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Posts Tagged ‘William Bynum’

Nancy Stevens wrote the following memoir some months after we began communicating about our mutual descent from the Bynum family of Jones County, Mississippi. Nancy was kind enough to send me excerpts from the Bible of her distant ancestor, Drury Bynum (b. circa 1806), the brother of my own ancestor, William Bynum II (b. circa 1795). A discussion of  our ancestral roots followed, and, soon, Nancy decided to read my book, The Free State of Jones. Like so many descendants of families that participated in Jones County’s inner civil war during the nation’s Civil War, including myself, Nancy had very little knowledge of this incredible time of upheaval, or of the cultural and political history that led our ancestors to take the stands they did.  Her reflections remind us that history not only shines a light on how we got to this place in time as a society, but also illuminates who we are as individuals by stimulating memories that place us in the stream of that very history.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

 

The history of the Free State of Jones has given me so much insight into the ways that my values were formed and why.  My family never fully bought into the “Lost Cause” mentality as did so many of our neighbors and my peers.  I always thought that my mother’s being from Appalachia was the reason for our family being a bit more “liberal” than our neighbors; however, I now realize that my thoughts on this were much too simplistic. 

I was born in 1945 and grew up on a farm in Clarke County.  We had to build a new house “up on the road” (gravel) so that the school bus could pick me up and take me to school.  Daddy was a farmer and had 2 black tenant families living on our land.  Because our house was so far back in the woods and my playmates all black, I did not realize the significance of my being white and my best friend being black until it was time for us to start first grade.  When mother told me that because my best friend was black she therefore would not be attending my white school, I threw a fit.  I can still remember our school bus passing the black school and my wishing I could be in that school with my best friend. 
 
Florene left Mississippi for Chicago when she graduated from high school and has remained there living in a middle class neighborhood.  We continue to keep in touch and visit each other from time to time for we alone share a common history that we share with no one else.  Recently, Florene reminded me of how much she always enjoyed going into Quitman, the county seat, with my mother because mother would take her into all the white establishments with us – even have her eat at our table in restaurants!  I guess my mom was considered a “foreigner” by Clarke County standards!
 
After reading The Free State of Jones, I now realize that intermingling of whites and blacks in remote areas of MS was not such a radical thing.  Although by the 1950s, intermingling on an “equal” basis was quite controversial and not socially acceptable.
 
I also remember an old judge, last name Fatheree, speaking to our Methodist congregation in the ’50s about the supposed racial and intellectual inferiority of blacks, citing the difference in the white brain vs. the black brain.  Now, my mother forbade my brother and me from attending this lecture, but we walked up to the church anyway and stood under the windows listening.  I left quite puzzled and frightened; but because I had disobeyed them, I could not ask my parents about Judge Fatheree’s comments.
 
Reading about the Free State of Jones has brought all this back so clearly.  I have so many tales to tell; maybe I should jot them down.  I realize how fortunate I was to have been raised by parents with an accepting value system although I did conform to most cultural rules in order to survive.  However, to quote Van Buren Watts:  “As soon as I realized where I was, I got out” (Free State of Jones, page 177).
 
Nancy Stevens
 

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One of the genuine surprises of my research on The Free State of Jones was the discovery that my own Bynum ancestors were deeply involved on both sides of Jones County’s inner civil war. I learned about the Free State in a history book, not from my father, who never mentioned Newt Knight or the Knight Company to me before his death in 1990. In that way, I’m like a lot of folks who had no idea their ancestors were in the middle of such an important Civil War story until later in their lives.

There were many Jones County families, like the Bynums, who supported opposing sides of the war. My great-grandfather, William A. Bynum, son of William, born 1795, son of “Old” William, born 1763, fought on the side of the Confederacy. Like many Jones County men, he deserted the Army for a time and was charged with being AWOL. However, rather than join the Knight band, he rejoined the Confederacy. During Reconstruction, he, his father, William Senior, and his brother, John H. Bynum, all signed petitions opposing Newt Knight and his followers.

But it was a very different story for Tapley Bynum, who was a half-brother to my GGGrandfather, William Senior. Tapley deserted the Confederate Army, joined the Knight band, and was shot to death by Confederate soldiers, allegedly while at home visiting his newborn daughter.

Why were such different courses taken by members of the same family? A careful study of family alliances offers at least a partial answer. It appears that certain branches of the same family were pulled in different directions according to the families they married into. And here is where the Collins family once again emerges as one of the most important Unionist families in the region. It appears that if a branch of a family married into the Collins line, they were especially likely to be Unionists before, during, and after the war.

Newt Knight himself was influenced by the Collinses. At the end of his long life, he credited Jasper Collins with convincing him that the Twenty Negro Law made the Civil War a “rich man’s war and poor man’s fight.” Jasper then deserted and Newt did, too. It’s not so much that folks became Unionists after meeting or marrying a Collins; rather, it seems that such connections solidified their own Unionist tendencies. Jones County voters, after all, elected an anti-secession delegate to the 1861 Mississippi State Convention.

The importance of family alliances is demonstrated by two sons of Old William, Mark and Benjamin, both of whom were Unionists. During the war, “old man Mark Bynum” (born 1801) delivered a wagonload of provisions and arms to the Knight band. And well he might: his daughter, Lydia, was married to band member Simeon Collins. Benjamin Bynum was married to Simeon’s sister, Margaret. Their son, Prentice M. Bynum, joined the Knight Company during the war. Oh, and Mark and Benjamin also had a sister, Nancy Bynum, who married the oldest Collins brother, Vinson, another staunch Unionist. These branches of the Bynums married into Unionist branches of the Mauldin, Welch, and Holifield families as well. Opposition to secession and, later, the Confederacy, was most certainly a family affair.

In contrast to the above Bynums, however, who were prosperous but nonslaveholding farmers, there was a slaveholding branch of the family. Old William, the original migrant to Mississippi, had owned three slaves. He passed these slaves onto his oldest son, William, who owned them at the time of the war (this William’s son, William A. Bynum, was my direct ancestor). Not surprisingly, these Bynums married into other slaveholding families. And, during the war, they identified their fortunes with those of the Confederacy.

Tapley Bynum, the last of Old William’s sons (William was 74 years old when Tapley was born!) seems to have been raised primarily by his older brother Benjamin, and Benjamin’s wife, Margaret Collins. He was only eight years older than their son, Prentice, and the young men may have joined the Knight band together. On a cold January morning, the decision to defy the Confederacy cost Tapley his life. Later, Confederate Col. Lowry’s raid on the county convinced Prentice to flee to New Orleans, where he joined the Union Army and survived the war. During the 1890s, Prentice Bynum became a Populist, as did his uncle, the venerable Jasper Collins.

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