathering of Rachel’s descendents tell me their side of things.  First of all Rachel wasn’t some immoral viper. To Pat and Flo and Peggy, Rachel was a role model—a strong black woman with no legitimate authority in a racist society, doing what needed to be done for her children, regardless of the cost to herself. Somebody you would like your daughter to grow up like.

“Was she the green-eyed slave with long flowing hair like Ethel said?” I asked.

“She was what we called a Guinea Negro,” answered Yvonne, another of Rachael’s great-grandchildren. “That means she was dark, not light-skinned like Ethel writes. She had course hair and she was short. Similar to Australian aborigines. She was mixed, but not white-looking.”

It was beginning to sound like a white conspiracy against Rachel, but then Yvonne let me in on a little secret. Whites weren’t the only ones who liked the story of Rachel appearing white. “That’s the way some of my cousins who pass for white want her to be depicted. They deny that they had any black in them so they don’t want Rachel to be black, either.”

“That was partially Newt’s fault,” Yvonne continued. “My mother said that Newt was trying to cleanse the black out of Rachel’s children. Because of the one-drop rule, he wanted to get rid of that drop of black blood. That’s why he married his white children to each other black children.” Yvonne grins at her relatives around the table. “As for me, I proudly claim my one drop!”

There is a burst of laughter. All these women agree on that point.

“And how about the part about being Rachel being a vixen and a witch?” I asked.

“It was always assumed that the slave was to blame for the husband’s indiscretions,” Yvonne explained. “She had to have some special power over him. It couldn’t be that he cared for her.”

Yvonne was right. That’s what I was always told. Slave owners were mostly noble men and succumbed only when mightily tempted. Why else would Newt isolate himself from his community and willingly be labeled as a deviate if he weren’t bewitched?

“In my family we believe that Newt really loved Rachel,” Pat said.

“It was not a casual relationship,” Yvonne added. “And he loved all of his children. My understanding is that they were all raised up on the same land. They all lived together, played together, ate together. My grandmother was Newt’s granddaughter, said she didn’t know she had a drop of black blood until she was all raised up.”

“I guess you can’t believe everything you read,” I said. “How do the black Knights feel about Ethel’s book?”

“My grandfather was Warren Smith,” Yvonne said, “He was Rachel’s grandson and he said that Ethel’s book was a pack of lies.  Said she was smart enough to create an entertaining account of Newt and Rachel’s relationship. But unfortunately,” Yvonne concluded, “white people tend to believe every word.”

Yvonne was right. I sure did. But now I’m not sure what to think. Rachel’s people have got me thoroughly confused. That’s what happens when folks start messing with the stories you were raised on.

So it comes down to that old, nagging question once more—which story is true? The truth is…I don’t know. I think they all might be. The way a story shapes a person is the truest thing there is.

The Italians say it better: All stories are true. Some even happened.

Gregory “Butch” Knight

There is probably no sadder task in the world than trying to get to know your father after he has died. Yet Butch Knight told me that was something he was determined to do.

I first met Butch at a gathering of the Knights who proudly trace their roots back to the ex-slave Rachel and the infamous Newt. Some of their descendants are called “black Knights”. Some are called “white black Knights”, because of their Caucasian features. Their history is complex. They are caught right in the crosshairs of our absurd national obsession with color.

For instance, Butch’s father, Hayston Knight, was the great-grandson of Newt and Rachel Knight. Butch showed me a photo of his father. There was nothing in the picture that would cause me to think this man black. His features were of a light-skinned, fine-boned white man. Butch said many of the Knights with his father’s appearance were encouraged to leave the area so they could pass for white, and raise their children as white. Of course they could never return home, lest their children discover their ancestry. The break had to be complete. Those who stayed were pressured into choosing marriage partners with their shade of pigmentation or lighter. Never darker.

“Not my father,” Butch recalled. “He said that foolishness was going to stop with him. He said he wanted to marry the blackest woman he could find. He was going to break the cycle.”

Butch said his father never denied who he was. On his first day in the army, Hayston’s sergeant ordered all the whites in one line and all the blacks in another. When Hayston placed himself with the other black soldiers, the sergeant shouted, “Didn’t you hear me? I said, only the n______’s over there!”

Hayston said defiantly, “Well, I guess I’m in the right place because I’m a n______!”

In the 1950’s Hayston got a job with a local grocery wholesaler and because of his intelligence and his white appearance was given significant responsibility in managing the operation. He was also put in charge of breaking in the new white trainees, who were inevitably promoted over Hayston. The family believed that the stress and the humiliation sent him to an early grave.

“My daddy wasn’t proud. He could have passed,” Butch says. “I wanted to write about my father. How he had to live in the black world and work in the white world.”

Butch admits being ashamed of his father while he was alive, seeing one white man after the other promoted over him. And his father never talked back.

“I admire him now,” Butch admits, with tears in his eyes. “He did it for us, his children. So he could support his family.”

“I’m starting to understand the struggle he had to go through,” Butch continued, “Not white enough to be accepted by whites. And too white to be accepted by blacks.”

I encouraged Butch to write about his father, as I’m doing with my dad after losing him last year to cancer. Sometimes it’s a lonely undertaking, with many ghosts, especially those missed moments when feelings went forever unspoken. But writing it down seems to help soothe the grief.

I didn’t need to encourage him. Butch had already begun the research. He even went so far as to sit down with Ethel Knight, the author of Echo of the Black Horn, to see what he could learn from her about his father.

“What did you think about her book?” I asked.

“Lies,” he said, referring to the way she denied the black descendants of Newt Knight in her book. “But when I went to see her, she treated me like long lost kin. It was very strange.”

I offered to work with Butch on his father’s biography. I could tell he was feeling some sense of urgency. Then he explained. Butch’s father died when he was 58. “An aneurism. Runs in family,” Butch said. “Comes from both sides.” Butch went on to say that this year, he had turned 58.  “I’m shaking in my boots.” His sisters who were present that day assured Butch that wouldn’t be the case for him. Butch didn’t appear comforted. I got the sense that he thought he might have waited until it was too late to discover the truth about his father.

Butch and I agreed to meet the next time I was in Mississippi and continue our discussion about his dad.  I put together a list of questions for Butch and was excited about dedicating a chapter in my upcoming book about his search for his father. When I called from Minnesota to arrange a meeting, his sister answered the phone.

“Butch died last month,” she said. “He collapsed while he was out mowing his yard.”

I wasn’t sure why that hit me so hard. In a way, it was like losing my father all over again. Perhaps I had hoped that by helping Butch discover his dad, in the process, I could also become closer to mine.
But that’s not to be. Perhaps, in the end, that is something a person can do only for himself. And maybe, looking for our fathers is like looking for our reflection in a mirror that has gone dim. We can never get close enough to make it out.

I’ll miss my friend, and I hope that where he is now, the reflection he gazes upon is bright and true, and he has found the answers was searching for.

For more columns on the Knights, white and black, see:

Newt Knight: Emperor Of The Free State Of Jones

White Negro Communities: Too White To Be Black And Too Black To Be White

By Jon Odell

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For thirty years, guerrilla leader Newt Knight of Jasper County, Mississippi, sought compensation as a Unionist from the U.S. government on behalf of himself and 54 men who had belonged to his Civil War “Knight Company.”* These men included deserters and a few draft evaders who banded together in the swamps of the Leaf River in neighboring Jones County to fight against the Confederacy.

In my recent book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, I analyze in depth Newt’s unsuccessful efforts to gain compensation from the federal government. Aiding my analysis were numerous depositions, including those provided by Newt Knight, H.L. Sumrall, Jefferson Musgrove, J.M. Valentine, E.M. Devall, William M. Welch, J.E. Welborn, J.J. Collins, B.F. Moss, A.B. Jordan, O.C. Martin, E.M. Edmonson, T.J. Huff, T.G. Crawford, and R.M. Blackwell.** Among these men were members, friends, and enemies of the Knight band. Some former members of the band testified on behalf of Newt, the claimant; others testified for the U.S. government, the defendant. In several instances, the defense called on witnesses friendly to Newt Knight in hopes that the testimonies of wartime allies would contradict one another.

R.M. (Montgomery) Blackwell, a 48-year-old farmer, was one such Knight band member called to testify on behalf of the U.S. government. On March 7, 1895, at 5:30 p.m., Montgomery was deposed at the Ellisville, Mississippi, courthouse by Jesse M. Bush, clerk of the circuit court. After establishing Blackwell’s identity, defense attorney John C. Dougherty asked him whether he had “belonged to any body of men during the war,” and to “state what it was, at what time and what place you joined and what purpose you had in connecting yourself with the same.”

With no apparent hesitation, Montgomery Blackwell replied that he had “belonged to Captain Knight’s company; joined in Jones county near Reddoch’s Ferry; I believe it was in Sept. 1863. Knight had a squad of Union men, and I had enough of kin in the Confederate ranks, and I concluded to go with the Knights.”

Two things stand out in Blackwell’s answer. First, he contradicted Newt Knight’s testimony that the Knight Company was formed on October 13, 1863. Second, he did not identify his family as solidly Unionist, but rather indicated a fair amount of support for the Confederacy within its ranks. This is not surprising since many families in the Jones County area, including the Knights, were split over the war. The most solidly Unionist family, as I have pointed out on this blog as well as in Long Shadow and Free State of Jones, were the Collinses.  They and their kinfolk comprised the majority of band members. Joining ranks with the Knight Company, however, forged a new kinship link between the Knight and Blackwell families when, in 1869, Montgomery Blackwell married Newt’s cousin, Zorada Keziah Knight.

Blackwell’s tentative answer in regard to when the Knight Company was formed was a minor discrepancy given that thirty years had passed since the war’s end. Perhaps for this reason, defense attorney Dougherty immediately shifted to a more important area of contradiction by asking Blackwell to explain whether or not he “took any oath” at the time the band was formed, and if so, to “state what oath, before whom, and when and at what place” it was taken.

This talk of an “oath” harkened back to an affidavit certified in 1870 by justice of the peace T. J. Collins which stated that the Knight Company had not only organized itself on October 13, 1863, but had elected officers and taken a “sollomn [sic] vow to be true to each other and to the United States and to fight on behalf of the United States during the war.” This document, signed by four Jones County men, made no claim that any Union official had administered an oath of allegiance, only that the men had spoken one among themselves.

With the passage of time, however, the facts surrounding this elusive oath became hopelessly confused. In their 1895 depositions, several members of the band testified that T.J. Collins had delivered the oath in 1863, when in fact he had certified a statement from several witnesses in 1870 that the Knight Company had taken such an oath–likely without the benefit of any public official.

Others, Montgomery Blackwell among them, testified in 1895 that “old man V.A. Collins” had likely administered the oath.  But if anyone presided over this moment, it probably was Benagah Mathews, as suggested by Jasper Collins in his testimony. The elderly Mathews, who had close ties with the band, was a probate judge by 1869. It was he who took responsibility for filing Newt Knight’s initial claim file in 1870, acting in lieu of a lawyer for the Knight Company.

The problem in 1895 was that Newt Knight’s new lawyers were not familiar with the internal workings of the Knight Company, as Benagah Mathews had been, and, in their efforts to embellish its Unionist credentials, they created a trap for themselves. The notion that a Unionist official had administered an oath of allegiance to the Knight Company during the midst of the Civil War was easily shot down by the government’s defense team.  By distorting the evidence in this and other instances, Newt’s lawyers put witnesses such as Montgomery Blackwell in predicaments where they were asked to remember “facts” that had been altered by Newt’s lawyers in an effort to strengthen the evidence.

At the same time, the government misplaced Newt Knight’s truly factual evidence, offered in his first petition of 1870, that the reconstructed government of 1865 had recognized him as a staunch Unionist. None of that evidence was presented in his second and third petitions (see Long Shadow of the Civil War, pp. 77-96). Not surprisingly, the Knight Company lost its bid for compensation as an ad hoc military unit that had fought on behalf of the Union Army during the Civil War.

Vikki Bynum

* NOTE: Although lawyers for Newt Knight identified the Knight Company as the “Jones County Scouts” between 1887 and 1895, I have found no evidence that the band ever referred to itself by this name. It’s my opinion that Newt’s lawyers manufactured the new name to give it more of an official military ring.

**Newt Knight’s 1887-1900 claim file is located in Records of the U.S. Court of Claims, 1835-1966, Record Group 123, Committee on War Claims, Claims of Newton Knight and Others, #8013 and 8464, National Archives, Wash. D.C.

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Last night, Harry Smeltzer, moderator of the Civil War blog, “Bull Runnings: A Journal of the Digitization of a Civil War Battle,” posted an interview with me about Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies. I was especially pleased that Harry gave me the opportunity to discuss my new book in the context of my previous works, The Free State of Jones (2001) and Unruly Women (1992). To read the interview, click here:

http://bullrunnings.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/interview-dr-victoria-bynum-the-long-shadow-of-the-civil-war/

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Chalmette National Cemetery

I received these photos from Deena Collins Aucoin this Memorial Day morning. The first is of Chalmette National Cemetery in New Orleans. The second is the grave of Riley J. Collins from Jones County, MS. An avowed Unionist, Riley resisted service in the Confederate Army, and joined Co. E, 1st New Orleans infantry (although his gravestone says LA Infantry) on April 30, 1864. He died of disease the following August.

Deena is a descendant of Simeon Collins, brother of Riley. Both men, along with brother Jasper Collins and many nephews and cousins, were members of the Knight Band in the Free State of Jones. Three other Collins brothers–Warren, Stacy and Newton–deserted the Confederate Army and fought against it in the Big Thicket of East Texas.

Vikki Bynum, moderator

Riley J. Collins Grave, Chalmette National Cemetery

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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

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E.M. DeVall, Sheriff of Civil War Jones County. Photo courtesy of Cindy DeVall

Note from Vikki Bynum, Moderator

Memories of the Knight Company and the “Free State of Jones” were passed down to descendants of both its supporters and its enemies. Few people opposed Newt Knight more strenuously during the Civil War than Sheriff E. M. DeVall. In 1895, Devall testified against Newt Knight on behalf of the U.S. government during Newt’s claims process (discussed at length in chapter four of Long Shadow of the Civil War).    

In this guest post, Sheriff DeVall’s great granddaughter discusses his life and family, and reflects on the DeVall family’s experiences and memories of the Civil War.

 

E. M. DeVall

by Cindy DeVall

Thank you for the opportunity to submit a few thoughts on my great grandfather, Edmond Maclin DeVall, sheriff of Jones County, Mississippi, during the Civil War. I read with great interest both of your books. I certainly do have a different perspective on the Civil War in Jones County as a result of your research and dedication to making sure that “the truth” is revealed. What seems very clear to me after reading the books is that there was no “solid south” and that within families and among in-laws, there was great passion about the war and over the need to fight it.

 Edmond Maclin DeVall (b. 1829 in SC) came to Jones County from South Carolina. His father, Neri B. DeVall, died intestate in 1845 in Edgefield District, and his widow, Mary (Truwit) DeVall came to Jones County with three sons and two daughters,  The eldest, Mary Elizabeth DeVall, married Hiram Anderson (son of Isaac)* in 1846. Edmond Maclin, being the eldest son, was given great responsibilities and by 1846 was already buying property in Jones County from Drury Bynum. In the 1850 census of Jones County, his mother lists real estate worth $350. Her brother, William Truwit of Mobile, bought 300 acres from Allen Anderson in “Old Town,” very near the Bynum Cemetery and the Anderson-Minter Cemetery. The 1853 state census of Jones Co lists Edmond Maclin as living with 2 males and 1 female. I can only assume his mother had died. He was 23 or 24 years old and had three siblings: Edward C., age 13; Melvoe Emily, age 11, and Charles N. age 9.

 My father, Leslie Coombs DeVall, Jr., (b. 1919-Ms) always talked about the importance of owning property. He said that his father stressed that you could lose your job or your money, but if you had land, you had roots. My grandfather surely must have had that reinforced from his father, Edmond Maclin. My father used to also speak about his grandfather being sheriff of Jones County during the Civil War and how he had to keep law and order against that band of “outlaws and thieves that caused so much trouble for the good people of Jones County.” My grandmother (Ethel Freeman DeVall) also told me on repeated occasions “that ole Newt Knight surely did stir up a lot of trouble in Jones County.” My grandmother was from Alabama and did not even arrive in Ellisville until 1898. However, I am sure she reflected the thinking of some of the citizens of Jones County as well as that of her future father-in-law.

 Edmond Maclin’s two brothers both served in the Civil War. Edward, at the age of 21 or 22, enlisted in Co. “C”, 7th Battalion, Ms Infantry, in May 1862 and died on Nov. 15, 1862, of wounds received at the Battle of Iuka. He left behind a wife, who I believe was Mary Ann Taylor (b 1839-Al), and a two-year-old son named John Knox DeVall. Both disappeared from records soon after his death. The 1860 census showed Edward to be a farmer with real estate valued at $250. His unmarried brother, Charles, was  still living with the family. Charles, at the age of 18, enlisted in CO “K,” 8th Ms Infantry, in May 1861 and served until he died at the Battle of Franklin in November of 1864. 

 Edmond Maclin’s sister, Melvoe Emily DeVall, married Hardy Parker, son of James Leander Parker* and Mary Anderson, in 1859. Shortly after, a group of Jones County citizens moved to Angelina County, Texas. Melvoe and Hardy Parker raised their family in Angelina County and Melvoe died in 1880 in child birth.

 I remember being raised with values related to integrity, honesty, loyalty to family and being a good citizen. My father did not think those values up in a vacuum. My grandfather provided for several families during the Great Depression in Jones Co and was a respected member of his community. Those values must have been something he learned from his father, Edmond Maclin DeVall. I am able to understand that he did not want to “recognize” a group of Jones County Scouts because he viewed them as being outside the law and not being good citizens. The fact that two of his brothers had died in the Civil War and a sister had left the county completely and moved to Texas probably only intensified his determination to dismiss the existence of citizens he viewed as deserters and outlaws. He experienced the Civil War deaths of two brothers who were poor farmers and yet did not come home, but stayed and fought.

Edmond was married to Mary Jane Welborn, the daughter of Joel E Welborn, and probably had a mentor or two in the bunch who were father figures. His loyalties were to “order, community and family.” He must have been a man of great passion whom I wish I had known. I can’t help but wonder if Edmond Maclin and Jasper Collins ever had any heated discussions!

 Vikki, as you said in your dedication in Free State of Jones, “Now I understand”

 Thanks again for allowing me this opportunity and thank you many times over for the books.

Cindy

*Despite his strong Confederate credentials, E.M. DeVall’s kinship ties with the Andersons and the Parkers link him to the staunchly Unionist Collins family. Such kinship links were common among Jones County’s Confederate and Unionist families, complicating the story of its inner civil war considerably.

 Vikki

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A conversation with Victoria E. Bynum  

Author of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies  

Published April 15, 2010  

$35.00 hardcover, ISBN 978-0-8078-3381-0  

The Long Shadow of the Civil War

  

Q. There seems no end to books about the American Civil War. What does The Long Shadow of the Civil War offer that is new?
A.
Although Civil War books about the home front are not new, this is a new sort of home front study that focuses on three communities from three different states. Rather than close with the war and Reconstruction, The Long Shadow of the Civil War follows individual Unionists and multiracial families into the New South era and, in some cases, into the twentieth century. This historical sweep allows the reader to understand the ongoing effects of the war at its most personal levels.
   

Q. What led you to combine three Civil War home fronts, all noted as areas of violent disorder, in one study? Why these three?
A.
Most basically, I combined them in order to provide in-depth comparisons of the communities within the same volume. But there’s more to it than that; the communities have important links to one another. The North Carolina Piedmont was the ancestral seedbed of migration into what became Jones County, Mississippi. Later, East Texas attracted many non-slaveholding Mississippi families seeking a less-developed piney woods region.  

All three regions exhibited fierce Unionist activity during the Civil War, with brothers fighting in separate deserter bands across state lines in two of the communities. So, combining them in one study provided a wonderful opportunity to identify common characteristics of Southern Unionism, while also showing how different geographic settings influenced the nature of the inner civil wars.
   

Q. What were the most important similarities among the three communities of dissent? The most important differences?  

A. All three communities were located outside the South’s plantation belt and all had large non-slaveholding majorities. Important differences were religious practices and length of settlement. The North Carolina Quaker Belt had a history of religious dissent that included Moravian, Mennonite and Dunker sects as well as Quakers.   

Beginning around 1848, Wesleyan Methodism, with its anti-slavery ideals, gained popularity in this region. The Quaker Belt was also a long-settled region of expansive, deeply entwined family networks that lent force and stability to anti-Confederate sentiments.

By contrast, neither Jones County, Mississippi, nor Hardin County, Texas, exhibited significant or organized religious dissent against slavery. As in North Carolina, family networks were important to anti-Confederate activity; however, in East Texas, more recent migration from states like Mississippi meant that family networks were less extensive there. Less cohesive and deeply rooted communities, coupled with politicians’ successful linking of Texas’s 1836 revolution to the Southern cause of secession, undermined organized anti-Confederate activity among non-slaveholders in East Texas.  

Q. Why did you return to the Free State of Jones County, Mississippi, and to the North Carolina Quaker Belt, two regions that you wrote about in previous books, for this study?
A.
Ever since I discovered that a splinter band of Unionist deserters, led by several brothers of members of the Jones County band, kept Confederate forces at bay in the Texas Big Thicket, and after discovering ancestral links between the North Carolina Piedmont and Jones County, Mississippi, I have wanted to combine the inner civil wars of these three regions in the same volume. Doing so also gave me the opportunity to analyze research materials that were not included in my earlier works: two examples are documents concerning the lives of freedpeople and poor whites in Orange County, North Carolina, and Newt Knight’s 1887-1900 Mississippi claim files.  

Q. You cite abolitionism as a motive for anti-Confederate sentiments in only one of your three communities: that of the Randolph County area of the North Carolina Quaker Belt. How and why did religion play such an important role in this region, but not in Jones County, Mississippi, or the Big Thicket of East Texas?
A.
The Randolph County area of North Carolina (including Montgomery and Moore Counties) was the “heart” of the state’s Quaker Belt. Quaker opposition to slavery had faded over time because of the state’s changing demographics, but it never entirely disappeared, making this region fertile ground for Wesleyan Methodists who gained a foothold in the 1850s. In Montgomery County, the Rev. Adam Crooks condemned slavery from the pulpit of the Lovejoy Methodist Church. In contrast, Jones County, Mississippi and Hardin County, Texas, were Baptist strongholds during the secession crisis. I have found no evidence that any Baptist church in either county publically opposed slavery or secession; indeed, the Leaf River Baptist Church of Jones County publically supported the Confederacy.
   

Q. Newt Knight, the controversial “captain” of the Knight Company, is a polarizing figure who even today evokes heated arguments among readers. Why is this so, and how did it affect your historical treatment of him?
A.
As long as we continue to debate the causes, meanings, and effects of the Civil War, Newt Knight’s motives and character will also be debated. We know that he defied Confederate authority during the war, supported Republican Reconstruction afterward, and openly crossed the color line to found a mixed-race community. To neo-Confederates, such facts make Newt a scoundrel and a traitor to his country and his race. To neo-abolitionists, he is a backwoods Mississippi hero who defended his nation and struggled to uplift the black race. My response to such powerful and emotional narratives is to examine critically not only the documentary evidence, but also the mountain of published opinions about Newt Knight that have too often functioned as “evidence” for both sides of the debate.  

Q. Newt Knight, his white wife Serena, and former family slave, Rachel, were the founding parents of a multiracial community. What sort of a community was it in terms of racial identity? How did members of the community identify themselves racially, as opposed to how the larger white society defined them?
A. As segregation took hold in New South Mississippi (1880-1900), the descendants of Newt, Serena, and Rachel were increasingly defined by white society as black, i.e. as “Negroes,” despite being of European, African, and Native American ancestry. Before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s, however, few of these descendants identified themselves as “black.” Depending on their physical appearance, including skin shade and hair texture, descendants of Newt and Rachel variously defined themselves as white, Indian, or colored. Whereas white society applied a “one drop rule” that grouped together all people of African ancestry, these descendants self-identified in ways that reflected their multiracial heritage.  

There is no direct evidence of how Newt, Serena, or Rachel racially identified their multiracial descendants. Descendant Yvonne Bivins, the most thorough Knight researcher, was told by her elders that Newt Knight actively encouraged his descendants to identify as white. All that is certain—but nonetheless remarkable—is that they economically supported, nurtured, and lived openly among both white and multiracial kinfolk all their lives.  

Q. By crossing the color line, Newt Knight deviated from the norm by acknowledging and supporting his multiracial descendants. What may we deduce from those facts about his political views on race relations in the era of segregation?
A.
Since we don’t know that Newt Knight identified his multiracial descendants as “black,” we can’t deduce from his intimate relationships with them, or by his efforts to enroll them in a local school (one that he helped create) alongside his white descendants, that he supported equality for all people of African ancestry—that is, for people classed as “Negroes.” Only if we adhere to the “one drop rule”—and assume that Newt Knight did, too—can we conclude that Newt’s protection of his own kinfolk extended to all Americans of African ancestry.  

Newt’s efforts on behalf of freedpeople as a Republican appointee during Reconstruction do not necessarily make him an advocate of black equality, as some historians have argued. There were many Reconstruction Republicans who supported the same basic rights of marriage and military service that Newt upheld for freedpeople, while supporting segregation and opposing black voting rights. We simply don’t know Newt’s political position on these issues.  

Q. For thirty years, Newt Knight petitioned the federal government to compensate his ad hoc military band, the Knight Company, for its support of the Union during the Civil War. What do those petitions reveal about the claims process itself, as well as the Knight Band?
A.
The transcripts from Newt Knight’s extensive claims files suggest the federal government’s hostility toward claims of Southern Unionism, especially after 1887, as the nation sank into a deep economic depression. That year, Newt renewed efforts begun in 1870 to win compensation.  

Several depositions of Jones County men made a strong case for Unionism among the Knight Company. The passage of time, however, doomed Newt’s claim to failure. His Washington, DC lawyers were unfamiliar with the Jones County uprising, while witnesses’ memories of the war faded over time. Most damaging, crucial evidence presented in Knight’s 1870 petition was misplaced by the government and never presented after 1887. At the same time, an expanding literature that portrayed the white South as having been unified around secession made Northerners all the more suspicious of Southern claims of Unionism.  

Q. The Long Shadow of the Civil War is as much about the legacies of Civil War dissent as about the war itself. Why did you include both topics in a single volume?
A.
To truly understand the Civil War, we need to understand its long-term impact on the lives of those who endured it. Southerners who took a Unionist stance lived with that decision all their lives, as did their children and grandchildren. Some struggled to put the war behind them and never spoke of it again; others, like Newt Knight and Warren Collins, defended their actions all their lives, and went on to fight new political battles.  

Multiracial communities that grew out of war and emancipation grew larger and more complex in the late nineteenth century. Faced with racial violence and segregation, many of their members exited the South during these years. But among those who remained, we witness the birth of a multiracial Southern middle class.
   

Q. You locate a long tradition of political dissent among certain Jones County families that found expression in third party political movements after the Civil War. How does this New South agrarian radicalism shed light on Civil War Unionism and vice versa?
A.
In all three regions, I found examples of emerging class consciousness among non-slaveholding farmers as a result of the Civil War. Late in life, Newt Knight, for example, offered a class-based critique of Southern society. Two prominent Unionist brothers, Jasper J. Collins of Jones County, Mississippi, and Warren J. Collins of Hardin County, Texas, went even further, carving out political careers as populists and socialists in two separate states.  

A close study of individual lives reveals how the Civil War reshaped their perspectives. Of course, the majority of Southern Unionists did not join third-party political movements in the aftermath of war. It appears, however, that some ideologically committed Unionists, such as the Collinses of Mississippi and Texas, grew ever more militant in their political views as the years passed.  

Q. Your epilogue, “Fathers and Sons,” compares and contrasts three twentieth-century histories of individual guerrilla leaders written by their sons. What do these biographical sketches reveal about the impact of kinship and politics on the Civil War memories of Southern Unionist families?
A.
All three biographies were written after the deaths of their subjects, and reflect the need for sons to defend notorious fathers against charges of treason, lawlessness, or ignorance—especially in the wake of New South glorification of the Confederate cause. Further complicating Tom Knight’s biography of Newt Knight was his effort to present his father as a hero to the segregated, virulently white supremacist society of the 1930s. At the time of Newt’s death, Tom was estranged from him and the family’s interracial community. He knew little about his father’s early years (his narrative is studded with factual errors) and his “memories” of Newt Knight during the Civil War and Reconstruction were profoundly influenced by his need to valorize Newt and thereby restore respect for his family. Though very different in tone and accuracy, Vinson A. Collins’s and Loren Collins’s biographies of their fathers, Warren J. Collins of Texas and Jasper J. Collins of Mississippi, are presented not only with a sense of each son’s relationship with his father, but also in the context of the nation’s politicized memories of the Civil War.  

###
This interview may be reprinted in its entirety with the following credit: A conversation with Victoria E. Bynum, author of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies (University of North Carolina Press, Spring 2010). The text of this interview is available at http://www.ibiblio.org/uncp/media/bynum/.
                                                                                                                              PUBLISHING DETAILS
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Publication date: April 15, 2010
240 pp., 9 illus., 1 map, bibl., notes, bibl., index
For more information: http://uncpress.unc.edu/books/T-7790.html
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I’m excited to announce that my new book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies, has been released!  Click here to see its table of contents.

The Long Shadow of the Civil War

To purchase a copy directly from the University of North Carolina Press, click on the title, above. You may also order it from Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

To learn more about The Long Shadow of the Civil War, watch for my next post on Renegade South, which will feature my recent Question & Answer interview with the University of North Carolina Press.

Vikki Bynum

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Nancy Pitts Walters 

By Ed Payne

  

When Nancy Pitts Walters died in 1915 at the age of 82, she had the distinction of being the widow of not one but two Piney Woods men who journeyed to New Orleans in the spring of 1864 to join the Union Army.  Both of her husbands, Marada M. Walters and Hanson A. Walters, belonged to one of the oldest and largest family lines in Jones County, Mississippi.  The fact that Nancy’s mother was a Walters and that five more of her Walters kinsmen also enlisted in the New Orleans regiments indicates the extent to which some branches of this prolific Piney Woods clan adopted the Union cause.

Nancy was born on January 26, 1833, the fourth child of Daniel Pitts and Margaret Walters Pitts.  Daniel, a native of Savannah, Georgia, moved to Jones County sometime after 1820.  He homesteaded in the southeast quadrant of the county where the couple raised 13 children, all born between 1827 and 1849.  His wife Margaret was by most accounts a child of Jones County patriarch Willoughby Walters, previously identified in the profile of Civil War widow Martha Rushing as the grandfather of her first husband, George Warren Walters.  

In an era when many women married in their teens, 1860 found Nancy Pitts on the cusp of spinsterhood.  She was single and 27, with a decade of potential child bearing years already behind her.  That summer, however, she was betrothed to Marada Walters, son of Daniel Walters and his wife Nancy.  The two families were neighbors and it seems likely they attended the same church, Mt. Moriah Baptist, founded in 1854.  Marada (alternately spelled Meredy, Marady, and Meredick) was seven years Nancy’s junior, having just turned 20.  His father was one of the younger sons of Willoughby Walters whereas Nancy Pitts’s mother, Margaret, was one of his older daughters—possibly by a different wife.  Nevertheless, it was a marriage of first cousins.

The nuptials of Marada Walters and Nancy Pitts were one or two rungs down the area’s social ladder from those of their mutual first cousin George Warren Walters and his bride Martha Rushing, who exchanged vows just a few months later.  The focus on livestock production and a paucity of fertile crop land resulted in a more homogeneous socio-economic order in the Piney Woods than was the case where the cotton economy predominated.  But the mother of George Walters and the grandfather of Martha Rushing owned a few slaves—enough to afford them a place at the outer edge of the small circle of “slave people.”  Marada and Nancy, on the other hand, were the offspring of subsistence yeomen herders.  They belonged to the majority of Jones County inhabitants who grew no cotton and owned no slaves, and were largely isolated from the newspapers and firebrand politicians who, as the secession crisis escalated, eagerly sought to convince one and all that such factors were beside the point.  

The Walters clan to which Nancy Pitts was related both by blood and by marriage was numerous enough to mirror these modest, but later crucial, Piney Woods class distinctions.  Among the 21 Walters households that included 125 individuals, there were four slave owners who possessed a total of 15 slaves—eight of whom were under the age of 14.  During the Civil War at least 16 of the Jones County Walters males fought in Confederate units. Three were listed on rosters of the Knight renegades, and seven would go to New Orleans and enlist in the Union Army.  It being Jones County, there was some overlap across these three categories. 

One month after Fort Sumter, as the first units of Confederate volunteers formed, Nancy gave birth to a daughter, Sarah.  Her husband Marada apparently shrugged off the early call to arms.  Within 18 months Nancy gave birth to second child, Marion, born in October, 1862.  By this time military circumstances had changed.  That April the Confederacy passed its first conscription act, requiring men of Marada’s age to enlist or be subject to a draft.  Did he comply?  Records show that “M. M. Walters” enlisted in Company D of Steede’s cavalry battalion in April of 1862, but later deserted.  There is no conclusive evidence this was Marada, but his later enlistment as a Corporal in the Union Army suggests that he claimed prior military experience.  

Whether Nancy’s husband deserted or simply evaded the draft, his tenuous position certainly compromised his ability to provide for their family.  He would have had to be constantly alert and prepared to flee at the sound of hoof beats.  With two infants to care for, Nancy probably lived in the household of her father or father-in-law.  Daniel Pitts was in his mid-60s (a vigorous man, he would live to age 94) while Daniel Walters was approaching his mid-40s.  But they, like others throughout the South, were subject to confiscation of their farm produce by any Confederate units who passed through the area.  Daniel Walters later testified that these periodic “requisitions” of goods made efforts at subsistence farming ever more tenuous.  But since Daniel himself had become subject to conscription in 1863, when the Confederacy raised the age limit to 45, he could scarcely afford to protest too publicly.

Conscription policies effectively stripped the area of most of its male workforce.  And, unlike in the cotton producing regions of the state, the Piney Woods lacked a substantial pool of slave labor to partially offset this drain on manpower.  In such hard scrabble areas, women, children, and the elderly were left to scratch out a living as best they could—or else starve.  

The reversals suffered by Confederate forces in central Mississippi, capped by the surrender of Vicksburg in July of 1863, prompted many Piney Woods men to desert and return home.  This, in turn, attracted the notice of Confederate officials who, alarmed that renegade bands such as the Knight Company had assumed effective control of the region, sent in troops to suppress this defiance and force deserters back into service as sorely needed soldiers.  The campaign conducted by Col. Robert Lowry in the spring of 1864 had a galvanizing effect on a group of men who had grown increasingly resentful of Confederate authority.  Those who managed to evade the roundup had no way of knowing that the campaign would be of relatively brief duration as a result of the pressing need to redeploy troops against Sherman’s Atlanta campaign. 

By late April, 1864 over 40 Piney Woods men, many of them not listed on the Knight Band rosters, made the decision to trek to New Orleans and enlist in the Union Army.  Among them were Marada Walters, his brothers Drury and Archibald, and four of his Walters cousins: Albert, Joel, Richard, and Hanson.

The motivations of the Piney Woods men who set out for the Crescent City remain unknown.  Some have argued the incentive was pecuniary: that these were poor men enticed by enlistment bounties and monthly wages paid in greenbacks.  If so, however, such an argument must acknowledge that their allegiance to the Confederacy was nil.  The issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863 made the elimination of slavery a stated objective of the Union Army.  Furthermore, these men would serve in close proximity with units of the United States Colored Troops.  This was quite a different matter from deserting the Confederacy after a strategic defeat and banding together to ward off attempts at re-conscription.  It seems more likely that these men, whose original commitment to the Confederate cause was tentative at best, had become embittered by the in-kind taxation and confiscations endured by their families. 

Another point to consider is the mortality risk accepted by the enlistees.  Whether  they expected to see combat or not, those who had served in the Confederacy knew the lethal hazards of camp life.  It is often stated, though perhaps not adequately comprehended, that more men died during the Civil War of disease than from battle wounds.  Many soldiers who entered encampments from rural areas had never been exposed to childhood diseases such as measles and mumps, which often proved fatal when contracted by adults.  Poor camp sanitation added to death rolls by spreading dysentery and cholera.

One month before Marada left for New Orleans, Nancy gave birth to a son, Drayton.  She was now the mother of three children, the oldest of whom had not yet turned three.  It is unlikely that the rather abstract prospect of a Union soldier’s pay held much interest for her.  After all, the money would be difficult to pass across enemy lines and, in any event, it was no substitute for a missing husband.  If Nancy had forebodings, they were realized soon enough.  Marada Walters enlisted at Fort Pike, just outside New Orleans, as a Corporal in Company E of the 1st New Orleans Infantry Regiment on May 15, 1864.  Within four months he was admitted to the University General Hospital where he died of chronic diarrhea on November 27.

Nancy probably received word of her husband’s death in the same way Daniel Walters learned of his son Archibald’s death: from a local man who had ventured to New Orleans and came back with news.  The news was seldom good.  At least one quarter of the Piney Woods enlistees succumbed to disease during their term of service—most within the first nine months.  Drury, the third son of Daniel Walters to have enlisted in New Orleans, died of smallpox three days before his brother Marada succumbed.  Both Nancy and her father-in-law would have had to accept the news and struggle on because life at the margins did not permit devoting much time and energy to grief.   

The war ended in April of 1865 and surviving Confederate veterans, maimed or just emaciated, came home.  The surviving New Orleans enlistees followed a year later, given early release from their three-year terms.  But those who returned were far fewer in number than those who had marched away.  Therefore Nancy, like Confederate widow Martha Rushing Walters, must have counted it a true blessing when she had the opportunity to remarry.  In February of 1867 she wed Hanson A. Walters at the home of her parents.  Genealogies indicate he was the son of Arthur Walters, probably an offspring of the original group of Walters settlers.  Born in 1836, Hanson had married Elizabeth (Quilly) Hightower in 1855.  But she died in 1862 while Hanson was responding to the conscription act by enlisting in the Company C of the 7th Battalion, Mississippi Infantry.  He participated in the Vicksburg campaign and, following his parole after the city’s surrender, deserted and returned home.  He does not appear on any of the Knight Band rosters, but on May 24, 1864 enlisted in Company G of the 1st New Orleans.  He served until his discharge on June 1, 1866.

Despite her remarriage, Nancy was eligible for a Union widow’s pension to help support her children.  She began the application process in June of 1867 and within a year was approved for payment of eight dollars per month, commencing upon the date of Marada’s death and continuing through March of 1880.  She received an additional two dollars per month per child, to continue until each child reached sixteen years of age.  This payment totaling $168 per year would have been a major boost to the fortunes of any family living in the post-war Piney Woods, where annual the value of farm production often amounted to less than $500.  

Pension application for minors of Marada Walters

Nancy and Hanson settled into a life of farming and child rearing.  Years later, when Hanson applied for a disability pension, he listed six children:  Quilla (1868), Eugene Amon (1870), Theodocia (1871), Laura (1873), Renvy (1874), and Isabella (1877).  (Another child, a daughter born circa 1875, apparently died in the interim.)  He operated a modest farm east of Ellisville where, among other activities, he kept bees that he reported in 1870 produced 84 pounds of honey.   

Over time, animosity about the area’s renegade reputation, which provoked returning Confederate veterans to have Jones County briefly renamed Davis County (in honor of Jefferson Davis), mellowed.  Indicative of the emerging tolerance of the choices soldiers made after the surrender of Vicksburg is the fact that Hanson was allowed to join the Ellisville Chapter of Confederate Veterans.  In the 1890s he was elected as his district’s representative on the County Board of Supervisors–a post also held by doggedly unrepentant former Knight Band member Jasper Collins. Even in the midst of Lost Cause glorification of the Confederacy, many of the aging Unionists retained the esteem of their neighbors 

But it was Union service that made one eligible for federal benefits.  So in 1898, at age 61, Hanson applied for a Union disability pension.  He underwent a medical examination that reported him to be 5’ 10” tall, a lean 135 pounds, and still having dark hair.  His application was rejected based on his acknowledged service in the Confederate Army.   A later decision overturned this exclusion and Hanson began receiving ten dollar per month in 1904. 

Pension application, Hanson Walters

The pension bureaucracy was not as well disposed towards Daniel Walters.  Three of his sons had died after enlisting in New Orleans, but Drury and Marada left wives who had rightful claims as widows.  Beginning in 1890, a 72 year old Daniel sought a pension as a dependent of Archibald, who he claimed was a source of partial support prior to his Unions service.  But the Bureau of Pensions was skeptical and demanded further evidence.  Months turned into years and the claim was finally denied in 1898.  The 1900 census showed him living with two boys, ages 14 and 11, who were apparently grandchildren.  Daniel survived for another decade on whatever charity he received from his relatives and died in 1908.    

 

Daniel Walters's letter to Commissioner of Pensions

   By 1910, the wear and tear of Piney Woods life had taken its toll on Nancy and Hanson.  That year’s census showed them living in a household that included their unmarried daughter Renvy, age 33, and a 17 year old grandson.  On December 24, 1910 Hanson died in his home, age 74.  He was buried the next day, a Christmas Sunday, in the Mt. Moriah Baptist Church cemetery.   

Nancy Pitts Walters survived her first husband by 50 years and her second by four.  She died of “senile paralysis” on January 18, 1915.  She was buried next to Hanson Walters in the Mt. Moriah cemetery.  To the right of her tombstone is a funeral home marker for daughter Renvy A. Walters, who died in 1966.  It is assumed that Marada Walters was buried in the Chalmette, Louisiana, national cemetery along with other Piney Woods men who died in the 1st and 2nd New Orleans Regiments—but no record of his gravesite has yet been found.  

(Acknowledgement to the article “Willoughby Walters Family” by Jimmye Walters Watson in Echoes From Our Past, Vol 1 published by the Jones County Genealogical & Historical Organization.  Other information comes from the Union pension files of Archibald Walters, Drury E. Walters, Hanson A. Walters, and Marada M. Walters.)

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Researching Civil War Home Fronts and Beyond

by Vikki Bynum

Back in fall, 2001, just months after the release of my book, Free State of Jones, David Woodbury (moderator of Battlefields and Bibliophiles) interviewed me for the Civil War Forum Conference Series. As I read today the questions that he and others posed, and my answers to them, it becomes clear why I wrote The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies. There was so much more I wanted to know, or knew and wanted to tell. For example, although I identified the Collins and allied families as representing the heart of Jones County Unionism, I had only touched on the parallel renegade band led by another branch of the same family in the Big Thicket of East Texas.  Likewise, I had barely tapped into records detailing the postwar political activism of Collinses in both Mississippi and Texas.  And then there was Newt Knight himself. I obtained copies of Newt’s voluminous claim files of 1887-1900 from independent researcher Ken Welch shortly before Free State of Jones went to press. Although the claim files did not change my essential understanding of Newt Knight, they provided such rich detail about the claims process, and the men who either joined or opposed the Knight Band, that I decided to devote a chapter to them in the new book. In yet another chapter, I expanded on the history of the multiracial Knight community that resulted from collaboration between Newt Knight and Rachel, the former slave of his grandfather. For the new book, I also returned to my research on the Unionists of the North Carolina Piedmont who figured so prominently in my first book, Unruly Women. The inner civil war that raged in North Carolina’s “Quaker Belt” (Montgomery, Moore, and Randolph Counties) had stimulated me to research the similar “war” of Jones County.  Yet, despite their similarities, I soon discovered important differences between these Civil War home front wars. That’s when I decided to compare all three communities of dissent–those of Jones Co., MS, the NC Quaker Belt, and the Big Thicket of East Texas–in the same volume. And so the idea for Long Shadow of the Civil War was born. As you read the 2001 question and answer session that follows, I think you’ll understand why I felt compelled to continue my research on southern dissenters, and to expand the story even further beyond the Civil War. My thanks to David Woodbury for permission to repost his Q & A session with me.

 

Transcript of the 35th session of the Civil War Forum Conference Series. GUEST: Dr. Victoria Bynum TOPIC: The subject of her book, “The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War” Date: October 25, 2001 ——————————– Greetings, and welcome to the  35th session of the Civil War Forum conference series. We are very pleased tonight to have with us Dr. Victoria Bynum, professor of history at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, discussing the subject of her new book: “The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War” (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001). Let’s get started.

Q. (David Woodbury): Welcome Dr. Bynum.  Since this is probably a fairly obscure topic even among Civil War buffs, can you begin with an overview of Jones County, and what set it apart from the rest of Mississippi (e.g., the paucity of slaves there), and the events that gave rise to stories of the so-called “Free State,” or Kingdom of Jones?

A. (Victoria Bynum): Jones County was founded in 1826, and it’s part of one of the earlier-settled sections of Mississippi (because of Native Americans already being pushed out of that part of the state, but not out of the more fertile portions of Mississippi). Many of the earliest settlers were veterans of the War of 1812, especially. I won’t go too much into it, but because it was the Piney Woods region, you didn’t have a great many slaveholders there. Slavery was important — there were slaveholders — but not many *big* slaveholders. It had the lowest number of slaveholders of any county in the state, and almost 80 percent of those slaveholders owned fewer than four slaves. So, just to leap forward to the Civil War itself, this was a region that was pretty ripe — by around 1862 — for seeing the war as a “rich man’s war” and “poor man’s fight,” because they were the poorest men in the state. I don’t want to imply that they were landless, because they were small landowners, but in terms of slaveholders, they were the poorest in the state. [The county] voted almost 2-1 against secession. Moving ahead to the 20th century about how all these stories got started — what made this story so legendary and why it has persisted so long is that the leader of this band of deserters crossed the color line. Now, it’s not that crossing the color line was so unusual, it’s the way that Newton Knight did it. He not only crossed the line, but two of his children intermarried with the children of the slave woman who was his chief collaborator (it was after the war that they intermarried — she was his collaborator during the war). And that resulted in a mixed-race community that’s still very vibrant today — a very large mixed-race community that claims descent from Rachel the slave, and Newton, the leader of the deserter band. …So you’ve had this ongoing battle — this is why I make the second part of the title, “Mississippi’s Longest Civil War,” because factions of this family have been debating the meaning of this uprising since the Civil War. And with the racial aspect, it has made the debate particularly volatile. Those who wanted to defend the Unionism of the Knight band generally just erased the story of the race-mixing, and those who were pro-Confederate . . . used the racial mixing as just further examples that these were deviant men who committed treason against the country, against the Confederacy, and against their race. That’s why the story has lasted, [and] because there have been several books written, and a novel, and even a movie made from the novel.

Q. (David Woodbury): One of the fun things about reading your book is the spirit of investigation, or discovery, in unmasking the past. Can you recall any major breakthroughs during the course of your research, or any particular surprises you encountered upon digging deeper?

A. (Victoria Bynum): I believe some of the most delightful surprises were the ongoing discoveries I made about the Collins family — I believe that their story is one that was buried because of the notoriety of Newt Knight. The discovery that their ancestors were both Regulators back in the 1760s and Populists in the 1890s kind of gave me a whole view of Southern dissent as represented by this family, in a way that just stood right out — and made them the core of the Unionist group there, rather than Newt Knight. And I want to add that probably the biggest surprise was that the Collinses had brothers in Texas who were leaders of their own deserter band, so there were actually two deserter bands which existed simultaneously. It just showed the uncompromising nature of their Unionism; not nearly all the deserters were as Unionist as the Collins’s. There was a core group of about five different families that I would call truly Unionist. Putting that together was very exciting, because I kept finding connections between the very distant past, and the Civil War era, and connections between the  various families as well.

Q. (Margaret  D. Blough): What was the reaction of the Confederate authorities? Was it as  brutal as the suppression of the earlier East Tennessee Unionist uprising?

A. (Victoria Bynum): I’m not sure just how brutal that was, in terms of making an exact comparison, but the Confederacy did send two expeditions into Jones County to put down the uprisings there, and in the Official Records [of the Confederate and Union Armies] there is quite a bit of discussion of Jones County. The most important example is Colonel Lowry’s raid on Jones County. In the space of a few days, they executed ten members of the Knight Company –the Knight Band. That was the worst experience that the  Jones County group experienced. I imagine that it was probably worse in East Tennessee due to the geographic location. Jones County was still pretty remote, and there weren’t as many raids.

Q. (Teresa N. Blaurock): So nice to have you here to tell us more about your book! My co-workers, not Civil War buffs, were intrigued by the subject, and seemed ready to read more on the topic. One question I had is about “jeans” cloth. Can you tell us anything about it?

A. (Victoria Bynum): [You're] referring to when Newton Knight — in 1865, he was relief commissioner — had an order from the military government in place at that time to seize a certain amount of goods from the former CSA representative of the county, who was a merchant, and they refer to Jeans cloth in there…

Q. (Stevan F. Meserve): Jeans cloth is not denim, but a particular weave of wool. It was  commonly used in uniform trousers. I just had to stick that in. My question is about Unionist sentiment in Jones County. How many precincts of the county voted to remain in the Union? Here in Loudoun County, Virginia, for example, three of 16 precincts voted to remain in the Union.  Overall, the county voted 2:1 to secede.

A. (Victoria Bynum): All I know — that I’ve been able to find — is that 166 people voted against secession, and I believe it was about 89 who voted for it… Let’s see… Yes, 166 for the Cooperationist Candidate, and 89 for the Secessionist Candidate. In fact, neighboring Perry County (I don’t have those numbers with me) was even more Unionist. So Jones County was not isolated in that respect. The Perry County delegate held out longer.

Q. (Margaret  D. Blough): Did any of the Jones County Unionists articulate why they supported the Union? The pressure must have been intense in the Deep South for secession?

A. (Victoria Bynum): Yes, of course in their county they didn’t feel that so directly — more so when the war began — but (after the war) they cited the 20 Negro Law [when] citing reasons for their desertion from the Confederacy. The only articulated Unionist statements are by the Collins family, who did not believe that the election of Abraham Lincoln was grounds for secession. And there’s a quote of a certain Collins brother counseling men to try to get duty in the hospitals as nurses if they did join the service — that they should not fight against the Union. And one more statement attributed to the Collinses is that while they didn’t believe in slavery, they also did not believe that the federal government had the right to end it.

Q. (Teresa N. Blaurock): Early in the book, you describe rivers that were dammed to provide power for mills, but preventing fishing for those needing to do that. It seems such a conflict! I know the Jones County deserters were really against the 20 Negro Law, which was the objection to “government” in their era.

A. (Victoria Bynum): One of the things that I found, as you no doubt noticed, were that these were people who were very touchy about the government’s role in their lives. And again to use the Collinses as an example, since they were always in the thick of it — as they moved across the frontier they continued petitioning the government to respect their rights as citizens and to provide them protection, not only against Indians, but against corrupt local officials. So this is a theme that runs throughout their history, and I think that’s the point that you’re making with your comment.

Q. (David Woodbury): It sounds like your research benefited nearly as much from elderly locals and descendants as it did from archival work. That is, they were able to show you things, like the grave sites of Newt and Rachel Knight. Could you have written this book 20 or 30 years from now, after many of these people are gone?

separate photos of tombstones of Rachel (left) and Newt Knight. Photos by Victoria Bynum

A. (Victoria Bynum): I agree that my personal contacts with descendants was really crucial to the book, and no I couldn’t have written the same book. I could have written *a* book — a study — but in fact when I started writing this book I had no idea that I would achieve the kind of contact with local people that I did. It brought perspectives that I just don’t think I could have pieced together from archival documents. In particular, I don’t think I could have described the mixed race community if I hadn’t spent a lot of time among the descendants of Rachel and Newton Knight… And I don’t believe I could have written *nearly* the kind of study of their community without that personal contact. That was crucial.

Q. (Margaret  D. Blough): To tie into what Terry asked, I’ve seen some opinions that many of the Unionists areas in North Carolina, etc., in the mountains had had no experience with the US government, except for the postal system and the first experience they had with an intrusive government was Confederate authorities enforcing the conscription and impressment laws?  Is that what you saw?

A. (Victoria Bynum): I would say that in general that was true, once they settled in Jones County, that they had a lot of local autonomy. Some writers suggest there was no real government in Jones County before the war, but that just isn’t true. But it is fair to say that they had very limited contact with state government at the top, or federal government. However, I would still point out that their frontier petitions do show quite an interest in the Federal government and  its power. They have a long history of protest of corrupt local government, and I suspect that during the Civil War they developed a similar relationship with the Federal government, because they saw the Confederacy as another example of corrupt local government. That tradition goes all the way back to the Regulators.

Q. (David Woodbury): You include a photograph of the Leaf River in your book, “site of Deserter’s Den — the Knight Company’s Civil War hideout.” Were you able to pinpoint the actual location, and what is there today  (presumably private property)?

The Leaf River, intersection of Covington and Jones Co., MS, site of Deserters’ Den. Photo by Victoria Bynum

A. (Victoria Bynum): It is private property today. I took the photo myself and I was taken there by one of those local old-timers. Not very far from that river — the site of that river in the photograph — is the cemetery of Newton Knight’s grandfather. That land is now in the hands of a private company, and we had to be escorted into the cemetery by someone who had a key… But all of those lands used to be owned by the core members of the deserter band.

Q. (Stevan F. Meserve): On the subject of “intrusive” government, how much intrusion did Jones County see during the war from officials on either side? The territory between Hattiesburg and Meridian was pretty much no man’s land, wasn’t it?

A. (Victoria Bynum): I think it was pretty much considered no-man’s land between those areas. The Confederacy managed to have a Home Guard unit down in Jones County, headed by a local Confederate officer, and that was Amos McLemore, reputed to have been murdered by Newt Knight and his men. By April of 1864, when more and more reports were reaching Confederate officials elsewhere that Jones County was under the control of deserters, and they had murdered some of the tax agents, then they sent the two expeditions I mentioned earlier… Col. Maury, in March (1864), subdued the deserters a bit but they came back just as strong, so then they sent Col. Robert Lowry in April. Now that really did splinter the band. He executed ten of them, and that’s when a number of them fled to New Orleans and joined the Union army. About 40 — they weren’t all members of the band — about 40 Jones County men joined the Union Army in New Orleans… And then about 15 men were captured and forced back into the Confederate army. That left about 20 more whom they never caught, including Newt Knight, still out in the swamps.

Q. (Teresa N. Blaurock): You describe the prominent role of women in the book. Using “polecat musk and red pepper” to throw off the scent of the men from the dogs was rather emphatic. How did that come to be known as the thing to use?

A. (Victoria Bynum): Well, according to Ethel Knight, who wrote the best known book (The Echo of the Black Horn, 1951), the white women learned it from Rachel, the slave. I don’t know where she got her information from.

Q. (Azby): In your opinion, at what point did the Civil War become “inevitable”?  question?

A. (Victoria Bynum): I would suppose that once Lincoln called for troops from the South, and even many who opposed secession turned the other way — when the image of invasion became a vivid one, the firing on Fort Sumter and the call for troops, one could say that’s when it began to appear inevitable. Or you could look at it more broadly, and simply say that when the Northern states put in their constitutions gradual emancipation while the South simultaneously began designs for expanding slavery into the Southwest, some would say that’s when war became inevitable. But I’m not real big on “inevitability.”

Q. (David Woodbury): When did you first hear of the legend about Jones County in the Civil War? And what first drew you to this as a subject of scholarly research?

A. (Victoria Bynum): I first learned about Jones County around 1976 when I was an undergraduate in college. I saw it in a footnote in the Randall and Donald — the old Civil War text [Randall, James G., and David H. Donald. The Civil War and Reconstruction]. I did not hear about it from within my own family, even though my father was born in Jones County. What drew me to it as a subject of scholarship was writing my first book, Unruly Women. I have two chapters on the Civil War there, and one of those chapters centers on a county very similar to Jones County in many ways, and that’s Montgomery County, North Carolina. …But I just became fascinated with the topic of Southern Unionism, and the way that entire families were involved in resisting the Confederacy. It was both the class element in it, and the participation of women and free blacks in North Carolina that made me then want to look at Jones County. So, it was only as I developed as a historian myself that I decided I would like to do a study of Jones County.

Q. (David Woodbury): Would you talk a little bit about the so-called “white Negro” community in Jones County after the war, the trial of Davis Knight in the 1940s, and why this is such an important part of the story of “The Free State of Jones.”

A. (Victoria Bynum): I think it’s incredibly important because it reveals how 20th century race relations and segregation buried the story of the Free State of Jones beneath all these stereotypes about race-mixing, and then combined with the Myth of the Lost Cause, which presented Unionists as treasonous. The story had just become so distorted. And so I began and ended the book with the trial to basically look at why race was such a volatile part of the story, and then to move from there to look at the story of a class-based uprising of white men that is an important story in its own right, and would not have been buried so deeply if it had not been for the obsession with Newton Knight’s interracial relationship with Rachel. And so I was determined to tell both stories, and particularly to try to bring back the stories of all these other members of Knight’s band who had just sort of been lost from the picture. Thanks everyone. The questions were good ones, I enjoyed them.

The Long Shadow of the Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2010)

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