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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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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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Note: A few weeks ago, Renegade South published a story of murder and mayhem among the Lyon and Landrum families of Jones County. Accusations of murder notwithstanding, the southeastern Mississippi Lyon family is better known for the progressive political views and accomplishments of several of its descendants. Dr. Elijah W. Lyon, we have seen, was likely “Dr. Lyon,” the populist listed from Jasper County in 1894.  And, as I note in Long Shadow of the Civil War, in 1920, Elijah’s first cousin once removed, Thomas J. Lyon, was the Socialist candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Mississippi’s Sixth District. This same Thomas J. Lyon married Theodocia Collins, daughter of Unionist/Populist Jasper Collins.

Summarized below, with permission from Keith and Donnis Lyon, is a brief biography of yet another illustrious member of the Lyon family: Elijah W. Lyon, grandson and namesake of the populist, Dr. Elijah W. Lyon. This younger E. W. Lyon was a historian and president of Pomona College from 1941 until 1969 .

Elijah W. Lyon was born in 1904 in Heidelberg, Mississippi. As a young man, his goal was to become a journalist. Soon, however, he discovered the study of history, and accordingly changed his plans. An outstanding student at the University of Mississippi, he was elected senior class president and appointed editor of the college newspaper.  Soon after, he won a Rhodes Scholarship to St. John’s College at Oxford.

After returning to the United States, Elijah became assistant professor of history at Louisiana Polytechnic Institute. He then moved on to Colgate University, where he was named head of the history department in 1934.

In 1941, Lyon was appointed president of Pomona College (one of the five colleges of the Claremont College complex in southern California). Until 1969, he helped shape its reputation as a leading liberal arts institution.

According to journalist Roxane Arnold in a 1989 article, “almost as soon as he arrived at Pomona, he found himself in turbulent times, first because of the outset of World War II and then into the McCarthy era. Throughout it all, he is said to have stood tall in defending academic freedom.”

“After retiring, Lyon returned once again to history, writing more history books and speaking at major colleges throughout the country. To honor him, a professorship was established in his name in 1969; and then in 1989, ground-breaking was held on campus for the college’s newest dormitory–the E. Wilson Lyon Court.”

Elijah W. Lyon was more than a skilled administrator, however; he was a “scholar’s scholar” who made it a point to recruit a strong faculty that set “the tone for what is taught in classrooms there today.” According to David Alexander, Pomona’s president in 1989, Lyon  “felt his paramount duty was the appointment of a strong faculty.  For 28 years, Wilson Lyon applied his view of liberal education to the development of Pomona College and what the college is today is the product of those dreams.”

President E. Wilson Lyon, 1966
Charles P. Cross
Oil on canvas, 431/2 x 511/2”
Gift of Gladys K. Montgomery

The 28-year presidency of Elijah Wilson Lyon (1941-1969) was the longest in Pomona’s history. The College we know today owes much to his leadership, and his History of Pomona College (1977) remains the most reliable source of information about the College. Lyon’s portrait was commissioned on the occasion of his 25th year as president.

Books by Elijah Wilson Lyon:

The history of Pomona College, 1887-1969 (1977)

Man Who Sold Louisiana: The Career of Francois Barbe-Marbois (1975)

Louisiana in French Diplomacy, 1759-1804 (1974)

The History of Louisiana, Particularly of the Cession of That Colony to the United States of America co-authored with Francois Barbe-Marbois (1976)

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

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Every family has its less-than-savory branches, and the Lyons (also spelled Lynes and Lines in the nineteenth century) of southeastern Mississippi were no exception. The Lyon family produced noteworthy political reformers in the 19th and 20th centuries, but in 1857, a father and son of that name (spelled Lynes in the published court transcripts) were convicted of murder.

It’s interesting to note the persistence of traditional customs of patriarchal kinship in the following story of that murder.  I’m certain, for example, that the fact that Charles Landrum was married to Thomas Lynes’s daughter helped to fuel the rage that led to his murder. Landrum had testified against his father-in-law in a larceny case, an act that marked him as disloyal to family. Lynes also administered harsh punishment to the daughter who apparently stood by her husband over her father, while he treated another daughter as property to be bargained away when it served his interests. It’s also worth noting that Thomas’s son, Morgan, was only about 16 years old when he participated in the murder of Landrum. Clearly, Thomas Lynes relished the habit of command.

Vikki Bynum, moderator


The Lyons and the Landrums: A Tale of Kinship and Murder

“A more deliberate, cruel, cowardly assassination was never conceived or executed.” (1)

That’s how state attorney general T. J. Wharton described the murder of Charles Landrum of Jones County, Mississippi (2). Less than two weeks before Christmas, 1857, twenty-six-year-old Landrum was shot to death at his own home while playing an ordinary board game with his neighbor, Morgan Lynes (Lyons) (3). Charley had just got up from the game and walked over to the hearth of his one-room cabin to staunch a nosebleed when a bullet blasted through an unsealed crack near the cabin’s chimney. He died instantly.

Morgan, who had made a prescient move toward the door just before the shot rang out, turned to Charley’s horrified wife and exclaimed, “You cannot accuse us of it; we have been too good to you.” In addition to Morgan, “us” included Lemuel Lyons, perhaps a brother, James Hightower, and Morgan’s father, sixty-two-year-old Thomas Lyons. (Old Tom Lyons was the father-in-law of Charley Landrum, which would make “Mrs. Landrum” the sister of Morgan Lyons) (4).  A witness who hurried to the Landrum cabin after hearing gunfire testified that all four men were close to the scene. She first encountered Lemuel, then Morgan. Nearby, she heard the voices of Thomas Lyons and James Hightower, although she saw neither man (5).

Poor Charley had surely known his life was in danger. Just days before the killing, his dogs died; one in a fit consistent with strychnine poisoning. Around the same time, his wife woke in the night to some sort of liquid being hurled on her; something so caustic it blistered her arms and hands by morning. But who was out to get the Landrums? And why?

Upon investigation, a motive for the intimidation and murder of Charley Landrum emerged, and it pointed directly at Charley’s father-in-law, Tom Lynes. Turns out that two months before the murder, in September, Tom, his son Morgan, and another likely son, Lemuel, had been indicted on charges of larceny. The principle witness against them was none other than Charley Landrum. After their arrest, both Tom and Morgan retaliated, accusing Charley of swearing a lie before the grand jury and launching threats against him. The killing of Charley’s dogs and abuse of his wife followed soon after.

Meanwhile, according to testimony, Tom Lynes soon deeded all his property to his daughter, Elizabeth. He then offered James Hightower a deal he couldn’t resist: Tom would “give” Elizabeth to him, with all her new wealth, in exchange for Hightower pulling the trigger on Charley Landrum. At least that’s what Hightower claimed. Tom Lynes, backed by his son Morgan, affirmed that Hightower had indeed murdered Landrum—he claimed he even watched him load his gun at the Lynes home—but Tom denied that he had hired Hightower to do the dirty work by promising him his newly-propertied daughter. (No one seemed to care what Elizabeth thought of this arrangement).

At their joint trial in October 1858, Thomas and Morgan Lynes were found guilty and sentenced to be hung. Under a writ of error won by the Lynes’s lawyer, however, the supreme court of Mississippi ruled that Hightower’s testimony regarding Tom and Morgan had been improperly admitted. In delivering the opinion of the court, Judge J. Harris wrote, “the confession of Hightower, so far as it was introduced to establish the fact that he was the perpetrator of the crime, was competent; but so far as it tended to implicate others, was incompetent, and should have been excluded from the jury.” The case was accordingly remanded, and a new jury impaneled to decide on the guilt of the Lyons, but without hearing the testimony provided by Hightower.

The new jury apparently convicted the Lynes anyway, but did not sentence them to die. The federal manuscript census of 1860 lists Thomas “Lines”, age 65, and his son, Morgan, age 18, as living in a household headed by A. M. Dozier, a doctor. Under the column reserved for idiots, paupers, convicts, etc., the census enumerator wrote “murder” beside both the father and son’s names (6).

It’s interesting that, while labeled as murderers, the Lynes were neither incarcerated in 1860 nor living among family. Perhaps they were found innocent by the second jury after all, and it was the census enumerator who decided to “convict” them for posterity. Maybe there’s a reader out there who can supply missing details.

Vikki Bynum

ENDNOTES

  1. Thomas M. and Thomas Lynes v. The State, Cases Argued & Decided in the Supreme Court of Mississippi, Vol. 36, pp. 617-626. This case may be read online at http://books.google.com/books?id=5z84AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA1213&lpg=PA1213&dq=lynes+murder+hightower&source=bl&ots=g3xguESukQ&sig=cJAg1evhaQSR1-4HP39WYuBV5bI&hl=en&ei=wjcnTLiOL5WNnQe8mcW8Bg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CBoQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=lynes%20murder%20hightower&f=falseAccording to family genealogies, Thomas Lynes (Lyon) was the son of Thomas Lyon, b. 1780, originally from the Abbeville District of S.C., and Lucy Donald. He and his wife, Mary Watters (Walters) were the parents of Elizabeth, Samuel, Obediah, Morgan, Joanna, Naomi, and Bruce Simpson.
  2. The 1850 federal manuscript census for Jones County lists 19-year-old Charles Landrum in the household of Jesse and Jemima Landrum, ages 49 and 44.
  3. Morgan’s full name was Thomas Morgan Lynes (Lyons).
  4. Mrs. Landrum’s first name was not provided. It is possible that Thomas Lynes son, Samuel, is Lemuel. Supreme Court transcripts occasionally miss-reported or misspelled names.
  5. This witness is reported later in the transcript as Susan B. Landrum.
  6. The household of A.M. Dozier, age 27, included Mary R. and  Richard Dozier, ages 17 and 10. Dozier appears to have run a boarding house of sorts, as its members also included two school teachers and another doctor in addition to the Lynes men.

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Here’s a wonderful document sent to me by independent researcher Ralph Poore. It’s a reminder of the vibrant third-party political movements that emerged for a time in post-Civil War Mississippi. I’m especially intrigued by the names “R. A. Welborn,” “Dr. Lyon,” and “C. J.” and “D.A. Lightsey,” as those surnames are all connected in some way with Jones County Unionists and/or Populists. Perhaps readers can help identify possible kinships across county lines.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator


Jasper County Review

October 3, 1894 2:4

Resolutions of Populite [Populist] mass meeting.

Mass meeting of People’s Party of Jasper County held at courthouse in Paulding on September 20, 1894.

J. C. Rodgers chairman of the executive committee elected chairman of the meeting.

John White, secretary.

R. M. Read, Sr.

Committee of Ten: R. M. Read, Jr., A. W. Atwood, A. G. B. Graham, J. J. McNeill, John Simms, F.C. Thornton, R. A. Welborn, Dr. Lyon, W. E. Cook, C. J. Lightsey, D. A. Lightsey.

“Resolved, That we, the People’s party in mass meeting assembled, recognize the fact that the Democratic party has signally failed to carry out its promises. Therefore, be it

“Resolved, That we condemn the action of the present administration as subversive of the rights and interests of the people.

“2nd. That we condemn the action of Grover Cleveland in regard to the silver bill. We favor the government issuing greenbacks and paying the public debt and doing away with national banks, that general bankrupts may be averted.

“3rd. That we have been and still are in favor of Jeffersonian Democracy, and that our faith has never been shaken nor our courage diminished.

“4th. We recognize the People’s party as the only hope for relief, and that we ask all true reformers to go with us in this, the hour of our country’s peril.

“5th. That we are in the fight to stay until the battle for reform has been gained and the people emancipated from the rule of mammon.

“6th. That we are bound by no machine nor governed by no party lash, but believe more in moral honesty and competency in the discharge of official duties than the political epithets with which false men would beguile the people.

“7th. When a party becomes corrupt it is time to abandon it and build upon the ruins thereof truth and honor.

“8th. Believing in the righteousness of our cause and in the integrity of the American people, we invoke the aid of the God of justice on the success of our cause.

“9th. Resolved, That we reindorse the Omaha platform and the action of the Forest convention.

“Resolved, That we ask the Vindicator and all other reform papers to publish the above report, and on motion the Jasper County Review was requested to publish the proceedings of the meeting.”

JASPER COUNTY PEOPLES’ PARTY

Name Party Position Business Location Birth year
Rodgers, J. C. Chairman of the executive committee Juror
White, John secretary Election manager Twist Wood
Read, R. M., Sr. Confederate veteran
Read, R. M., Jr. Committee of Ten Election manager Missionary
Atwood, A. W. Committee of Ten farmer President, Jasper County Farmers’ Alliance 1852
Graham, A. G. B. Committee of Ten farmer Election manager Cross Roads
McNeill, J. J. Committee of Ten
Simms, John Committee of Ten
Thornton, F.C. Committee of Ten Leonia
Welborn, R. A. Committee of Ten farmer P. K. 1867
Lyon, Dr. Committee of Ten
Cook, W. E. Committee of Ten farmer Election manager Claiborne 1861
Lightsey, C. J. Committee of Ten farmer Election manager Paulding 1841
Lightsey, D. A. Committee of Ten 1894, candidate for Coroner and Ranger Paulding
Heidelberg, W. W. State senator
JASPER COUNTY FARMERS’ ALLIANCE
Name Position Business Location
Atwood, Augustus W. President Farmer TWP 3, Range 13 East
Long, W. P. Secretary
November 6, 1894 5th Congressional District election in Jasper County

Jasper County Review, Nov. 7, 1894 2:3

Precinct Williams (Democrat) Ratliff (Populist)
Paulding 20 6
Missionary 24 7
Antioch 22 7
Palestine 15 10
Twistwood 42 8
Hopewell 14 4
Fellowship 29
Garlandsville 18 1
Randal Hill 6
Montrose 34 2
Mt. Zion 39 10
P. K. 20 16
Cross Roads 27 23
Claiborne 23 17
Heidelberg 47 2
Vossburg 18 1
Rawl’s Mill 17 1
Total 415 115

Ratliff received 120 votes in 1892.

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By Vikki Bynum, moderator

A few days ago, the Clarion Ledger (Jackson, MS) published a joint review of two books: Steve Yates’s novel, “Morkan’s Quarry,” and my study, The Long Shadow of the Civil War. As reviewer  Joe L. White notes, “both books dispel the myth of the ‘Solid South.” Yates, he writes, provides a rich story of how “war can expose avarice, cruelty, viciousness, . . . and the opposites of compassion, kindness and humanity.” As a historical work, The Long Shadow shows “how Mississippi families played a major part in maintaining resistance to what many considered an unfair ‘rich man’s war’,” suggesting that the Civil War’s effects are not only “long-lasting, but perhaps never-ending.”

White ends his review by counseling readers to “take a gamble. Either book is a sure bet.” As the author of one of those books, I hope you’ll take his advice!

To read Joe White’s entire review click here:  http://www.clarionledger.com/article/20100530/FEAT05/5300307/1023/FEAT03/Review-New-Civil-War-books-compelling

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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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I am delighted to post historian Paul Escott’s review of my new book, recently published on H-Net’s Civil War forum!

Vikki Bynum, moderator

http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=29769

Victoria E. Bynum. The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. 272 pp. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8078-3381-0; ISBN 978-0-8078-9821-5.

Reviewed by Paul Escott (Wake Forest University)
Published on H-CivWar (May, 2010)
Commissioned by Matthew E. Mason

Escott on Bynum

“Few histories,” writes Victoria Bynum, “are buried faster or deeper than those of political and social dissenters” (p. 148). The Long Shadow of the Civil War disinters a number of remarkable dissenters in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Texas. It introduces the reader to stubbornly independent and courageous Southerners in the North Carolina Piedmont, the Mississippi Piney Woods, and the Big Thicket region around Hardin County, Texas. These individuals and family groups were willing to challenge their society’s coercive social conventions on race, class, and gender. They resisted the established powers when dissent was not only unpopular but dangerous–during the Civil War and the following decades of white supremacy and repressive dominance by the Democratic Party. Their histories remind us of two important truths: that the South was never as monolithic as its rulers and many followers tried to make it; and that human beings, though generally dependent on social approval and acceptance by their peers, are capable of courageous, independent, dissenting lives.

Bynum begins by focusing on the fierce, armed resistance to Confederate authority that developed in the North Carolina Piedmont, in Mississippi’s “Free State of Jones,” and in Texas’ Big Thicket counties. All three areas “had solid nonslaveholding majorities with slaves making up only 10 to 14 percent of their populations” (p. 16). Guerrilla leaders in all three supported the Union over the Confederacy, sheltered and encouraged deserters, and fought the soldiers and authorities of the new Southern nation. They often gained considerable power locally and forced Confederate leaders to dispatch troops in vain internal efforts to eradicate them.

Bynum gives detailed attention in this part of the book to the North Carolina Piedmont. Religious conviction was an important part of resistance in North Carolina’s “Quaker Belt,” where particularly strong resistance developed in Randolph County, an area that had also been influenced by the antislavery beliefs of Wesleyan Methodists. Women played an especially prominent role in dissent in the Piedmont. They aided their husbands, stole to feed their families, helped other deserters, and both protested to and threatened Confederate officials. “Deeply felt class, cultural, and religious values animated” these women’s actions (p. 51).

In nearby Orange County, North Carolina, there was “a lively interracial subculture” whose members “exchanged goods and engaged in gambling, drinking, and sexual and social intercourse” (p. 9). During the war these poor folks, who had come together despite “societal taboos and economic barriers,” supported themselves and aided resistance to the Confederacy by stealing goods and trading with deserters. During Reconstruction elite white men, who felt that their political and economic dominance was threatened along with their power over their wives and households, turned to violence to reestablish control. Yet interracial family groups among the poor challenged their mistreatment and contributed to “a fragile biracial political coalition” (pp. 55-56) that made the Republican Party dominant before relentless attacks from the Ku Klux Klan nullified the people’s will.

Bynum next focuses on Newt Knight’s military company that fought the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi. These armed resisters were so powerful that by late 1863 the Confederate government had to send troops to the area in order to carry out two major (and largely unsuccessful) raids against them. Knight also defied racial taboos by choosing to live with and father children by a black woman named Rachel, who was a slave of Newt’s grandfather. Together they started “a multiracial community that endures to this day” (p. 8). Bynum’s careful research adds to our understanding of the nature and roots of resistance in the “Free State of Jones.” Through three decades following the Civil War, Knight petitioned for financial compensation from the United States for the pro-Union efforts of himself and his military company. The documents of his long and ultimately unsuccessful quest reveal details about Jones County Unionism and his own determination. Pro-Union ideals played a far larger role than religion among Knight’s company. Newt’s obstinate resistance to the South’s ruling class led him to embrace and work for Populism in the later years of his life.

Family and community ties were at least as important among dissenting Southerners as among the slaveholding elite. Close relatives of Newt Knight and of his two key lieutenants in the “Free State of Jones” had moved to east Texas in the 1850s. There several brothers–Warren, Newton, and Stacy Collins–became principal figures in the anti-Confederate resistance that flourished in the Big Thicket region. Only one of eight Collins brothers chose to be loyal to the Confederate government. After fighting Confederate authorities during the Civil War, the Collinses and their relations later became active in the Populist Party and then in the Socialist Party. They stood up against the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of greedy or corrupt capitalists just as they had rejected the dominance of slaveholders. Back in Mississippi, members of the Collins clan chose to resist not only the power of the Democratic Party but the religious and cultural dominance of the Baptist Church, which had become part of the “white southern orthodoxy” (p. 108). Jasper Collins and other members of his family began a Universalist church; Newt Knight’s brother Frank “converted to Mormonism and moved to Colorado.” Such “dissident religious groups” faced “fierce and frequently violent” reactions, for they “threatened the reconstituted order over which the Democratic Party reigned supreme” (p. 105).

Professor Bynum closes her book with a chapter on the interracial offspring of Newt and Rachel Knight. Called “white Negroes” or “Knight’s Negroes” by their neighbors, these individuals continued to exhibit an independent spirit as they dealt with their society and with each other. They chose to identify themselves in a variety of ways; different members of the family adopted different approaches to life. Some passed as white, others affirmed their African American identity, and still others saw themselves as people of color but kept a distance from those whom society defined as Negroes. Within the family group there were many independent spirits. One woman, the ascetic Anna Knight, forged a long and energetic career as an educator and Seventh-Day Adventist missionary.

Victoria Bynum has plunged deeply into the primary sources on these interesting individuals, family groups, and local communities. Her footnotes will be very useful to future scholars. Yet, micro-history of this type often proves to be more tangled, complex, and difficult to comprehend than study of a large region, because the connections are both more abundant and, inevitably, less fully documented. It also is difficult to tell a multiplicity of short but complicated stories clearly. Professor Bynum’s history of these dissenters lifts the veil on a complicated web of friends, enemies, allies, and family relations who interacted over time. To describe the variety and extent of local conflicts, she must characterize the local community and introduce a host of minor characters. The multiplication of names, places, and details can be as confusing as it is illustrative of the depth of her research. Unfortunately, the welter of briefly mentioned details makes the reader’s experience choppy and sometimes confusing. Had the sources been rich enough, three separate books might have been easier to read than one peopled by so many characters whose personalities remain dim.

The Long Shadow of the Civil War is valuable, however, because it proves that dissent was not rare and insignificant. It modifies the image created by those in power of a solid, unchanging South united behind class dominance, white supremacy, and subordination of women. As writers like Eudora Welty have shown us, the Southern man or woman can be an independent, stubborn, dissenting, even eccentric individual. The fact that we tend to remember so few of these Southerners testifies to the coercive power that repressive elites have exercised through most of the region’s history.

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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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