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The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War

Overview

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, and aided by women, slaves, and children who spied on the Confederacy and provided food and shelter, they set up headquarters in the swamps of the Leaf River. There, legend has it, they declared the Free State of Jones.

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The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War

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Overview

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, and aided by women, slaves, and children who spied on the Confederacy and provided food and shelter, they set up headquarters in the swamps of the Leaf River. There, 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. Newt and Rachel's relationship resulted in the growth of a mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. The ambiguous racial identity of their descendants confounded the rules of segregated Mississippi, as vividly evidenced by the 1948 miscegenation trial of great-grandson Davis Knight.

In this book, Victoria Bynum pierces through the haze of romantic legend, Lost Cause rhetoric, popular memory, and gossip that has long shrouded the story of the Free State of Jones. Relying on exhaustive research in a wide range of sources, she 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, Bynum 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Altina L. Waller
The Free State of Jones is clearly a story that needs to be told, and Bynum has done impressive research to bring it to a modern audience.
John C. Inscoe
Few communities fought as much of the war on their own terms or generated as distorted yet profound a legacy afterward as did the men and women of this renegade county in Mississippi's Piney Woods. It's a fascinating story.
From the Publisher
"Well researched."—New York Times Book Review

"An ambitious piece of work spanning three centuries that presents a lively and intricate portrait of some fascinating and idiosyncratic characters. . . . Prodigious research in genealogical material, census files, church records, official documents, and

"Bynum is to be saluted not only for her profound scholarship but for her evenhanded accounts of matters that remain volatile and controversial. . . . [This] book should be praised as an original and cogent piece of scholarship on a devilishly complicated

"Bynum has fashioned frustratingly disparate material into an important book that may cause historians who are skeptical about putting too much stress on an 'inner' Civil War to rethink their position."—American Historical Review

"Bynum's deeply researched and well-written book unravels the historical and sociological significance of the Piney Woods region of southeastern Mississippi. . . . Powerful, revisionist, and timely, Bynum's book combines superb history with poignant analy

"Bynum shows how future historians might convincingly knit together the all too-often disparate fields of political, ideological, gender, and racial histories."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"This is an excellent book and Bynum deserves much praise for her ability to negotiate the minefield of myth and legend to produce a study that not only makes a tremendous contribution to scholarship but is a compelling read as well. Thoroughly researched

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807826362
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 9/10/2001
  • Series: The Fred W. Morrison Series in Southern Studies
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Victoria E. Bynum is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of history at Texas State University, San Marcos. She is author of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies and Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South.

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Read an Excerpt

In the days surrounding April 15, 1864, several deadly confrontations erupted on the borders of Jones and Covington Counties, near the Leaf River, as the Knight Company clashed with cavalry led by Col. Robert Lowry. By the time the skirmishes ended, one cavalryman had been killed and ten deserters "summarily executed" by the cavalry. . . .

Growing fears of collaboration between deserter bands and the Union Army . . . influenced Confederate authorities' decision to send Colonel Lowry into the region. Members of the several bands of deserters in the Jones County region apparently had frequent contact with one another and moved back and forth between bands when convenient, On March 29, [Capt.] W. Wirt Thomason reported rumors that "Yankees are frequently among" the Jones County deserters. Nine days later, and only one week before the Lowry raids, Daniel P. Logan warned Provost Marshal Major J.C. Denis that "large numbers" of Jones County deserters "have gone down Pearl River to and near Honey Island where they exist in some force . . . openly boasting of their being in communication with the Yankees."

According to Newt Knight, during this period his company continually sought connections with the Union Army. He recounted how Jasper Collins had traveled without success to Memphis and Vicksburg to seek the company's recruitment into the Union Army. Newt also recalled that "Johnny Rebs busted up the party they sent to swear us in," explaining that a company of Union forces sent to recruit men of the Knight Company was waylaid by Confederate forces at Rocky Creek. After that, he said, "I sent a courier to the federal commander at New Orleans. He sent us 400 rifles. The Confederates captured them." Newt concluded that "we'll all die guerrillas, I reckon. Never could break through the rebels to join the Union Army."

[This] book should be praised as an original and cogent piece of scholarship on a devilishly complicated and demanding subject.
(Washington Times)

"Bynum shows how future historians might convincingly knit together the all too-often disparate fields of political, ideological, gender, and racial histories.
(Virginia Quarterly Review)"

"Powerful, revisionist, and timely, Bynum's book combines superb history with poignant analysis of historical memory and southern racial mores.
(Choice)"

"The Free State of Jones is clearly a story that needs to be told, and Bynum has done impressive research to bring it to a modern audience.
(Altina L. Waller, University of Connecticut )"

"Few communities fought as much of the war on their own terms or generated as distorted yet profound a legacy afterward as did the men and women of this renegade county in Mississippi's Piney Woods. It's a fascinating story.
(John C. Inscoe, coauthor of The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War)"

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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction: Sacred Wars: Race and the Ongoing Battle over the Free State of Jones 1
Pt. 1 The Origins of Mississippi's Piney Woods People
1 Jones County's Carolina Connection: Class and Race in Revolutionary America 11
2 The Quest for Land: Yeoman Republicans on the Southwestern Frontier 29
3 Piney Woods Patriarchs: Class Relations and the Growth of Slavery 47
4 Antebellum Life on the Leaf River: Gender, Violence, and Religious Strife 71
Pt. 2 Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Struggle for Power
5 The Inner Civil War: Birth of the Free State of Jones 93
6 The Free State Turned Upside Down: Colonel Lowry's Confederate Raid on Jones County 115
7 Reconstruction and Redemption: The Politics of Race, Class, and Manhood in Jones County 131
8 Defiance and Domination: "White Negroes" in the Piney Woods New South 149
Epilogue: The Free State of Jones Revisited: Davis Knight's Miscegenation Trial 177
App. 1 Selected Descendants of the Knight Family 192
App. 2 Selected Descendants of the Coleman Family 194
App. 3 Selected Descendants of the Welborn Family 195
App. 4 Selected Descendants of the Bynum Family 197
App. 5 Selected Descendants of the Collins Family 198
App. 6 Selected Descendants of the Sumrall Family 201
App. 7 Selected Descendants of the Welch Family 202
App. 8 Selected Descendants of the Valentine Family 205
App. 9 The "White Negro" Community, 1880-1920 206
Notes 209
Bibliography 281
Index 305
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2005

    Mississippi Maverick

    The book is informative, interesting and a good lesson in the American Experience, but it primarily discusses for the most part the early family tree history of the main character, Newt Knight, and the family's slow westward migration from the Carolinas. In my opinion, that has very little or nothing to do with 'The Free State of Jones,' the reasons behind its inhabitants' defiance of the Confedracy or Newt's personal decisions about interracial relations. One can only speculate that what saved him from the 'evil offense' of miscegenation was his white skin, as some of the black men descended from him must surely have later discovered.

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