50 comments on “Newt Knight: Emperor of The Free State of Jones

  1. You said that you heard many stories told to you personally from descendants of both “white” and “black” “Knights”. So tell me what you heard. Don’t drop a huge thing like that and just move on. I was conceived in Jones county, by a local and a yankee, go figure. I KNOW what it is like today. Kinda like this, let’s play “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue” again! You already know. Post some of the stories you heard. Frankly, I’m not interested in your opinion. Just spit out what you heard. I’m very very interested, especially if you quit coloring it with opinion. You heard some great stuff. Let me hear it (read it) verbatim. Thanks for your story. Be good.

  2. Keep reading, Matt. There are over 40 columns on this site quoting from those interviews I referenced. But be prepared. Since these were originally published as opinion pieces, you’ll have to wade thru my biases, judgments and conjectures as you go.

    For a historian’s take on the Knights, you might enjoy the site of the nation’s most recognized scholar on all things Newt, Dr. Victoria Bynum. Renegade South

    Thanks for dropping in. Hope you visit often.

  3. Hi Jon,
    Wonderful essay! Of course, I was the white “stranger” you mentioned who came to visit Ethel at her home (and made arrangements to do so before hand through a local resident). And, yes, I did characterize much of what Ethel wrote in The Echo of the Black Horn as racist in my own book, The Free State of Jones. I did so by quoting exact passages from her book.

    The Hornes tell a great story about Ethel sitting in the front row on the October evening in 2001 when I gave a presentation about my then newly-released book at the University of Southern Mississippi. However, I was not aware of her presence until after I had finished my talk and a Mr. Tisdale rushed up to ask me if I knew that Ethel Knight was sitting in the front row. And I never did know that a contingent of SCV was also there. What fun–wish I had known! Alas, presentations by historians rarely generate such excitement . . . .

    I am delighted that the history of Newt, Rachel, and their descendants is a living one, with the descendants themselves finally having the last word on who they are–even though they themselves will probably never quite agree on that!

    Keep up the great work.

    Vikki Bynum, moderator, Renegade South

  4. Vikki, thanks for dropping by. Yes, I wrote this column early in my research, before you and I became friends, collaborators, and co-conspiritors. During my interviews, I was repeatedly surprised by the variety of flavors a single event could come in. I guess we all tell our stories to reinforce our take on the world. I don’t envy you as a historian, being ethically bound by facts. I had the luxury of recording the stories from the standpoint of the tellers, who didn’t let facts get in the way of a good tale. Thanks for your sense of humor!

  5. Pingback: Jon Odell: “Rachel Knight: Slave, White Man’s Mistress and Mother to a Movement” « Renegade South

  6. Hello, Jon Odell:
    who are you, are you from Jones county. Are you refering to my Grandfather, Leonard Ezra and my Grandmother Necia Abigail Anderson Knight, they lived in Hattiesburg and moved to Memphis. I remember my mother saying how when they lived in Hattiesburg, people would walk on the other side of the street to keep from pacing by them, because of their Indian ancestry. I have just recently been researching my ancestors on the Knight side, and hope to see Yvonne Bivins, my cousin at the end of the month. My Uncle told me when he came to my mother’s funeral, Aug. 5th that Rachel was not black but Indian, how do I know what’s true are not true. I don’t care whether my ancestors are black or white I would just like to know some of them and their stories.

  7. my grandfather was web welborn, son of suzan knight , (newt knights 6th child) i was raised with stories told by my father, aunts and uncles about my great great grandfather always with pride. I would really like to know more about my family . i also have that same pride and my children brag on the fact our lineage stood up for what they believed in .

  8. I enjoyed your columns in the REVIEW..interested in the availability of your recent book…not available from BooksAMillion. My husband and I just dropped in on her on impulse one day (rude, right?).She was very warm and welcoming and we sat and chatted for a few minutes in a cozy room darkened against the heat of the day. Don’t recall actual conversation but that she was gracious and well spoken. Is your book avaiable?

  9. Hello, Mary. I’m glad you found something in the columns that interested you. It was fascinating discovering that the ground one is raised on hides so many well-kept secrets. As for the books: The View from Delphi is widely available–if you can’t find it in a bookstore, you can get it from Amazon or BarnesandNoble.com or BooksaMillion’s website.

    The new book will be released either next fall or early 2012. It’s called The Healing.

    I couldn’t tell from you comment who it was you dropped in on. PLEASE let me know. You’ve got me curious!

  10. Hello, Ginny! I grew up amongst the Welborns. Thanks so much for taking a look at the columns and dropping a line. What I have here pretty much exhausts my personal knowledge of the Knight Saga, and I’m wondering if you’ve been in touch with Victoria Bynum, author of The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War. If not you really need to visit her website and leave a note. She’s done extensive research on the Knights and their lineage! Here’s where you go: http://renegadesouth.wordpress.com/category/the-free-state-of-jones/

  11. I keep reading and reading would really like to find out a lot more seeing my grandmother was a Davis and my grandfather was a Knight born and raised in Jones County It really makes me wonder I have tryed to go back and trace my family tree but always get blocked ..

  12. Rebecca,

    I hope you all will visit my blog, Renegade South, as Jon suggests. In fact, not only Knights, but folks with the surnames Collins, Welborn, Bynum, Sumrall, Valentine, and many more associated with the Free State of Jones will find discussions of their familes’ history on my blog: http://renegadesouth.wordpress.com. Come on over . . .

    Vikki Bynum

  13. Hello,I am Charlotte ann Nichols.My Mothers Mother was Pearl Hazel Knight.Newt Knight,and Thomas Knight are my Great great uncles.

  14. looking forward to seeing this movie, I am a Knight also born of Harold Knight Senior, I am Harold Knight Jr. of SoSo miss. I have shared the book with a lot of people and they really liked it contents. they are facninated by the facts and characters that no one seems to have learned in school, or even heard of. I haven’t been to SoSo since my fathers funeral. but this movie thing really has me excited, I am US marine veteran and involed at a VA facility now everyone I know wants to read the book and see the movie. whats wrong people looking at and or precieving history that was broght to them in “closed” classes? The truth is only hidden from the eyes of our nation when we decide that it is okay to fight in a burning house, just quit it already, embrace the good of all who have lived and dies to make this country the great nation that is today, why are so many people bitter, our difference should be what unites us because no other place in the world has withstood the winds of change and been the example to all those who believe that all men are created equal and have the right to pursuit of happiness.

  15. Pingback: THE HEALING, by Jonathan Odell: A Review « Renegade South

  16. I enjoyed the article. I don’t mind saying that after all these years, and re-writes, I don’t know what’s the truth. I know somethings, but not all. I’ll have to run this by my mother. She had to do a lot of research on this when my great uncle Jay Knight died, and had no will. Knights were pouring out of the woodworks, and she was appointed by the court to line up the family trees.

  17. Hello Lacy and I’m glad you enjoyed the column. I know what you mean about not knowing what the story is. So many takes on it, depending on whom you talk with. I think that’s one of the reason it still lives on! Have you even contacted Victoria Bynum or read her blog? Renegade South She is the historian I trust the most on the topic of Newt Knight and the Free State of Jones.

  18. I just found a pic of Rachelle Knight. I remember it now, and talked to my mother some today. Rachelle was obviously mostly Indian, not black. There may have been more mixture in there, and it definitely worked it’s way into later generations. My mom says she heard she was either Creek, or Choctaw. Found a good pic of my Great Grandfather Charlie as well. Still can’t find the pic of Newt we used to have. Anyway, thanks. I’ll check out Renegade South.

  19. Hello Lacy. I’d love to see your picture of Rachel, especially since many family members disagree over upwards of three photos so far said to be Rachel. I’ve written about the photos on Renegade South, beginning with the post, http://renegadesouth.wordpress.com/2009/01/13/rachel-knight-does-a-photo-of-her-exist/
    Would love to see your photo of Charlie Knight as well. If you like, I will post them on Renegade South, but only with your permission.

    Thanks, Vikki Bynum
    moderator, Renegade South, http://renegadesouth.wordpress.com

  20. Rachel and Jesse Davis Knight had a son they named Jeffrey and a daughter they named Fanny. re: Stauffer and Jenkins. And the old man Jackie Knight willed all of Rachel’s on coming children to Jesse Davis, including those belonging to Newton.

  21. I would like to thank you for this article! My great grandfather was Web Welborn. I am very intrigued by my ancestors and eager to learn more! Learning more about my past has become somewhat of an obsession, & thanks to people like you I am able to continue learning. Again, thank you Mr.Odell. Stephanie of Mize, Ms

  22. Stephanie, it’s so great hearing from my fellow Mississippians and I’m so happy you like the columns. You come from a family to be proud of!

  23. Jon,

    Great article!

    I knew Ethel Knight well and miss being able to go to her home and talk with her. It was always interesting. I’ve read Bynum’s book and of course Ethel’s book and have several autographed copies of Echo of the Black Horn. I even got to go on an adventure with her to Kentucky one time but that’s a story for another day. That woman had some grit I can tell you that. I look forward to reading more of your articles.



  24. I stumbled on this article while searching for some information on the Jones County movie. Very interesting article and very informative. Being born and raised in western Oklahoma “our” Knight family never knew of Newton or his history. At least I never knew of it, sure wish I would have it would have been nice to hear story’s while growing up about our ancestry. It wasn’t until just a few years ago when my fathers 1st cousin (a retired history professor at Ft. Lewis College in Durango CO) uncovered our history.

    I am not a direct descendant of Newton, but of his brother; Ruben Knight whose family (it seems) moved to the Arkansas area after the Civil War. One point that you probably know; Newton’s Great Grandfather was a revolutionary soldier by the name of Miles Jesse Knight who fought in North Carolina where he was born and died. Another interesting point (at least to me…I am probably boring you and the people that will read this in the future) Every generation of Knight has at least one John, Jackie or Jesse.

    Again, thank you for the wonderful essay, it has rekindled my thirst for knowledge of our family and has convinced me that I must find a copy of Echo of the Black Horn. I have a copy of The Free State of Jones that Mrs. Bynum wrote. Very good book and I have loaned it out on numerous occasions…but unlike Echo of the Black Horn in Mississippi, I always get it back so no need to drill a hole and run a chain through it! :-)

  25. Mr. Odell: I was also born and raised in Jones County and I also remenber Thomas Knight selling his pencils and items and remember the day he started selling “The Echo of The Black Horn” from his hat. I remember almost having to step over him several times when he was sitting on the steps of The First National Bank. I took my son and found the grave yard where Knewt was buried in Jasper County.

  26. Newt knight was actually my cousin an Mrs Ethel as well it’s kinda crazy to find out new things I had asked my grandpa Charles Williamson about the book that Mrs Ethel wrote an that’s when he said sit down son you have something to learn an thats when I found out they was are kin folks!

  27. I’ve read both Victoria Bynum’s and Jenkins/Stauffer’s books in the past few weeks.I have Shoemake roots in Jones County going back to the 1830s. Other relations include Boyce, Pitts, Walters, Landrum, Sumrall and Holliman. Wil Sumrall is a relative of my great grandmother Elvira Ann Sumrall. Her Father, Henry, enlisted but was discharged only 3 weeks later. My third great grandfather, Linson B Landrum, deserted the Confederate Army and enlisted in the Union Army in New Orleans where he died in early 1865. Many other relatives followed in his footsteps. Nancy Walters is a distant relative. My second great grandfather, Elijah Shoemake, enlisted as a Blacksmith in Captain Turners Company, Light Artillery in April 1862 and near the end of the war was driving cattle for the Confederate Army. Two of his brothers and several uncles served in the infantry through the end and an uncle, Hugh Shoemake, died in battle. What I found most fascinating about the Jenkins/Stauffer book was the description of the area with the entry of the Knight family in the 1820s. This helped to personallize my family’s existance in the Jones County area from the time they arrived. What I didn’t like about Ms. Bynum’s book was I came away never wanting to read Ethel Knight’s book…which I now feel inclined to read. I am a regular visitor to “Renegade South” and will continue to be. I have read stories of familty members that I hold dear. My familty runs the entire gammet, and yet they were able to marry and raise families together even after the war. Elijah served most of the war and yet married the widow of Linson after the war. Wil Sumrall served with Newton Knight and yet his neice Annie married Elijah’s son Robert. I look forward to another visit to Jones County in the near future and will now see it through more understanding eyes. Thank you. Chuck

  28. I’m not here to say ‘oh i know them or related’ but I do want to say that I live in Jones County and have for 14 years, and that my family is from here. My husband (Loper) and I were looking through his geneology and he’s related to Welborn, Sumrall, Landrum, and Jones. I was just wondering…. Is it possible that his ancestors helped establish this county? :) This is so interesting to me. The high school I went to is right across the street from the Deason Home(Amos Deason) and that’s how I learned about Newt Knight in the first place.

  29. what u need to do is your homework wallace knight the first knight ot arrive in the british colonies bought with the the legind of the knight name given to the sarmation knights who decendants recieved their inheritance from WIlliam when he created the tesalant after fending off harold the saxon invader gave to the last of these great wariors the right tol carry thier station as their last name and heritage, so the knights are extracts of of white english blood and those brave warriors herealded by the roman army as the most courageuos fighters and warriors of their time still with us today demostrated by newton knight changing of heart and life to spawn the oppression of the weak, and those unable to fend for themselves Knights out their embrace your roots your blood line is that of the imfamous knights that rode with arthur that is why you do what you do ard you are who you are

  30. What exactly did you mean by “Who wouldn’t, I wondered, with the full moral weight of the Confederate Army bearing down on you?”? It sounds as if you are saying the confederate army has moral authority. We can not forget that the confederate army was fighting to maintain slavery, and that was morally repugnant. From what I have read about Ethel, she does sound like a racist to me, so if the author in question represented her as a racist, she was telling the truth. You cannot support slavery (anyone who supports the confederacy supports slavery) and oppose racial mixing and seriously assert you are not a racist.

  31. Yes, Nate, you state the obvious. That piece was not written from my point of view, but from the POV of the Ethel supporters I interviewed.

  32. I am from Jones county, although almost certainly not related to Newt Knight in any way. I grew up hearing him spoken of badly, and I’m familiar with echo of the black horn although I never read it, but the more I read about him the more I like him.

  33. Nate, I found it fascinating discovering the various perspectives about Newt through the eyes from the citizens of Jones County. Whites, blacks, kinfolk–everybody had a different reaaction. Those that I put the most stock in personally were the black relatives of Newt. If you haven’t read their take, you can find them here:

    and here: http://jon-odell.com/blog/publications/selections-from-the-award-winning-column-series-city-beautiful/white-negro-communities-too-white-to-be-black-and-too-black-to-be-white/

    The way that white confederate loyalists have re-written the history of Mississippi, slavery and the Civil War is disgusting.

  34. I thank you for all of your interest in my FAMILY, but you really need to get a hobby and research your own family. John Jackie Knight was my 5th Great Grandfather and he had 11 children. His 1st born child named Albert and he was my 4th Great Grandfather. Albert had 9 children and my 3rd Great Grandfather was his 5th child and Newton was his 9th child. So on and if you are going to write about my family get your facts straight or stop writing. Consider this your warning. I have copied your blog and I have your name. When you do research get your facts straight and don’t misconstrue anymore misinformation about my peoples. You have you facts all wrong and it is written and I can put a suit on you for this. Like I said… Warning

  35. Also, my grandparents were 7th cousins and my genetics are thoroughbred all the way from England and Scotland. Ethal Knight was my grandmothers 2nd cousin. Ethal didn’t have to lie. All families have secrets but I will tell you I have printed every single thing that you hae written about my 4th great uncle Newton and I will be looking forward to seeing you soon.

  36. Also, Rachel was from North Carolina and given to my 5th great Grandfather and he gave her to Jefferson “Jesse” Davis Knight (John Jackie Knight’s 10th child) who then gave Rachel 4 children, then he “Jesse” willed her to his nephew Newton Knight whose wife Serena left him because he refused to get rid of Rachel and then he married Rachel and had 5 children with her and Rachel also raised Newton’s 8 children from Serena. So neither of them were bad at all!!!!!! Together they raised 17 children together. How would you work out in that situation?? I will be at my family Cemetary in Jones County, you are very welcome to come there and let me set MY family skeletons straight. Rachel is burried right beside her husband there. Ye who judge, shall be judged! Glad to help you with you interest in MY family history. By the way look up “The conspiracy of the gowry”. Ruffin / Ruthven from Scotland. My family has lots of books and hidden secrets! We are BLUE BLOODS! SHOULDN’T HAVE OPENED THIS DOOR!! YOU ARE NOW WHO DOOED!!! I am now researching yours, but I will posts only true facts about you and yours!!!

  37. Jennifer,

    Full disclosure: I, too, have written about your Knight family kin. And guess what? In my book, Free State of Jones, I mistakenly listed Newt as the eighth rather than ninth son of Albert. So, will you be suing me, as well as Jonathan?

    News flash: people don’t own their family’s history, as you seem to feel you do, and authors are allowed to express opinions, and even to make inadvertent factual errors, in their efforts to write either satire or history. It’s called freedom of speech. Can you imagine what the world of literature and history would be like if your sort of threats carried weight?

    Vikki Bynum

  38. Jennifer, as I say in the articles, I don’t know what the “real” truth is. No one agrees. So, I tell the story from many points of view, always citing the people I was interviewing. I talked with Ethel’s people, Rachel’s people, eye-witnesses, historians and genealogists. If you have additions or corrections to make to the record, please do so. Folks will be fascinated to hear your take on things. But if you are going to be rude, abusive and call folks names, you will be barred from this site. I hope you take this in the spirit it is meant. I’d love to hear from you if you agree to take a more constructive approach.

  39. There are books in my family Jon that were and still are past down within our family that are not for sale but are for reading the truth. You should find someone in my family and sit down with them and read and look through it. I have always called it the Knight Book. I used my Grandmother’s book to research and make sure I wasn’t dating a cousin. It is a truth book. That is also how my Grandparents found out that they were cousins after 20 plus years of marriage. Wasn’t trying to be rude to anyone or ungly just defend my great family name. I know you can understand that. If people want to know about them, that is great but, I want them to know the facts and truth.

  40. Jennifer, because you consistently display a lack of common courtesy, your comments will be automatically sent to the spam folder and will not be published. I hope you find some healing for your anger.

  41. I am a descendent of Newt Knight. I am not sure exactly how, though I believe he was an Uncle. I have tried for years to trace my families roots and so far have found nothing. My grandfather was O.J. Knight. He was born and raised in Jones County. He passed away when I was a little girl and we did not stay in close contact with his family since they were scattered all over the United States. I would very much like to find out what I can about our family history for my children. If you can help in any way it will be greatly appreciated.

  42. Looking for a roster of members of Knight’s Jones County members. I am related to the Collins. I have a letter of marriage proposal from William R. Webster (Wayne County leader and later CSA leader). My ancester refused his offer, and we have always wondered why. That ancestor, Lucretia Mariah Collins, married William W. Lowery. Lowery is not on any CSA rosters that we can find. Trying to discover if Lowery was part of Knight’s forces. Any suggestions? Thanks!

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  44. This is not directed at anybody in particular. To call Ethel Knight a racist is incorrect. She was raised by my great grand father in her teen years. She probably would be better described as believing in keeping races separate. It was the world she lived in at the time. She was always kind to people of any race and as for as I know voted democrat her last few years. I got to know her better her last few years and her knowledge was astonishing. It is easy to judge people through the prism of time. Many of our ancestors could be described as illiterate, crude, pagan, or barbaric. It’s easy to judge them from our point in time. I’m sure our descendents will give us the same scrutiny in a couple hundred years. By the way, I was related to Ethel and to her Knight in laws. It’s interesting to read all the viewpoints on the subject. But my favorite saying that I learned from an old Navy Seal before it became popular pertains to the subject, “It is what it is”!

  45. Jon, Thanks for all your extremely hard work and research on these very interesting articles of “the Knights of Jones County” and parts there of. I am the great, great niece of Newt Knight. My grandfather was Daniel Franklin (Tucker) Knight, son of Newt’s youngest brother, Andrew Zachery Taylor Knight. Naturally, the tales of Newt are all over the map! My grandfather died in a corn field of a massive heart attack (in Mar of 1947..just 3 months after my birth). Although I never knew him (the best fiddler in Jones Ct., a small farmer and a bee man….sharing honey with anyone. He was 6’4″ with Black curly hair and would pass for Newt’s son in looks and stature. The tales my side of the family passed down were many. What I do know is from my mother, Martha Elizabeth Knight Martin (her mother, married to Dan, Mittie Exter Simmons Knight) and my Grandmother Mittie. We are always asked, “was Newt a bad guy or a good guy?”

    From all the information I can gather and from the many opinions from our closer relatives, it’s said that Newt had a commanding personality that made him respected for his leadership and ability to organize the back-piney woods folks, which gave way to his harshness at times, especially during the Civil War and what occurred in Jones County. Also, on the flip side of that coin, it is said that he had a love and compassion for the common man, like himself, and went far beyond to protect and care for his two wives and all his children, black and white. Also, it is said that Rachel was the love he tendered as she was strong and a leader in her own right amongst her people. I find it interesting that when you are one of five sitting around discussing Newt, there are five different views on who and what he was, his role as a deserter or the care-taker. Perhaps he deserted, met up with others headed home, but, the tales from home of his women being abused, lands destroyed, homes burned may have sent many running back to the piney woods for revenge. And, according to Mississippi History Books and word of mouth…this is what they got. The Union group sent to find the so-called deserters, walked too far into the woods and marsh looking for trouble. The black horns called out and “all hell broke loose.” My words and wonderings of this intriguing story may go one for pages, but, I say, “Thanks to you and Vicky Bynum.” I have thoroughly enjoy your articles. I am truly looking forward to the movie. Matt McConauhey will be a GREAT NEWT!

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