The Free State of Jones

A New Glimpse of the Cinematic Free State of Jones!

by Vikki Bynum

The movie The Free State of Jones, starring Matthew McConaughey as Newt Knight and Gugu MBatha-Raw as Rachel Knight, is scheduled for release on March 11, 2016.* Almost a year previous to that day of projected release, the following photos were taken on the movie’s set in Covington, Louisiana. You’ll likely recognize the director, Gary Ross, of Hunger Games and Seabiscuit fame. Perhaps you’ll recognize the Confederate officer and nurse too!

BTS: Director Gary Ross with author and historian Victoria Bynum (author of

BTS: Director Gary Ross with author and historian Victoria Bynum (author of “The Free State of Jones”). Photo courtesy of STX Entertainment

Confederate officer (Gregg Andrews) and hospital nurse (Victoria Bynum)

Confederate officer (Gregg Andrews) and hospital nurse (Victoria Bynum). Photo courtesy of STX Entertainment

And for your listening pleasure, I give you “Jones County Jubilee,” a musical version of the Free State of Jones by Doctor G and the Mudcats:


*Note: The release date of Free State of Jones has been changed to June 24, 2016.

34 replies »

  1. You look wonderful! Can’t wait to see the movie. Wishing there could be a Knight/Whitehead descendant viewing party. Thank you for all you do to preserve this unique family history.

  2. Seabiscuit is one of my all time favorites…cry every time I watch it…incredible historical documentary. Gary Ross, Matt, Gugu, and you in that getup…I’m giddy…200 days! Chuck

      • It worked…I’m bouncing off the walls. I’ve read all three of your books again (third time for “Free State” and Long Shadow”). I’ve also read Jenkins/Stauffer “State of Jones” again. In that book they described trees that were so big that it took six people with arms stretched to encircle. I’m wondering if you came across any books or documents in your research that described what early settlers to the Mississippi Territory may have encountered as far as landscape and critters. I’m sure that by the outbreak of the war that the “big” trees had been replaced by fields and pastures. Any suggestions? Chuck

      • Chuck,

        You might enjoy the works on Sullivan Hollow’s (esp. by Chester Sullivan and Ann Hammonds) for some descriptions of early settlements in the region. You might also like Joyce Chaplin’s An Anxious Pursuit: Agricultural Innovation and Modernity in the Lower South, 1730-1815, Frank Owsley’s Plain Folk of the Old South and Samuel Hyde’s anthology Plain Folk of the Old South Revisited (especially Bradley Bond’s essay on economic development in the Mississippi Piney Woods).

        I don’t have the titles of any specific environmental studies at my fingertips, and I don’t know the circumference of those pines after the nineteenth century, but there were still plenty of them to cause the lumber industry to come rolling in after the Civil War!


    • Chuck,

      You might also enjoy James Street’s novel, Oh, Promised Land, which provides some lovely descriptions of Mississippi Territory in the early nineteenth century.


      • Oh, yes, Michelle, do share this with Mama Nyla. She’s getting a crash course in Bynum-related history!

      • Sullivan’s Hollow…yikes! I’ve read all you mentioned and have my eye on several more about 1800s logging in Mississippi…144 days, 7 hours, 11 minutes……………..

      • I’m never satisfied to go with only a name and some dates. If I can find out where someone is buried and get a headstone photo, I’m lucky. If I can get a birth/death certificate, I’m lucky. If I can find someone still alive with stories and support, I’m lucky. If I can find obituaries or newspaper articles, I’m lucky. If I can find a blog like this, I’m really lucky. If I can find a portrait or family photo, I’m over the moon! Knowing where someone lived, what they may have seen or heard, what they experienced…it’s all part of personalizing someone from my past and I just can’t get enough…………..Chuck

  3. Vicky, I would really like to get a copy of my book Demented Beauty to Gary Ross. It is about the true crime Murder Matricide case they happened in Laurel,Ms. In 1935. The Ouida Keeton murder trial was the Most Sensational Murder Case in Mississippi History. Misssissippi’s Lizzie Borden. I would love to send you a copy and would greatly appreciate if you could pass it on to Gary. Ross. Sincerely, Marcelle Harwell a Mississippi Author

    • Marcelle,

      I’m sorry, but I do not intercede on behalf of people who seek the attention of Gary Ross. If I did, I’d be interrupting his days on a regular basis.


  4. Hi Vicky, I’m looking forward to this movie. My visions not so good anymore but the big screen should be OK…I tried to get the location of the Ates family farm…It was in township 1 range 6e, which I think is a little south of Mize, within the Sullivan’s Hollow area…but I don’t know the exact location. My grandmother (who I never met) was apparently born in Laurel, was married in Laurel, and is buried in Laural…My father once said that he had so many relatives in the area that he could have dinner at a different relatives house every night. ..Anyway, I’m sure this movie will be 1st class…

    • Nice to hear from you, Rick! I hope the movie is wonderful, and I’m particularly interested in how the Ates brothers are portrayed.


      • I wonder if the knight family would be interested in a joint reunion, say in Laurel assuming the movie would premiere there. Do you know if the movie makers are thinking about any opening ideas such as having some of the descendants be present at the opening?

        By the way my mother was Vivian Collins, my great grandfather Jasper Collins.

      • Hello, Clyde! Nice to meet a son of Vivian Collins, pictured with Jasper in my book, Long Shadow of the Civil War.

        As for the premiere of the movie, Free State of Jones, I have no knowledge at this point of when or where it will take place. Nor do I know of any official invitations. The studio and the director are very careful about releasing information according to a schedule known only to them. I’m hoping a trailer is released before too long.

        That said, I really like your idea of a joint Knight-Collins family reunion!


      • Hi, Vikki! —

        I wrote a congratulatory note to you when I heard your book was going to be the basis of a movie, but it (my mail) came back stamped something like “Undeliverable.”

        I like CH’s idea of a reunion; I just need some lead time to get to MS from Chicago.

        Hope all’s well with you.. What larks!

        Best! Connie Bradley

      • So good to hear from you after quite a long time, Connie! Gregg and I moved to Missouri for five years, but are trying now to resettle in Texas, where we taught for over twenty years. Gregg has resumed performing full time with his Texas band, Dr. G and the Mudcats.

        Please stay in touch; we’d all enjoy that Mississippi reunion.


  5. I think the idea of family reunions around the opening of the movie will catch on as we get closer to the release of the movie, to include all of the families involved with the Free State of Jones. Thinking that the MS State Tourist office/film division might be interested in sponsoring an event around the opening I contacted them via email last week. They had been thinking about it and were in the process of contacting the movie makers to obtain a trailer to look at. I will follow up with them in a few weeks if I have not heard from them.

  6. Thumbing through my latest copy of Smithsonian magazine……”History Film Forum…Secrets of American History explores how movies capture the past. History has never been hotter in Hollywood. And now a program at the National Museum of American History will screen upcoming films, including Ron Howard’s “In the Heart of the Sea” and Matthew McConaughey’s “Free State of Jones”, as well as controversial vintage works, such as “The Birth of a Nation”, to examine the dilemmas of portraying the past on the big screen. November 19-22. Pretty heady stuff…the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is like this country’s Temple of all things historical.

  7. Hi Chuck,

    Sorry I’m late in responding to your comment—I’ve been in California on a family visit. Yes, the history film forum promises to be interesting and exciting. Free State of Jones director and screenplay author Gary Ross will be joined by distinguished Civil War historians David Blight and Steven Hahn to discuss the process of bringing recent historical interpretations to the Big Screen, as you point out.

    I won’t be able to attend, unfortunately, but I sure look forward to hearing the discussions afterward. Wish I could be there to see the film clips, as well!

    For those who want more information, click below:


  8. Can’t wait for the film, I was born and raised in the “Free State of Jones” and return often for family visits.

    Linda Mapp O’Keefe

  9. Really looking forward to the release of the movie…I noticed the camp site set about 15 miles from my home here in Louisiana …Feel real sure Newt and Ben Franklin Knight passed near there in times gone by…Congratulations …Nothing beats the truth of what it was back then ..Steve Knight ..gggrandson of Ben F Knight

    • I share your excitement, Steve–it’s really great that Hollywood is producing an internationally-released movie that will give us to a far more historically accurate and complex vision of the Civil War than we’ve generally seen.


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