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Aumanbook

At the state archives I found the testimony of a wife about the killing of her [Unionist] husband. He was shot while plowing . . .  .  A man walked up, squatted down took aim, and BANG!, shot him. While dying, he told his young daughter, who was right there by his side all the time, that he loved her and wanted her to take good care of the dresses that he recently bought her. Made tears come–this is why I love history. Fiction is boring in comparison.

William T. Auman to Victoria Bynum, January 19, 1987

I recently learned that my favorite historian of North Carolina Civil War Unionists, William T. “Bill” Auman, had revised and published his important 1988 dissertation detailing North Carolina’s inner civil war. I no sooner learned this exciting news when I discovered that Bill passed away in April, 2013, shortly before his manuscript went to press. Saddened by the news, and disappointed that I can never congratulate Bill on his accomplishment, I want, nevertheless, to pay tribute to his work. Certainly, historians and others interested in Civil War dissenters and guerrillas will want to read Bill Auman’s Civil War in the North Carolina Quaker Belt

My friendship and scholarly relationship with Bill goes back to our years as history doctoral students–he, at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, me at the University of California, San Diego. I first learned of his research shortly after returning to California from North Carolina after completing a year of research (1982-83) on the dissertation that eventually became my first book, Unruly Women (1992).  While still in North Carolina, I’d become excited by what I found in the Civil War court records of Montgomery County, as well as the Governors’ Papers, of the North Carolina State Archives. So, what began as a study of women during the antebellum years of Granville, Orange, and Montgomery Counties, North Carolina, was  now expanded to the war years in order to include women from pro-Union families who tangled with the Confederacy over the status and whereabouts of their outlier/deserter husbands and sons. With that decision, my research began to dovetail with Bill Auman’s.

Very soon, I discovered Bill’s work on Southern Unionists of the Randolph County area (a region that included Montgomery County). After completing his M.A. thesis on the topic in 1978, Bill had published three articles between 1981 and 1984 on the region’s Wesleyan Methodist Unionists, on the underground Unionist organization known as the Heroes of American, and on Unionist leader Bryan Tyson of Moore County. Carefully researched and meticulously argued, those articles put me on the fast track to understanding the political context in which Montgomery County women (such as Martha Sheets, Caroline Hulin, and Phoebe Crook)  confronted local pro-Confederate citizens for their abuse of local families who opposed secession and refused to support the Confederacy.

On a return trip to North Carolina in 1984, I attempted to locate Bill at the university, but learned that he had returned home for the summer. Instead, we spoke by telephone, and were both excited to share our mutual interest in Quaker Belt Unionists. At that point, we began writing one another (too early for email!), and sharing our ideas. Bill was the expert on the Quaker Belt’s inner civil war; I was the newcomer, and, besides, only a slice of my dissertation concerned the Wesleyan Methodist Unionists of Montgomery County. But it was more than that. Bill’s expertise emanated not only from superb training, but also from his personal background.  A native of Randolph County, he was descended from several of the Unionist families of which he wrote, and thoroughly immersed in the geography, culture, and kinship of the region.

After corresponding for two years, during which time Bill read and critiqued several of Unruly Women’s chapters-in-progress, we met for the first time in Chicago, at the December 1986 convention of the American Historical Association (AHA). We spent a lively afternoon discussing not only our research, but the history profession in general. As anyone who knew Bill Auman can tell you, he was irreverent in his judgments of academia, and preferred to remain outside its hallowed halls as much as possible. He was delighted to learn that I enjoyed country and bluegrass music, and wrote to me about his love of the Sandy Creek Boys, the Bass Mountain Boys, and Raymond Fairchild, who he described as a “genuine North Carolina Cherokee raised on the Reservation.” Bill himself had learned to play a five-string guitar from the “good ole boys” he’d met at fiddler’s conventions.

By then, I was teaching at Southwest Texas University in San Marcos, TX (later renamed Texas State University). Bill did not yet have a teaching position, but in 1988, simultaneously with finishing his dissertation, he accepted a position at Georgia Southern University. By 1990, he’d moved on to the University of the Ozarks.

In 1991, Bill and I served together on a panel of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) in St. Louis. He presented a paper on “The Origins of Dissent in Confederate North Carolina”; I served as a commentor. And that, I’m sorry to say, was our last contact, either in person or by letter.

I can’t say why we lost touch, but I can guess. We were both terribly busy by 1991, working full-time with heavy teaching loads and dissertations waiting to be turned into books. In one of his final letters to me, Bill declared that “the pace is unbelievable. Too much for an old man. Jeepers.” In another, he commented that three of the four courses he was teaching were totally new preparations. And, of course, there were always conference papers and book reviews waiting to be written. Such is the life of the newly-minted PhD–that is, if you’re lucky enough to have a job in your profession.

I think around this time Bill abandoned his teaching position in the Ozarks and headed back home. It was always the scholarship, after all, that he loved. His research was inseparable from his love of North Carolina, and when he did return to teaching it would be there, in his home state.

As the preeminent historian of Civil War dissenters in central North Carolina, Bill has long been, and remains, the authority on that region’s most notorious Civil War guerrilla, Bill Owens. No one, I believe, knows more about Owens’ anti-Confederate activities and his violent death in 1865 at the hands of a lynch mob than Bill Auman. In fact, the guerrilla Bill lived at the apex of Randolph, Montgomery, and Moore Counties, very close to the ancestors of the historian Bill.

At a certain point, Bill Auman told me long ago, an old-timer of the neighborhood had taken him to the original home of Bill Owens.  And so, much of what I wrote about Bill Owens and his wife–who was famously abused by local Confederate officials–in Unruly Women, and later in Long Shadow of the Civil War (2010), was enhanced by Auman’s insights into an otherwise elusive couple.

A problem emerged for me, however, as I wrote about Bill Owens and his wife for my latest book, Long Shadow of the Civil War. Based on Auman’s own research, Bill Owens was lynched in 1865. And yet, Auman identified William Bailey Owens and his wife, Mary, of Moore County as the guerrilla couple, although that Bill Owens was still alive in 1880 according to federal manuscript population censuses. Furthermore, the same censuses revealed another William Owens living just a few miles away, over the county line in Montgomery, who, appropriate to having been lynched, disappears from the census after 1870. This William Owens had a wife named Adeline, and this Bill Owens, I suspected, was the guerrilla Bill Owens.

Frankly, I wasn’t certain that I was correct. Bill Auman, after all, was thoroughly familiar with the people and neighborhoods of the Randolph County area. And what about the old timer who had taken him to visit Bill Owens’s original homestead? Still, I kept coming back to the fact that a man lynched in 1865 could not be alive in 1880, and so I respectfully presented my theory that Bill and Adeline Owens of Montgomery County were the “real” Owenses in my 2010 book, Long Shadow of the Civil War.

Turns out I was in for a third surprise when I received my Kindle edition of Civil War in the North Carolina Quaker Belt. I was shocked and delighted to discover that Bill had read Long Shadow of the Civil War, seen the footnote in which I reported my belief that he had incorrectly identified Bill Owens, reconsidered the evidence, and now agreed with me.

I guess that makes it official: William Owens and his wife, Adeline, of Montgomery County, NC, and not William Bailey Owens and his wife Mary, of Moore County, is our guerrilla couple. Thank you, Bill, for this final posthumous judgment. Oh, how I wish I’d written directly to you about my concerns so we could have reached that conclusion together while you were still alive.

R.I.P. Bill Auman.

 

Vikki Bynum

William T. Auman’s Civil War in the North Carolina Quaker Belt is available via Amazon.

 

 

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Littlefield Lecture poster

The Littlefield Lectures, UT Austin

I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be delivering this year’s Littlefield Lectures for the History Department of the University of Texas, Austin.  The lectures are based on research from my last two books, The Free State of Jones, and The Long Shadow of the Civil War:
“The Free State of Jones: Community, Race, and Kinship in Civil War Mississippi,” March 6, 4-6 p.m., Avaya Auditorium, ACE 2.302

“Communities at War”: Men, Women, and the Legacies of Anti-Confederate Dissent,” March 7, 4-6 p.m., Avaya Auditorium, ACE 2.302

If you’re in the area, I hope to see you there!

Vikki Bynum

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In two of my works on Southern Unionism, Unruly Women (1992), and Long Shadow of the Civil War (2010), I wrote extensively about the effects of the anti-slavery Wesleyan Methodist movement in creating an environment of fierce anti-Confederate sentiment in the Randolph-Montgomery County area of North Carolina during the Civil War. In Montgomery County, several Wesleyan families’ refusal to support the Confederacy tragically resulted in the vigilante  murder of three Hulin brothers by home guard soldiers.

The Hulins, Moores, and Hurleys became Wesleyans a full decade before the Civil War and were anti-slavery activists. A year before the war erupted, in March 1860,  Hiram Hulin, Jesse Hulin, Nelson Hulin (sons of Hiram), William Hurley Sr., William Hurley Jr., and Spencer Moore (son of Valentine Moore) were charged alongside Daniel Wilson, a well-known anti-slavery leader from Guilford County,  with circulating “seditious” anti-slavery materials.

Although I relied principally on court records, military records, newspapers, and memoirs to tell the story of Unionism in this region of North Carolina, I found two Wesleyan Methodist publications, Roy S. Nicholson’s Wesleyan Methodism in the South (1933), and Mrs. E.W. Crooks’ Life of Rev. Adam Crooks (1875), crucial to my ability to confirm the religious conversions of the above Montgomery County families.

In the following essay, I draw from both these works. As “in house” publications, they reflect the perspective of the Wesleyan Movement, yet, in combination with primary sources, they leave no doubt of the religious ideology that led the Hulins, Moores,  Hurleys, and others to oppose slavery and the Confederate Cause.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

Southerners Against Slavery: Wesleyan Methodists in Montgomery County, North Carolina

Rev. Adam Crooks (1824-1874)

The man most responsible for bringing Wesleyan Methodism to the Randolph/Montgomery County area of North Carolina was Rev. Adam Crooks, who was originally from Leesville, Carroll County, Ohio, where he was born in 1824. According to Crooks’ biographer, his wife Elizabeth Willits Crooks, in 1841 he joined those northern Methodists who split from the Methodist Episcopal Church over slavery. The following year, in December 1842, the splinter group produced a newspaper, the True Wesleyan, which heralded the establishment of Wesleyan Methodism in the United States. These Wesleyans claimed to embody the doctrinal standards of early Methodism as established under the guidance of Rev. John Wesley.  They opposed worldly habits such as the use of whiskey and tobacco and ostentatious dress and adornment. Most important to the history of Montgomery County, they opposed the ownership of human beings by other human beings.

Opposition to slavery, and specifically to the degrading and violent means by which it was maintained, was not limited to Methodists of the North. In 1847, during its Allegheny Conference in Mesopotamia, Ohio, the Wesleyan Church received an urgent letter from “Free Methodists” of Guilford County, North Carolina, who requested the services of a Wesleyan preacher. In this old Quaker stronghold of the South, anti-slavery principles had never completely died. “There is much more anti-slavery sentiment in this part of North Carolina than I had supposed,” Crooks later observed, “owing, in great measure, to the influence of the Society of Friends.” During his stay in North Carolina, he was amused to be “taken for a Quaker, go wherever I will,” even once after preaching in a Methodist Episcopal house. Crooks concluded that this assumption reflected the antislavery doctrine he preached and the “plain coat” that he wore.

The call from North Carolina had great appeal to Crooks. By age twenty, he had become a Wesleyan exhorter who preached against the evils of slavery.  In August 1845, he joined the Allegheny Conference as a junior preacher, and received a six-week assignment to the Erie circuit, where he ministered to a small Erie City church comprised of many fugitive slaves. Now, he agreed to travel to North Carolina. With the sectional crisis over slavery growing fiercer by the day, it took a great deal of courage to enter the slaveholding South with the express purpose of preaching against slavery. In preparation for his mission he was ordained an Elder.

Crooks encountered many Methodists in North Carolina who resented being forced to remain with the Methodist Episcopal Church in the wake of its national division into pro- and anti-slavery denominations. Finding it ”impracticable” to join the anti-slavery Northern Division of the church, they formed a third division, the “Free Methodist Church.” According to Crooks, “up to this time, they had no knowledge of the existence of the Wesleyan Methodist connection.” Once they learned of the Wesleyan persuasion, he said, they immediately sent for preachers, convened, and adopted the Wesleyan principles as their own.

Pro-slavery North Carolinians labeled Crooks a “nigger-thief,” an abolitionist, and an advocate of racial amalgamation (race mixing). Nevertheless, he preached before large and small congregations and regularly denounced slavery in the presence of slaveholders. In October, 1847, Crooks presided over the founding of Freedom’s Hill Church, located in the old Snow Camp community of present-day Alamance County, N.C., and the first Wesleyan Methodist Church in the South.

In 1850, despite violent opposition to Wesleyan preachers by pro-slavery mobs, Crooks prepared to preach in Montgomery County at the invitation of members of Lane’s Chapel and Lovejoy Chapel.  Twice, he was warned by letter to cancel those plans. The first letter, signed by “Many Citizens” from Montgomery and neighboring Stanly Counties, accused Crooks of

preying upon the minds of the weak and innocent, inducing them to believe that slave-holding is not only an oppression to the slaves, but to all those who do not hold slaves. The slaves hereabout are in much better condition than their masters or other citizens. Your doctrine, if carried out, would bring down vengeance upon the heads of your followers by amalgamation and otherwise.

Crooks was accused of being “worse than a traitor,” and threatened with expulsion if he dared to appear in Lane’s Chapel: “we are in hopes you will return from whence you came, or you will be dealt with according to the dictates of our consciences.”

A second letter from Montgomery County, dated 27 December 1850 and signed by eleven people, demanded again that Crooks leave the state. Crooks did not answer the letter, but traveled to Montgomery County as planned, where he stayed at the home of Valentine Moore and prepared, in February 1851, to preach at Lovejoy Chapel, located about a mile from Moore’s home.

A mob headed by a local justice of the peace and slaveholder met Crooks at the door of Lovejoy Chapel. Alluding to the Methodists’ national schism over slavery, the j.p. accused Crooks of “making interruptions in families, neighborhoods, and Churches” by preaching against slavery. He claimed that Crooks was “causing us to abuse our servants,” i.e. slaves, by telling them they deserved to be free, which “makes them unruly; so that they have to be abused.” Again, Crooks was ordered to leave the county.

Several other local slaveholders challenged Crooks as well. “Brother Crooks did you not preach to servants not to obey their masters?”  Crooks answered that he had not, but his accuser insisted that he had. Hiram Hulin then interceded on Crooks’ behalf. “Don’t you interrupt the man,” he told the slaveholder, who responded by shaking his fist and stamping the floor, declaring that he was on his own “premises.”  Hiram’s brother, Orrin Hulin, then called for order, reminding the men that they had entered the chapel to worship God.

Those opposed to Crooks’ right to preach moved to expel him from the chapel. They declared Crooks a traitor, no better than Aaron Burr,  sent to Montgomery County by anti-slavery radicals such as Daniel Wilson of Guilford County.  Likewise, Orrin Hulin was condemned for having written a letter to the True Wesleyan that described a Montgomery County slaveholder’s brutal torture and whipping of slave.

Then, the anti-Crooks faction rose to forcibly remove Crooks from Lovejoy Chapel, at which point Orrin Hulin cried out,

Men, take notice of who takes hold of that man by violence.

As the mob approached Crooks, William Hurley stepped before it and called out,

But stop, don’t you run over me. What are you going to do with the preacher?

According to author Elizabeth Crooks, chaos followed, as Crooks was

led or rather dragged from the pulpit into the yard. . . . Some are rushing for their horses, others are screaming, and still others prostrated, motionless and speechless.

Mrs. Crooks further described how several men forced Crooks into a buggy as Orrin Hulin once again called on Crooks’ supporters to “take notice of who forces that man into that buggy.” Several of Crooks’ supporters followed the buggy on foot to the home of one of the slaveholders. There, over dinner, pro- and anti-slavery factions, including Crooks, argued over slavery. Sheriff Aaron Sanders, a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church and part of the mob that accosted Crooks, was present. So also was William Hurley, Crooks’ defender, who proclaimed himself  “ever opposed” to slavery.

“Well, if you believe slavery to be wrong, you need not hold them; it does not hurt you,” a slaveholder challenged.

Hurley answered, not as an abolitionist, but as a citizen who defended his right to belong to an anti-slavery church:

Well, but for me to support a thing I do not believe in would not be right. And you can have your privileges and let us have ours.

When asked if his church, which refused membership to slaveholders, might yet receive a slave, Hurley said “yes”, provided the slave was a Christian. Those words provoked this angry response from an unnamed slaveholder:

What!—receive a nigger and not a white man? That is a grand insult depriving us of our rights.

“Not at all,” maintained Hurley. “We do not say that you shall not hold slaves; all we want is to keep clear of supporting it.”

“Well, if that is your principle you ought to leave the state,” advised the same man, advice to which Hurley strenuously objected:

I was born and raised here—pay for my privileges under the law, and it is a hard case if I am to be deprived of them.

As the argument heated up, another slaveholder advised the mob to “serve him [Hurley] as we do Crooks.” But William Hurley appeared to be forgotten after four magistrates ordered Sheriff Sanders to deliver Adam Crooks to the jail.

After being locked up, Crooks was lectured by his captors on the need to abandon his plan to preach in Montgomery County. Exhibiting the common social superiority that slaveholders felt toward nonslaveholders, they assured Crooks that the folks who had invited him to speak (members from the Moore, Hulin, and Hurley families) were the “very dregs of the county,” while “those who are against you,” (slaveholders), “are the best men of the county.”

Finally and reluctantly, Adam Crooks agreed to leave Montgomery County and was accordingly released from jail. He then returned to the home of Valentine Moore to say his goodbyes. While there, he reported, Valentine’s daughter Caroline (who would soon marry Hiram Hulin’s son, Jesse) announced to Crooks that she was leaving the Methodist Episcopal Church and joining with the Wesleyans.

Caroline Moore Hulin

Slaveholders had prevented Adam Crooks from preaching in their county, but they had failed to prevent the successful birth of Wesleyan Methodism in their community. Battle lines would be redrawn during the Civil War, in a brutal inner war that would pit the same Sheriff Aaron Sanders against the same community of dissenters.

Vikki Bynum

For more on Adam Crooks and Southern Wesleyan Methodism, see:

  1. Roy S. Nicholson, Wesleyan Methodism in the South (Syracuse, NY: Wesleyan Methodist Publishing House, 1933).
  2. Mrs. E.W. Crooks, Life of Rev. Adam Crooks, A.M. (Syracuse, NY: Wesleyan Methodist Publishing House, 1875). A copy of this book is owned by the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and may be accessed online at UNC’s Documenting the American South.  http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/crooks/crooks.html.
  3. An independent film company has recently produced the story of Adam Crooks. See The Courageous Love, Rubacam Productions,  http://www.thecourageouslove.com/home/About.html

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Interview by Wisconsin Public Radio

The Long Shadow of the Civil War

This has been a busy week, and the upcoming week will be even more so! As part of Wisconsin Public Radio’s observation of the 150 year anniversary of the Civil War, I was interviewed on Friday, July 8, on the Veronica Rueckert Show.  The topic was my latest book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, and the discussion included Southern Unionists, participation by Southern women in anti-Confederate uprisings, Newt Knight and the Free State of Jones, and Wesleyan Methodist Unionists in North Carolina. After the first half hour the show was opened to callers, whose questions and comments took us beyond a discussion of the book’s contents. If you’d like to hear the interview for yourself, click on the arrow below:

Upcoming presentation in Jones County

In a few days, Gregg and I will head out for Laurel, Mississippi, where I’m scheduled to present “Newt Knight, Southern Renegade: Patriot or Traitor?” at the Laurel-Jones Public Library. The Library is located at 530 Commerce St., Laurel, and my talk will take place on Friday, July 15, from 11:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. If you’re in the area, come on by!

My thanks to Dan Walters of Laurel for arranging this. 

Gregg’s and my day at the Laurel library will be followed by our attendance at the biennial Knight-Booth Family Reunion in Soso, where we’re looking forward to reconnecting with good friends like Florence Knight Blaylock and Olga Watts Nelson, pictured below.

Vikki Bynum

Florence Blaylock, Olga Watts Nelson, and Vikki Bynum, January 2011

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Note from Moderator: Phebe Crook belonged to the same North Carolina community of Unionist women that I’ve been researching and writing about for 25 years as did Martha Sheets and Caroline, Sarah, and Clarinda Hulin.  Thanks to exhaustive research by historians in local, state, and federal records, we now know that women were active participants in the American Civil War. Particularly in southern regions that displayed strong Unionist sentiment, ordinary farm women like Phebe engaged in inner civil wars that centered around protesting Confederate policies that claimed the lives of their fathers, sons, and husbands, and which threatened them with impoverishment and even starvation.


Phebe Crook and the Inner Civil War in North Carolina

By Vikki Bynum


On September 15, 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, a young unmarried woman of the Randolph/Montgomery County area of North Carolina, wrote an unusually detailed and articulate letter of protest to Governor Zebulon Vance. Phebe Crook began her letter with a polite salutation:

Mr. Vance, Dear Sir,  I imbrace this opertunity of writing you a few lines in order to inform you of the conduct of our oficers and leading men of this county as you are appointed govenor of the state and [because] I Beleave that you are willing to Do all that you can in trying to protect the civil laws and writs of our county.

Then Phebe got down to business, providing the governor with her eye-witness account of Confederate militia sent to her community to enforce conscript laws and arrest deserters:

Whearas I believe you are a Man of high feelings and one that is willing to Do your duty in every respect, I will now inform you of some of the conduct of our Militia officers and Magistrats of this county. Thir imployment is hunting Deserters, they say, and the way they Manage to find them is taking up poore old grey headed fathers who has fought in the old War.

Seizing fathers and grandfathers was one means by which Confederate soldiers sought to learn the whereabouts of men who evaded or deserted Confederate service. But according to Phebe,

Some of them [men who evaded service] has done thir Duty in trying to support both the army and thir family, [but] these men [home guard and militia] that has remained at home ever since the War commenced are taking them up and keeping them under gard without a mouthful to eat for severl days.

Militia and home guard also tortured deserters’ wives, claimed Phebe, by

taking up the women and keeping them under gard and Boxing thir jaws and nocking them about as if they were bruts and keeping them from thir little children that they hav almost wore our thir lifes in trying to make surport for them. And some of thes women is in no fix to leav homes and others have little suckling infants not more than 2 months old.

Nor were children exempt from torture. According to Phebe, Confederate militia were

taking up little children and Hanging them until they turn black in the face trying to make them tell whear thir fathers is When the little children knows nothing atall about thir fathers. Thir plea is they hav orders from the Govenner to do this and they also say that they hav orders from the govner to Burn up thir Barns and houses.

It seemed to Phebe that the mission of the Confederacy was to

Destroy all that [families] hav got to live on Because they hav a poor wore out son or husband that has served in the army, some of them for 2 or 3 years and is almost wore out and starved to Death and has come home to try to take a little rest. [Deserters are] Doing no body any harm and are eating thir own Rations, [whereas the home guard] has Remained at home ever since the Ware commenced, [and] take thir guns and go in the woods and shoot them down without Halting them as if they war Bruts or murderers.  [They] also pilfer and plunder and steal on thir creadits.

Phebe Crook ended her letter by asserting her own credentials:

As for my self, I am a young Lady that has Neither Husband nor father no Brother in the woods, But I always like to [see] peple hav jestis and I think if thes Most powerfull fighting men that has always remained at home would go out and fight the enemy and let thes poore wor out soldiers Remain at [home] a little while and take a little rest that we would have Better times. But they [Confederate militia and home guard] say that if they are called they will Lie in the Woods until they Rot Before they will go to the war. And now why should thes men have the power to punish men for a crime [when] they would Be guilty of the same?

Although she began and ended her letter with a tone of politeness, Phebe now demanded that Governor Vance respond to her description of the desperate situation faced by the ordinary war-weary people of the North Carolina Piedmont:

So I will close By requesting you to answer this note if you pleas, and answer it imediately.

Yours Truly,

Phebe Crook

Direct to Phebe Crook, Salem Church, Randolph County, N.C.

NOTE: If there are descendants or kinfolk of Phebe Crook among readers of Renegade South, I would love to hear from you. I have not been able to trace Phebe’s whereabouts after the war. I do know that she was the daughter of William and Rachel Crook and the sister of Clarinda Crook Hulin. After the war, Clarinda and her husband, Nelson Hulin, moved to Kentucky.

Vikki Bynum

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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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On Sunday, 2 p.m., March 21, 2010, I will present “Defying Convention: Women, Race, and Class in the Civil War South,”  in Falmouth, Virginia.  Here is the official announcement, which Jan Coxey kindly supplied to Renegade South a few days ago:

Presentation by Dr. Victoria Bynum

From her first book, Unruly Women, to her most recent publication, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, Dr. Bynum has continued to stimulate the public with her close look at Southern dissenters: women who did not behave like “ladies”; whites who crossed the color line socially and sexually; African Americans who did not follow Jim Crow rules; and families that opposed secession and the Confederacy. Her lecture will focus on these Southern dissenters living in the American South—a subject of great interest to Moncure Conway himself and directly related to many individuals living in Falmouth and Stafford during the Antebellum period and throughout the Civil War. A reception to follow.

The Pavilion at Gari Melchers
Home and Studio at Belmont
224 Washington Street, Falmouth

Sunday, March 21, 2010

2:00 p.m.

Sponsored by the Moncure Conway Foundation & the National Park Service.

This event is to generate attention to Falmouth’s rich historic heritage.

Directions to the Gari Melchers estate may be found at http://www.umw.edu/gari_melchers/visit/mapdirections.php.

My thanks to the Foundation for this invitation, and I hope to see you there!

Vikki Bynum

NOTE: To learn more about the life of Moncure Conway, see my earlier post, Moncure Conway, Southern Abolitionist

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