The Free State of Jones

The Movie “Free State of Jones” is on the way!

By Vikki Bynum

Newt Knight

Newt Knight and Variety Magazine have announced that the long anticipated movie “Free State of Jones” is in the works—just eight years after Universal Studios bought the rights to my book from the University of North Carolina Press. This being the movies, I won’t likely see the Newt Knight that I “know,” but I do hope that I like the one that I see.

FSoJ coverMatt McConaughey will play guerrilla leader, Newt Knight. What do you think?

Note: Need help finding my books about the Free State of Jones? Click here.

matt mcconaughey

57 replies »

  1. Vikki,
    This is awesome news! So very proud for you and all you have done to accurately research and publish such a great book that will now be made available for a wider audience thru a different medium.

    What a great choice for Newt Knight! He is such a great actor who really gets into the character!

    Cindy DeVall

    • i have 17 acres in moselle and many other land owners would help with filming let me know . i respect matt mcConaughey fpr rescuing katrina dogs. and a cat that was about to be put on fire by some kids !

      • That’s very generous of you, Susan. However, for various reasons (mainly costs) the movie is being filmed in Louisiana.

  2. Excellent choice! He has the look, the drawl, the body. That may sound silly, but guerrillas tended toward lean and mean, and a bit crazy-eyed, it seems. Anyone who has seen Reign of Fire knows he has the crazy-eyed guerrilla act down pat! Can’t wait to see how it comes out!

  3. An inspired choice to play Newt! Fingers crossed that this will be a good-faith effort to convey the spirit of the book.

      • Good Morning Sharon, William H. Fairchild was my GG Uncle. My GG Grandfather was Nathaniel Fairchild, and he and William H. were brothers.

        One of the stories handed down through my Fairchild family was how William Henry. (referred to in the family as Bill Henry) and his workers were murdered by Newt Knight and his followers.

        Hopefully the movie will not portray our uncle, who was a legitimate farmer and cattle rancher as the “bad guy” and Newt Knight’s group as the “good guys”. Our family lore always has portrayed Newt Knight and his group as murderers and thieves, as after they killed our uncle, they stole all their cattle and hogs.

      • Blake,

        There were many tragic home front killings during the Civil War, and I’m sorry that your GG uncle was among them. I discuss the murder of William H. Fairchild in the Free State of Jones on pages 105 and 112.

        According to author Rudy Leverett, William Fairchild was the uncle of Major Amos McLemore’s wife. Whereas Maj. McLemore was assigned the task of rounding up deserters in Jones County, Fairchild was appointed collector of Confederate taxes-in-kind. This put both men right in the middle of an inner civil war between the Confederacy and those who opposed it.

        My point is not to justify murder, but to understand why men who were not murderers before or after the war, whether pro- or anti-Confederate, killed one another during the war, on and off the battlefield. Knight band member Jasper Collins allegedly remarked to one of his descendants that “the Civil War made us cold-blooded murderers.” What else could it have done? Union and Confederate soldiers were sent off to kill one another on battlefields; men who engaged in home front insurrections were also forced to kill their enemies or risk being killed themselves.

        The Jones County insurrection was the guerrilla portion of the larger war; the only difference was the informality of its battlefields. Therefore, I understand why Confederate soldiers killed my GG Uncle Tapley Bynum for deserting the Confederate army; they were likely following orders. I direct my blame for Tapley’s tragic death at the ill-conceived cause of Southern secession that led to this disastrous fratricidal Civil War, resulting in the deaths of untold numbers of innocent people. By the same token that Confederate soldiers and vigilantes killed deserters, the Knight Band killed Confederates who threatened them with arrest, execution, or the starvation of their families through tax-in-kind laws.

        There’s much to be learned about the Civil War Era from these inner civil wars, which occurred throughout the South. 1861-1875 were extraordinary years that brought death and economic destruction to an entire generation of Southerners, black and white.


      • Vikki,

        Thanks for your reply. It is true that war is a horrible thing. I served our country in the U.S. Marine Corps for over 27 years, and I can tell you that a person will do things in war time in the name of self-preservation, even today.

        I had a question for you, since you are the only person that I have ever talked to that is a scholar on this particular subject. Another family story that has been passed down concerning the War Between the States is one concerning a man who either was a close associate of Newt Knight’s, or a family member of his was. Supposedly some members of the Gentry family in Jones county were members (supporters) of Knight’s group. After the war was over, so the story goes, some Confederate veterans here in Nevada County, Arkansas carried out some post-war justice on a man named Wyatt Gentry (1846-1895). Even though this Wyatt Gentry probably wasn’t one of Knight’s group; supposedly there was enough animosity amongst the CSA veterans that tensions boiled over in 1895, and a group of them shot this Gentry fellow to death.

        I don’t know how much of this story is folklore, or how much it has been embellished over the years, but I heard my Grandfather , and other old members of the family tell it, and re-tell it over the years. In your research, have you ever ran across any men named Gentry that were with Knight’s group?

      • Blake,

        Very interesting story passed down in your family! I’ve never come across the name Wyatt Gentry in my research. Perhaps others out there have? If so, please feel free to contribute.


      • Blake Fairchild, I think I recall talking with you………My family connects to several Fairchilds (Sharon Stewart) too. Also the Snowden’s, and Houston’s from Lauderdale connect, some of them went on Arkansas…………Have you heard of them? I am not sure about the Gentry lines.

        Who were the workers that was killed with Wm.Bill Henry Fairchild? Thank you.

      • Frances,
        I have looked for an answer to your question about the workers killed along William Henry Fairchild. I have searched and asked a couple of old timers in the family. All I can say is their best guess is that it was probably a couple of farmhands and a few slaves.

        They were driving a herd of cattle, some hogs,and wagons loaded with foodstuffs to Mobile when the wagon train was ambushed in the countryside. I don’t have any names that I can provide to you.



  4. Victoria, I am thrilled that this project has come full circle for you and this intriguing book, Your work is outstanding. For me, I thought I would never see my predecessors portrayed in movie format. My feeling is that Matt McConaughey will be a formidable Newt Knight. He has the talent of the ‘rebel’, that so well describes one side of my great uncle, yet, the compassion, which he had shown for his family in Jones County during this War Between the States. Since I was old enough to hear, I recall the many stories of Daniel Franklin Knight, his uncle being Newt Knight. Andrew ‘Zachery’ Taylor Knight, as you know, was the youngest brother of Newt Knight, father of my grandfather, Daniel Franklin Knight.

    I had long forgotten some of the stories until I was in the 8th grade in Pascagoula, Ms. and my American History teacher, Charles Lippian, came and stood by my desk one day. He tapped my desk with a pencil and told me I was to do an oral report on Newt Knight from Jones County, Ms. We were studying the Civil War at the time and the Free State of Jones. I looked at him and wondered why he chose me to present the report. After class, I stayed behind and asked him about the assignment. He smiled and said, “you need to review your family tree.” Then, I got it. I went straight home and began long conversations with my mother and it all came together for me and the rest was history as my studies continue into the Knight family tree. Thank you for sharing this information for me and my family. Andrea Lynn Martin Wilson, daughter of Martha Elizabeth Knight Martin (daughter of Daniel Franklin Knight).

  5. Better be careful taking a movie crew back to Soso, Jasper county. My mom and I were looking for Newt’s grave last year, he’s one of several colorful distant relatives I have in MS, and we were run off by a Knight and his gun, off of Knight road across from a family plot! Couldn’t get my elderly mom back in the car quick enough! It would be neat to see some of the “religious” relationships in that area explored — Newt’s parents and other relatives were active members of Leaf River Baptist Church in Covington County, MS (church minutes from 1829-1929 transcribed), founded by Rev. Norvell Robertson, Sr. (my gggggrandfather). Newt’s father was cutoff from fellowship for being intoxicated in 1838. Rev. Robertson’s son Asaph, also had dealings with Newt’s gang, referenced in the diary of my distant uncle, William Pitt Chambers, in the book “Blood & Sacrifice: The Civil War Journal of a Confederate Soldier”. Looking forward to the movie and all the possible actors!

    • I am the grand daughter of Lacy and Idel Knight, from Soso. If this the same cemetery that my grandpartents are buried in. I can only imagine your fright.

  6. I am so happy for you to get the recognition you so richly deserve my friend. Hard work and dedication has brought you into this family as well as the ancestral lines. We love you and couldn’t be prouder. God bless you Vikki

  7. I am a descendant of Newton Knight and Rachael Knight. They are my 2nd generation grandparents. I am very excited that our family’s story has an opportunity to be shared. Looking forward to the movie release.

    • Cousin Vikki, I am thrilled to see the news about the upcoming movie! I can’t think of anyone who could portray Newt Knight better than Matthew McConaughey – he is such a gifted actor and has caused many people to realize that “Southern accent” does not mean “dumb person.” Now, if they would just get Christian Bale to play Prentice Bynum… Can’t wait to see the movie. Congratulations! Margaret

    • Vikki, I’m reading “The Free State of Jones” right now. As one of the Collins descendants (Jasper was my great great grandfather), I want to thank you for this excellent book. It’s so exciting to learn about my ancestors and especially to know that, in addition to being quite colorful, they were also people of principle who were not afraid to buck the system when necessary. I’ve always believed that my ancestors were simply too poor to own slaves, but it’s reaffirming to know that being non-slaveholders was a choice they made. Thank you again!

      • Hi Barbara! Yes, the Collins family is quite remarkable–both past and present. I’m still amazed at how many descendants of Jasper that I’ve met since FSOJ was published–especially on this blog. So good to meet you!


  8. Vikki, This is your cousin Libby Miller Chambers in Oklahoma. I am so excited to see this movie coming our about our family! I’m Kathleen Bynum Miller’s (Robert Bynum’s daughter) third daughter. LOVE Matthew McConaughey! Think he’ll do a great job. Thanks for sharing this wonderful news!

  9. I believe Matthew McConaughey will do a wonderful job. I look forward to seeing this movie. Newt Knight was my great-great grandfather.

    • Rhonda, my great-great grandfather was Jasper Collins. I think it is wonderful how so many of us descendants of the Jones County families are aware of the roles our families played in the events so long ago. I’d love for someone to put together an event where we could all meet one another in Ellisville!

      • Hello Jamie, Jasper Collins was my great great grandfather as well. My grandmother is Arrilla Gatsy Ann Collins (married name Long). I am wondering if you are a descendant of one of her siblings. I don’t know the family tree that well so don’t know all of their names. Hopefully you will pick up this thread. Would love to learn more about the family history. You can also email me at

      • I’m also the great great granddaughter of Jasper Collins, through Arrilla Gatsy Ann Collins (Long), daughter of Jasper’s son Henry C. Collins. I think a meeting in Ellisville is a wonderful idea!

  10. Vikki congrats of this great project! I have read this book and corresponded on you blog many times concerning my Walters ancestors and my strange experience at Chalmette Cemetery with Drury Walters. I know you may not be a part of the casting for th movie, but there is an up and coming actor who is directly related to the Daniel, Nancy, Drury, Archie, and Marada Walters line. You mention them in you book. How cool whould it be to actually have a Jones County descendent in the cast! The young actor is Steve Talley. I have included a link to his credits.

  11. I love hearing from all you descendants of the Free State of Jones, as well as from friends and history colleagues! I so hope that the movie gives attention to the core families that either supported or opposed the band (like many, my own relatives were divided in their loyalties).


    • Vikki, I am so glad this is happening for you! I am very proud of the way you have shown my family history! I am so excited to see this project! I send you my love and best wishes in the future!

  12. Hey cousin, great news about the upcoming film. Please let the production team know I am available to portray my GG-Grandfather, Jasper Collins! 🙂

  13. Congratulations, Vikki! I know you must be so excited about seeing The Free State of Jones on the big screen. Perfect casting of Matthew McConaughey in the role of Newt Knight….can’t wait to see the movie!

  14. Congratulations Vikki; now that a movie is in the making, I’m reading messages from people who were very quiet when your blogs first started. I hope they won’t be too disappointed when they realize that your research led you to conclusions that will be uncomfortable for a lot of people. Hey, that’s history for you. it is what it is. For a long time, talking about this history was taboo. My hope is that this movie will help to answer questions that our parents and grandparents avoided. The younger generation is eager to know the truth and nothing but the truth.

    • Thank you, Dale! It’s my hope, like yours, that this movie will at the very least get folks talking about the inner civil wars that occurred on home fronts throughout the South. Maybe they’ll even read some of the many fine academic works on the subject!


  15. Also, Yvonne Bivins has done a fantastic job of researching history, not only in comfortable venues but in uncomfortable venues as well.

  16. Excited about the possibility of a movie based on the Free State of Jones…Looking forward to seeing my ancestors, The Collins’, in this movie..Thank you for writing this book..Still looking for more connections in my family tree; such as American Indian ancestors.

    • Wanda, I’m really hoping that other important members of the Knight Band are included in the movie: the Collinses, James Morgan Valentine, William Wesley Sumrall, and numerous others are an important part of the story!


  17. Hello Vikki. So glad this has finally got here..My gg grandfather was Benjamin Franklin Knight..We have communicated in the past and like you I just Mathew does ole Newt justice. Thanks again Steve Knight

    • Hi Steve! I particularly hope that the death of Ben Knight is included. It’s such a tragic and dramatic story that has lived on in memory and folklore.
      Thanks for your comment,

    • Hey, there; good to hear from you! Only Newt and Rachel have been cast so far. I did learn–just today–that Newt’s band partners, Jasper Collins and William Wesley Sumrall, will be included in the movie; I’ll post as soon as I learn who will play them. Am looking forward to learning who will play Serena, as well.


  18. I was doing some research on my paternal grandmother’s grandfather who joined the Union after leaving the Confederacy and happened upon this site. I’m glad I did as it is very interesting, hits close to home and I had no idea there was a movie in the making! I can’t wait to see it. I sincerely appreciate your efforts to maintain this site and look forward to learning more.

  19. Just read that STX Entertainment will release the movie on March 11, 2016…only 375 days away! “”The Free State of Jones,” which will shoot in the New Orleans and Lafayette areas, had been scheduled to start shooting next week, but production signs for the film have recently been spotted on the north shore. Unofficial set photos of McConaughey — sporting his scraggly new Civil War-style beard — and co-star Gugu Mbatha Raw (“Beyond the Lights,” “Belle”) in costume also landed online recently.”

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