Why I wrote the Free State of Jones

Newt Knight drawing

Drawing of Newt Knight by Vikki Bynum, 2009

I wrote The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War for professional and personal reasons. As both a historian and an individual, I am on the hunt for ordinary people who commit extraordinary acts. I am especially drawn to those who confront systems of power in unlikely ways alongside unlikely allies. In Civil War Jones County, Mississippi, deep in the so-called “solid” South, some 100 ordinary white farmers banded together to fight against the Confederate Army (a few of my distant kin were among them). Doing so earned them the label of outlaws. But outlaw means different things to different people. To pro-Confederate Mississippians, these were cowardly deserters. The core members of the Knight band, however, viewed themselves as principled Unionists.

In my book, I struggled against writing a “Great Man” history; I did not want to portray Newt Knight as the “Rambo” of Jones County dissent. Rather, I dug deep into historical records from NC, SC, GA, and MS, to uncover the cultural and class roots of those families who contributed the greatest number of participants in the Jones County uprising. I emphasized how earlier historical events—for example, the American Revolution and the opening of the Southwestern frontier—shaped attitudes toward authority and government among these plain folks of the Old South.

While my version of the Free State of Jones disputes the Lost Cause narrative of a solid white South united over a “noble cause” that continues to permeate much of popular Civil War history, it does not present the uprising as the tale of Southern abolitionism that some would like it to be. What I believe happened in Jones County—and in other pockets of resistance throughout the Confederate South—is too complex to be told in broad strokes of Southern slaveholder versus Southern abolitionist. More fascinating to me, and more truthful, is how the expansion of slavery created class divisions among families who were equally “Southern” in their roots and their culture. In other words, the Jones County insurrectionists were neither abolitionists nor “Southern Yankees”; they were Southern white farmers driven by war to cross lines of race, question slavery, and to declare their own war on the Confederacy.

The Civil War constituted a crisis of authority for many such Southerners, especially those who lived outside the plantation belt. Newt Knight did not singlehandedly create the Knight band, although he became its charismatic leader. By his own admission, the Civil War transformed his life and his character. Would Newt have developed an open relationship with his grandfather’s former slave, Rachel, one that led to creation of a mixed-race community that thrives today, had the war not erupted? Would he have become a New South Republican after the war? Like all important figures of history, Newt was as much shaped by his times as he in turn shaped them.

I hope that you are as fascinated by the history of this renegade county as I am. On Newt Knight, see also the post, “Did Jones County Secede From the Confederacy?”

Vikki Bynum

137 replies »

  1. Read the book. Thoroughly enjoyed. We are finally getting to the 2nd Revision of Southern History that will hopefully put right some of the damage done to it by the Lost Causers.

    • I liked your book too. I’m on part 7 of 11 on the audio book from my public library on Overdrive. Never heard anything but the Yankee story or the Plantation owner class story. Great to hear about the yeoman conscripts who fought and opposed the war.

      • I appreciate your thoughtful comment, Brandon! Nice to know the audio version of the book is available in libraries.

        Vikki

    • OMG… All this is new to me. I am an African American woman, and was recently informed that Newt Knight was my father’s Great, Great ,Great Grandfather. My father was from Laurel MS, and my mother remembered all the stories he used to tell her about Newt Knight. Plus it’s a big buzz right now with all my cousins in Laurel. I reside in Los Angeles, and still shocked about this story. I’m presently reading the book and learning all I can about this history. My father told my mother that he wouldn’t not even date anyone in their town for fear of dating his own cousin. He told her this ages ago.

  2. Just recieved a copy of The Free State of Jones for my birthday. I’m looking forward to reading it. In Appendix 7, the Descendants of the Welch Family, it shows Judith Welch married to James Knight. Is this James Knight, Newt’s brother?

  3. Hi Alice,

    Hope you like the book!

    According to my notes, yes, that Judith Welch (Juda) is the Juda Welch who married James Knight, Newt Knight’s brother. In the 1880 census she is a widow living with two of their children: Henry, age 20, and James, age 18. Martha Welch, age 40, also lived with her.

    Vikki

    • Just saw the movie The Free State of Jones. Well done and history we must expose to the world and so honor those, white and black, who by conscience and a thirst for justice opposed slavery and tyranny.

  4. I just started reading the Jenkens/Stauffer book and am quite disappointed.
    The authors missed so many basic facts, that I found myself wondering how much I could believe. For example: they described the muskets as weighing 18 lbs! (maybe two with 40 cartridges might weigh that) On another page, they described the sound of musket hammers falling on gunpowder. On the standard muskets used by both sides, the hammers fell on percussion caps producing a sharp snap, not the pfft they claimed.

    I finally gave up when Knight (maybe) kills McLemore, and the authors claimed the others in the room had eyes filled with cordite smoke. Cordite was a smokeless propellant invented in England a quarter of a century after the end of the Civil War.

    They lost all credibility at about page 134.

    I am ordering a copy of your book from my local bookstore, and am looking forward to reading it.

  5. David,

    Thank you for your careful reading of Stauffer and Jenkins’s State of Jones, and for sharing your observations here.

    In appreciation,
    Vikki

    • Thanks for visiting Renegade South, James. That East Tennessee region eventually links up with the NC Piedmont in terms of anti-Confederate attitudes; many of the same factors at work as well.

      Vikki

  6. Thanks,
    I’ve posted on the Shelton Laurel Massacre on the Southern Unionist Forum and also told the story of my Morrow ancestors in a TN Mounted Infantry unit.

  7. Dear Vicki,

    I have been working on my family genealogy for quite some time and I am happy to say that I just got “The Free State of Jones” yesterday and could hardly put it down.

    My wife is a Lyon and the 3rd Great Granddaughter of Jasper Collins. She also has connections with the Welborn, Anderson, and Powell families. I am intrigued with the events of Jones and Jasper counties during the time of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

    My selfish interest however, is with trying to understand the events surrounding the murder of my Great Great Grandfather, Frederick Marshall Bethier “Marsh” Cook. He was born on his father’s plantation in 1846 and was a white republican in Jasper County. He was shot down by several men while campaigning as the Republican nominee for the constitutional convention in 1890.

    Marsh’s son John H. Cook (US Attorney) wrote in his memoirs about his father trying to keep the peace while helping the blacks vote on voting days after the Civil War. I can only wonder if he knew Newt Knight and Jasper Collins.

    I had to ask if you have run across any information about this in your research. I was appalled when I read the Clarion Ledger newspaper article that “congratulated” the people of Jasper County on the “killing of cook.” The newspaper article from Ellisville gave a much more complementary account of Marsh’s character and gave condolences from the Farmers Alliance. It is no wonder that Marsh’s family moved to Ellisville soon after the murder.

    The only other hint that I could find that may tie Marsh to the Collins and Lyon families during that time was the fact that after the murder the man that accompanied Marsh’s brother (Dr. John H. Cook, Jr.) to Gov. Stone’s office was Elijah W. Lyon of Jasper. The men told the governor that they knew who had committed the deed and requested that the case be moved to the US court for fear of injustice. The venue change was not granted and no one was ever convicted for the crime.

    I have not been able to research Elijah Lyon very much yet but I do know that he is buried in Evergreen/Ebenezer Cemetery in Jasper Co. and has a Union Army Headstone. I believe he was known as the Union Confederate.

    Thanks for any incite that you may have,

    Robert Cook, Jr.

    • My understanding, whites, former plantation, power people, were gradually returning to power. Also, trying to remove any gains blacks had made. If Marsh Cook
      Was helping the Negro, it would make sense to connect dots that many Southerners would rejoyce in his killing.

  8. Dear Robert,

    I’m delighted to hear that you enjoyed my book, Free State of Jones. Your own stories are fascinating; thanks for writing!

    In regard to your wife’s family line, I have written a good deal about the Collins (and Lyon) families in my new book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War. In it, I devote an entire chapter to Jasper Collins and his brother, Warren J. Collins’s participation in populist and third party politics from 1895-1910. Jasper and his son Loren founded Ellisville’s only populist newspaper in 1895.

    I’m not familar with the Cook family of Jasper County, but will check my files to see if I might have material on any of them in my notes. I know that an Isaac Cook joined the Union Army in New Orleans from the research of Ed Payne.

    It appears that you and your wife come from families that likely were closely aligned politically–and probably did know one another. I’ll post again if I find relevant material in my files.

    Vikki

  9. Dear Vikki,
    I too am a distant relative of the Knight family. Newt was my g,g,g.g uncle. I have read your book and I LOVED it! It really doesn’t mention too much about his siblings. Do you know what was his relationship with his brother John? You also mentioned the possibility of Mary Mason being of African decent wouldn’t that make Newt & his siblings mulatto? Also, what line does Ethel Knight fit into?

    Thank you,
    Charlotte Fawcett

  10. Charlotte,

    Thanks for your kind words about my book. I don’t know a lot about Newt Knight’s siblings, but his one and only surviving letter, written in 1887, was to his brother John, then living in Arkansas.

    It was actually the author James Street who suggested that Mary Mason Knight was of African descent, but he shrouded that suggestion in a work of fiction. It seems to have been a rumor that he worked into his novel Tap Roots. Since no one has produced documentation of Mary Mason’s ancestry, it remains a rumor.

    Ethel Knight was descended from James Knight, son of John “Jackie” and Keziah Knight, and the uncle of Newt Knight. She also married a Knight. Her husband, Sydney Knight, was descended from Daniel and Elizabeth Coleman Knight. Daniel Knight, too, was a son of Jackie and Keziah Knight.

    Vikki

    • Vikki, I am trying to find info on my G Grandmother Mary Mason Knight Valentine ,who was James Morgan Knight 2 nd wife. He is my G Grandfather. My Grandmother is Laveda Valentine Knight.who was married to Wyatt Davis Knight. Also I have a direct line from Miles Jesse Knight.John “Jackie” Knight. Jefferson Davis Knight,George Baylis ( Clean Neck ) Knight. Wyatt Davis (Squier) Knight.Ollis Knight Roney. I am her daughter Betty Roney Anderson Saye..I have been reading your writings about the Newt Knight Family and enjoyed it so much.i had heard about Newt in my childhood. But,never knew the whole line until I recently started to search. You are so knowledgeable . Hope you know something about Mary Mason Knight Valentine. From your research ,found out James Morgan Valentine was 1st Lt. of Newt Knight.. So interesting .. Thank you.

    • I am just to glad to know that all white in Mississippi doing that time were not all racist bigots and haters of black people it’s about time good honest white people get some credit who was shattered by the negative white people

  11. Ms. Vikki,

    Oh how I wish I even knew how to work my question into words. I am trying to determine my relation, if any, to this line of “Knights.” I am Candie Dianne Knight Ryals. My difficulty lies in that both my Father (C.M. Knight), my Mother, my Grandfather Knight, his wife, all of my Uncles (ie. their children) are dead. I have recently come in contact with someone here in AK, who is also a Knight and from Mississippi. He suggested I look into your book. I have yet to located a copy here in Alaska that I can purchase. I know that my family hails from Mississippi, and I was raised in Vicksburg. Most of our family is from Union, Decatur, or around the Hattisburg area. It is more important to me than one might imagine to have some thread of reality to men and women of my family that my children will never know this side of Heaven. How on earth would I go about determining such? I have a handful of names but only those of my father, his brothers, and my grandparents. Would you have any thoughts or guidance in this area?

    Thank you kindly!
    Warmly, from the very cold state of Alaska,
    Candie Knight Ryals

    • Hi Candie,

      Please write again and supply this site with all the family names and their relationships to one another that you are able. With your Hattiesburg connection, there’s an excellent chance that you are connected to the Knights of Jones County. If I can’t find connections in my files, there’s still a good chance that readers of Renegade South can. We have some great researchers and genealogists who check in regularly!

      p.s. Free State of Jones can be purchased online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or directly from the University of North Carolina Press.

      Good luck,
      Vikki

  12. Thank you kindly, Ms. Vikki,

    Do you, or any of the other readers, recommend a site for developing & researching your family tree? The names and relations I have are below. I know they are not many and there are none living to ask. So much lost and so sad to me.

    Me: Candie Knight Ryals (I have a younger sister, Kelley Knight Clark)

    My Father: Connie Mac “Butch” Knight (also called C.M. “Butch” Knight)
    I know he was born Dec 25 1949. I am not sure if he was born in Chunky, MS or Union, MS. He died on July 9, 1996. He was the youngest son to:

    My Grandfather: Edwin Garfield Knight (no idea on his birth or death date)
    He was married to my Grandmother: Mary Ruth Cleveland Knight

    My Uncles: They had three sons: Leonard Knight, Terry Knight and my Father, Connie Mac “Butch” Knight

    My Great Grandparents: I know nothing of my Grandfather “Ed” Knight’s parents. I don’t think my dad knew his grandfather, but I recall him saying his grandmother (Ed Knight’s mother) chewed tobacco and scared him.

    My Cousin: I do know that there is one cousin who is my second cousin…my Father’s first cousin who knew my father. His name is Jackie Knight and he is the sheriff of Newton County in Mississippi.

    I know my Grandfather Ed Knight was principal of many schools and went to University of Southern Mississippi for further education to move to superintendent of schools. They moved a lot: Union, Chunky, Jackson, Ridgeland. I also knew growing up that USM in Hattisburg was the “home.” This was more than cheering for a football team. To choose some place outside Southern was to go against the family, so to speak.

    Also, my father went into the ministry later in my life and was a preacher at Rocky Springs United Methodist Church and then the pastor at Redwood United Methodist Church..and Eagle Lake United Methodist Church. He died while pastor of that church, which they name the new wing of the church after him as he had designed the wing himself. Eagle Lake now has the “KNIGHT WING” for those interested to know such.

    I feel honored and indebted to anyone who takes any amount of time to advise.

    Much appreciated,
    Candie Knight Ryals

    • Thanks, Candie. I’ll check my files for any references to the names you’ve supplied, and I especially hope some of the Knight researchers who read this blog will do the same.

      As for sites of family research, Ancestry.com is a good place to visit, as is Rootsweb.

      Any suggestions from readers?

      Vikki

    • Candie,

      I have checked my Knight files and found no references to the members of your family that you have named. By no means does that negate the possibility that they are part of the family line, as my files are incomplete genealogically. (I collected them for the purpose of writing my histories of the Free State of Jones, and they are therefore selective in their focus.)

      Unless a Knight researcher comes forward on Renegade South, your best bet in my view is to visit the genealogical sites online, especially “Genforum.” Ancestry.com has a wealth of information, but you do have to pay a rather hefty subscription fee to access all their records.

      Good luck; wish I could be more helpful.

      Vikki

      • Hi Vikki:
        Its been a long time. Seems we are related to the same Collins line. My ancestor Dempsey Dyess was married to Martha Collins. I’m just getting back into research. We have previously talked about Newt Knight and William Morgan while you were in the process of finishing your book the last time.

    • To Pamela Mann: Thanks for your comment. I do indeed remember our email conversations about the Dyess connection to the Collinses, and most especially our discussions of William Morgan, and the mystery about which Wm. Morgan married Newt Knight’s sister and was allegedly murdered by Newt during the war. If you make any new discoveries now that you’ve returned to your research, please let us know here on Renegade South!

      Vikki

  13. Thank you for all you have done, Ms. Vikki. I look forward to connecting some of the missing pieces on the recommended resources above.

    Blessings,
    Candie Knight Ryals

  14. I’m a direct decendant of Riley Collins, Jasper’s brother. One of my cousin’s brags that he has more Collins in him. His mother, grandmother and great grandmother were all Collins. He is a Walters from Jones County. The Knight’s are all cousins, too. And we are, also.

    • All too true, Robert! And BTW, Renegade South’s popular blogger, Ed Payne, has both Collins and Walters kinship, too. I myself am cousin to all those Collinses whose ancestors intermarried with Bynums (Vinson, Margaret, and Simeon).

      • Cousins,
        I too am a Walters, Collins, Anderson descendant and related to most of the other families in Jones and surrounding counties thru blood or marriage.

  15. Vikki,

    Thank you for researching and telling as much of the true story as possible: good, bad and downright ugly. Without your hard work starting nearly 20 years ago, I fear some of us would be left with Ethel Knight’s unsubstantiated, racist indictment of the Jones County C.S.A. insurgents, or counter-rebels, as the primary account of this fascinating sub-chapter of Civil War history.

    I have purchased and read both your book, “The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War,” and The State of Jones. My maternal great-grandmother was a Knight from the Jones County Knight family. I also grew up in Jones County, but came there in 1973 at 8 via my Dad’s job transfer–with no other relative besides my long-since-gone great-grandmother ever having lived there.

    In the late 1970s (I believe) my mom and dad took my grandmother to a Knight family reunion–the one and only time. The only thing I recall about that is my Dad coming home with a copy of Ethel Knight’s “Echo of the Black Horn.” I never read it. From all accounts, I’m glad I did not, as a then somewhat impressionable 13-year-old. I’m now a civil litigator in Mobile, Alabama and would like to read it from the perspective of staring down my South’s sick past.

    I have been trying to determine the Knight from which I descended on your Jackie Knight family tree. Appx. I, p. 192-193. I have hit a wall for my online research abilities. I found that my great-grandmother Alice Knight was born in 1889 or 1890 in Jones County, was married to AC (or Claude a/k/a A Feland) Stringer in December 1908, then my grandmother (Irma Lee Stringer) was born in 1915.

    The only clue I have to a possible ancestor is what Ethel Knight told my Dad in the late 70’s–that Alice Knight’s father or grandfather was the Dan Thomas Knight referenced on page 113 of “Echo”:

    “At first the men in hiding were approached by relatives who insisted that they come out and return to the Confederate army, or at least, to protect the good name of their kinsmen, join the Union forces in an honorable manner. Three of the first to contact Newt by volunteering to do this service were cousins of the Deserter. One of this group was Alpheus Knight. The other two were Dan Thomas Knight and John Knight”

    Do you have any suggestions on where else I might look? Either on the internet or in public records. I am planning on taking trips in the coming months to Laurel, Hattiesburg and Jackson to look at some of the unpublished source materials listed in your bibliography.

    Thank you again for the education and enlightenment.

    Sincerely,

    W. Perry Hall

    • Dear Cousin Perry Hall, I am a novice at genealogy. My Aunt Irma Lee Stringer Edmondson was raised by Amos CLAUDE Stringer and his second wife Virgie. Virgie had been a school teacher. Claude was a share cropper, mechanic, mailman and at one time a bus driver in Hattisburg. His first wife, Alice M. Knight, my grandmother, died of septicemia shortly after child birth to a son in 1921. Alices’ sister took and tried to raise the enfant but it died within months of birth. My mother, Loray India Stringer Dengler, b.1919- d. 2012 told many stories about her Grandmaw, India Alice Warren Knight. Grandma received a civil war pension. One of my earliest memories was visiting my mothers Aunt Lanney on the Knight family homestead in rural Miss. My mothers paternal half sister, Nelda is alive and well in Mobile, Ala. At present I am trying to figure out if my great grandfather, Daniel T. Knight was the same Knight that fathered four illigitamate children by his Grandfather, John Jackie Knights’ slave girl, Harriet Carter Ward.
      .Hope this helps with your research. Respectfully, Your Cousin, John Franklin Dengler (Jdengler47@comcast.net)

      • Thank you, John Dengler, for your thoughtful reply to W. Perry Hall! I’m sure he’ll find the information useful.

        Vikki

    • I am a descendant of Daniel Thomas knight and India Warren Knight. (Daniel was the son of James Dry Knight. ) Their daughter, Mary Frances Knight Speed Valentine was my great grandmother. I have a copy of the picture taken at Daniel’s birthday. I will email you a copy if you like. The same picture is included in the Knight book and has identified everyone in the picture.

    • Ethel Knight was a Boykin before she married. My Great Grandmother was a Boykin, her Mother was a Knight and the brother of Newton Knight.

  16. W. Perry Hall,

    Thank you for taking the time to write to Renegade South, and I truly appreciate your kind words about my research and my book, The Free State of Jones.

    Daniel Thomas Knight was the son of James “Dry” Knight and Harriet Youngblood. He was the grandson of John “Jackie” Knight and Keziah Davis. He was a first cousin to Newt Knight.

    Your great-grandmother, Alice Knight Stringer, was the daughter of Daniel Thomas Knight and his second wife, India Warren. There is quite a bit on this branch, including a portrait of Dan Thomas and India (p. 186), and a 1914 family reunion group portrait (p. 189) that includes your great-grandmother, Alice, in the book, THE FAMILY OF JOHN “JACKIE” KNIGHT AND KEZIAH DAVIS KNIGHT, jointly written by Winnie Knight thomas, Earle W. Knight, Lavada Knight Dykes, and Martha Kaye Dykes Lowery. Although this book is no longer in print, you will find it on the shelves at the Laurel Public Library.

    In addition to visiting the collections that I referenced in my book, I recommend that you contact the Jones County Genealogical Association when you visit Jones County.

    I share your criticisms of Ethel Knight’s rendering of the story of the Free State of Jones, but, like you, I also appreciate the many stories that she saved from oblivion when she wrote ECHO OF THE BLACK HORN. That book will always be an important starting place for historians, alongside Tom Knight’s memoir of his father’s life.

    Best of luck with your research, and let me know if I can answer any more questions. I also invite all descendants of the Dan Thomas Knight line to respond to your post with insights and research of their own.

    Vikki
    Moderator

  17. Vikki,

    Just finished the book and I just wanted to tell you how much I thoroughly enjoyed it. It provided me with a wealth of knowledge.

    As a descendant of many of the families you discuss in the book, the insight you provide into their lives as they made their way in early Mississippi is invaluable and, sometimes, extremely sobering. My sixth great-grandfather was Williams Duckworth (through his son George Washington Duckworth, born about 1820) and, in addition, I am descended from Sumralls as well (though I’m not sure quite where the line goes…my fourth great-grandfather was named Green Berry Sumrall, born about 1833).

    In addition, as a librarian and as a history buff, your book provided hours of entertainment and education.
    Again, thank you so much for writing the book.

    Brandon Shoumaker, MLIS
    Lake Charles, La.

    • Brandon, I just saw that I failed two years ago to respond to your wonderful comment–I hate it when that happens. Thanks so much for taking time to comment. By the way, I really enjoyed researching the Duckworths via the papers their Texas branch left at the Center for American History in Austin, TX.

      Vikki

    • Brandon, I have many “Shoemake” ancestors in Calcasieu Parish with origins in South Carolina and Jones and Wayne Counties, MS. I’m wondering if we may have Shoemake/Shoumaker connections. I too am related to Green Berry Sumrall. Chuck Shoemake

  18. Loved the book, am reading it again. Allen Valentine was my 2nd great grandfather. I looked at the picture of him and Cinthia Welch in my granny’s hall for years and now I have a story to go with the faces.. Thanks for making him come to life for me. Emily Fairley Rouse, Great granddaughter of Warren “Tug” Valentine…

    • I so appreciate your taking the time to comment, Emily. It gives me great satisfaction to know that the book helped bring your ancestors’ lives into closer view.

      Vikki

      • Thanks for this blog! I’m a great grand daughter of Rufus U. Lyon, youngest son of Nicholas Lyon. I’ve been researching Elijah W. Lyon today to get his conflicting Civil War story straight. All the comments on your blog are very helpful and I will follow up by reading your book. Elijah W. Lyon enlisted in the 27th Regiment of the Mississippi Infantry Co H CSA. He was captured and sent to Camp Chase Ohio. On 3rd June 1863 he enlisted in Co F 11th Ohil Cavalry, a unit of 36 Union soldiers and 67 CSA POWs. His subsequent service with this unit was on the Overland Trail into Dakota Territory. Family stories indicate that he arrived home in Jasper County MS in chains. Some records indicate that he was a medical doctor, not a dentist. He did not invent Dr. Lyons toothpowder; that was the invention of Dr.Israel Whitney Lyon of Needham MA 1827-1907, who made a fortune from this product.

        If you ever visit Jasper Co, do stop at Evergreen/Ebenezer Cemetery to the west of Heidelberg. It is on Co Rd 8 in Barton Green’s pasture. This was the cemetery for Ebenezer Baptist Church, rebuilt closer to town on HWY8. The little cemetery is lovely with wildflowers among the graves. Google it! Elijah’s grave always has a US flag so someone still knows about him. His son Rufus ordered his stone from the US govt in the 1930’s. And by the way, Nicholas Lyon was killed by Indians as he rode by the old Ebenezer church in 1858. Again, thanks for opening some new avenues of research.

        Judi Robertson

  19. I am a great great granddaughter of Matt Kilgore (mostly legally known as M.T.G. Kilgore), the sheriff/deputy sheriff shown in your book. A lot of the names in your book show up in my family tree somewhere. I am attempting to wade through the book for the second time, and although it is a struggle, I appreciate your attention to detail and the fact that you have sourced your findings. I currently have the book in print as well as downloaded to Kindle, my phone, and my tablet so that I have it with me for reference when I am doing other searches in Jones County.

    • Hi Dorthy,

      How nice to hear from you, and I’m so glad that you are finding information on your family in Free State of Jones! Every time I include a story in one of my books or articles about a particular person, I find myself hoping that perhaps their descendants will learn something new about their ancestors. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment here, and I’m just delighted that you are enjoying your own research so much.

      Best of luck,
      Vikki

  20. A set of Edgefield Co SC deeds adds a generation to the Summerall family of Jones Co MS, and also suggests the parentage of Patsy Summerlin.

    Edgefield Co SC Deed Book 11, pp. 11-14. 23 Jan 1793: Power of Atttorney, Thomas Sumerlin of the Creek Nation, Yeoman, here unto moving…appoint John Weldon of Fairfield County, Yeoman, to sell two tracts of land. S/ Thomas (X) Sumerlin, Executed before Alexander McGillivray of Creek Nation.
    27 May 1794: before Joseph Hightower, J.P. appeared Benjamin Derant [sic: Durant, husband of Sophia McGillivray] who duly swore that the said Derant now lives on the Allabama River when at home near the intersection of Talapoocy & Coosey Rivers in the Creek Indian Nation that about one year ago he heard Thomas Summerall otherwise called Thomas Summerlin said he lived heretofore on Horns Creek in Ninety Six Dist. & that he had employed John Weldon of Fairfield Co, in Camden Dist., SC to sell lands belonging to said Sumerall, which lay on Horns in Ninety Six Dist. He further states that he married a sister of Alexander McGelvery who appears as a Subscribing witness to the deed & he is acquainted with the handwriting of said Alexander McGilvery, Federal Brigadier General & he further sayeth that the said Alexander McGilvery is dead. S/ Benj. Derant.
    10 Jun 1794: before Joseph Hightower, J.P. appeared John Weldon of Fairfield Co. SC & made oath concerning the power of attorney given him…Rcd. 10 Jan 1794.
    pp. 14-21. 22 May 1794. John Weldon, Yeoman of Fairfield Co. SC, Camden Dist. SC, attorney of Thomas Summerlin, Hunter, of the Alabama River in the Creek Nation in the State of Georgia, to John Rainford, Planter of Edgefield Co SC for 40 pounds, is & shall be discharged by & with one gilding [gelding] worth 35 pounds & one rifle worth 5 pounds, sold 100 acres liable to the right of dower of An [Ann] Summerall, Widow of Jacob Summerall, dec’d., being on Horns Creek & originally granted 3 Nov 1770 unto Jacob Summerall, Senr., dec’d., & sold by said Jacob Summerall, Senr. to his son, Thomas Summerall. S/ John Weldon. Wit: Richard Withington, John Hall, who swore by oath 28 May before Joseph Hightower. Rcd. 10 Jun 1794.

    Edgefield Co SC Deed Book 11, ppl. 204-211. 9 Jun 1776: Jacob Summerall Planter, & Nancy, his wife of Granville Co. SC to Jesse Summerall, Planter of same place for 100 pounds, sold 400 acres originally granted 25 Apr 1765 to Henry Summerall, Senr., dec’d., father of said Jacob Summerall, on Savannah River, Granville Co. adj. John Grant. S/ Jacob Summerall, Ann (A) Summerall. Wit: G.W. Clemm, Sanders (x) Colson.

    Additional deeds show Jesse Summerall to be brother of Jacob, both sons of Henry (Sr.). Jesse’s wife is Sarah, the couple resident in Orangeburg Dist (Winton/Barnwell Co) in 1784.

    I have no (known) ancestors in Jones Co MS, but the tax collector and Rev. William H. Fairchild, killed by the Knight Company, was a cousin….

    Harriet Imrey

    • Hi Harriet my name is Linda Bryant my great great grandfather Thomas c Bryant St, was justice of in jones county to restore peace when it was lawless he was married to Lydia Jennie cauley temples she was a full blooded Cherokee Indian from big bowl reservation William c Bryant was the sheriff of Jones so all together I have the sims ,Anderson’s,walters,Reeves,they were some of the first census records there so if you are any one knows about the Bryant’s are my other family to get in touch with me

  21. I am desperately searching for information on my 3x great grandfather and his family. His name was jesse b deen he was married to amanda turner rankin. I’ve read about chanie deen in your other posts. Our oral history tells that there were children born into slavery. I found a chanie deen in his household she had a daughter named pink deen listed as mulatto. If you could email me that would be amazing I will get lost trying to find this thread again. Also how are the deens/knights intertwined or are they

  22. Can you handle one more twist in all this? My great great grandfather is said to be William Fayette Whitehead, born in MS in 1854. Our family tree indicates he married a “Lydia Knight”. My research has led me to believe he is the son of either Emerson or one of the other brothers that were hung. Additionally, William has a brother, Daniel Whitehead, born in MS in abt. 1861.

    I have documentation and Whitehead photos, looking for answers to my theory!

    PS: Vikki I also went to Chico St! I live just south of Sacramento

  23. Hi Kory; enjoyed your comment!

    I spent many hours researching the Whitehead family while writing Free State of Jones, so it’s great learning even more about them. I’m not familiar with the name William Fayette Whitehead. With a birthdate of 1854, he might indeed be the son of Emerson (born circa 1832). The other brothers (Noel, b. 1837, John Thomas, b. 1842, Daniel, b. 1845, and George, b. 1852) appear too young to have been his father.

    William Fayette’s marriage to Lydia Knight is also new information for me. I perused my Knight files, and didn’t find her, but I plan to search a few other records as well.

    As I’m sure you’re well aware, the Whiteheads and the Knights have a long history together. The mother of Emerson, et al, was Mary Ann Knight, b. about 1810 in GA, who married their father, John Whitehead, b. about 1805. It appears to me that the Knights and the Whiteheads may have known each other back in Georgia.

    For those who may not know it, Mary Ann Knight Whitehead was the daughter of John “Jackie” Knight, who migrated to Mississippi from Georgia shortly following the War of 1812. One of Mary Ann’s brothers, Albert, was the father of Newt Knight, her nephew. Three of Mary Ann’s sons were executed for their opposition to the Confederacy, and for joining Newt Knight’s guerrilla band.

    Back to the Whiteheads. It appears to me that three Whitehead brothers–John (b. in GA about 1805), William (b. about 1809), and Riley (b. in SC(?) about 1810) came to Mississippi with their father, Daniel Whitehead, who was b. about 1775.

    Daniel Whitehead and Lucretia Whitehead (Daniel’s likely wife) joined the Leaf River Baptist Church along with Jackie and Keziah Knight around 1829-1830, so if the families didn’t know each other already, this may be where they met.

    Thank you so much for adding new material to the Whitehead story!

    Vikki

    BTW, so far there are five Jones County descendants that I know of who attended Chico State University: my brother and me; Frances Gandy-Walsh, Ed Mauldin, and now you. It’s a long way away from Jones County . . . .

  24. Well I just got my copy of “Free Sate of Jones” today and I look forward to learning more. I wanted to add that I am just beginning my search into the lives of the Whitehead’s from Smith/Jones/Covington counties. As mentioned by Bynum, the John and Mary Ann Whitehead family lost (4) sons. One of these sons, Emerson (E.D.) Whitehead, was KIA during the Civil War at the Battle of Iuka Sept. 1862. The other three, John Thomas (T.J or J.T), Noel and Daniel were killed during Lowry’s raid in Apr 1864.

    What many don’t know is that Emerson Whitehead had a wife, Elizabeth, and at least (4) children, when he died. Two of his son’s, William and Daniel (yes this Whitehead lineage is easy to spot) migrated west, eventually putting roots down in Colorado. William and his wife Lydia had several children, one of whom is my great grandfather, Charles Edward, who in turn married and gave birth to my AMAZING grandma, Thelma Whitehead.

    I encourage any of the “Free State of Jones” family descendants to contact me. I authorize Vikki Bynum to forward you my email address and I hope to hear from the associated families. God Bless

    • Thanks for your latest post, Kory, and especially for sharing new Whitehead information for other descendants who may be seeking answers. I will indeed send your contact information to any of them who request it.

      Vikki
      Moderator

    • My paternal grandmother was Sarah Elizabeth Whitehead. Her father was George F. Whitehead. His father was John Thomas Whitehead. His father was Daniel Whitehead. Sarah Elizabeth Whitehead married Frank Clark in 1897. Their only child was my father, William Franklin Clark. My name is Ernest Franklin Clark. I am researching the Daniel Whitehead lineage but there is little information, so far. I would like to know more information on the Whitehead side of my family if it is available. Thank you.

      • Ernest, I am in Texas without my files (they’re still in Missouri), but I will get back to you on this ASAP. Meanwhile, if there are any Whitehead researchers reading this, feel free to comment.

        Vikki

      • Hello Ernest Franklin Clark,

        Most of what I know about the Whiteheads is contained in my book, Free State of Jones. According to the records I consulted, John Thomas Whitehead, executed by the Confederacy as a member of the Knight Band during the Civil War, was the son of John Whitehead and Mary Ann Knight Whitehead. This differs from your statement that John Thomas was the son of Daniel Whitehead. I may be wrong, but I thought that Daniel Whitehead was father of John and the grandfather of John Thomas Whitehead.

        Assuming John Thomas Whitehead’s mother was Mary Ann Knight, the daughter of John “Jackie” Knight, then Jackie Knight was his other grandfather and Newt Knight was his cousin.

        Vikki

    • Hi Ralph,

      I just saw your repost of Jeff Giambrone’s blog–and commented on it–about 15 minutes before I saw your comment here! It’s a great piece and I encourage my readers to click on your link and read it themselves! (Maybe there are some folks who’ll recognize their own ancestors.)

      Vikki

  25. Vikki,

    Hi, how are you? It has been quite some time since i last chatted with you on here. I heard they are making a movie about this early 2015? I was actually trying to remember how my great grandmother, Zoraid knight was kin to Newt Knight. I think she was either his sister or she was a Blackwell who married his son? Ms. Zoraid Knight was my Father, Grover Ezell’s grandmother. Wait…his mother’s maiden name was Blackwell.. Olivia Blackwell. But anyway I want to thank you again for writing this book. You are awesome.

    • Hey, Beverly, good to hear from you! Yes, a movie about the Free State of Jones is in the works, with Matt McConaughey slated to play Newt Knight. Don’t think it’s likely to be out in 2015, however, since the trade papers are citing early 2015 as when filming “might” begin.

      Enjoy your Thanksgiving day!

      Vikki

  26. Greetings John Denglee and Vikki-
    Yes, Daniel T. Knight is the same who fathered children with Harriet Carter Ward. I am the 4x great grand-daughter of Harriet Carter Ward.

  27. Vicki
    Myself and my family are descendants of the Knight family. My grandmother Ruby Ishee is the ggg granddaughter of Albert knight Jr, she is the daughter of Alson Ishee his parents are Floyd Ishee and Ida Jane Duckworth, Ida Jane is the daughter of Ora Knight and William Carr Duckworth,(yes I have done my research) However I don’t find a lot of information (or stories i should say) on Albert Jr. I have 2 great aunts who are still living who would be Albert Jr’s ggg-grandaughters and i would love to be able to share more information about him with them and the rest of my family. Are you aware of any links that you could share that might be helpful to me? We are very excited about the movie that is coming out next year! I hope the movie portrays this history as it deserves to be portrayed. Also I noticed where Newt had a third common Law wife named Georgeanna?? Did they have children as well?

    • Hi Chasity,

      Thanks for your post. Yes, you have done your research! I’m afraid I don’t have any additional information on Albert, Jr. Perhaps there are readers out there who can supply some information.

      The movie will be interesting to all of us. Like you, I’m hoping they do the story justice.

      George Ann Knight was Rachel’s oldest child, born in Georgia when Rachel was only about 14 years old. After Rachel’s death in 1889, George Ann and Newt lived together as a common-law couple until their deaths in 1922. George Ann gave birth to at least two children by Newt, perhaps more.

  28. Hi, I am the grgrgr granddaughter of Jasper Collins through his daughter Theodocia Collins Lyons. My great grandmother Elizabeth Lyons wrote an article about the Free State of Jones County. She said she was writing to tell the truth. I am going to put my hands on it as soon as I get a chance.

    They will begin filming here in Louisiana in Feb. Lafayette, La., to be exact and the local news KATC will be reporting much of the news. Casting calls for extras have gone out for our local area. When I saw the news tonight I did a search and was led here to your blog.

    I have a copy of “Echo of the Black Horn” my father, great great grandson to Jasper, gave to me one Christmas.

    I look forward to a copy of your book and to look through your blog and visit other sources in relation to the history of my family.

    No matter what others might call my family or if they choose to believe the bad or the good (its simply perspective) they are still my family and I love connecting to the history and the stories.

    As soon as I find Elizabeth’s article (you may have it) I will be happy to share it.

    Sincerely,
    JULIA ORLANDO

    • Welcome to Renegade South, Julie! You may want to peruse this blog more extensively–there’s quite a few essays on your Collins ancestors, especially Jasper, and a couple on the Lyons family as well.

      Would love to see the article.

      Vikki

    • Hello, Cousin Julia, I am Maggie Collins and Jasper is my Great Great Grandfather. (Jasper-Ulysses-Edmond-William-Maggie). I live in Baton Rouge but I did not know a movie was being made. I have some information on the Mississippi Collins Family Oddly enough Edmond married a Collins and my Daddy, William, married a Collins so I have a lot of different Collins’ in my family. I haven’t done genealogy in years but I have all my old information. Feel free to contact me if you would like any of my information.

  29. Wow, I should have stated my great grandmothers full name. You reference her preamble in your book. Elizabeth “Betty” Lyons Myrick Burrow. I’m still looking for it. I spoke with my mom today and it turns out that my mother typed the article for her. I now wonder if it is the same or a different article. This is really exciting!

  30. Vikki – I am a decedent of Newt Knight. I just ordered two books (one for myself and one for my sister). The pictures on the covers are the pictures we have as well! Newt is my great-great-great grandfather. I am truly excited to read the book.

  31. My husband’s Great Grandmother was Susie Knight who was married to a Powell. She is actually buried in a cemetery on top of a hill in Big Creak in Jones county. This is all the information we have on her. There are no grave markers for her or her husband. Sue was supposedly buried under a tree. That’s all the information I have. Could you help in any way?

  32. Hi Vikki, I have your Long Shadows of the Civil War and was amazed to learn that my home of Moore County, NC was one of the areas you write about. Our families have heard stories like the ones you write about concerning the “Unruly Women” of the Civil War. Levi Williams laid out during the war but was finally conscripted into service. His Confederate service record says that he was conscripted in Moore County on 19 Mar 1863 and that he deserted on 07 April 1863 — Very short stay. Anyway, the story we have always heard from our Williams and Garner lines is that after Levi deserted, the Hunters captured him and others near his home, tied them to trees and went off after others that escaped. Levi’s wife Mary came out of the house with the baby on her hip and with butcher knife in the other hand. She cut them all free. I have a website on Moore County’s Company H of the 26th Regiment. My research has revealed that at least two soldiers from that company that deserted were murdered. I have more stories I would love to share with you. Check out my website: http://www.companyh26th.com

    Lacy Garner, Jr.
    Moore Co. NC

    • Lacy, yours is the sort of family story I would have loved to have included in Long Shadow of the Civil War! Thanks for sharing here, and I look forward to visiting your website and urge others to do the same.

      Vikki

  33. After years of reading your blog I finally purchased Free State of Jones ( two copies). I’ve been working on my family history for quite sometime. I research my fathers side, Sumrall, and my sister works on mothers. I find this history of my fathers family fascinating and will include it in my genealogy research.

    • That’s great, Barbara–glad the book is helpful. I did spend a long time on the Sumrall genealogy–found the Sumralls’ early roots in SC and on the SW frontier fascinating!

      Vikki

  34. Dear Vikki,

    Would you be able to inquire, if anyone knows who is pictured the picture of Elf and Annie Jones, on the The Chowan discovery, info you have on this site?
    I would appreciate it very much.
    Sincerly,
    G. McCoy

  35. Wow. I’m so happy that the story you wrote long ago is finally reaching the big screen. I read your book years ago, then had my 11 year old niece to read it and do a book report for her 99.9% white class at her school that flies a rebel flag. No negative reactions towards her. I could not understand why Hollywood would ignore such a powerful and interesting part of our history. My niece is now 28 years old with a child of her own and she made me aware of the movie being made. Seventeen years ago I sent you a email and you answered me back, thank you. The black descendants of Newt Knight are alive and well.

    • Thank you, Doug, for your message—and I do remember your original e-mail message of years ago! Was even able to locate it in my files. It wasn’t as long ago as you thought: it’s dated March, 2003.

      I love it that the 14-year-old niece that you told me back then was doing a report on the book is now a 28-year-old woman who told you about the upcoming movie! Very glad also to know that you both are doing well. I appreciate your kind words today about the book, just as I did in 2003.

      Best,
      Vikki

  36. this happened in the state of Alabama also. Winston county Alabama was called the free state of winston. my family was split them as now. I had a 4th great grand father fight on the union side in tennessee against one of my 3rd great grand fathers. as it is today, we are still split.

  37. hello Ms. Bynum,

    I’m reading your book, The Free State of Jones, Mississippi’s Longest Civil War. It is so interesting so far and has really peaked my interest in investigating my own heritage, as my mother and father’s families are from Jones County going as far back as the people you write about in your book.

    My mother has told me stories passed down to her from her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents about farming life, owning large amount of land in the Soso/ Big Creek area of Jones County, and another relative who was a pig farmer on the Leaf river. I am only just beginning my search but I am trying to find out who, if any, people listed in your book are kin to me. I know my grandmother on my mother’s side is part Indian, she is still alive today and lives in Ellisville. My grandfather’s family names from his mother and father are “Graham” and “Tisdale”.

    Thank you for your book.
    Heather Smith Flowers

  38. I would encourage you to seek out my father Leander Taylor in Lucedale, MS. He is one of the greatest unknown historians in the state of Mississippi. He told me about this and about the Newt Knight family and I was amazed. He is one of the five families that started an African-American community in Jones County right after the Emancipation. I think you would find it very interesting to hear a different, but very interesting perspective. I keep encouraging him to write it down as he is 89 years young, but so far, it is all in his head and in our hearts.

    • Karen,

      Sounds like your father has some fascinating and important stories! If you can’t get him to write those stories down, perhaps you could record him. Not only would I be interested in hearing or reading his stories, I’m sure that the Oral History program at the University of Southern Mississippi would be interested as well.

      Thank you for commenting!
      Vikki

  39. You are correct. My mistake. I am correct in my personal genealogy but was in error in my email to you. Thank you for pointing out my error.

    • Thanks for the clarification, Ernest. It’s so easy to skip or add a generation when working with genealogical tables, and I’ve done so myself more than once.
      Vikki

  40. Mrs. Bynum,

    I am a soldier in the MS Army National Guard in Laurel, MS. I am writing to know if you have any contacts at Jones County Junior College that may be interested in conducting a tour and brief class to the soldiers in my section on Newton Knight and the secession of Jones Co? Thanks Sean

    • Hello Mr. Barna,

      Thanks for your interest in the Free State of Jones. In terms of advice, I do not live in Mississippi and have no direct with Jones County Junior College. I would suggest that you contact the college directly and ask if any of its history professors might aid you. I know that at least one of those teachers, Wyatt Moulds, is well-versed in the history of Newt Knight.

      I would offer one piece of advice before you contact the college. I would not describe the Jones County insurrection led by Newt Knight as “secession.” Despite the title of one book, and the outdated articles of numerous other authors, the Knight band did not “secede” from Jones County during the war. Newt Knight himself rejected that description of the uprising before his death.

      Good luck!
      Vikki Bynum

      • Vikki,
        Thought you may be interested in knowing that Wyatt Moulds, history instructor, addressed the 2016 graduating class of Jones County Junior College on Friday, May 13th. Read about it in the Laurel Leader Call edition of Tuesday, May 17, 2016.

      • Thanks, B.W.! I’m sure his talk was both delivered and received with great enthusiasm as we await release of the Movie, The Free State of Jones!

        Vikki

  41. Is there a way I can find a roster or rosters of soldiers serving under Col. Lowry in his pursuit of deserters? Specific words or word groups I should use in the search engine? I found records yesterday for one of my husband’s ancestors, a great grand uncle, that says he was “present” at the battle with deserters … just curious. Most of that family line were involved with Newt Knight’s group. I’m gathering that this ancestor’s involvement with Col. Lowry was not by choice, seeing how he was absent w/o leave for a few months prior, etc. Thanks bunches!

  42. Hello Vikki. I don’t know if you remember me, but I am an African-American woman who is descended from a black slave named Tom Knight, who named “Captain Newt Knight of Soso, Mississippi” as his “owner” when he told his children and grandchildren about his heralding escape from Mississippi to North Carolina. That story was passed on to me, and I decided to research it.

    It’s well established that Newt Knight owned no slaves (at least not actively), but I think there is an interesting story behind the oral history told by my ancestor Tom.

    One of the disturbing things I have noticed in all of the debate and controversy around Newt Knight’s history is that the only black person who seems to matter at all is Rachel Knight. I have even encountered soft, revisionist racism with remarks like “the people of Jones County were too poor to own slaves” … a quick fact check reveals that there were 900 “black” and “mulatto” slaves enumerated in Jones County in 1860 … 900 souls (http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~afamerpl/1860jones.html transcribed by me). Also, the practice of “hiring out” gave even poor white farmers the opportunity to rent slave labor. Plus, slave ownership or not, slavery was only possible when all white people cooperated to keep black people at a dehumanized level (capturing and reporting escaped slaves, working as slave drivers, etc.).

    Where is the history of these black people? Jackie Knight, Newt’s grandfather, owned 22 slaves in 1860, the year before Jackie died. He willed several slaves to his heirs, including Albert Knight, Newt’s father.

    Will any of these ‘marginal’ black people show up in the movie about Newt Knight and the “free state” of Jones?

  43. Welcome to Renegade South, Karmella Haynes; I remember our correspondence of some ten or more years ago very well.

    At that time, you were seeking to establish a kinship between the Knights of Jones County, MS, and former slaves Tom and Cora Knight. We were both intrigued by the carry-over of family names, and I did my best to provide information on the Knights of Jones County that might assist you in your search.

    As I recall, we never established that connection, and I, at least, was left to conclude that Tom Knight came from a different branch of Knights. Please refresh my memory: where did you locate Tom’s remark that “Captain Newt Knight of Soso, Mississippi” owned him as a slave? It is indeed an intriguing remark, but one that, to my knowledge, is not substantiated by any sort of hard evidence. Plus, as you concede, Newt Knight has never appeared as a slave owner on any historical record, while ample evidence claims that he never owned slaves. As I recall, you were unable to locate any evidence to corroborate Tom Knight’s statement that Newt Knight held him as a slave. Has that changed?

    My point here is this: as I’m sure you know, no historian would credit a single oral history source as factual evidence—particularly when it contradicts myriad documented evidence—as oral accounts are subject to the vagaries of memory, interpretation, and revision by those who pass them on.

    Before I turn and address your critique of this site, I remind you of the historical subjects that define this blog. The following is an excerpt from “About Renegade South”:

    “As the blog’s title, Renegade South, suggests, I study southern dissenters of the nineteenth century. Several kinds of renegades pass through the pages of my books and articles: Civil War Unionists and outlaws, multiracial people, unruly women, and political and religious nonconformists. My books,The Free State of Jones, Unruly Women, and The Long Shadow of the Civil War, highlight such folks in the Mississippi Piney Woods, North Carolina Piedmont, and the “Big Thicket” region of Hardin County, Texas.”

    Thus, Renegade South is much broader than Jones County, and is focused on various sorts of Southern “renegades,” some of whom were slaves, most of whom were not. There are many fine studies of slavery, but my main research is on white dissenters and free people of color, who also deserve a place in southern historiography.

    Now to your comments. You assert that:

    “One of the disturbing things I have noticed in all of the debate and controversy around Newt Knight’s history is that the only black person who seems to matter at all is Rachel Knight. I have even encountered soft, revisionist racism with remarks like “the people of Jones County were too poor to own slaves” … a quick fact check reveals that there were 900 “black” and “mulatto” slaves enumerated in Jones County in 1860 … 900 souls.”

    First, Karmella, the obvious reason why Rachel Knight is so important to the history of the Free State of Jones is because she was Newt Knight’s collaborator and the apparent mother of numerous children by him. A mixed-race, interracial community evolved from their relationship that still exists today, and which resulted in the historically-important miscegenation trial of Davis Knight in 1948. Second, the fact that Rachel is key to the story itself, also means that we have far more information about her than we do about the approximately 900 other people who were held as slaves in Jones County.

    Furthermore, there has been no effort on my part to deny the existence—or importance—of slavery to Jones County. The fact is, however, that in 1860 Jones County had the lowest concentration of slaves in Mississippi: 12.2 per cent of its population, as compared to a state average of 55.2 percent. This had a profound impact on the reluctance of Jones County citizens to support a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight”, and is crucial to understanding why an insurrection took place. Does this fact mean that slavery was not important to Jones County? Of course not. Nor do I make any such assertion, either here or in my books and articles.

    It appears that you have not read my book, The Free State of Jones, for if you had, you would know that slavery is thoroughly analyzed throughout its pages. Nor do I make any “blanket assertions” about Jones County families being “too poor” to own slaves, although many were just that. Rather, my book gives ample attention to the economic structure of the county and the state, identifying the slaveholding families of Jones County—including several Knights—but also those families—such as the Collinses—who could have owned slaves but chose not to do so.

    Please specifically identify any remarks—by myself or others—that you find reflective of a “soft, revisionist racism.” This is a serious charge, but it can’t be addressed unless you give concrete examples.

    I will, however, address your remark that no one on this site seems to care about any other slave (or former slave) than Rachel Knight. Have you not read the essays offered by Yvonne Dodds Bivins and others? Yvonne in particular has written extensively about slavery within the Smith, Ainsworth, Dahmer, and Knight families of the Jones County region. Her research is truly groundbreaking, for, as you of all people should know, records that identify specific enslaved individuals are not easy to find. You will find no romanticizing of slavery or denial of its importance to this region in either Yvonne’s or my works.

    In the final analysis, however, historians cannot manufacture evidence about individual enslaved people whose actions, even their very lives, too often went unrecorded. For example, the only NAMED slaves who collaborated with the Knight Band are Rachel Knight and Joe Hatten, although it is reasonable to assume there were more. I make this point in The Free State of Jones (pp 109-110) by citing evidence from former Mississippi slaves who described their interactions with deserters to WPA interviewers during the 1930s.

    To answer your final question about whether or not the movie Free State of Jones will feature “marginal” people, the answer is a resounding yes. Film makers, you see, have an advantage over historians when it comes to telling a true story such as that of The Free State of Jones—they don’t have to rely as scrupulously on documented facts. In what is known as creative license, movies regularly offer composite characters and dramatic events that, while not documented for a specific location (such as Jones County), or a specific person, are known to have occurred because of composite evidence gleaned from other regions in which people participated in the same event—in the case of the Free State of Jones, the Civil War. We know from military records, memoirs, slave narratives, plantation records, and letters that slaves and deserters collaborated extensively during the war. Therefore, the movie will present plausible—even likely—scenes of collaboration between slaves, maroons, and the Knight band during the war.

    I look forward to the movie Free State of Jones presenting a very different portrait of the Civil War South than movie goers have traditionally seen, and I’m proud that Renegade South has done the same for more than six years.

    Good luck with your own family research; I know it can be frustrating to not find what you’re looking for.

    Vikki Bynum

  44. Vikki…I’ve always had a gut impression that The Free State of Jones almost declared independence from the Confederacy AND the Union…would that be in any way a fair way of framing it?

    • Hello, Randy, thanks for your comment and question. In some ways, yes, your supposition is correct. There is no doubt that many members of the Knight Band wanted no part of the war, the Confederacy, or the Union.

      But not all the men—including their families—thought the same. There is solid evidence that the core families who supported the Knight Band—especially the Collinses, Valentines, Knights, Walters, Sumralls, and Welborns—opposed the Confederacy on ideological as well as personal grounds. It’s not always possible to identify WHEN they turned against the Confederacy, but it’s clear that many of them opposed secession from the beginning. In my book Free State of Jones, I link their support for the Union to the early nationalizing experiences of their grandparents during the American Revolution and on the southwestern frontier.

      Vikki

  45. I am a granddaughter of Younger Welborn. My maternal grandmother was Sarah Margaret Welborn. She died in childbirth when my mother was only 6 so I never had much information on that branch of my family. Sheriff E.M. Devall would also be my uncle, having married my aunt, Mary Jane Welborn. I’d love to have any information, pictures, stories from relatives of the Welborns.

  46. I remember reading this book for one of the classes you taught at Southwest Texas State. I enjoyed it then and as a result I refer to the book when I teach my high school class about the Civil War. Thank you.

    • Hey, I remember you, Adrian! So nice to hear from you here on Renegade South. Glad to know you’re teaching high school history.

      Vikki

  47. Hi Vikki. Has there been any developments in connecting Newton Knights ancestors to the Knights from Edgecombe Co., N.C.?
    Found some items of interest in that line if they are related. Bertie County tax rolls list them as F.P.C. and one line followed Redbone migration to Rapides Parrish, LA.
    Great book by the way.

    • Hi Tom,

      Thanks for your question. I spent a good deal of time while researching my book, The Free State of Jones, trying to find a documented connection between the Jones County Knights and the Knights of Edgecombe County, NC. I’m certain they were from that general area, since John “Jackie” Knight’s mother, Mary, was from neighboring Hertford County. In my book, I speculate that Jackie Knight’s grandfather might have been William Knight of Bertie County, who left a will in 1752 (I have no definite proof of kinship, however).

      I believe this William Knight may also be one of the Knights listed as a F.P.C., though I didn’t know it at the time I wrote the book.

      Vikki

  48. Since Jackie Knight was married in Richmond County I followed up on your notes that showed Edward(Nehemiah) Knight living there also. I descend from his brother John.
    While researching Richmond Co. I found court records that show Nehemiah and brother James involved in a law suit around the same time Jackie was married.
    Whatever mixture they were; Native American, African or both it was not clearly evident because the court records indicated they were white.
    The Bertie County, N.C. tax records in the 1750’s indicate they were F.P.C. but it is not real clear since these records are based on Poll Tax.

    • Thanks for the follow-up, Tom. My experience has been that the final bit of evidence for who the Jones county Knights descended from in NC is never quite there–but close!
      Vikki

  49. We are anxious to see the movie; especially with knowledge of our most likely kinship to Newton Knight.
    I drive by McConaughey’s lake home on Lake LBJ during my police patrol shift which is another reason for me wanting to see the movie.
    Also I know the enormous amount of time it takes to do research and appreciate your hard work in producing such a fine book.

  50. Hello Vikki – I only just discovered your blog, and I’m looking forward both to the movie and to reading your book, which echoes my own research in some interesting ways. For the moment, I just want to say that I’m struck by your surname. A presumably white “William Bynum” was the bad guy in a long series of lawsuits that marked a dramatic change in the status of free people of color in Southampton County, Virginia in the 1740’s. Southampton County, on the North Carolina border near the Great Dismal Swamp, was home to an unusually large population of FPOC, who, at least for the first half of the century, were treated more or less like their white neighbors, some of whom were my ancestors. Then a few of them ran afoul of the quarrelsome Mr. Bynum, and things began to go south. Have your tracked your own ancestry back that far? The complex intersections of race and class that you track are also of interest to me. I’m looking forward to following your blog.

    • Hello Carla,

      I’m glad that you discovered Renegade South, and it’s great to meet you! What an interesting piece of research you have found on William Bynum of Southhampton County, VA. No, I have never seen that series of court cases, and want to know more.

      I have traced my own Bynum ancestry back to one William Bynum, born 1763 in North Carolina, who migrated to Jones County, Mississippi, in the early 19th century. Before that, the names William and James Bynum are so ubiquitous that I’ve never been able to determine my earlier ancestors with any certainly. I’m betting, however, that I’m related, distantly or closely, to the “quarrelsome” William Bynum of Virginia that you found. Hope you’ll share more!

      Vikki

  51. My mother Kathleen Mclaughlin nee Welch is descendant from Richard Welch 1762 – 1838 buried at Welch-Graham cemetery in Jones county.

    I grew up hearing stories of the “free state of Jones” and “Jones free state” and that a Welch (possibly named Robert) served with Newt Knight both in the Confederate army and with the guerrilla band. Coincidentally my grandfather is named Robert Welch and is buried along with most of my mother’s family at W-G cemetery Countyline Baptist Church.

    Notably the cemetery is replete with Knight tombstones and at the time I first heard of the Jones free state, almost seven decades ago, the subject was not taboo but as we would say here in Texas “country when country wasn’t cool”

    • Hi John, thanks for your comments! Your Welch ancestors appear pretty heavily involved with the Knight Company. They’re intermarried with the what I consider the core Unionist families of the Free State of Jones–particularly the Valentines and Collinses (there’s a few Knight and Bynum marriages, too).

      There are four Welches listed on Newt Knight’s 1870 roster of men: T. L. Welch, R.J. Welch, W.M. Welch, and H.R. Welch. You might enjoy reading the entire roster; if so click here: https://renegadesouth.wordpress.com/2009/01/17/1870-knight-company-roster/

      Vikki

  52. Dear Sir:
    Have you ever heard about the Free State of Winston County, AL? It is my understanding that the also left the stood alone in AL. My father was from Winston and quite proud of that fact. He died more than 20 years ago so if you have any info I would be very appreciative.
    Thank you,
    Stephanie

  53. Thanks for making the Renegade South available for our posts ! ! For me personally now in my 90th yr sharing information on R S has been a blessing especially knowledge of my Collins kinsmen in Jones County Mississippi!
    My connection to thecCollins is through my Grandmother France’s Collins Loftin the daughter of Simeoon &!Lydia Bynum . For the greater part of my life I had little knowledge of the family my grandmother grew up in! This was to come from Free State of Jones & The Long Shadow of The Civil War ! What information I had as a young boy came from my father , Leonard Harrison Loftin, eighth of twelve children born to Leonard Lee & France’s Abarilla Collins Loftin .
    My dad told me his parents came with other family members from Mississippi on oxen drawn wagons after the civil War! Wasn’t sure as to what place in Mississippi they came from! Said his two oldest sisters, Paula Jane &!FrancescAmanda whew born in Mississippi & came on the wagons tomthevBig Thicket in Hardin Co. He had a record of the family written in long hand which shows family as follows:
    Paula Jane (1869) FrancescAmanda (18871) StaceyvArtist (1874) Lydia (1876)Ezekiel (1878)James Millard (1881) (Matilda)1884)(Leonard Harrison (1887)(George Willis(1889)Willard Wiley (1892)Sabrey Paley (1894) Benjamin Hector (1898). A review of these births indicate the move occurred between 1871 & 1874 so it appears the move from Ms happened circa 1872 , imagine the hardships on women & young infants during the 500 mike jou Neymar!
    In the Thicket they proceeded to cut down pines clear land build log house plant crops etc ! They were doing what their predecessors did on their migration from NC, SC , Ga.Alabama & Ms!. Their bread came from the corn their meat from hogs asvwel as wild game etc! By 1900 three family members had died Lydia, Matilda &!Ezekiel! Pneumonia ! They were among first burials in Felps Cemetery in Thicket!Eventually all,of the family would rest there except James Millard buried in Alto !
    In 1904 My grandparents with some of their youngest children including my dad moved to Trinity Co near Pennington to live ! They remained there until circa 1920 when they moved down to Cleveland to live with their daughter Sabrey Palley & son Willis! Leonard Lee would die there in 1923 of a Stroke! He was buried in Felps! France’s moved tonThicket where she lived with SabreybPalley & Willis til her death in 1934!
    My father met & married my mother , Jimmie Zorn in Pennington,Texas in 1912! They had three children in Pennington prior to their return to Hardin Co in 1920. They settled in the Batson community where dad worked for Gulf Oil! There is where my brother James Lee & I were born in 1920& 1925! We moved to Sour Lake in 1935 where our family weathered the depression & three of us served during W WII”
    Our family maintained close relationships with our Loftin kinsmen most of whom continued living in Thicket ! They still drew water from dug wells off heir Bach porch drank from the gourds ha ging by the well! They grew their corn, peas, vegetables ! Cows provided milk & butter! ! Butchered their hogs smoked the meat ! For syrup they raised cane which was processed & put in buckets! These uncles & aunts continued to live this mode of life until they died as well as did some of their children who never left the Thicket! Never knew indoor plumbing or electricity until after WWII.
    My mother was the one who influenced my dad to leave the Thicket & go to work for Gulf! This move brought us more or less into a more civilized mode of life!
    These kinsmen were great story tellers but poor records keepers basically due to illiteracy ! Also their main focus was grubbing out a livelihood not keeping family records so My Loftin grandparents & their children some who lived into their eighties and or nineties went to the grave leaving scarce info regarding their past! Repairing my Loftin bridge to the past would fall on my shoulders! in Sept 1980’I began the search !
    My first step was to forward a letter of inquiry to the /Supervisor of Archives in Jackson Ms for info regarding my Grandparents! Within a week I received back an 1850 federal census of Jasper Co Ms of Ezekile Loftin head of a household of wife, Elizabeth & five sons, Andrew, Ezekiel, John Charles, Giles, Thomas & Leonard my grandfather ! I not only found my grandfathers place of birth but the names of my great grandparents as well! Also included was copy of marriage license of my Loftin grandparents in Jasper Co June 16,1868! Good start! Within three years with assistance of others searching the Loftin lineage I was able to race the lineage through eight generations to the Founding Father in Virgia in 1636!
    This information was bound under cover entitled The Loftin Chronicles copies of which were presented to kinsmen attending the Loftin reunion in 1982 in Honey Island ! This publication was widely disseminated throughout Texas & several southern states by those int in Loftin history! I was fifty seven at the time! It would be another thirty five years before I found the answerestors to my Collins relatives in Jones County in the books by Vickie FreecState of Jones & The Long Shadow of The Civil War!
    I stI’ll enjoy the search into the past while anticipating the impact of the showing of The Fee State of Jones scheduled for showing this month!

  54. IF they were “principled Unionists” as they claimed then WHY did Knight join the Confederate Army in the first place? WHY did he NOT join the Union cause?? We had plenty of people with divided loyalties. Here in my own area (south-central Kentucky and north-central Tennessee) we had Champ Ferguson (Kentuckian and pro-Confederate) battling “Tinker” Dave Beaty (Tennessean and pro-Union). Dave Beaty (though a TRAITOR in my book) at least CHOSE A SIDE and declared it. He NEVER joined the Confederate Army and fought for the Union the whole time. I’m no fan of Tinker Dave, but at least he was what he was, and not a LYING BUSHWHACKER like Newton Knight.

    • There were many “principled Unionists” who joined the Confederate Army in 1861-1862 despite having opposed secession, as voters in Jones County did when they elected a cooperationist delegate to the Mississippi Secession Convention of 1861. Some joined the army because of conscription, others to get service behind them as quickly as possible, others in order to join units alongside their friends and kinfolk. Few of these early enlistees and conscripts realized what a disastrous, bloody war lay ahead for them, and so they obeyed the law, as most people do, even when in disagreement with the cause of the war.

      Other men believed their leaders when they told them that secession was about “honor” and “states rights”. Only later did many of them turn against the Confederacy. Witnessing the favoritism extended to slaveholders against the impoverishment and starvation suffered by nonslaveholding families on the home front caused many former true believers to question the “principles” of the leaders who screamed for war, and to see instead “a rich man’s war and poor man’s fight.” One could become a “principled Unionist” after the war began through enlightenment about the real causes and consequences of the Civil War.

      So, who really were the “liars”? I have nothing but pity for the poor men who died in service to the Confederacy, but I have contempt for the planter class that pushed the nation to civil war with their ill-conceived dreams of preserving slavery forever.

      Vikki

  55. Vikki, I haven’t read your book but I plan to do so. This is all so new to me. My grandmother, Lilian May Knight, was born in Clay, Kentucky, Webeter county in 1880. I never new my father but have been able to locate a number of siblings in Indiana. The family says Lilian was Cherokee but after reading all this I am wondering if she may have been part African. The surname Knight is prominent Cherokee clans but I am wondering if there might be a connection with the Knights in Mississippi. I would appreciate any information you may have. I have an 85 year old 1st cousin, in Florida, and we are planning a trip, this summer, to do some research. Thank you so much.

    Donald Bell

  56. In reference to Donald Bell asking about the racial mixture of the Knight family:
    Newton Knight was most likely descended from William and Martha Knight of Bertie Co., N.C. whose children were listed as Free Persons of Color on the early tax rolls. Martha was listed as 1 tithe so she was probably either part Native American or part African.
    I descend from their son John Knight who moved to Edgecombe Co., N.C. John had two brothers(James and Nehemiah) and a grandson(Robert Knight) that moved to Richmond Co., GA. While researching Richmond Co. I found court records that showed Nehemiah and his brother James involved in a law suit around the same time Jackie Knight was getting married. Jackie was the grandfather of Newton Knight and also lived in Richmond Co., GA at that time.
    Whatever mixture they were; Native American, African or both it was not clearly evident because the Richmond County Court records indicated they were white, so I assume Martha Knight was not full blood. None of the Bertie Co. records give the maiden name of Martha so know very little about her.
    Around 1830 Robert and a sister move to Holmes Co., FL which was known for having a community of Native Americans that included families from S.C. and N.C. Some of those families were from the Catawba Tribe. Bertie County, N.C. was the home for a large group of Tuscarora and also the Chowan Indians lived there.
    In the early 1850’s a half-breed Indian preacher named Joseph Mayo migrated with a large group from Holmes Co., FL to Vernon Parrish, Louisiana. Included in the group were Robert Knight and his family. The community in Vernon Parrish is known for being “Red Bone” which are mixed blood Native Americans.

  57. Thanks for your reply. I listened to your radio broadcast from 2015. Very interesting. I grew up in southeast Texas. It’s interesting that at my age (72) I am just learning some of our history. Thanks again.

  58. The “good guy / bad guy” debate around Newt Knight has always interested to me. I remember discussing Newt with my grandmother – Lottie Herrington Collins – many times. This would have been about 40-50 years ago and generally came up whenever Ethel Knight’s name or her book “Echo of the Black Horn” was mentioned (and that would not have been in a positive light, I might add….lol). Lottie was born in 1897. Her husband was the grandson of Riley Collins and she held strong opinions about Knight. True to her times, she was not particularly approving of his interracial marriage but she did not consider him to be a scoundrel. She saw Knight and my Collins ancestors that “ran with Newt” to be honorable men that had taken the right position in the war, holding fast to the “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight” mantra. Frankly, I’m happy to see that crew get some positive and accurate historical attention. My whole family loved Dr. Bynum’s “Free State of Jones”. It’s a great story. :)

  59. I grew up in Soso, MS, and have heard stories about Newt Knight all my life. Included in those stories were that my gg-grandfather, Edward Eli Williams, preached Newt’s funeral and built his coffin. I have read (not sure now if it was from your book or elsewhere) that only two white men were present at his funeral, with one being his nephew. If that and my family story are both accurate, then my ancestor was the other. Do you happen to have any information about him? I think he was a preacher, and this relationship to Newt makes me very curious about him and his church’s beliefs about slavery at that time. I would love to find out that my relatives, as well as some local congregations, may have been on the right side of history!

  60. Im under the impression that Knight didnt rebel against the confederacy for the slaves, but more because he and many others were upset with their confederate government’s laws.

    • Jajuan,

      I have never argued on my blog or in my publications that Newt Knight rebelled against the Confederacy “for the slaves.” He was not an abolitionist or anti-slavery activist at the time of secession; however, he never owned slaves and there is evidence that he disliked the institution.

      His objections to Confederate laws and policies were ultimately connected to slavery. The war was fought to protect slavery from extinction, and once ordinary men like Newt realized this, they deserted. They were no longer willing to fight a “rich man’s war and poor man’s fight,” and they knew that cotton and slavery protected the rich man’s wealth.

      As time went on, Newt increasingly linked his struggle against the Confederacy with the struggle by slaves to win their freedom. During Reconstruction, he worked for black rights of citizenship under the leadership of Republican Governor Adelbert Ames.

      Vikki

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