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

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

University of North Carolina Press
336 pages
6.125 x 9.25
32 illus., 9 genealogical charts, 10 maps, appends., notes, bibl., index
Paper ISBN:  978-0-8078-5467-9

Victoria E. Bynum, Emeritus Professor of History
Texas State University, San Marcos

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

  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Sacred Wars: Race and the Ongoing Battle over the Free State of Jones
  • Part One: The Origins of Mississippi’s Piney Woods People
    • 1. Jones County’s Carolina Connection: Class and Race in Revolutionary America
    • 2. The Quest of 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
    • 5. Piney Woods Patriarchs: Class Relations and the Growth of Slavery
  • Part Two: Civil War, Reconstruction and the Struggle for Power
    • 6. The Inner Civil War: Birth of the Free State of Jones
    • 7. The Free State Turned Upside Down: Colonel Lowry’s Confederate Raid on Jones County
    • 8. Reconstruction and Redemption: The Politics of Race, Class and Manhood in Jones County
    • 9. Defiance and Domination “White Negroes” in the Piney Woods New South
  • Epilogue. The Free State of Jones Revisited: Davis Knight’s Miscegenation Trial
  • Appendixes with (Selected Descendants of the Knight, Coleman, Welborn, Bynum, Collings, Sumrall, Welch, Valentine families, and The “White Negro” Community, 1880-1920.
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Visit Victoria Bynum’s interactive site for the book here.

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