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Posts Tagged ‘jones county’

THE LONG SHADOW OF THE CIVIL WAR, forthcoming, UNC Press, Feb., 2010

I am delighted with the cover designed by University of North Carolina Press for The Long Shadow of the Civil War, forthcoming February 2010. The cover’s shadowy figures and shrouded landscape not only suggest the enduring importance of place, family, and kinship in the South, but also the clandestine, rural world of Civil War Unionists.  Hazy outlines of a makeshift structure put me in mind of the deserter hideouts in the North Carolina Piedmont woods, the swamps of Piney Woods Mississippi, and the Big Thicket forests of East Texas that inspired the essays contained within (to learn more about the book, click here).

My thanks to UNC Press, long known for the high quality of its publications and the highly effective “first impression” quality of it’s book jackets, for showcasing so beautifully The Long Shadow of the Civil War.

Vikki Bynum

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[Many readers have written to tell me how much they enjoy listening to "Jones County Jubilee," over on my Renegade South website. The song is performed by Doctor G and the Mudcats, and was written by Doctor G himself, aka Gregg Andrews. Gregg, who wrote the following post, is a historian as well as singer/songwriter, and has published numerous books and articles, including his own community study, City of Dust: A Cement Company Town in the Land of Tom Sawyer (Univ. of Missouri Press, 1996). I'm proud to note that Gregg is also my husband.]

 

As a singer/songwriter, historian, and teacher, I like to use music as a teaching tool to reach students. I grew up in a cement company town just outside Hannibal, Missouri–Mark Twain’s boyhood home–on the banks of the Mississippi River. My father, who drilled holes and set dynamite charges in the cement plant’s limestone quarries, died at the age of 48, but he taught me to play the guitar shortly before he died. I was 15 years old at the time. The first song I learned from him was Jimmy Rodgers’s Depression-era “Waiting for a Train.” That song about hard times symbolized the cultural legacy he passed on to me–a love of traditional country music and the blues, along with a deep interest in the struggles and culture of working people. A few years later, I discovered the exciting music of Tony Joe White and Credence Clearwater Revival, which added a swamp vibe to the mix of influences on my music.

My song, “Jones County Jubilee,” had its roots in the first trip I made with Vikki to Jones County, Mississippi, on a hot August day in 1992. I was driving our car, trying unsuccessfully  to find a local landmark in the area. When I spotted a guy in his truck out in the field, I pulled over and suggested that Vikki get out of the car and walk over to ask him for directions. He told her to have me pull the car up in the shade and motioned he’d join us there in a few minutes.

The next thing we knew, we were in the truck with Julius Huff, who took us to the Jackie Knight cemetery, where several members of Newton Knight’s band of Unionists were buried after being hanged by Confederate forces. I got my first good feel of Jones County history, folklore, and culture as he got a key to unlock the gate guarding the bumpy old road down into the swamp. I still remember the chills running up and down my spine when I saw the tombstone inscription, “Executed for the courage of their convictions.” Looking back, I think that was the starting point for my song, even though I didn’t write it til years later.

Mass gravestone of Knight kinfolk executed by Col. Robert Lowry, Jackie Knight cemetery

Mass gravestone of Knight kinfolk executed by Col. Robert Lowry, Jackie Knight cemetery

We spent delightful hours with Julius, who stressed how beautiful Rachel was, how she “HOO-DOOED” Newt. Julius took us to a number of other places and gave his views on the history of Newt’s campaign against local Confederate officials during the war. We picked our way through the thick brush and kept an eye out for snakes as he showed us where Ben Knight and Sil Coleman were hanged after Confederate hound dogs had tracked them down. After Ben’s executioners refused his last request for water, according to folklore, water began to bubble up near his grave.

One other experience on that first trip to Jones County, in particular, helped to establish the feel of “Jones County Jubilee.” It was Earle Knight who rode with Vikki and me as we tried to locate the cemetery where Newt and Rachel are buried. Earle, who was 89 years old at the time, strained his eyes as I drove our new Ford Taurus down what had once been a pretty primitive dirt road. As I maneuvered the car to straddle washed-out gullies and drove through weeds that came up over the hood of the car, I started having second thoughts about just what in the hell we were doing. I mean, here we were, down in the swamp, dependent on the memory of an 89-year-old man who hadn’t even been to the cemetery in years. The rumble of thunder off in the distance added tension and a bit of urgency to our search for the graves. Then, at one point, Earle asked me to stop. Telling us to stay in the car, he got out and in a few minutes suddenly vanished in the brush. Oh, great, I told Vikki! What if he’d have a heart attack or something out there searching in the sweltering heat? Besides, the old road had taken so many twists and turns and the weeds were so high that we’d never find him or our way out of there. About that time, Earle reappeared and summoned us. He’d found the graves. “Praise the Lord,” I think I muttered at the time.

Separate photos of Newt and Rachel's graves, Newt Knight Cemetery

Separate photos of Newt and Rachel's graves, Newt Knight Cemetery

Over the next ten summers, I served as Vikki’s research assistant as we became familiar faces to many in the Jones County area, especially to members of the Knight family. In particular, Florence Blaylock opened her house to us, prepared fantastic meals, introduced us to members of the Knight family, and took us with her to services of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. In Jackson, the owners of a local restaurant (Martins, if I remember right) near the old Mississippi Department of History and Archives greeted us by name each summer, giving us free pieces of pie after we had filled up on their delicious cafeteria-style food.

 I didn’t set out to write a song about the Civil War history of Jones County. I had never even thought about it, in fact, but one day years later when I sat down with my guitar to write something with a good swamp feel, out came the words “way down in Mississippi.” And then it just flowed. I wanted to title the song, “Free State of Jones,” but when I did a google search, I discovered a great song by Cary Hudson, of Sumrall, Mississippi, that already had that name. That’s when I became first acquainted with the music of Cary and his band, Blue Mountain. What a treat when, a few years later, Vikki and I got to hear Cary perform the song at Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, Texas, while he was on a Texas tour. About 7 months later, Cary and I did a show together at Cheatham Street, and he quickly became one of my own favorite songwriters.

Cary Hudson on harmonica with Doctor G and the Mudcats, Cheatham Street Warehouse, San Marcos, TX

Cary Hudson on harmonica with Doctor G and the Mudcats, Cheatham Street Warehouse, San Marcos, TX

“Jones County Jubilee” soon became popular among fans (including many pro-Confederates) as I began to perform it with my band, Doctor G and the Mudcats, here in south central Texas. We included it on my CD, Mudcat (Cheatham Street Records), which was produced by Kent Finlay and released in September, 2005.

Gregg Andrews (Doctor G)

San Marcos, Texas

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Independent historian Ed Payne, of Jackson, will present “Sarah Collins: Pioneer Woman in the Free State of Jones” before the Jones County Genealogical and Historical Society at the Laurel-Jones County Library on Saturday, March 28, at 10:00 a.m.

Ed’s article on Sarah Collins is scheduled to appear in the April issue of the Journal of Mississippi History.

Those who have been following my recent posts about the Collins family may already know that Sarah (Sallie) Collins (1810-1889) was the daughter of Stacy and Sarah (Anderson) Collins, among the first settlers in the area that would become Jones County. Ed offers the following profile of Sarah Collins:

Sarah’s family connections and personal decisions placed her at the center of events in Civil War Jones County. Although she was a slave owner, Sarah is documented as having assisted the Newton Knight band—which included three of her brothers and four nephews. At the same time, her son and a son-in-law were fighting in Confederate units. Thus the life of Sarah Collins offers a unique prism through which to view the legacy of the Free State of Jones.

Sarah also exemplifies the strength and grit of the pioneer women of the Piney Woods: single-handedly killing a bear in her teens, enduring the death of her husband (George Willoughby Walters) and three children in her early forties, strongly contesting a divorce suit filed by her second husband, and then struggling to operate her own farm over the next three decades.

NOTE: Kinship ties between the Collinses and other area families who ended up on opposing sides during (and after) the Civil War will also be discussed. These allied families include ANDERSON, POWELL, WALTERS, and WELBORN.

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For those of you following the Collins family posts, please don’t miss my post on the Union pension file of Riley J. Collins over at RSS Southern Unionists Chronicles.  Riley was brother to Simeon and Jasper Collins and died serving the Union Army during the Civil War.

Vikki

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We’ve all the heard the cliché “truth is stranger than fiction,” but it’s always amazing to find an historical event that one can only imagine happening in a novel. That’s the way I felt when I discovered that six Collins brothers, from Mississippi to Texas, were divided into two different deserter bands that fought against the Confederacy. It doesn’t seem so strange to me now, knowing the strong Unionism of the Collins family, but it struck me at the time as kind of like mining for ore and striking gold.

You see, I was simply seeking additional genealogical information about the Collinses when I shifted my research on The Free State of Jones to Texas. I had stumbled on a small, self-published history of the Texas Collins family written by Vinson Allen Collins, whose name I immediately recognized since he was named for his Unionist uncle of Jones County, Mississippi. I wanted to know more about this branch of the family, especially since the family patriarch, Stacy Collins, had moved to Texas with this branch before dying shortly thereafter.

So then I found yet another family history of the Collinses, this one written by Carr P. Collins Jr., a grandson of the above Vinson Collins. From both works, I learned that the parents and four brothers of the Collinses who later joined the Knight band in Jones County had moved to East Texas around 1852. One of those sons, the great-grandpa of Carr P. Collins Jr., was Warren Jacob Collins, dubbed the “Daniel Boone” of East Texas.

What you won’t learn from either of these Texas family histories is that Warren Jacob Collins, joined by brothers Newton and Stacy, Jr., was the leader of the Big Thicket “jayhawkers” of Hardin County, Texas. Nor is there any mention of “The Free State of Jones” in either book, although Warren’s brothers, Simeon, Riley, and Jasper, were instrumental in forming the Knight band back in Jones County. Only by turning to Texas folklore and local histories did I learn this vital aspect of Texas Collins family history.

And that, my friends, is a perfect example of how thoroughly the Unionism of many of our southern forebears has been buried. The subsequent glorification of the Confederate “Lost Cause” by most Southern (and a good many Northern) writers and politicians in the wake of North/South “reconciliation” during the late-nineteenth century turned all “good” Southerners into diehard supporters of the Confederacy. Many southern families, although thankfully not all, were ashamed to find Unionism in their family backgrounds and felt compelled to hide it.

Much of my motivation for writing The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies is my determination to “reconcile” the histories of two branches of the Collins family whose Unionist convictions crossed state lines and survived the Civil War. I’m betting there are many more such families of the South. For now, the example of the Collinses demonstrates the ideological strength of Unionism as one important motivation for deserting the Confederate Army.

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Some of you may have noticed the new media slideshow that’s been added to the Renegade South website, www.renegadesouth.com One of the images you’ll see on it is the handwritten roster of the Knight band that Newt Knight submitted to Congress in 1870. That was the year that Newt began petitioning Congress to compensate him and his men for having fought on behalf of the Union Army.  He included the names of 54 men that he described as having remained “true” to the band and to the Union.

Understand that this is not the original roster that Newt kept hidden in the woods during the war. Family members retain that original, which is quite brittle and fragile. Rather, this roster was created after the war and presented as evidence to support Newt’s petition. Some of you will no doubt enjoy looking for familiar names! In case you can’t read them–the document “slides” by pretty fast–I’m listing all the names here, with original spellings and in original order.

I hope you enjoy the search, and if you’d like more information about what is written on the roster about a particular man, just ask! Officers are followed by privates:

Captain Newton Knight

1st Lt. J. M. Valentine

2nd Lt. Simeon Collins

1st. Sgt.  J.J. Collins

2nd Sgt. W. P. Turnbow

1st Corp. Alphus Knight

2nd Corp. S.G. Owens

Tapley Bynum

P.M. Bynum

Montgomery Blackwell

J.M. Blackwell

J.M. Collins

B.F. Collins

M.C. Collins

M.M. Coats

S.C. Coleman

B.F. Cawley

R.J. Collins

James Ewlen

J.M. Gunter

Tucker Gregg

R.H. Hinton

John Hogan

J.M. Hathhorn

G.M. Hathhorn

W.B. Jones

M.W. Kurven

S.W. Kurven

J.M. Knight

G.F. Knight

H.C. Knight

B.F. Knight

Lazrous Mathews

Ausberry McDaniel

C.F. Prine

Daniel Redock

W.W. Sumrall

John Ira Vallentine

Paterick Vallentine

M.B. [probably W., not M., for William] Vallentine

R.H. Vallentine

Eliga Wilborn

T.L. Welch

R.J. Welch

W.M. Welch

H.R. Welch

Younger Welborn

W.T. Welborn

N.V. Whitehead

T.J. Whitehead

D.W. Whitehead

James Yates

Thomas Yates

Joseph Youghn

Moses Richerson

Be sure to have a look at the original; it truly makes the past come alive!

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cover page of Newt Knight's final petition to Congress, 1894

cover page of Newt Knight's final petition to Congress, 1894

Newt Knight was relentless in his efforts to gain compensation for himself and his men from the U.S. Government for having served the Union. I barely touched on his history of claims in The Free State of Jones because the National Archives, where the files are stored, could not locate most of the records when I visited there back around 1994. Thankfully, Ken Welch of Soso, Mississippi, provided me copies of the missed files back in 2000, but not in time for me to integrate them into the book.

So, in a new essay, “Fighting a Losing Battle: Newt Knight versus the U.S. Court of Claims, 1870-1900, ” which will appear in my upcoming book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, I tell the history of those efforts. The case files are fascinating–many former members of the band, including Newt, AND opponents of the band, gave lengthy depositions! These files convince  me more than ever that the Knight Band never attempted to secede from the Confederacy, but rather rejected the Confederacy’s right to exist, at least in Jones County, which had voted against Mississippi’s secession from the Union.

But there’s much more to be learned from the files than that, and I truly enjoyed writing this essay as kind of an epilogue to The Free State of Jones. Most striking is how doggedly Newt pursued his case, right up to the dawn of the twentieth century. In the end, he and his men were denied compensation (as were the vast majority of Southern Unionists).

When I imagine Newt’s frustration with the government he claimed to have fought for during the Civil War, I think I understand why he commented around 1892 that nonslaveholding farmers in the South should have just risen up against the slaveholders rather than fight their war for them.

 

Vikki Bynum

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This essay from my upcoming Long Shadow of the Civil War profiles the leaders of three guerrilla bands from three regions of the South known for Unionism and resistance to the Confederacy: the Randolph County area of North Carolina, the Jones County area of Mississippi, and the “Big Thicket” region of East Texas. The geographic and family ties that link the bands are fascinating. The parents of Newt Knight, leader of the Mississippi band, migrated west from North Carolina around the period of the American Revolution. The three Collins brothers who initiated the Texas band had North Carolina and Mississippi roots, and were the brothers of the three Collins brothers who served with Newt Knight back in Jones County!

Here are a few snippets from this chapter describing Bill Owen, Newt Knight, and Warren J. Collins, the respective leaders of the three renegade bands:

“Bill Owens . . . appears the most ruthless and least charismatic of the leaders. Owens’s Civil War exploits inspired no romantic tales of heroism.”

“Newt could be ruthless as well as charismatic.  The cold-blooded murder of Major Amos McLemore, Jones County’s most powerful Confederate officer, is universally attributed to Newt.”

“Warren Collins .  .  .  appeared more adept at eluding capture than murdering Confederate leaders.  .  .  .  An extensive folklore surrounds the life of this so-called “Daniel Boone” of East Texas.”

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Several members of the extended Knight family are gathered here.

Several members of the extended Knight family are gathered here.

After posting my blog about Serena Knight, I returned to my research and photo files. There, I located this photograph of the Jeffrey and Ella Knight family, which is particularly revealing about Serena’s life after she left the home of her husband, Newt Knight. In my book, The Free State of Jones, I included this picture, but mis-identified it. I had thought that it was a photo of Jeffrey Early Knight (son of Rachel) and his first wife, Martha Ann (Mollie) Knight, the daughter of Newt and Serena Knight. Well, it is a photo of Jeffrey, and I was correct in identifying the elderly woman seated in front as Serena, Jeffrey’s mother-in-law. But this photo was taken after  the 1917 death of Mollie, Jeffrey’s first wife and Serena’s daughter. I have Dianne Walkup of Monterey, CA, a descendant of Jeffrey and Mollie Knight, to thank for setting me straight.

The woman standing next to Jeffrey is not Mollie, but rather is his second wife, Sue Ella (called Ella) Smith. Like Jeffrey, Ella was descended from a multiracial family. Her grandmother was Martha Ann Ainsworth, the only slave of Sampson “Jeff” Ainsworth of neighboring Smith County. All six of Martha Ann’s children are believed to have been fathered by Jeff Ainsworth. Like Rachel Knight, Martha Ann was herself multiracial. She was of Native American and probably African and European ancestry. After the Civil War, the multiracial Ainsworths intermarried extensively with the Knights and another multiracial family of the area, the Smiths, who may have descended from Mahala Smith, born in 1832 in Alabama and identified by Mississippi census enumerators as a mulatta.*

Back to the photograph. The children and young adults who surround Jeffrey, Ella, and Serena represent an extended, blended, and genealogically complex family. On the far left is Ada Knight, the daughter of Newt and Serena’s youngest daughter, Cora. Next to Ada is Mabry Knight, Ella’s son by her previous marriage to Henry Knight, who was Jeffrey’s nephew. Standing behind Ella is Wilder Knight, the son of Floyd Knight, whose parents were Rachel and, allegedly, Newt Knight. Wilder’s mother was Lucy Ainsworth Knight, the daughter of Martha Ann Ainsworth and, allegedly, Sampson “Jeff”Ainsworth, making him Ella’s half-brother. The remaining two children on the right are Ella’s son, Lacy, and her daughter, Nobie. Their father is alleged to have been Charlie Knight, a son of Jeffrey and Mollie Knight. If true, these children were both the grandchildren and stepchildren of Jeffrey Knight.

Represented in this extended family portrait are descendants of slaves, slaveholders, and non-slaveholders, Native Americans, African Americans, and Euro-Americans. Serena Knight, like her estranged husband, Newt, lived among her multiracial kinfolk until the end of her long life. She died in 1923 at the age of 85, having outlived Old Newt by one year.

*My knowledge of the Ainsworth, and Smith family lines has been greatly enhanced by the research of Dianne Walkup, Yvonne Bivins, and Shirley Pieratt.

A caveat to the above identifications:  The 1920 census listed Lacy as two years older than Mabry, making me suspect that their identities should be reversed on the photograph.

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When I decided in 1976 to pursue a degree in U.S. history, studying the American Civil War was the furthest thought from my mind. All that changed, however, during a long bus ride to my parents’ home during Thanksgiving break as I passed the time reading an assigned Civil War text. In a section devoted to white Southerners who opposed the Confederacy, I noticed a curious footnote. Jones County, Mississippi, the authors noted, had allegedly seceded from the Confederacy in the midst of the war after declaring itself the “Free State of Jones.”

A Deep South county that seceded from the Confederacy? What was this, and why had I not heard about it, especially given that my own father was born in Jones County? In this moment, I began dimly to perceive that the practice of history might as easily refute time-worn images of the South as reinforce them.

In the case of Jones County, located in the piney woods of southeastern Mississippi, history had first to be rescued from the realms of legend, myth, and folklore. Thanks to novelists, moviemakers, and a longstanding family feud, the Jones County uprising had remained a living story, but with pro- and anti-Confederate members of the family each presenting their “side.” Those who opposed the Confederacy were alternately presented as a gang of marauding outlaws, or as unionist heroes protecting families from harm. What was the “true” story of this region? 

I was not prepared in 1976 to tackle so formidable a task. A junior in college, I had neither academic training nor funding. Still, I never abandoned my goal of researching the history of my father’s place of birth. Sixteen years later, as my first book (Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South) was being published, I began to investigate the “legend” of Jones County’s secession from the Confederacy. What I discovered during eight years of summer research trips, and after endless writing and rewriting, was a story that utterly confounded popular notions about a “Solid (white) South” that had supported the “Lost Cause” of a separate southern nation.

In December, 1860, Jones County voters expressed widespread opposition to southern secession by electing a pro-Union delegate, John Powell, to the Mississippi State Convention of January, 1861. At that convention, delegate Powell caved in to pressure and changed his vote to favor secession, outraging many folks back home. Confederate conscript laws passed the following year dictated that Jones County’s young men join the Army. Most did so, but many did not remain there long. The northern Mississippi battles of Iuka and Corinth, coupled with passage of the so-called “Twenty-Negro Law” in October 1962 (which provided military exemptions for the owners of twenty or more slaves), convinced many to leave the Army for good. Sometimes alone, sometimes in small groups, they straggled home.

Until the Confederacy organized troops to track down deserters, AWOL men merely resumed normal activities at home. But, as Confederate militia became active in the Jones County area, deserters from the region armed themselves and headed for the swamps. By late 1863, they had formally organized themselves, unanimously electing Newton Knight, a nonslaveholding farmer, as their captain, and naming their band the Knight Company. The Knight Company proceeded to wage war on the Confederacy.

By all accounts, “Captain” Newt Knight possessed a forceful, charismatic personality. Tall, eagle-eyed, and remarkably self-possessed, he had extensive family ties in the community and quickly rose to prominence among fellow deserters. Befitting the leader of a guerrilla band, he could be ruthless as well as charismatic. “Kill or be killed” was necessarily the motto of anti-Confederate guerrillas, who faced execution for treason if captured.

The cold-blooded murder of Major Amos McLemore, Jones County’s most powerful Confederate officer, is universally attributed to Newt, although he was never charged in court. By 1864, the Knight Company had crippled the government of Jones County, contributing to news reports of the county’s secession from the Confederacy.

There were many guerrilla bands that roamed the South during the Civil War. They commonly came from solid nonslaveholding majorities and drew on strong kinship ties and assistance from the civilian populations of their communities. Such factors were fundamental to the formation and survival of the Knight Company. Slaveholders were few, with slaves comprising only 12 percent of the county’s population, while the importance of family networks was demonstrated by the fact that twenty-six of fifty-five core members of the band shared six surnames.

Women and slaves were vital participants in Jones County’s inner civil war. In April, 1864, when Confederate Colonel Robert Lowry and his forces raided Jones County in search of deserters, they encountered fierce resistance from civilians as well as dissident soldiers. The Knight band’s female kin, as well as Newt Knight’s slave accomplice, Rachel, not only hid and fed the men, but also sprinkled red pepper and ground glass along the paths frequented by militia hounds who tracked down deserters.

Rachel’s alliance with Newt Knight bound her to him for the rest of her life. After the war, she gave birth to several light-skinned children reputed to have been fathered by him, and farmed ten acres of Newt’s 170 acres of land. By 1880, Rachel owned 126 acres of land adjoining the 320 acres owned by Newt. Together, the couple created a mixed-race community that endures to this day.

Although few would have predicted that Newt Knight’s crossing of the color line would be permanent, by war’s end, he had rejected southern racial mores altogether. Newt was active in Reconstruction politics until public knowledge of his interracial relationships made it impossible for him to win office. He also repeatedly petitioned the U.S. Government for wartime compensation for his Knight Company soldiers until those claims were once and for all rejected in 1900.

Rachel died in 1889 at age 49, but Newt lived to a ripe old age, remaining in his community and achieving legendary status in the process. He never repudiated his wartime behavior and rejected the New South’s glorification of the Confederate “Lost Cause.” Shortly before his death in 1922, an unrepentant Newt told reporter Meigs Frost, of the New Orleans Item, that “I guess we’ll all die guerrillas.”

 

Vikki Bynum

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