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Posts Tagged ‘free state of jones’

 

Newt Knight by VB

Visitors to Renegade South often express interest in where Newt Knight and his band of deserters hid out during the Civil War; there’s even an essay devoted to the question on this blog. Recently, Jones County historian Ed Payne pointed out to me that a pretty good description of the location was provided by local citizen Ruby Huff during the 1930s. Huff was an unabashed admirer of the Knight Company, and I quoted liberally from her essay in my book, FREE STATE OF JONES, to demonstrate how vividly the story remained seared in the minds of  local people.

Ruby Huff’s essay was part of the Works Projects Administration’s (WPA) historical research on Covington County, Mississippi. My thanks to Ed Payne for suggesting that I reprint it on Renegade South. The section that describes the location of “Deserters’ Den” appears below in italics.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

 

“A Skirmish – Cavalry versus Deserters – Where in Newt Knights men raid Lowrey’s Raiders”

By Mrs. Ruby Huff

After the 20 Negro Act was passed, by the Confederacy, the men, to whom fighting (in so one side a struggle as the Civil War was) was abominable and seemingly very un-called for, became rebellious; therefore, after the damnable siege and slaughter at Vicksburg many officers, privates and younger recruits left the lines of battle to join a rank of men, who dare to rebel; these rebels were termed deserters, at many points in the south these men had haunts suitable for protection; because of this act of their desertion at so critical a period in the struggle enraged higher officers to the extent that orders were given to the cavalry to bring the men back or shoot them dead in their tracks.

Many skirmishes and drives were staged in Jones and Covington Counties because the notorious deserter leader, Newt Knight and his cohorts lived near the boundaries of these counties and the most outstanding hide out or secret haunt intersects the boundary between the two counties; this historical land mark (unorthodox) is known as Deserters’ Den Lake and is situated about .5 mile east of Leaf River (Reddoch’s Ferry) Bridge south of Highway 84; to the general public this unique natural feature is unknown, but in its course of time many a weird tale, many a heart rending sob and much beautiful bravery has centered around this particular protector.  The lake is situated so the entrance faced the old Reddoch’s Ferry, another mark of history now so contritely in the background.

While in the reminiscent trend let me retell of a skirmish or drive that marked quite a turning point in General Lowrey’s * dare-devil squad of Cavalry men.

In May of ’65, the Cavalry under the leadership of General Lowery * decided to break camp at Jimmy Knight’s old mill which was located on the Etahoma part of Big Creek above Gitano, to gain trail back toward Raleigh, the County seat of Smith where a Confederate Divisional Headquarter and a hospital (now Harrison Hotel) were located; in order to get to Raleigh from their location in Jones, they had to sallie forth to Reddoch’s Ferry, be ferried across Leaf River, then cross Cohay at the old Jackson Trail Ford near Hot Coffee (bridge now in construction at the point on U.S. Highway #35).

The Cavalry had done much harm while encamped at the old mill in the way of robbing helpless widows of their last bit of “grub”, chasing down and slaying innocent men who knew nothing of the Deserters, too, of unmercifully hanging and slaying the Deserters without so much as giving them a chance to return to service or make explanation.  This had enraged the Deserter Crew, so much that when the signal was given that Lowery’s bunch was crossing the ferry about fifty Deserters, who knew the lay of the land quite well, slipped hurriedly through the old Jackie Knight’s home field, swam to Cohay and rushed into secreted hiding places in and around the old Ford and when the tramp, tramp of the weary men in uniform about a thousand strong, neared the banks and ventured into the water one brave Deserter hollered “Newt here they air”, at which signal the Deserters shook the bushes and dispersed tumultuously into a panic and simultaneously Newt fired a few wild shots, the “rookus” was, so unexpected and so riotous the 1000 strong Cavalry did pretty much like ole’ sis’ cow in Uncle Remus’ tales “dey hist deir tales and away dey flewd.”

Sometimes this spirit of the South, gets so unsouthy as to want to clap my hands and say three cheers for the most daring troop that ever tramped the Southern soil—the Deserters

“The Deserters”

The Deserters, were men, honest good and true, men, who liked to live and let live as well as I or you.  Men, who were hounded in chase, like creatures of the lower animal race.  No home, no church, no school could withhold, The Cavalry from those ill-treated pioneers out in the cold.  So refuge these much abused citizens did take, in the protecting arms of Mother Nature’s (Deserters’ Den) Lake.

*Huff was referring to Col. Robert Lowry

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Recently, I received an email message from Richard A. Jermyn, Jr., whose great-great grandfather and great grandfather both participated in Confederate Col. Robert Lowry’s raid on the Unionist/deserter stronghold of Jones County, Mississippi, during the Civil War.

The Jermyn family was from Handsboro and Mississippi City of Coastal Mississippi, where James Jermyn was actively engaged in trade between Mississippi City and New Orleans. “Mobile, the Mississippi Coast, and New Orleans,” writes descendant Richard Jermyn, “were intimately tied together via coastal shipping, . . . . Handsboro and Mississippi City were centers of commerce in the region up to the Civil War.” Great-great grandfather James, “born in Yarmouth, England, was a cabin boy on a British ship, jumped ship in New Orleans at the age of nine years old, fought in the Mexican war, eventually settled in Handsboro/Mississippi City as a schooner/packet boat captain, and was enlisted [in the Confederate Army] for the duration of the Civil War.” (1)

 In spring 1861, James Jermyn enlisted in Co. E of the 20th Mississippi Infantry (“Adams Rifles” of Harrison County), which was later joined with the 6th Mississippi Regiment to quell unrest in the Jones County region of the state. Later, his son, Robert Alfred Jermyn, enlisted in the same company. I find it particularly interesting that the father and son participated in the Lowry raid as regular soldiers, and thus might have offered a different perspective on events than the two officers, Col. Lowry of the 6th Miss. Reg’t., and Col. William N. Brown of the 20th Miss. Inf., who also provided eye-witness accounts.  

Alas, despite the fact that James Jermyn’s narrative diary survived the war, and despite a note that he wrote to his wife Samantha from Knight’s Mill on May 5, 1864 (just following the Lowry raid), James provided few details about the raid itself.  What he does provide, however, is possibly the only written day-by-day description of the men’s movements during the course of that raid. For those details alone, the diary of James Jermyn is invaluable. (2)  Portions of that diary are reproduced below, with original spelling and punctuation left intact.

 On April 14, James Jermyn wrote:

Left camp near Raleigh [Smith Co., MS] at 11 a.m. marched 12 miles and rested about 2 hours and then Scouted all night.

On April 15, he reported that his unit had

Stopped at Mr. Rob’t Hawthorn’s at sunrise and slept in the Ginroom till 12M when we marched to the Leaf River and crossed at Mr. Blackwell’s and marched to Knight’s Mills & Bivouaked Dist 8 miles.

At that point, the two units were amid deserters. All three of the above surnames—Hawthorn (Hathorn), Blackwell, and Knight—may be found among men listed on Newt Knight’s roster.

On the 17th, James wrote in somewhat unclear language that Co. E had

Left camp near Knight’s Mills and deployed as Skirmishers & drove Black Creek to the mouth crossed Tallahoma creek and marched about 3 mile and Bivouaked at night.

On April 18, he wrote, the men

Left at sunrise deployed skirmishers and drove the rest of Tallahoma & Tallahala Creeks and then marched to Ellisville and rested until 4AM.

On April 19,

Left Ellisville at Daylight marched 3 miles and then deployed skirmishers. Skirmished about 10 miles up Tallahala and then marched 8 miles to Mile’s Mills & Bivoaked.

On April 20,

Left Mile’s Mills at Sunrise and marched 7 miles and Bivoaked at Copeland’s Mills at 11 A.M. and marched 16 miles crossed Bogohoma and Bivoaked near Mr. Williamson’s place.

On April 25,

Left our Bivoak at Sunrise and marched about 5 miles S.E. and rested till 4 P.M. when we marched back to Tallahala and guarded the Fords and foot logs & Bridges and drove the swamps with dogs marched in all about 21 miles sweeping Bogohoma 3 or 4 times.

On April 26,

Left our posts on Tallahala and marched about 2 miles and Bivoaked about 1 mile from the Widow P(?)ouilk’s Place.

On April 27,

Left our Bivoak at 10 A.M. marched a 10 miles and Bivoaked near Wm Hodges farm in the N.W. corner of Wayne County.

On April 28,

Left our Bivoak at 10 A.M. marched a____mile and deployed as Skirmishers and Skirmished 8 miles in the Forks to Thompson’s Creeks then marched 4 miles and Bivoaked at dark on Little Thompson Creek near the Bridges.

On April 29,

Left Bivoak at 12 a.m. marched 1 mile and deployed as Skirmishers and Skirmished 8 miles and then marched 4 miles down the Creek and Bivoaked in Perry County.

On April 30,

Started at Sunrise and marched____miles and Bivoaked near Mr. Finche’s in Wayne County.

On May 1,    

Left our Bivoak at 8 a.m. marched 3 miles South deployed as Skirmishers, Skirmished ___ miles then marched 4 miles & Bivoaked at Henderson’s Farm in Green County.

Finally, the skirmishes ended. On May 2, Jermyn reported, we

left our Bivoak at 7 a.m. and marched 25 miles and Bivoaked at night at Mr. Wm. McGillberries on Bogohoma Jones County.

On May 4,

Left our Bivoak at Mr. McGillberries at 6 ½ a.m. and marched to Tallahala Creek by 12 Rested 2 hours At 2 P.M. Marched to Ellisville and out on Raleigh road 6 miles & Bivoaked. Dist 31 miles.

On May 5,

Started at Daylight and marched to Knights Mills by 10 a.m. Dist 10 miles.

It was on this date that James Jermyn wrote the following words to his wife, Samantha, in which he surely referred to the Jones County raid when he alluded to “very arduous duty,” but now believed that “prospects look brighter than they have for a long time”:

Dear Wife, I added these few lines to you informing you that I am enjoying a reasonable position of good health, and hope this will meet you enjoying the same blessing. Since I last wrote to you we have been performing very arduous duty from which we have just arrived at camp. I have not received a letter from you since the 4th or 5th of March last. I have no news to write you of interest though our prospects look brighter than they have for a long time and hope this year will bring about peace. Alfred is well I expect he will write to you. All the rest of the boys are in good health. Give my love to all. Write to me the first opportunity you have and believe me your ever Affectionate Husband, James Jermyn. (3)

On May 7,

left Knights Mills at 7 a.m. and marched 26 miles to Bivouac 1 mile north of Tallahala.

On May 8,

Started at Daylight passed through Paulding at 7 A.M. and Bivoucked at 5 ½ miles from Enterprise at 5 P.M. Dist 20 miles.

On May 9, James Jermyn reported that Co E,  20th Miss. Inf., had left Mississippi for Alabama:

Started at Daylight and marched to Enterprise at 12 M left on the Rail Road from Maridian—here shifted cars and left Maridian [Meridian] at 4 P.M. on the Ala & Miss Rail road and arrived at Bigbee River at 10 P.M. went up the river about 4 miles on the Steamer Marengo, and landed at the Parole Camps near Demopolis Alabama and Bivoucked.

Although James Jermyn reported his health as “good,” and their son Alfred as “well,” to his wife on May 5, 1864, the war took a great toll on both. According to Richard, his great grandfather (Alfred) “lost all of his toes to frostbite—because of no shoes—and was said could not wear shoes again.” James Jermyn died during the year following the war.

Richard Jermyn offers this speculation about his ancestors’ war experiences:

My personal/general feeling is that the people of Coastal Mississippi who fought in that war, were thoroughly whipped, felt that the war’s intense suffering and misery—marching, hunger, cold, capture, exchange, fighting, disease, sickness, death, exhaustion, etc.—for what seemed like forever, was all for naught, and they were not particularly proud of some of the things that they did or witnessed and they didn’t really want to talk about it. They were proud that they served—that they didn’t suffer the embarrassment of having shirked their duty. Although the Mississippi Coast had small amounts of slavery, most of the men who fought were simply fighting because it was expected for the men to do their duty. It was said that the women would have nothing to do with deserters or men who avoided their service duty.

Of course, many of the Piney Woods men who refused to serve the Confederacy believed themselves to be the South’s true patriots—and their women supported them, too. When one moves beyond issues of loyalty and motive, however, one sees Southern as well as American men caught in a brutal civil war that pitted them against one another, and which brought lasting destruction and poverty to the South. 

The words of author Lionel F. Baxter, whose grandfather, Marion Francis Baxter (also from Handsboro, MS), likewise served in Co. E of the 20th Miss. Inf. during Col. Robert Lowry’s raid on Jones County, capture well the grisly nature of guerrilla warfare. In his 1977 biography of his grandfather, based on extensive research in the National Archives, Baxter wrote that Jones County deserters were “as ruthless a pack of bushwhackers as any found in the border states.” Still, he pointed out, Capt. Wm. B. Thompson of Co. H, 6th Miss. Reg’t., was “appalled by the sight” of the hanging of four young men who were court-martialed by Col. Lowry after they “shot into our troops” (p. 87). (4)

Whether privates or officers, probably few Confederate soldiers would have objected to executing deserters who shot at them from the swamps. Capt. Thompson’s misgivings, however, reflected the raw, personal nature of home front battles. According to Lionel Baxter, his grandfather Marion had “similar reservations” as did Thompson about the inner civil war in Piney Woods Mississippi that spring of 1864. As he looked back on his unit’s hanging of a group of deserters that included a boy of 16 (Baxter’s own age), he concluded that “it was a mistake to have hanged that boy as undoubtedly he was led into that kind of life by the older men” (p. 87). As Lionel Baxter noted, this was the “seamy, unromantic side of warfare” (p. 88).

My deep thanks to Richard Jermyn for sharing precious family documents with Renegade South!

Vikki Bynum

1. Email, Richard A. Jermyn, 23 Dec. 2010, to Victoria Bynum.

2. “The Sojourns of James Jermyn During the War Against the Southern Confederacy, 1861 to 1864,” Transcribed copy of diary by David T. Hale, Biloxi, Mississippi, April 1995. Copy provided to Victoria Bynum, moderator of Renegade South, by Richard A. Jermyn, Jr.

3.  Excerpt from letter by James Jermyn, 5 May 1864. In a letter to one of his daughters, James added this note to his wife, Samantha (Email from Richard A. Jermyn, Jr., 3 Jan. 2011, to Victoria Bynum).

4. The War Service of Marion Francis Baxter, C.S.A, by Lionel Francis Baxter & John Medders, published by John W. Baxter.

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I’m pleased to announce that Renegade South was recently listed as one of the top Civil War blogs by Onlinecourses.net! To visit the Online Courses site, simply click the certificate below.

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On September 29, 2010, the Jackson Free Press published Byron Wilkes’s review of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies.  Historian/genealogist Ed Payne kindly sent me the link, which I have posted below.

After summarizing the scope and arguments of the book, Mr. Wilkes ended his review with the following remarks:

“Although Bynum discusses the “multiracial community that endures to this day” in Jones County, she makes sure to frame the narrative realistically, particularly in noting that the Knights were not outspoken abolitionists. Rather, this was simply the way they lived, astonishingly so for their era and geography.

Bynum depicts the other communities in equally intimate lights, grasping each one’s complexity while providing an analysis that brings this history to modern relevance.”

to read the entire review, click below.

http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/index.php/site/comments/things_we_dont_know_092910/

My thanks to Byron Wilkes for his review and to the Free Press for including my book in the pages of their fine newspaper.

Vikki Bynum

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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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Unionist naming of Mississippi children:  1861-1880

By Ed Payne

In December of 1867, former Knight Band member and staunch Unionist Jasper Collins named his first son born after the Civil War, Ulysses Sherman Collins.   Federal forces had won the war but the victory failed to sway the hearts and minds of most white Southerners.  So naming a child in honor of the Union’s two most successful—and reviled—generals was a bold act of defiance.  The incident provides clear evidence of Jasper Collins’s steadfast adherence to his beliefs.  Given this, I wanted to learn how many other Mississippi children were given Unionist names.  For comparison purposes, I also searched for children who bore the names of Confederate leaders of comparable stature.

Naming children after political figures occurred with far greater frequency in the 19th century than in modern times.  A search through the Mississippi census of 1870, for example, yields 172 males named “Benjamin F.,” 337 named “Andrew J.,” and fully 964 with the given name of “George W.”   These patterns clearly suggest a tendency on the part of families to pay homage to early American luminaries such as Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Jackson, and George Washington.  Even flinty New Englander Daniel Webster apparently garnered enough respect for 53 Mississippians to have named their sons “Daniel W.”

For purposes of this inquiry, I researched male children residing in Mississippi at the time of the 1870 and 1880 federal household censuses.  The 1870 census search was restricted to males born between 1861 and the enumeration date of June 1, 1870.  Similarly, the 1880 census analysis dealt with those born from 1870 through June 1, 1880.  In evaluating naming patterns, my working assumption was that those given names which resembled the names of eminent Civil War figures in most cases did reflect such a connection. The assumption that this was generally true should not be construed as a belief that connections exist in every case.  For example, in compiling my data, I counted each “Robert E.” as connoting a child named after Robert E. Lee.  Yet a review of the 1860 census, two years before General Lee rose to fame, shows that 20 Mississippi children born in the period from 1850 to 1860 happened to be named “Robert E.” 

A second fact, which came as something of a surprise, is that only a relatively small percent of Mississippi children born during the study period were named after Civil War heroes, Confederate or Union.  The two censuses include some 330,000 Mississippi male children born within the 1861 to 1880 timeframe (171,000 black, 138,000 white, and 21,000 mulattoes).  Of these, only 1,695 (0 .5%) bear names that seem emblematic of the six Civil War figures analyzed.

Table 1 provides a count of given names coinciding with those of the selected Confederate and Union leaders.  Several variations of each name were searched using Ancestry.com.  For example, variations for Abraham Lincoln searched were: “Abe L.”, “Abraham L.”, and “Lincoln” (“Abraham” alone was not counted).  The given name “Ulysses” (with various misspellings) was considered to be associated with U.S. Grant.  The abbreviations “R.E.L.”, “U.S.G.” and “W.T.S.” (i.e. William Tecumseh Sherman) were also searched, although only instances of “R.E.L.” were found.  However, due to their commonality, “Davis” and “Lee” without supporting initials were not counted.  An exception to this general pattern was Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.  Since “Thomas J.” coincides with popular naming of children after Thomas Jefferson, only given names incorporating “Stonewall” were counted. 

These tallies likely include some duplication of those children born January-May 1870 and still alive in 1880, who fell within the search parameters for both censuses.  Please bear in mind that my goal was not rigorous accuracy, but rather to obtain some indication of the relative frequency with which these names were bestowed.

1861 - 1870   1870 - 1880
Confederate name Blk Wh   Blk Wh
Jefferson Davis variations 46 168   6 22
Robert E. Lee variations 13 115   22 206
Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson variations 21 24   5 13
  80 307   33 241
           
        Blk Wh
Confederate name totals (1861-1880)       113 548
           
  1861 - 1870   1870 - 1880
Unionist name Blk Wh   Blk Wh
Abraham Lincoln variations 50 5   53 0
Ulysses Grant variations 219 22   404 9
Wm T Sherman variations 139 12   115 6
  408 39   572 15
           
        Blk Wh
Union name totals (1861-1880)       980 54

Table 1: Count of the naming of Mississippi children for Civil War eminences, 1861-1880. The counts for those identified as mulattoes have been combined with those listed as black.

Table 1 indicates that among whites, names reflective of the selected Confederates occurred 10 times more frequently than those associated with the Union leaders.  Newly freed slaves, less restricted after 1865 in naming (or re-naming) their children—but still in large measure economically dependent on the white population—nevertheless chose names allied with the Union figures 8.5 times more than Confederate ones. 

The census search yielded a list of 54 white male Mississippi children who appear to have been named after Lincoln, Grant, or Sherman.   Their number is small but what seems remarkable, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, is that they exist at all.  And their existence raises other questions: were their parents Southerners or Carpetbaggers; in what areas of the state did they reside; and during what interval within the 1861 to 1880 birth range was Unionist naming most frequent?  The census information compiled in Table 2 provides some interesting answers.

Cnt Census YoB Name County Region Self Fthr Mthr
1 1870 1869 Ulysses Atkinson Leake PB MS AL AL
2 1870 1868 Sherman Beech Jones GC MS AL MS
3 1870 1868 Grant Bibb Monroe PB MS MS MS
4 1870 1869 Lincoln Bosman Tippah N MS SC TN
5 1870 1864 Lincoln Brannon Clarke PB MS n/a MS
6 1870 1868 Sherman Bunnsaw Jasper GC MS MS MS
7 1880 1872 Ulysses Butler Itawamba N AL AL MS
8 1870 1861 Lincoln Bynum Jones GC MS MS MS
9 1880 1870 Sherman Cawley Jones GC MS MS MS
10 1870 1868 Ulysses S. Collins Jones GC MS MS MS
11 1880 1880 Oaker Grant Conlee Pontotac N MS MS GA
12 1870 1869 Ulyssis Coon Monroe PB MS AL MS
13 1870 1870 Ulyssus Cotton Carroll D MS MS MS
14 1870 1868 Sherman L. Davis Rankin SC MS SC SC
15 1870 1869 Ulysses G. Dexter Tishomingo N MS Engl TN
16 1880 1876 Sherman Dunaway Lincoln SC MS MS MS
17 1880 1880 C. Sherman Eddy Hinds SC MS OH AL
18 1880 1874 U.S. Ford Lee N MS NC MS
19 1880 1879 Sherman George Grenada N MS Grmy MS
20 1870 1865 Ulyssus Hall Carroll D MS AL AL
21 1870 1866 Ulyssus Hamlin Tippah N IL TN SC
22 1870 1869 U.S. Grant Hillhouse Calhoun N MS SC MS
23 1880 1872 James Grant Hutson Tishomingo N MS TN TN
24 1870 1870 Sherman Jammison Itawamba N MS DE AL
25 1870 1869 Ulysses S. King Marion GC MS MS MS
26 1880 1879 Sherman Kinkaed Yazoo D MS Irelnd MS
27 1870 1863 Abraham L. Lee Jones GC MS n/a MS
28 1870 1865 Sherman Lee Lominick Tippah N MS SC SC
29 1880 1872 Grant Luten Grenada N IN IN IN
30 1880 1880 Grant McDade Kemper PB MS AL MS
31 1870 1869 William Grant McDowel Oktibbeha PB MS n/a AL
32 1870 1868 Grant McEwin Pike SC MS MS MS
33 1870 1866 Grant W. Millan Newton PB MS SC MS
34 1870 1863 Grant Nelson Holmes D MS VA VA
35 1870 1870 Sherman Parasot Holmes D MS n/a IN
36 1870 1870 Grant Perry Chickasaw PB TN TN TN
37 1880 1873 William Grant Pritchard Pontotac N TN SC AL
38 1870 1865 Grant Robinson Hinds SC MS KY MS
39 1870 1868 N. Grant Shumpert Itawamba N MS SC MS
40 1870 1866 Sherman Sivilly Harrison SC MS GA MS
41 1870 1865 Sherman Smith Jackson GC MS MS MS
42 1870 1869 Sherman Spence Pike SC MS Grmy Grmy
43 1870 1869 Ulyssus Sulivan Monroe PB MS MS MS
44 1870 1865 Sherman Swords Pontotac N MS TN NC
45 1870 1866 Grant Tacket Calhoun N AL AL TN
46 1880 1878 Grant Taylor Alcorn N MS MS TN
47 1870 1866 Grant Thompson Lowndes PB MS VA MS
48 1870 1869 U.S. Grant Townsen Lincoln SC MS LA LA
49 1870 1864 Sherman Walden Prentiss N MS NC NC
50 1880 1878 Grant L. Walker Chickasaw PB MS AL MS
51 1870 1866 Sherman Welborn Jones GC MS MS MS
52 1870 1865 Ulepes Grant Willborn Jasper GC MS n/a MS
53 1870 1870 Abraham L. William Choctaw PB MS NC GA
54 1880 1878 Sherman Wilson Warren SC MS TN LA

Table 2: List of Mississippi white males born 1861-1880 having possible Unionist names. Based on Ancestry.com searches of the 1870 and 1880 U.S. Censuses.

          
To begin, the large majority of children given Unionist names were born into families with Southern roots.  Of the 54 listed, 48 (88.9%) were born in Mississippi.  All but two (96.3%) were born in states that comprised the Confederacy.  The only exceptions were Ulyssus Hamlin (born in Illinois) and Grant Luten (born in Indiana).  Among the fathers, 14 (25.9%) were Mississippi natives with an additional 27 (totaling 75.9%) hailed from other secession states.  Only four came from states outside the former Confederacy (one each from:  Delaware, Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio) while four were born in foreign countries.  (The birthplace of five fathers was not recorded.)  Data for mothers shows even stronger Southern heritage:  29 (53.7%) were born in Mississippi and another 22 (totaling 94.4%) in other Confederate states.  Of the remaining three, two came from Indiana and one was born in Germany.

The census location of children shows the greatest concentration of Unionist names tended to occur, unsurprisingly, in those areas of Mississippi where the cotton economy was weakest and war time discontent against Confederate authority the strongest.  For purposes of analysis, census counties listed on Table 2 were grouped into five state regions: North (N), Delta (D), Pine Belt (PB), South Central (SC), and Gulf Coast (GC).  These are derived from the state’s current tourist regions—which correlate with accepted geographic and cultural areas of the state (see Map).  Note that in this division Jones County and the surrounding “piney woods” area fall within the Gulf Coast region.

The Northern region of the state had the greatest number of Unionist names with 18 (33.3%) followed by the Pine Belt with 12 (22.2%) and the Gulf Coast with 10 (18.5%).  Among the individual counties, Jones had the highest count with six.  The counties of Itawamba (N), Tippah (N), and Monroe (PB) had three each.

The peak period for bestowing names with Unionist associations took place in the years 1869-70 (16 names) followed by 1865-6 (12 names).  Of the 54 individuals listed, 40 (74%) were born between 1861 and 1870.  Only 14 names (26%) date from the later period of 1871 to 1880, when Federal Reconstruction policies waned and Southern Democrats began to reassert political control. 

It bears repeating that a given name of “Grant” or “Sherman” by itself is not proof of a Unionist connection.  On the other hand, it seems equally relevant to suggest that families with strong Confederate loyalties might have shied away from names tainted by their association with despised Union leaders.  Whatever the linkages or lack thereof, children who bore unpopular names doubtless came home with blackened eyes or busted lips as Civil War animosities carried over into playgrounds.

Taking the six children in Jones County with “Union names” as a sample, what can be discovered in researching their fathers?  Let’s return to our starting point: Ulysses Sherman Collins.  Civil War records, pension testimony, and newspaper articles all concur that his father Jasper came from a family of Unionists.  In 1862, however, passage of Confederate conscription laws impelled him and several relatives to enlist in Co. F of the 7th Battalion MS Infantry.  Jasper participated in the battles of Corinth and Iuka, but deserted in October 1862 after stating his opposition to a newly enacted Confederate law granting military exemptions to slave owners with 20 or more slaves.  One year later, he joined with Newton Knight in the formation of the Knight Band. 

After the war Jasper Collins repeatedly stated that his course of action was the correct one.  Whether admiring or excusing his forthrightness, Jones County neighbors elected him to the county Board of Supervisors.  Upon his death in 1913, the local paper published a laudatory, if somewhat evasive, obituary.  His son Ulysses (‘Lyss) found neither his name nor his family’s Unionism a barrier to being elected, like his father, to the Board of Supervisors and later to the position of Chancery Clerk.  He died an honored and respected member of his community in 1941.

The father of Sherman Cawley is identified through census records as Franklin P. Cawley (aka Corley).  Frank P. Cawley joined Co. C of the 37th MS Infantry on March 8, 1862 but was listed as absent without leave from March 11, 1863 until May 11, 1864.  This, of course, overlaps with the most active period for the Knight Band and the spring 1864 campaign by C.S.A. Col. Robert Lowry that rounded up a number of the deserters.  The Knight Band rosters list “B.F. Cawley” as a member, but this is not definitive proof he was the same person.  Franklin Cawley returned to his unit and was captured at Nashville on December 15, 1864.  Imprisoned in Camp Douglas, Illinois, he proved more fortunate than some of his Piney Wood comrades in surviving the harsh conditions there until released in June 1865.  Both Franklin P. Cawley and his son Sherman were last found on the 1880 census.

Abraham Lincoln Lee appears on the 1870 census as a seven year-old in the household Delphine Lee.  Working backwards to the 1860 census, his father turned out to be James W. Lee.  Although James W. Lee was of conscription age (born circa 1835), no records have been found of him serving in the Confederate military.  On April 13, 1864, however, he joined the ranks of Piney Woods men who travelled south and enlisted in the Union 1st New Orleans Infantry.  He was assigned to Co. D and served until his death from typhoid fever on 28 July 1864.  His son Abraham grew up to be a Jones County farmer who, like Ulysses S. Collins, died in 1941.

Lincoln Bynum’s single census listing is in 1870 as a nine year-old.  Thus it seems he was given the name “Lincoln” in 1861, at the very outset of the war.  No military records have been found definitely referring to Lincoln’s father, Hiram James Bynum.  Nor does his name appear on the Knight Band rosters.  But an inquiry into his family connections reveals a man living amid Unionists.

Hiram Bynum’s familial Unionist connections can be summarized as follows:  1) sister Lydia married Simeon Collins, an older brother of Jasper, in 1839.  Simeon and several of his sons appear on the Knight Band rosters.  2) Another of Hiram’s sisters, Sarah, married William Holifield (aka Holyfield).  He, too, appears on the renegade rosters and, following the Lowry campaign, enlisted in the 1st New Orleans Infantry.  3) Hiram’s first cousin Prentice M. Bynum is found on the Knight Band rosters and also subsequently joined the 1st New Orleans Infantry.  4) First cousin, Tapley Bynum, rode with the Knight Band and was killed by Lowry’s forces.  5) First cousin Dicey E. Bynum married William H. Mauldin, another of those who enlisted in the 1st New Orleans Infantry in the spring of 1864.  He died of typhoid pneumonia the following December.  Lincoln Bynum apparently died in childhood.  Hiram Bynum is said to have died circa 1883 in Jasper County.

Sherman Welborn was a son of Thomas Newton Welborn and grandson of Younger Welborn (1805-1880).  In Free State of Jones, Victoria Bynum quoted a descendent as stating that, although of conscription age, the sons of Younger Welborn refused to join the Confederate army.  No military records have been located for Thomas but, as in the case with Hiram Bynum, an examination of family connections uncovers Unionist activities.  In the wake of the Lowry campaign, Thomas’s older brother William and younger brother Tolbert made their way to Louisiana and joined the Unionist 1st New Orleans Infantry.  Tolbert Welborn died of disease during his enlistment while his brother William was discharged in June 1866 and later drew a pension for his service.  Thomas Welborn died in 1917 and his son Sherman, a farmer, in 1929.        

Only in the instance of Sherman Beech has a Unionist link not been found.  His father was Thomas Beech (aka Beach).  A Thomas Beech who appears to match the parentage of Sherman enlisted in Co. B of the 25th Alabama Infantry on May 15, 1862 and was given an unconditional discharge due to illness that same November.  Sherman Beech is last found in Jackson County on the 1880 census, while his father is reported to have lived until 1922.

Thus of six children seeming to have Unionist names, four had fathers who took part in Unionist activities or else had close relatives so engaged.  There is a possible link in one case (Sherman Cawley) and insufficient information for another (Sherman Beech). 

One final observation: some families may have given a child a Unionist name and then thought better of it.  While searching the 1930 Ancestry census transcriptions for Ulysses Collins by his given name, a record was found for Ulysses Pearson Walters.  His name had not appeared among those compiled in the searches of the 1870 and 1880 censuses.  Working backward, I found him to be a son of Richard Herrin Walters (1841-1911).  Coincidentally or not, the mother of Richard H. Walters was a member of the Unionist Collins family.  On the 1870 census (Smith County) Ulysses Pearson Walters was listed simply as “Pierson Walter” and in 1880 (Jones County) as “E.P. Walters.”  It was not until the 1900 census, as a married adult of 28 living in Laurel, Mississippi, that he reported his full name as “Ulysses P. Walters.”  When he died in 1947, his gravestone listed him as “U.P. Walters.”

Despite this modest sampling of names and the current lack of evidence that all those on it are, in fact, indicative of Unionist sympathies, it’s my hope that the names on Table 2 will provide some basis for further inquiries into Unionist sentiment found in the heart of the Deep South.

Resources utilized:  Ancestry.com; Footnote.com; Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s longest Civil War by Victoria Bynum; Echoes from our Past by the Jones County Genealogical and Historical Society; and The Bynum and Herrington Connections by Ruby Bynum Sanders.

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My thanks to historian Michael Perman of the University of Illinois at Chicago for his thoughtful review of Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies in the Summer 2010 issue of Civil War Book Review:

 

http://www.lib.lsu.edu/civilwarbookreview/index.php?q=3655&field=ID&browse=yes&record=full&searching=yes&Submit=Search

Vikki Bynum

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