The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War / Edition 1by Victoria E. Bynum
Pub. Date: 02/24/2003
Publisher: University of North Carolina Press, The
The story of the
Between late 1863 and mid-1864, an armed band of Confederate deserters battled Confederate cavalry in the Piney Woods region of Jones County, Mississippi. Calling themselves the Knight Company after their captain, Newton Knight, they set up headquarters in the swamps of the Leaf River, where, legend has it, they declared the Free State of Jones.
The story of the Jones County rebellion is well known among Mississippians, and debate over whether the county actually seceded from the state during the war has smoldered for more than a century. Adding further controversy to the legend is the story of Newt Knight's interracial romance with his wartime accomplice, Rachel, a slave. From their relationship there developed a mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended, and the ambiguous racial identity of their descendants confounded the rules of segregated Mississippi well into the twentieth century.
Victoria Bynum traces the origins and legacy of the Jones County uprising from the American Revolution to the modern civil rights movement. In bridging the gap between the legendary and the real Free State of Jones, she shows how the legend--what was told, what was embellished, and what was left out--reveals a great deal about the South's transition from slavery to segregation; the racial, gender, and class politics of the period; and the contingent nature of history and memory.
Table of Contents
Introduction. Sacred Wars: Race and the Ongoing Battle over the Free State of Jones 1
I The Origins of Mississippi's Piney Woods People
1 Jones County's Carolina Connection: Class and Race in Revolutionary America
2 The Quest for Land: Yeoman Republicans on the Southwestern Frontier
3 Piney Woods Patriarchs: Class Relations and the Growth of Slavery
4 Antebellum Life on the Leaf River: Gender, Violence, and Religious Strife
II Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Struggle for Power
5 The Inner Civil War: Birth of the Free State of Jones
6 The Free State Turned Upside Down: Colonel Lowry's Confederate Raid on Jones County
7 Reconstruction and Redemption: The Politics of Race, Class, and Manhood in Jones County
8 Defiance and Domination: White Negroes in the Piney Woods New South
Epilogue. The Free State of Jones Revisited: Davis Knight's Miscegenation Trial
1 Selected Descendants of the Knight Family
2 Selected Descendants of the Coleman Family
3 Selected Descendants of the Welborn Family
4 Selected Descendants of the Bynum Family
5 Selected Descendants of the Collins Family
6 Selected Descendants of the Sumrall Family
7 Selected Descendants of the Welch Family
8 Selected Descendants of the Valentine Family
9 The White Negro Community, 1880-1920
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Victoria Bynum has done an impressive job of research that goes a long way toward explaining how race, class, and gender affected, and were affected by, the development of social customs in the South. She uses as her central focus the Free State of Jones, formed by the infamous secession of a southern Mississippi county from the Confederacy, and investigates why the participants were so willing to flout authority during the Civil War. She ends by analyzing a trial in 1948 that decided whether one of the descendants of the leader of the Free State of Jones was legally white. Throughout the book, the depth of research is astounding. The second part of The Free State of Jones deals with the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the twentieth century. It was during the Civil War that some families of the county of Jones in southern Mississippi, led by Newt Knight, declared themselves independent of the Confederacy and proclaimed the Free State of Jones. Bynum uses these two novels to pose the question, "Who owns history?" Each side claimed their version of events as the truth. Was Newt Knight a good man who resisted serving in the Confederacy because he believed it was a rich man's war and a poor man's fight? Or was he an evil, power-hungry man who used the anarchy of the war to aggrandize himself? Bynum uses the usual scholarly sources to find out what really happened, but she also pays heed to current versions of the past to analyze the effect of those events on modern Southerners. The fact that Newt Knight had a long-standing relationship and several children with Rachel Knight, a mulatto woman and former slave, brought the race issue to the forefront of many arguments. The fact that Rachel was a strong woman who took responsibility for her own life in difficult circumstances made gender a definite factor in what people wanted to believe, during the war and later. All of these facts and factors came together in the miscegenation trial of Davis Knight, the great-grandson of Rachel, who married a white woman in 1948. Bynum suggests that the publication of Tap Roots in 1943 renewed awareness of Newt Knight and his offspring, and so Davis's marriage five years later became a matter in which townspeople felt they had a vested interest. Bynum brings together three turbulent times in American history--the Revolutionary Era, the Civil War and Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights movement--and shows how several extended families participated in all of these upheavals. Her variety of sources is stunning, ranging from the manuscript census to church records, county records, and oral traditions. There is enough research here for three books, but Bynum's writing is so good that readers are simply swept along by her story.
This book has given me great insight on my family history and my great great great great grandparents Newton and racheal and has made me more intrested in my heritage.I love this book so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!