The Free State of Jones

What’s in a Marriage? Bynums on both sides of the Civil War Divide

By Vikki Bynum

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.

20 replies »

  1. That is a rather interesting connection you point out. Perhaps, in those days, as it has been for me in recent weeks — you just can’t say no when Jasper starts talking sense! ;)

  2. Hi Greg,

    Jasper certainly looms large as a major influence on many of his kinfolks’ lives. In your case, you are also directly descended from Mark Bynum, Lydia’s father, who supplied the Knight Company with that wagonload of provisions.


  3. I’m so excited to read your blogs. My grandmother was Josia Phine Collins, daughter of Harrison T Collins, son of Sim Collins and Lydia…You leave me wanting more…

  4. Hi Gwen,

    I’m so pleased that you like the blog! Over the years, I have had contact with several fine researchers who were descendants of Simeon and Lydia (Bynum) Collins–especially Mary Bess Gamaro-Adams, Regina Roper, and James McNabb. They really helped me to connect the Mississippi-Texas lines, and to trace their frontier migrations.

    My upcoming book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, forthcoming spring 2010) will contain more on this family than did my previous book, Free State of Jones. It will contain even more on Simeon’s brother, Warren Jacob Collins.

    So stay tuned–I will also be returning to the Collins-Bynum family in future blog posts.


  5. Hi Vikki,

    I’m really looking forward to your next book, ‘The Long Shadow of the Civil War’. I love the fact that you write about characters who could easily be lost to the ages. Events also. Some years ago, I shared your book, ‘Unruly Women’ with a couple of African American professionals. One being Norman Chambers, Ph.D. who taught for many years at SDSU here in San Diego. The very fact that white women actually married and lived openly with Black men in NC and elsewhere was something that greatly suprpised everyone who have an interest in this subject. And while you note this was not common practice, the very fact that it happened at all surprised many of your readers. Like Big time!!! Who knew??

    Your story telling is a treasure to read and all the more so due to the nature of your enlightening subject matter.

    I value and thank you for your excellent work.

    Warmest regards,

    Another Vikky (Vikky Anders) in San Diego

  6. Hi Vikky,

    Thank you so much for taking time to comment. You and I have a long history of communication–about both the past and present–that precedes this blog, and I hope it continues for years to come.

    There are two chapters in my upcoming book–one on Reconstruction in N.C., the other on the descendants of Newt, Rachel, and Serena Knight, that deal in depth with interracial relations in the post-Civil War South. Each continues the stories that I told in Unruly Women and Free State of Jones, so I think you will enjoy them.


  7. Vikki,

    Loved your book “Free State of Jones”!

    I am descended from Mark Bynum (b.1801). His daughter Catherine (m. John Ira Welch) was the mother of Simeon C Welch. His daughter Frances E Welch married Richard Henry Cottrell, who’s son Erastus Simeon Cottrell was my dad’s father. So my g-g-g-g-grandfather Mark Bynum is our common ancestor.

    I am beginning to work on finding as much information as I can about Simeon C Welch now, and look forward to reading your blog to help get me into the right frame of mind. Thanks for your work, and for your inspiration!

    Your Piney Woods Cousin,
    Clyde R “Rick” Cottrell, Jr.
    Indianapolis, IN

  8. Hello Clyde,

    Good to hear from you! Your Mark Bynum line represents the strongest Unionist line in the Bynum family, and the one that intermarried most often with the Collins and Welch families. Mark is mentioned in my upcoming book, Long Shadow of the Civil War, for his support of the Knight company, and as the father-in-law of Simeon Collins. I’d like to know more about Simeon C. Welch, and also about the popularity of the name “Simeon” among these families.

    I would love to know more as well about Mark Bynum and his wife’s family, the Mitchells, who appear to have been from the North. (I am descended from Mark’s brother, William.)

    Please keep us posted on your research.


  9. I really enjoyed The Free State of Jones and I’m wondering where I can find more info on my ancestors that were involved and about their part in all that happened back then. I know that my gr gr grandfather’s William Harrison ‘Harris’ Mauldin and Benjamin Franklin Dykes were with Newt Knight, but not much else. I’m also related to the Welborn’s and many others from that area.

    • Hi Nelda,

      You are certainly descended from many families that were intimately involved with the Free State of Jones, and specifically with the Knight band. It’s my understanding that Benjamin Franklin Dykes and Newt Knight deserted the MS 7th battalion infantry together. The Welborns, like the Bynums, had branches of the family on both sides. The Mauldins intermarried with these families, and were also strongly Unionist.

      Nice to hear from you. If you have specific questions, I, or perhaps others, will be happy to try and answer them.


  10. We have both Collins and Bynums in our family. I wonder if many moved south to GA later in the century.

    This was a fascinating read. I will look for your book.



  11. Thanks for your comment, Marc! I hope you enjoy The Free State of Jones.

    From everything I’ve read and researched about the Bynums, it appears they first migrated to Virginia from England or Wales early in the 17th century. By the 1800s, my branch was in North Carolina. From there, the names between branches overlap so much that I can’t pinpoint their exact route to eventual settlement in southern Mississippi around 1817. After studying census records, however, it seems certain my ancestor, William Bynum, born 1763, lived in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia before settling in what became Jones County, MS, in 1826.

    The Collinses followed a similar migratory path, and it’s possible that some members from both families either remained in Georgia, or returned there later. If you provide some names, I or Renegade South readers may be able to find a link.


  12. Wow! I came across the site by chance and what an interesting read! I will also have to look into the book ya’ll were all talking about as well.
    William Sr. I believe is the brother of Kinchen Ross Bynum who I am a decendent of. I can not remember exactly who but I do know my Bynum ancestor changed sides of the civil war more than once. The story is that his commanding officer had tried to order him to give him his horse, he refused, left camp in the middle of the night, joined the North side until he killed that man who had wanted his horse and then changed back to the side of the South. Not sure but I think it was Kinchen, who ended up ultimately in Arkansas.

  13. Hi Mimi,

    Very interesting! Where did Kinchen Ross Bynum live before moving to Arkansas? The William Bynum Sr., born 1763, who eventually migrated to Jones County, MS, started out from North Carolina. I am familiar with the name Kinchen, but have never seen him listed as this William’s brother (he also appears to have been considerably younger). One of the problems with researching the Bynums is that so many were named William or James, generation after generation.

    If Kinchen Bynum is more distantly related to the Jones County Bynums, his lack of loyalty to the Confederacy is an interesting parallel to those Bynums who joined up with Newt Knight and the Knight Company.

    Your story also demonstrates that many men simply wanted to survive the war, and felt no particular loyalty to either side. Whichever side endangered their families or farms most directly was likely to feel their anger.


  14. I love the information above about the Bynums. Apparently I am a descendent of John H Bynum born 1854 in Georgia. Over the past few weeks, I have begun looking into our ancestry and trying to find the lines back in history. Any guidance you can provide would be appreciated. Thanks

    • Hi Jimmy,

      I have a brother named Jimmy and my great-grandfather William had a brother named John H. Bynum (the H was for “Hall”).

      There are many Bynums throughout the South, but most seem to have descended from those who first came to VA, then moved to NC, and from there fanned out onto the frontier. Have you investigated censuses, the best first place to begin. Of course, there’s all kinds of material on

      If you have any specific information beyond that one name, feel free to post it–you might hear back from Renegade South readers.

      Thanks for writing,

  15. We have a PM Bynum that was appointed to the Lamar County Board of Supervisors in April of 1904. Is this the same man?

    • Yes, Chuck, that PM Bynum is the same Prentice M. Bynum who appears prominently in my last two books, Free State of Jones and Long Shadow of the Civil War.


  16. Looking for my folks, can you help? Im from Panama City Fla, father John Franklin Bynum, born in Panama City; his father was John Carl Bynum and mother was Mary Rose Carlos Bynum

    • I’m sorry, John, I don’t recognize your Bynum names. The Bynums are pretty widespread throughout the South since, after starting out in VA/NC, they fanned out throughout the South and Southwest. There are many in SC, AL, GA, TN. TX, and OK, as well as MS. The Jones County, MS, Bynums, who are the subject of the posts on Renegade South, descended from William Bynum, born 1763 in NC. He appears to have lived in SC and TN before settling in MS.

      Best of luck in finding connections through Renegade South!


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