Part 3: Yvonne Bivins on the History of Rachel Knight

Rachel Knight


Sondra Yvonne Bivins


Rachel’s Children Fathered by Jesse Davis Knight

      Slaves had few legal rights, least of all to marry and have children. Just two years after arriving on Jackie Knight’s place, Rachel became the slave mistress of his son, Jesse Davis Knight.  Illicit interracial sexual relationships were not unusual in the antebellum South in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Jesse Davis Knight’s liaison with Rachel resulted in the birth of three known children: Jeffery Earley, Edmund, and Frances.

Early in 1858, Rachel gave birth to a son, her third child.  Jeffery Earley was born a slave, owned by his grandfather, John “Jackie”  Knight. By law, the status of the mother determined the status of the children, so Rachel and her children were his property.   After slavery, while still a teenager, Jeffery married Martha Ann Eliza Jane, “Mollie,” the daughter of Serena and Newton Knight. The rumor mill started immediately, with claims that Newt forced his daughter to marry the former slave boy who in physical appearance was nearly white and who after all shared the same grandfather.  To local whites it was just impossible for a white girl to become attracted to and fall in love with a Negro; however, to the family this was just the case.  Jeffery and Mollie had grown up working and playing together on Newton’s farm.  Newton was well aware of this, and so he determined to erase any vestige of Negro in both Rachel’s and George Ann’s children.

To the union of Jeffery and Mollie were born the following children: Ollie Jane (1883); Charles Madison (1886); Lawrence Larkin (1887); Altimara (1890); Leonard Ezra(1892); Chauncie Omar (1897); and Otho (1900). In 1890, Jeffery had an outside affair with Newton’s youngest daughter, Cora Ann, and fathered a son named Billy (1891).  In March 1817, two months after Mollie died from uterine cancer, he married Susan Ella Smith.  J. E. lived and died in the Six Town Community and did not associate socially with Blacks.

Edmond was born on February 8, 1861 two months prior to the first shots fired at Ft. Sumter, SC.  He died when he was about sixteen or seventeen years old.

Frances, who was called Fan, was born March 18, 1863 and married Newt’s white son George Madison, “Matt,” in Dec 1878. She had nine children before he deserted her for a white cousin named Francis Smith.  Fan later married an itinerate preacher named Dock Howze from Clarke County, MS.  In 1914, she denied under oath that she was black. It is possible, but not proven, that Dock Howze was a part-Choctaw whose given name was Benson Howze.

According to family stories, Jeffrey Early and Fan both had deep-seated issues with being defined as “Negroes.” Although Fan had delicate features, she could not pass for a white person, so she claimed to be mixed with French and Native American.  All of Jeffrey Early’s children by Newton’s daughter Mollie married white, almost white, or to relatives to avoid being classified as Negroes. They were raised as white in an isolated environment and had difficulty being accepted by either whites or blacks.  Their situation reminds me of the song that Kermit the Frog sang about “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”

Rachel’s Children Fathered by Newton Knight

            The exslave Martha Wheeler said it best.  Children of white fathers were given privileges that other former slaves did not have.  As soon as Newton’s children were old enough, the indoctrination began.  Newt indoctrinated them with an elitist attitude that made them believe they were somehow better than the average black because of their white blood. He helped build a school in the community and attempted to send his children by Rachel to that school.  When the local whites rejected them, it is said that he burned it down.

Martha Ann Knight was born August 15, 1866.  She had long, bushy hair and light complexion, café au lait, or coffee with cream color.  She married Samuel Knight whose parents were Daniel Thomas Knight, Newt’s cousin, and Harriet Carter, another of John Knight’s slaves.  Martha and Samuel had four children: Sidney, Amos, Viola Ode and Senia.  Martha and Samuel encouraged their children to marry someone of their own kind.  All except Senia married a cousin. Senia fell in love with and married a black man named Robert Johnson.  The couple eventually had to move away to avoid harassment. 

John Stewart, born in May 1868, was believed to be homosexual by family members and never married. Anyone breaking the peace in the family was accused of acting like Stewart. Living alone, he was brutally hacked to death in 1920 by locals looking for money.

John Floyd was born in 1871. His first wife was a white girl named Sophronia Cox. He married her in 1890.  The marriage was witnessed by her brother Richard C. Cox.   There is no record of Floyd’s marriage to Lucy Ainsworth Smith.  Quill Anderson stated that his family moved to the Soso area around 1895.  Floyd and Lucy had three children: William Wilder (1895), Ivy Jane (1898) and Octavia “Tavy” (1900).  Floyd died in 1942 after suffering a stroke. He is buried in the cemetery of Shady Grove Church in the Kelly Settlement Community.

Augusta Ann “Gustan” was born April 22, 1873. After the death of her mother, she lived with several of her siblings, the last of whom was Martha Ann. Gustan married William Watts of Lamar County, MS in 1906.  Her children attended Oakwood College in Huntsville, AL.

John “Hinchie” Madison was born in 1875. Hinchie married Lucy Ainsworth’s daughter, Mary Florence Magdalene “Maggie” Smith in 1893. Their marriage is recorded in the white Marriage Record Book at the Ellisville Court House. Hinchie was a prosperous farmer.  His fifteen children mostly remained in the Soso community or in Mississippi, with a few moving to California in the 1950s.

With the exception of John Floyd during his brief marriage to Sophronia Cox, none of Rachel’s children fathered by Newton passed for white.

Open Secrets

      In the antebellum South and after the War, white men believed and accepted that it was a natural rite of passage to manhood to sexually exploit black women, which resulted in families of mixed race children like those of Rachel Knight.   Everyone in the slave community knew who fathered Rachel’s children, but it was not openly discussed.  Since she was raised from birth to be a slave, Rachel was aware that she did not own her own body; she was property and did not have the right to reject sexual advances. The white woman on the other hand was expected to be a loving and dutiful wife, an affectionate mother, and subservient to her husband. It was easy for her to blame the slave for her husband or son’s indiscretion. In the South, white women were powerless and little more than servants, too. Unlike today, divorcing a husband who had extramarital relationships was frowned upon and not an easy to obtain. The white mistress often punished the slave woman for her husband’s wrong-doings, telling herself that the powerless slave seduced her husband, or even demanding that the slave be sold to remove the temptation.

      There remains to this day a hush-hush “open secret” and outright denial of past race-mixing in the South by slave masters. After emancipation, Newt, like many fathers of mixed race families, provided land and financial assistance to his off-spring which resulted sometimes in the development of elitist attitudes among them and resentment by neighbors, both black and white. Often when a mixed race person was successful in any endeavor, whites would exclaim that it was their “white blood.” In general, after the Civil War blacks were treated with callous contempt by whites; however, children fathered by their former masters were given a certain amount of protection from local harassment that lasted as long as the white father lived. The descendants of Rachel Knight, who were neither accepted nor openly rejected by their white and black neighbors, came under attack after Newt Knight died in 1922. Two of Fan Knight’s grandchildren, Rachel Dorothy and Fred Nolan, were poisoned by local whites in the early twenties, while Fan and Dock Howze both died under mysterious circumstances in 1916.  It should be noted that Newton was not the only white man in Jones and neighboring counties committing miscegenation; the others simply did not openly flaunt their relationships.

Rachel Dorothy Knight, daughter of Mat Knight (son of Newt and Serena) and Fannie Knight (daughter of Jesse Davis and Rachel Knight). Collection of Ardella Knight Barrett.

Rachel Dorothy Knight, daughter of Mat Knight (son of Newt and Serena) and Fannie Knight (daughter of Jesse Davis and Rachel Knight). Collection of Ardella Knight Barrett.

Slave Narrative of Martha Wheeler,  former slave of John “Jackie” Knight

      In the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), to interview former slaves to preserve a picture of the African-American experience with slavery.   Martha Wheeler was interviewed in the Hebron neighborhood when she was 86 years old.  She states in the interview that she was one of Jacky Knight’s slaves born on his place and at the age of eight, was sold Elizabeth Coleman Knight after his death.

The following is what she had to say about Newt, Rachel and George Ann:

“For many years the Knights seldom married outside of their family, but Newt and his family were the only ones to mix extensively with the Negroes. Rachel was considered his woman, then he moved her to his place and her daughter, Georgiann, took her place and separated him from his wife, who went out and lived, until her death a few years ago, among her children. He never married the Negro but brought up a family of seven with her at his old home place and died among them. He is buried in Jasper County half way between Stringer and Soso, one mile west of the road. His Negro children were given advantages and are said by many to be handsome. One girl lives in the old home. Another is high in school circles and served as a missionary to Japan and a third married a white man from other parts and has never been back home. His wife is buried at Palestine Church, three miles from Laurel on the Bay Springs road, now U. S. Highway 15. Newt’s parents, Mason and Albert, are buried at Hebron cemetery right at Solon Huff’s house. Their graves are probably at the beginning of the cemetery.” 

Embracing My One Drop

After being questioned by a friend, I had to take a bit of time to reflect on why I choose to embrace my “one drop” of African blood and must admit that it has been an emotional reflection. It would be very difficult to believe that I am African American if I did not tell you so.

When I began researching my family line, something or someone kept tugging at me to keep digging for the truth.  I knew that once I published my ancestry, it would cause some anxiety and denial from some of my relatives.  I felt a deep sense of needing to connect with my ancestor and became curious to know just who that woman was that survived the anguishing trip from the shores of Africa and endured the horrors of slavery, never-ending work, and rape. I envisioned that she was young, strong  and slender with a coal black complexion and kinky hair–not like the character that Ethel Knight described in Echo of the Black Horn, which is the only description of Rachel that exists other than what I was told about her.  It seems to me that she was calling me to set the record straight, because so many of her descendents had either denied her existence or claimed she was something other than a strong black woman.

If I could meet her mother, I would want to know where she was born, the places she lived, when she was abducted and when and by whom she was captured.  Did she come directly to the New World or did she get broken in the Caribbean Islands?  How many generations passed before Rachel was born?  These are questions that will forever remain unanswered because my family lineage stops with a bill of sale when she was purchased by John “Jackie” Knight.

As a child, I grew up in an environment where I was instilled with middle class values and taught to be proud of my racial heritage.   I was taught to value honest work and an education and not the color of my skin or any other physical attributes.  My mother made many sacrifices for us, never missing a day of work in 32 years in order that we might go to college. She was a great role model.

Mary Ann Smith Dodds, mother of Yvonne Bivins. Collection of Yvonne Bivins.

Mary Ann Smith Dodds, mother of Yvonne Bivins. Collection of Yvonne Bivins.

I remember that my grandmother was often asked why she chose to be black by whites.  She would boldly say that she chose to be black because if she were white, she’d be poor white and would rather be a dog.  She didn’t think too highly of poor whites.  According to her, they had been white and free all their lives and no reason to be poor. My Grandfather just quietly accepted his lot.

Note: This is the final installment of Yvonne Bivins’s history of Rachel Knight. My thanks to Yvonne for sharing her research with Renegade South.

63 replies »

  1. I really enjoy reading about the knight families. I hope you all will continue doing research and writing about interracial families.

    • Gertrude,

      Thank you so much for your kind words, and hopefully I’ll soon be posting another historical essay by Yvonne!


      • Yes and no. John “Jackie” Knight had a large family and lots of slaves. After emancipation, slaves who had no surnames usually took on the surname of their owners. This was because that is how they were referred, e.g. Knight’s Negro. In his Will, John Knight left three female slaves plus their children to his children: Morning, Harriet and Rachel. These females were the mothers of the Knights in Soso and Jones County and descended from sons of John Knight. Of interest to you, is Harriet Carter. So, all the Knights, black and white, who are descended from John Knight are related.

    • I was completely fascinated by the telling of your family history. Thank you! so interesting and riveting. Keep up the research.

    • I’m fascinated with this story because I have one of my own, except for the race in question, which is American Indian, specifically, the Shawnee. Like you I was profoundly pressured to dig for the truth by “someone” (I happen to believe those someone(s) were my Shawnee ancestors who’d been hidden away behind their having to pass as white after running away from a forced march from Ohio to Kansas where the reservation was.) I looked at my grandmother’s beautiful face at the age of six and asked her why she “looked Eskimo” – at six that was all i could come up with. Decades later my mother, immediately after her death, gave me the gift of dreams that brought back the memories of my being 4 years old, overhearing my “grown-ups” talking about my grandmother’s bio-father, a Shawnee man, writing to her when she was in her late 40’s telling her the white man she’d grown up with was not her actual father. Short version – the Shawnee family had been passing as white, which explained why I never found them in Indian records. Even my grandmother, whose appearance is that of a 100% Native American, never knew she was part American Indian – they hid it so well. I got the whole, fascinating story by putting the memories together with dozens of clues and hints from living relatives (all of whom had a version of the “Indian story”) and then being gobsmacked by finding them in Censuses and other documents on an ancestry site – complete with ages, names and everything needed to prove to me they were my people, living on Shawnee land that had been turned into farms for white people and a few Shawnee families. Then, as if all that weren’t enough, I had my second DNA test done, on the same ancestry site, which came back proving I’m not the great-granddaughter of the white man who raised my grandmother – the Shawnee man is my great-grandfather… I’m still speechless and trying to let it sink in. These People of mine are powerful people to be able to give me their story and then prove it with science, and they wanted their story told. Bravo to you for never giving up, no matter what anyone thinks – it’s an awesome thing to know where and who we come from….

      • This is so fascinating to me. More power to you for finding your roots and the truth. Stay true to you. This helps others. If people would just love who they really are we would not have all of the lies and secrets. Why does color mean so much? Why can’t we just love each other and skin color not matter? Stay true to you, I loved your store.

    • I am intrigued this story reminds me of my own family story I’m part of the Bradley family and it’s a very interesting story itself but I was wondering in the movie was that man sent to jail for marrying his kin

      • Hi Davie, thanks for your comment. I’m not certain which man you’re referring to from the movie, but I know of no one from this Jones County clan that was sent to jail for marrying their kin. First cousin marriages were quite common in the United States in the 19th and early 20th century, especially in the rural South. Many states have since passed laws against such marriage, including Mississippi, but not all.


  2. Wow !!

    I stumbled across this information about my ancestors and am blown away. I have pictures with names on them of who I thought were “white people”. I now know that they are part of my family history. Now the puzzel is beginning to take shape thanks to your good work.

    P.S. – Viola Ode Knight and Luther KNight were my grandparents

  3. Hello Vincent,
    My name is Dale Knight. I am the son of Udell and Gladys Rae McMillin Knight of the Soso community. Luther Knight is my father’s uncle and the brother of my grandfather, Robert “Bob” Knight. Both are the offsprings of Andy Knight. Just like you, I am fasinated with the rich history of the Knight family. As a young boy, I used to go over Uncle Luther’s house and watch him plow his mule and tend his garden. A lot of people get tight lipped when they hear that Uncle Luther and Aunt Ode were first cousins. That was the way things were. However, Yvonne has done a masterful job by researching and outing the real, complex and sometimes uncomfortable history of our families. The younger generations just want to know the truth so it can be properly passed down to future Knight relatives. Keep it coming Yvonne!

    Dale Knight

  4. Great job! Looking forward to some time in Soso this summer. I am the granddaughter of Haywood Knight, his father was Hugh Knight. Haywood moved to the gulf coast with his wife and children in 1951.

  5. Greetings, can anyone tell me how I can obtain Martha Wheeler’s slave narratives? I have searched but to no avail. Thanks in advance.

    • Mr. Duckworth,

      The ex-slave narratives are online, but I read Martha Wheeler’s interview at my university college library. The published slave narrative volumes that it’s part of are carried by almost all college libraries and many public libraries. Look for: George P. Rawick, ed. The American Slave: a Composite Autobiography. Supplement, series 1, vol. 10, Mississippi Narratives, pt. 5 (Greenwood Press, 1972), pp. 2263-64.

      Much of Martha’s interview was never published, but may still be read at the Mississippi State Archives in Jackson, where it is contained in the Unpublished WPA Records, Record Group #60, volume 315.

      Good luck with your search.

      • Thanks- for Unpublished WPA Records, Record Group #60, volume 315- i was looking and looking for Wheeler’s interview and didn’t find it.

      • Quakergirl2, you might try visiting a library that contains the multi-volume set of WPA ex-slave narratives. That’s where I found Martha Wheeler’s interview, and here’s the citation from my book, The Free State of Jones:

        George P. Rawick, ed., The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography, supplement, series 1, volume 10, Mississippi Narratives, part 5 (Westport, Conn., Greenwood Press, 1972). page 2265.


    • If you would share your email address with me through Vikki, I will send a copy to you. I copied the narrative when it was on the ancestry.com website. It has since been removed or I just can’t remember where it is located on the website.

      • Thanks a bunch 😉 Email sent 😉 As usual Yvonne, you are so gracious with sharing information!

      • Quakergirl2, you might try visiting a library that contains the multi-volume set of WPA ex-slave narratives. That’s where I found Martha Wheeler’s interview, and here’s the citation from my book, The Free State of Jones:

        George P. Rawick, ed., The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography, supplement, series 1, volume 10, Mississippi Narratives, part 5 (Westport, Conn., Greenwood Press, 1972). page 2265.

    • Mr. Ducksworth,

      That’s great to know! Martha left one of the most important contemporary accounts that I drew on for writing The Free States of Jones! Hope you locate her interviews without too much trouble. The unpublished sections are well worth the search in the unpublished WPA papers in Jackson.



  6. I can’t find any additional information about Martha Wheeler! I have a Martha Ann Wheeler that pops up in my genealogy research but I want to be sure it’s her before I jump the gun. Did they collect any more information on her?

    • Jessica,

      If by “they,” you mean the WPA (Works Projects Administration), the interview conducted with Martha Wheeler by Addie West was fairly extensive. Only part of it was published in the ex-slave narratives (George Rawick, The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography). To read the entire interview (which I quoted from in Free State of Jones) you should visit the State Archives in Jackson, MS. The longer version of the interview, in which Wheeler describes the Confederacy’s execution of Ben Knight, is contained there in the records of the “U.S. Works Projects Administration, Record Group 60,” vol. 315, Jones County.

      Good luck with your research.


  7. Rachel Knight is my great great grandmother. My father’s name is John Floyd Crosby who’s mother’s name is Louise Knight Crosby daughter of John Hinchie Madison Knight. As a kid we would always go to Soso, Ms to see my dad’s family. Two things I always wondered when I was there alot of my relatives looked white and had alot of land. My father didn’t tell my brother and I about Newt Knight only until my father passed. I was told by my Aunts if I knew as a kid I would of used that info for my history class..

  8. I grew up in Laurel in the ’60’s. My parents knew Ethel Knight, and we often hunted arrowheads on her place by Reddoch’s Ferry on the Leaf River. As a kid, I always thought Ms. Knight was a bit eccentric. Others may have used another word. I enjoyed your research and writing so much. Great to hear stories of Jones County and Soso. Thank you.

  9. I grew up In laurel married to a man from west Africa to which many slaves of South decented.i also have a biracial child in the 87.it Was Very difficult. I now live in Washington state where every other is biracial I we’ll be so glad we. This taboo of m u ed is over we are all human all of us bleed red.

  10. My ggg-grandparents are John “Jackie” Knight and Keziah Davis Knight, through my gg-grandmother Harriet Knight, wife of Charles Brumfield. Of course the father of Newton Knight is Albert Knight, brother to Harriet Knight Brumfield. I am thoroughly enjoying reading about my ancestors and expect to see the movie, The Free State of Jones, and to travel to Jones/Jasper Counties in MS. I grew up in Yazoo County, MS, and now live in SC.

  11. I too grew knowing lots of folk from Soso,Hot Coffee,Bay Springs and even certain areas around Ellisville (e.g.) Curry Community. Where The Knights, Crosbys,Barnes,The Speeds,All these Folks were somehow related.For the most part all were pretty decent people.All about Family.I always admired that about them.I grew up in Laurel in The late 50’s early 60’s So none of this new news to those of Us who grew up in that era and in that region.

  12. Hello I am the daughter of Ernestine Knight from So So Mississippi. My mother parents were Lillian Knight and Bae Knight. My great great grandfather was Andy Knight. How am I descendent of Newton and Rachel Knight.

    • Stacie, you are not a direct descendant of Newton and Rachel. Andy Knight’s father was a cousin of Newton Knight named Daniel Thomas Knight. Andy’s mother and grandmother were a slaves named of John “Jackie” Knight, Harriet Carter Ward and Phyllis Knight, respectively. Andy’s grandfather was a slave named Andy Carter.

  13. After researching some family history. I am related to Newton him being my gggg grandfather. His son George married Frances (Rachel’s daughter) and had a son named George Monroe who must have fled Mississippi and changed his name to George Monroe McKnight because we were all told we are Indians. I did find where he was born a Knight and became a McKnight.

    • Chyvonne, Your comment is fascinating to me. About 30 years ago I was friends with a young college student named Stephanie McKnight (Pfeiffer College in Misenheimer, NC). I have lost track of her but after reading Ms.Bivins wonderful article about Rachel Knight and your reply, I can’t help but wonder if Stephanie was related to the Knights. She had the beautiful look of creamy skin and soft wavy hair–she never identified herself as any race to me, she could have even been Indian. As I said, I just found this a curious connection to a friend from the past.

  14. Hello after knowing nothing of my history I have discovered I am Newton Knights gggg granddaughter. He and Serena’s son George Madison married Rachel’s daughter Frances And had 9 children one being Gerorge Moroe who is my gg grandfather and who later changed his named to McKnight .. Any idea why his name became McKnight ? His parents are listed as Frances knight and George knight but somehow he chose to be “McKnight”

    • Chyvonne, Thank you for your comment and question about the origins of the McKnight name. I have been corresponding with several members of the McKnight family for years.

      When your ancestor, George Monroe Knight, grandson of Newt Knight and Rachel Knight, moved to Texas in the early 20th century and changed his surname to McKnight, our nation was in the midst of one of the most violently racist periods in its history. Segregation was in full swing; lynching of blacks was common, and supported by many in the white community. Simultaneously, the Civil War had been rewritten as a “noble Confederate cause” that had no connection to slavery. This version of history is still popular today, although based on prejudice, poor research, and outright lies.

      That is the world that Newt and Rachel’s descendants faced, as did all people of color. It did not matter if you were 100 percent or 1 percent African in descent, if you had “one drop” of African ancestry, you were defined as “Negro”—subjected to discriminatory laws that kept you from finding a good job or gaining a quality education, to say the least. If you complained about second class citizenship, worked to change those laws, or simply rebelled against the rules, you might find yourself run out of town—or even lynched.

      I don’t know exactly when, why, or how that George Monroe Knight changed his surname to McKnight. But when I consider what he faced from a white society that defined his grandfather Newt as a traitor to the “Cause”, and which trampled on his own rights of citizenship because of having a formerly enslaved grandmother, I certainly am not surprised that George moved on to Texas and gave himself a new identity—one that assured his children would also have a better life than back in Jones County, Mississippi. (Many descendants of Newt and Rachel moved away from Jones County for the same reason.)

      Those were dark times, and I hope we never see a return to anything like them. That’s why it’s so important to tell your family story, and to place it in its true historical context.


      • One other question.. We are still researching and seem to
        Keep running into contradictions. Some info is starting that Rachel’s daughter Frances is George Monroes mother and some others I’ve come across say his mother is Frances k Smith. Do you know to whom which Feancss is his mother?

      • The parents of George Monroe Knight are George Madison “Matt” Knight and Frances “Fannie” Knight. Matt Knight was the son of Newt and Serena Knight. Fannie Knight was the daughter of Rachel Knight. (Fannie’s father is believed to have been Jesse Davis Knight, Newt Knight’s uncle.)

        Matt and Fannie Knight had a large family together, including your ancestor, George Monroe. Matt abandoned Fannie later in their marriage, however, and did not have to obtain a divorce because their interracial marriage was no longer considered legal after 1890 in Mississippi. He then married his second cousin, Frances K. (the K stood for Knight) Smith. Frances Knight Smith was the daughter of Newt Knight’s cousin, John A Knight. Frances’s first marriage was to S. G. Smith; her second marriage was to George Madison “Matt” Knight.

        It’s easy to see where the confusion comes from. Matt married two different women named “Frances,” one the daughter of his uncle, the other the daughter of Rachel, Newt Knight’s partner of some twenty years. And so, through Matt and Fannie, the McKnights are descended from both Newt and Rachel, but also from Serena, Matt’s mother.

        I hope this is helpful and clarifies the family line for you.


  15. Hello,
    I am a gggg grand daughter of Newton Knight, George Monroe is my gg grandfather.
    My sister forwarded me your response to her question about George Monroe changing his surname to McKnight, very exciting and informative response! Thank you!
    A question that is gnawing at me is “who is Frances K Smith?”
    I am aware he left Frances (Rachel’s daughter) for Frances Smith but I can’t find any additional info on her. Can you help?

    • Please note that I have corrected my reply to Chyvonne, I originally wrote that John A. Knight was the BROTHER of Newt Knight, but he is actually his COUSIN. John A. Knight married his cousin, Cassandra, who was the daughter of Benjamin F. Knight and Catherine Reddoch Knight. Their daughter Frances married S.G. Smith, and latter married George Madison “Matt” knight, your ancestor.

      Sorry for any confusion I may have caused.


      • Do you happen to know the names of all Fannie’s children? My grandmother was “Dorothy Maxine Knight” and her sister was “Rachel Knight.” They said their mother’s name was Fannie, so I’m trying to determine how/if we fit into the family tree. Thanks.

      • After doing a little more research and talking with my Mother we believe we are Amos’ grandchildren (under Martha Ann)… and we are also linked to the Watts. Cool 🙂

  16. Hi I would love to know how the Shelby and Musgrove families tie into the Knights. I know there is a connection with the families, I just don’t know where

    • Porcha, was your question about the Shelby and Musgrove families ever answered as far as their link to the Knight family? I am curious as well because My best friend who lives in Hattiesburg is related to the Musgroves. He is of light completion with curly peppered hair. I called him and told him of the intriguing stories I read about Newt and Rachel’s descendants. I watched the movie which prompted me to research the stories and read the well researched and informative pieces of Bivins and “Renegade”. My friend’s father is buried in Soso. Sadly, he was a stabbing victim before my friend was born. Anyway, when we were in college at Jackson State over 30 years ago, we visited some elderly Musgrove ladies, his relatives, who looked white and who lived in Jones County. I can’t recall the city’s name.I’m sure they are deceased now. My friend and his family live in Hattiesburg, and I in California. I’d love to share the answers to your questions with him. Therefore, if you got the answer , although your post was a year ago, please share. Thank you, Taylor.

  17. My grandmother name is Claudia Knight.Her father was Claud Knight ,he Married Emma Barnes. Newton Knight is supposed to be his father or grandfather do you have any information on a claud Knight. My grandmother was born in 1910 she was the only child by Claud and Emma.

  18. Newt Knight was my Great Great grandfather it really doesn’t bother me the pass is the pass but thank God I Am Here.She had to do what she had to do and I am proud of my Great Great grandmother Rachel.I enjoy your writing

  19. Thank you for such a thought-provoking and exhaustive account of your family. You mentioned the Knights of Monroe and Bibb Counties in Alabama and those are my Knight relations (from the Cullen Cotton Knight plantation. He married Sarah Marshall). Can you tell me if they are related to the families in Jones? Like, did Cullen’s relatives travel from NC and settle in Mississippi as far as you know? Thanks.

  20. Love your family history, and yes , so much family history is kept a secret for a number of reasons. Can I get archive access online ? Mine would be family history from, Va., I live in Ga.

  21. What a beautiful, thought provoking article to your family you have written. I am eternally grateful to you for bringing all this information to me in a loving tribute. I hope you will continue your family research and provide us with more great writings.

    • My husband’s mother Mildred Knight was born in Wedowee, Alabama (Randolph Co.) To John Knight and Sally Fannie Poole (Knight). Her grandfather was Hime Knight, also from Alabama, a Caucasian man & grandmother Rita, a slave woman that bore him many child. I also have a cousin related to the Soso Ms. Knights. There’s a lot of physical resemblance to both the Mississippi & Alabama Knights. I was wondering if Hime Knight from Alabama (Randolph County and Newton Knight from (Jones County) Mississippi were related. The physical resemblance of some of their offspring is uncanny.

  22. I’m not sure if I’m related to any of the knights mentioned being that I don’t know much about that side of my family but I was very enlightened. Great read!

  23. Newt Knight was just someone having children with the women around the home. He was having sex with Rachel and her daughter. Rachel was having kids by other men, Newt and Serena’s children having children with cousins, his children with Serena were having children with Rachael kids It was all inbreeding to keep his kids white. If Rachael was supposed to be with Newt for years, why was she having children by other men? What happened to her children in her teen years…. I watched the movie and Newt and Rachel were going to get married and she is having children with other men and their was no mention of 2 kids at 15… The whole family was inbreeding….

    • Vanessa, I appreciate your concerns. While I believe the movie version of FSOJ did a great job on the class politics of the Civil War and Reconstruction—reminding us that common people rose up against the Confederacy and sometimes formed interracial alliances in the process—I agree with you that it went too far in romanticizing Newt’s relationship with Rachel.

      Hollywood has a dilemma. It needs to present an action-packed story with a clear hero to succeed at the box office, and in 2 hours it can’t waste time on details. Still, I wish the story of Newt and Rachel had been closer to what we know to be true. In real life, Newt clearly exercised his patriarchal prerogative as a white man, and the women, especially Rachel, who had little to no power in this society, were surely exploited.

      That said, let me address your statements individually. First, there was nothing shocking about cousins marrying cousins in rural nineteenth century America; it happened regularly and was not considered by most people to be inbreeding. Frankly, there wasn’t a wide range of marital choices beyond cousins in some of these small communities.

      Second, Rachel did not have children by other men after she gave birth to Martha, her first child by Newt Knight. And she likely was sexually forced into sex by her former slave masters; slave women were frequently raped or coerced, and their masters were not liable to rape charges because the women were their “property.”

      Third, Rachel’s previous children (including those from her teen years) became part of the household that she, Newt, and Serena put together after the war. That meant that Newt and Serena’s children knew Rachel’s children very well. Because the household was interracial, white society ostracized the white as well as mixed Knight children, severely limiting their marital choices. And so two of the white children (of Newt and Serena) intermarried with two of Rachel’s mixed-race children.

      I think it’s important to try to analyze this family on its own terms, to understand the choices they had and why they made the ones they did. To me, it’s much more complicated than the word “inbreeding” implies. That term might fit our definitions of proper relationships today, but did not during the nineteenth century. We also were not there. We don’t know who loved whom or who made which choices. We do know that this was a hardworking, law-abiding family who produced many descendants who went on to lead successful, productive lives.

      It’s interesting. People of that time were much more shocked by the Knights marrying across the color line than they were by cousin marriages, which were common among the entire society. Today, it’s the opposite.


  24. My husband has a ton of DNA matches to Jesse Knight and his parents, John Knight and Keziah Davis. He also comes up 5% black on both Ancestry and MyHeritage. Makes me wonder if Rachel or another slave of John’s is his ancestor. I can’t work any of them into his tree and it’s driving me insane. But he wouldn’t have a ton of matches with them in their trees if he wasn’t a descendant. This was an interesting read. Thanks for sharing.

  25. Was Rachel Knight of “Creek Indian” ancestry ???

    I have always wanted to learn more about Rachel Knight–especially because so little seems known about her ancestry. My name is Marvin Watts, and Newt and Rachel Knight are my great grandparents through Augusta Ann (“Gustan”) Knight (my grandmother, who married William Watts) and her son (my father), Curtis James Watts, Sr.

    I have a distinct recollection of my father telling me about his mother (Gustan)–along with his recalling what she said about her mother (Rachel). I was 14 years old at the time, and my father was 63–so I take both his recollections and mine as reliable (I am now 62). I share this because someone may be able to cross-relate other findings with what I have to share, and possibly provide further insight into Rachel’s background…

    Specifically, my father told me that his grandmother Rachel had “Creek Indian” ancestry–which overlaps with Dianne Walkup’s (great-great granddaughter of Newton, Serena and Rachel Knight) understanding of native American origins for Rachel.

    According to Yvonne Bivin’s account here, Rachel’s parents were he named Abraham and Viney, and were from Virginia. If anyone has done further research on them and/or ancestry of either one, it would be great to know. I am just seeing their names for the first time, so will now start my own research in that area–as well as on native Americans in Virginia who were considered “Creek Indians”.

    – Marv Watts

    • Many mixed race people claimed Native American ancestry to deflect from being black. Creek Native Americans didn’t come from VA , but we’re forced from their land in the Carolinas and GA.

      Extensive research concludes that the descendants of Newt and Rachel were black and white.

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