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Is this really Rachel Knight?

Is this really Rachel Knight?

Is this really Joseph Sullivan Knight and wife?
Is this really Rachel and Newt Knight?

With help from descendants of Rachel Knight such as Dianne Walkup and Florence Blaylock, I have revisited the two photographs (see above) that I identified as being Rachel in my book, The Free State of Jones. Through Florence, I first learned that several descendants no longer believed, or had never believed, that the photograph on the book’s cover was Rachel. Well, no author likes hearing that! But, as a historian committed to publishing the truth, I knew I had to consider these opinions.

At first, I reasoned that the other photo published in my book which identifies Rachel and Newt Knight sitting side-by-side (see above) shows a woman who strongly resembles the woman in the cover photo. So, doesn’t that suggest that these are photos of Rachel, I asked? Well, after that things got even more interesting.  Several descendants, among them Dianne Walkup, reported that the couple in that photo is not Newt and Rachel at all; in fact some family members are certain that it is Newt’s son, Joseph Sullivan (Sill) Knight, sitting with one of his two wives, either Sarah Welborn or Mollie Hodges.

You know, I have never really thought that the man in that photo looked much like Newt Knight. But several Knight family members do believe that it is him, and another Knight researcher says that it doesn’t look like Newt only because he had shaved his beard off while serving in postwar politics.  So what is the truth? Perhaps readers can help.

At this point, I confess that I am pretty well persuaded that we, or at least I, simply don’t have a picture of Rachel Knight. But I would still like to know who the people in those photos are. Dianne Walkup believes that the cover portrait is actually of Lessie Knight, Georgeanne’s daughter and Rachel’s granddaughter. That is certainly plausible. There is a photo of a very young Lessie in The Free State of Jones in which her face appears almost identical to that of the woman in the cover photo. What do others think?

And about the photo of the couple: are there any descendants of Joseph Sullivan Knight out there who might be able to identify that photo one way or the other?

Vikki Bynum

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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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