The Free State of Jones

A Timely Visit to The Free State of Jones

By Vikki Bynum

 

As announced in an earlier post, on March 4, 2016, I had the pleasure of delivering the keynote address before the annual meeting of the Mississippi Historical Society. William “Brother” Rogers, president of the Mississippi Historical Society and associate director of the John C. Stennis Center of Public Service, had invited me a year earlier in hopes it would be fun as well as informative to have me discuss the Free State of Jones in light of the upcoming movie.

winter bioAt that meeting, I was honored to meet William Winter,* the former Mississippi governor (1980-84) for whom the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation is named. Gov. Winter personally expressed to me his interest in learning more about Newt Knight, Rachel Knight, and the Jones County’s Civil War uprising.

At breakfast the next morning, I learned from Brother Rogers that Gov. Winter was not only interested in the Free State of Jones, but wanted to visit the area in person. And so, Brother promised to take him there. Accompanying the two on this learning adventure would be Andy Mullins, Mississippi’s preeminent educational reformer, and assistant to Gov. Winter in 1982 when the governor successfully pushed for passage of Mississippi’s landmark Education Reform Act.

In preparation for the trip, Brother wondered if I could provide them with the necessary contacts to visit a few sites—especially Newt Knight’s interracial cemetery and the Amos Deason home in historic Ellisville. After putting Brother in touch with the appropriate Jones County people, I recommended that he contact Joseph Hosey for what I was certain would be the best tour imaginable. Joseph, who will soon be seen hoisting a federal flag up over the Ellisville courthouse in the movie, Free State of Jones, has made it his mission to visit relevant “Free State” sites and graveyards throughout the area.

True to his reputation, on April 4, 2016, Joseph showed his visitors more than they’d ever imagined. Putting together a small entourage of friends involved in both the history and movie about the Free State, he treated Gov. Winter, Brother Rogers, and Andy Mullins to what Brother described to me as an absolutely “fabulous” day. The photos below tell the story!

Brother Rogers, Andy Mullins, Gov. Wm Winter at Amos Deason Home, Ellisville, MS. Photo courtesy of Brother Rogers

Brother Rogers, Andy Mullins, Gov. Wm Winter at Amos Deason Home, Ellisville, MS. Photo courtesy of Brother Rogers

Andy Mullins and Gov. Wm. Winter, Ellisville, MS. Photo courtesy of Brother Rogers

Andy Mullins and Gov. Wm. Winter, Ellisville, MS. Photo courtesy of Brother Rogers

Andy Mullins, Gov. Wm. Winter, Florence Knight Blaylock, Dorothy Knight Marsh, Eunice Smith, Brother Rogers, Soso, MS. Photo courtesy of Brother Rogers.

Andy Mullins, Gov. Wm. Winter, Florence Knight Blaylock, Dorothy Knight Marsh, Eunice Smith, Brother Rogers, Soso, MS. Photo courtesy of Brother Rogers.

Brother Rogers, Andy Mullins, Gov. Wm. Winter, Gravesite of Jasper and Gatsy Collins, Union, MS. Photo courtesy of Brother Rogers.

Brother Rogers, Andy Mullins, Gov. Wm. Winter, Gravesite of Jasper and Gatsy Powell Collins, Union, MS. Photo courtesy of Brother Rogers.

Joseph Hosey, Brother Rogers, Kyle Baughman. Photo courtesy of Brother Rogers

Joseph Hosey, Brother Rogers, Kyle Baughman. Photo courtesy of Brother Rogers

Joseph Hosey, Kyle Baughman, Gov. Wim. Winter, gravesite of Jasper and Gatsy Powell Collins. Union, MS. Photo courtesy of Brother Rogers.

Joseph Hosey, Kyle Baughman, Gov. Wm. Winter, gravesite of Jasper and Gatsy Powell Collins. Union, MS. Photo courtesy of Brother Rogers.

Studying the original Newt Knight roster! Gov. Wm. Winter, Andy Mullins, Brother Rogers, Dorothy Knight Marsh, Kyle Baughman.

Studying the original Newt Knight roster! Gov. Wm. Winter, Andy Mullins, Brother Rogers, Dorothy Knight Marsh, Kyle Baughman. Photo courtesy of Joseph Hosey.

 

 

*From Charles Bolton’s biography of Gov. William Winter:

A voice of reason and compromise during the tumultuous civil rights battles, Winter represented the earliest embodiment of the white moderate politicians who emerged throughout the ‘New South.’ His leadership played a pivotal role in ushering in the New Mississippi: a society that moved beyond the racial caste system that had defined life in the state for almost a century after emancipation. In many ways, Winter’s story over nine decades is also the story of the evolution of Mississippi in the second half of the twentieth century.

11 replies »

  1. Way to go Dr. Bynum!

    Congratulations on all the exposure on your book. I still have a signed copy of your book from back when I was your student at Southwest Texas. I can’t wait to watch the film.

    • Hi Kari,

      It’s so good to hear from you! Gregg and I are in the middle of moving from Missouri back to Texas–hope we can see you and Josh again before too much time passes. We have a lot of catching up to do, that’s for sure!

      Best, Vikki

  2. Prof. Bynum, just to let you know there have been photographs up on twitter of Matthew McConaughey and Gary Ross this week. They are visiting Stringer, Mississippi. A newswoman for CBS also posted photos. So I guess CBS is doing a report on the movie and Newton Knight.

    Check out on Instagram Michellemiller29.

    • Thanks, Kerry! I’m well aware of the excitement in Jones County with the visit of the CBS crew as well as Matthew McConaughey and director Gary Ross. Would love to post all about it here on Renegade South, but unfortunately my husband and I are in the midst of moving out of our Hannibal, Missouri, home and then driving to Texas. Have no internet except for when I take my computer to the local coffee shop, so pictures and a post will have wait a few days. Such terrible timing!

      Vikki

  3. Thank you for this wonderful book! I can’t wait to see the movie! My 3rd Great-grandmother is Keziah Knight Hathorne (Newt’s sister). I am also DIRECTLY related to three of Zachariah Blackledge’s children (yes three – William, Winaford, and Elizabeth). The Blackledge family were supposedly supporters and many of Zachariah’s descendents fought with Knight Company. Keziah Knight;s husband Robert Hathorne is italized in your book indicating he is believed to have supported Knight Company. Do you have any information on Keziah and Robert?

    Thanks so much!

    • One other thought…. Keziah and Robert had a son, George Milton Hathorne (my 2nd GGrandfather). Is this the GM Hathorn on the roster prepared by Newt? I also see where GM Hathorne was a signatory on the “Case of Jones County Scouts, Us army” document. Is this George Milton?

    • Keziah Knight and Robert Hathorne had a son, George Milton Hathorn (my ancestor). Is this the GM Hatthorn on the Knight roster??? He also had a brother born the following year, John W Hathorn. There is a JM Hathhorn on the list also.

    • Thank you for your good words about my book, Nola! I don’t know a lot about your Hathorn line other than Keziah being the sister of Newt Knight, and the Hathorn sons’ support for the Knight Company. (I likely misread the initials JW as JM).

      I became ever more interested in the Hathorn line while writing my 2010 book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, in which I expanded my study of Jones County into the New South era of politics. While researching Mississippi Populist politicians, I discovered Nevin C. “Scott” Hathorn Jr., who was from Marion County, MS–very close to Jones and Covington Counties. Scott Hathorn was a well-known populist elected on the People’s Party ticket to the state legislature in 1895. I’m pretty certain that Nevin “Scott” Hathorn was related to your Hathorns, but I haven’t been able to establish the connection. Do you by chance have evidence of their exact kinship?

      Vikki

      • I do have a copy of a letter written in the 1920’s that provides alot of history about the Hathorn family beginning with the arrive of 3 brothers from Ireland in 1798 that all eventually settled in MS. The letter includes alot of information on the pedigree of Nevin C Hathorn. I am not sure yet where Robert C Hathorn (Keziah Knight’s husband) fits in but I am sure he is descended from one of these brothers. If you would like a copy of this documentation, please email me directly and I will be happy to send it to you! Perhaps we can figure it out together!

      • I would love to see that letter, Nola, and will send you my email address. Thank you!

        Vikki

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