Update: Click here for Victoria Bynum’s third and final installment of her review of The State of Jones
A few days ago I posted a link to Victoria Bynum’s two-part review of the new book, The State of Jones, by John Stauffer and Sally Jenkins. I did so because of her published work on the subject and a belief that there is no one more qualified to evaluate a new study that professes to add to or alter our interpretation of the relevant issues involved. I stand by that decision. That said, historical debate is never static, but is a continual process or dialectic and it is in that spirit that I share this response by Stauffer and Jenkins.
In response to your recent post about The State of Jones:
Debate is one thing; we welcome that-indeed we would be happy to debate Victoria Bynum (or a disinterested scholar) on your blog or any other venue. It’s quite another thing for Bynum to try to discredit our book, The State of Jones, as part of her effort to trumpet her own book and remain the only source on the subject. We hope to have an equal forum to defend our work and respond to the criticism of it. We wrote the book The State of Jones because the historical record about the Unionist guerilla Newton Knight and Jones County, Mississippi was incomplete, and inaccurate. We spent four years sifting through the evidence and writing with painstaking care for historical context and accuracy, and it was a labor of love and devotion. Our book was commissioned by the legendary publisher Phyllis Grann of Doubleday Books, and it is firmly documented in every respect. You state, citing Victoria Bynum, “there is no evidence” that Jones County seceded from the Confederacy. We will quote directly from the wealth of primary source evidence below.
First, a factual correction: the cover of Bynum’s book on Jones County contains an error: she misidentifies an image purportedly of the ex-slave Rachel Knight. Examination reveals it is not of the right era, and is off by two generations. Members of the Knight family believe the picture to be of Rachel’s granddaughter. We published an image they believe to be of the “real” Rachel. Though Bynum now concedes the misidentification, she has yet to credit us for publishing the more credible image. Previous work about Knight falls short of full understanding, because critical sources were either missed, or ignored. The last historical examination of Knight, Bynum’s, was written in 2001. It is now 2009 and time for a new appraisal. New documents have turned up that illuminate who Knight really was — thanks in part to superb research by Jones County historian Jim Kelly, currently at work on his doctoral dissertation.
The evidence from primary sources is overwhelming: Knight was an antislavery, pro-Union dirt farmer who opposed the Confederacy morally, politically, and militarily. The Confederate officer who arrested Knight for desertion testified under oath that he was a Union man “from conviction.” We have the transcript. Not one but two of Knight’s children wrote memoirs in which they attested to his beliefs. Knight was a Primitive Baptist, a distinctly pre-War branch that flourished in Mississippi from the 1820s on, as Randy Sparks and other scholars have documented, and a central tenet of which was the equality of souls.
Our identification of Newton as a Primitive Baptist stems from multiple sources, including the fact that it was the dominant religion in the area and that both his father and grandfather were Primitive Baptists. Bynum tries to discount our interpretation by referring to the biography of his son Tom Knight, who said that Newton joined the Primitive Baptist Church around 1885. Tom Knight got the religion right but the date wrong, for conversion to Primitive Baptism was rare during the post-war period. The most accurate way to understand Newton Knight’s religious worldview is through the prism of Primitive Baptism.
Knight deserted the Rebel Army after Corinth, was forcibly re-impressed and deserted again either just before or after Vicksburg – the evidence suggests after, as he was under arrest prior to it. He launched an insurrection against the Confederacy so effective that by the end of the war Rebels had completely lost control of Jones and surrounding counties. If the people of Jones did not officially “secede” from the Confederacy, they most certainly declared their independence from it. The reports in the Official Records and other documents are perfectly clear on this point, and to suggest the evidence doesn’t exist is absurd. Jones Countians raised the Federal flag over the county courthouse in mid-War, and from March 1864 on they flatly refused to pay Rebel taxes, and shot any officer who tried to collect them. Beg pardon, but if flying the stars and stripes and resisting taxation with a gun barrel isn’t evidence of withdrawal from the Confederacy, what is? It does not require any special expertise to read the documents. To quote from just some of them:
On March 21, 1863, Gen. Leonidas Polk reported to President Jefferson Davis on the widespread revolt in Jones and neighboring areas encountered by Rebel Colonel Henry Maury: “He found them, as reported, in open rebellion, defiant at the outset, proclaiming themselves ‘Southern Yankees.'”
On March 29, 1864, a CSA Captain named W. Wirt Thomson wrote to James A. Seddon, the CSA Secretary of War, with an eyewitness account of the circumstances in The Piney Woods and Jones in particular:
“The whole southern and southeastern section of Mississippi is in a most deplorable condition, and unless succor is sent speedily the country is utterly ruined, and every loyal citizen will be driven from it or meet a tragic and untimely fate at the hands of those who are aiding and abetting our enemies [our emphasis]. It is a matter of great personal danger and risk for an officer or soldier of the Confederate army to make his appearance in the country Government depots filled with supplies have been either robbed or burned. Gin-houses, dwelling-houses, and barns, and the court-house of Greene County, have been destroyed by fire. Bridges have been burned and ferry-boats sunk on almost every stream and at almost every ferry to obstruct the passage of troops; their pickets and vendettas lie concealed in swamps and thickets on the roadside. They have colonels, majors, captains, and lieutenants; boast themselves to be not less than a thousand strong in organized bodies, besides what others are outsiders and disloyal citizens (of whom I regret to say there are many). They have frequent and uninterrupted communication with the enemy and I was told that they boast of fighting for the Union “Gentlemen of undoubted veracity informed me that the Federal flag had been raised by them over the court-house in Jones County, and in the same county they are said to have fortified rendezvous, and that Yankees are frequently among them. The country is entirely at their mercy” [our emphasis].
On March 21, 1864, Jones County Clerk E.M. Devall wrote to Mississippi Governor Charles Clark declaring the loss of Confederate authority in the county and stating that the resistors had organized a public meeting in which they “resolved not to pay any tax neither state, county, nor confederate.”
On March 31, 1864, James Hamilton, CSA Major and Controlling Quartermaster for Mississippi, reported that his agents in Jones and adjoining Covington County had been driven from the region and he could no longer collect taxes or conduct any other official business there on behalf of the Rebel state. “You will perceive that under these circumstances we cannot discharge our duty,” he wrote.
In November of 1864, a Union major named Eli Lilly of the Ninth Indiana cavalry was captured and imprisoned at Enterprise, Mississippi. During his imprisonment he heard rumors that Jones County had declared its independence. “After investigation we found that there existed in Jones County, about thirty miles Southwest of us, an organization called “The Republic of Jones” which held supreme control over Jones County and the surrounding country,” Lilly recalled years later.
Finally, the Confederate commander in Mobile, Dabney Maury, also recalled the specifics of the Jones insurrection in his memoir. “It was reported to me that the people of that county had declared their independence of the Southern Confederacy” [our emphasis]. Newton Knight was interviewed by journalist Meigs Frost in 1921 and asked if Jones had actually seceded. His reply was perfectly truthful, and showed the depth of his Constitutional beliefs. Jones didn’t have to formally secede from the Rebel state, he averred, because it had never been disloyal to the federal government in the first place. “Fact is, Jones County never seceded from the Union into the Confederacy,” he insisted [our emphasis]. Jones County had voted against secession, Knight pointed out.
This is just a bare sampling of what can be found in the Official Records and various Mississippi archives. To ignore these documents – out of sheer defensiveness — is to willfully distort the record. It is simply not good scholarship, or history.
If there is a real problem with scholarship on Newton Knight and Jones County, it lies in the fact that previous scholars failed to recognize the extent of Knight’s courageous dissent during the war and especially after it during Radical Reconstruction. Knight’s war against the Confederacy did not cease with the surrender. In the immediate aftermath in 1865 he rescued a black child held by recalcitrant slaveowners at the behest of occupying Union officers. Local blacks specifically told the occupying federal troops that Newton Knight was the man who would help them, indicating the extent to which they viewed him as their protector.
The extent of Knight’s relationship with Adelbert Ames, the Union Medal of Honor winner and Governor of Mississippi during Reconstruction, has been particularly overlooked. Knight was one of the few white Mississippians who stood loyal to Ames as a postwar campaign of terror eventually returned control of the state to ex-Confederates, and drove Ames out of office. During the Redemption bloodbath campaigns, when blacks were slaughtered merely for trying to vote, Ames deputized Knight as a captain of a black militia, a stunning commission for him to accept, and for which he risked his life, given that Ames could hardly find a loyal white man in the state to lead a militia. Furthermore, a fragment of a letter from the black Lt. Governor A.K. Davis to Knight survives, asking him to raise a unit. Both of these documents apparently escaped notice of previous writers.
Ames also championed Knight’s attempt to win a Union pension. Correspondence and a roster of Knight’s men can be found in Ames’s personal papers at Smith College – yet another cache of evidence missed.
Nor have scholars previously known that Newton Knight deeded 160 acres of land to the former slave named Rachel Knight, with whom he lived and fathered children. He also deeded land to Rachel’s son Jeffrey. We have copies and can provide them for your viewing.
Bynum accuses us of “exaggerating claims” of Newton’s principled stance against slavery and white supremacy. We acknowledge that the vast majority of Southern Unionists did not embrace racial equality. But we also provide extensive evidence showing that Newton stood apart from almost every other white Southerner of his day in his actions, which reflected his principles. For instance, he became more loyal to the United States after Lincoln declared, on January 1, 1863, that all slaves of rebel masters were “forever free,” thus making the war an explicitly abolition war. He became even more loyal to the federal government after it ratified the Reconstruction amendments of the Constitution, which outlawed slavery, guaranteed citizenship and equality under the law for all persons, and granted suffrage to black men. In his actions, he resembled a Radical Republican far more than a Southern Democrat. How many white Southerners do you know who, in 1868, named a son after Ulysses S. Grant? Newton’s closest friend and comrade, Jasper Collins, did-another fact that has not been properly emphasized previously.
Knight’s collaboration with the Republican abolitionist Governor Ames especially reflects his belief in black freedom and equality under the law. So does his service as captain of a black militia: virtually every known Union white man who commanded a black militia or regiment was fervently antislavery.
We offer extensive evidence showing that Newton treated the ex-slave Rachel as an equal and common-law wife, raising their children as his own without embarrassment, and effectively living in a black community. Newton’s willingness to honor, respect, and love Rachel prompted his white wife Serena to leave him, according to the testimony of ex-slave Martha Wheeler. And deeding Rachel 160 acres at the end of Reconstruction gave substance to the idea of “freedom”: it gave blacks a means to become self-sufficient and independent of white oppression, and was a policy that radical Republicans and blacks had long been advocating.
There is also evidence from more than one source, including the ex-slave Martha Wheeler, that Newton helped build an integrated schoolhouse, a symbol of racial equality, which then was burned down. Bynum herself acknowledges that Newton became known as a “white negro.” Anyone who takes the time to walk to Newton’s gravestone will realize that he was buried with his black family, effectively in a black cemetery, at a time when cemeteries were segregated. And they would read Newton’s epitaph: “He lived for others.”
Taken together, this evidence is powerful testimony of Newton’s belief in universal freedom and equality under the law for all persons. After all, how many white abolitionists chose to live in a black community? We know of three: Albert Morgan, an Oberlin graduate and Union officer who moved to Yazoo, Mississippi after the war and lived with blacks; John Brown, who lived in a black community at Timbucto in the Adirondacks; and to a much lesser degree Gerrit Smith, who helped transform his village of Peterboro, New York, into a model interracial community. None of the canonical white abolitionists-Garrison, Phillips, Sumner-lived among blacks. The only other abolitionist who fell in love with a former slave and treated her as a social equal was Albert Morgan. While abolitionists in theory believed in universal freedom and equality under the law, few of them realized these ideals. Newton Knight was one. He did not espouse abolitionist sentiments, because he lived in the South-a region that from the 1830s to the 1960s revoked the constitutional rights of freedom of speech, debate, petition, assembly, and due process as they related to race relations. He was a man of action, which reflected his ideals-a man of deeds rather than words.
Bynum accuses us of using “parallel stories” to “take fanciful journeys into what ‘might’ have happened, or what Newton ‘likely’ would have thought or done.” Parallel stories, she suggests, result in “pure conjecture” rather than “documented history.” It’s true that we employ parallel stories — because to ignore parallel stories, as Bynum does, is to distort or omit context. In constructing parallel stories to enrich our context, we follow such preeminent scholars, whose work and methods have influenced us, as: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, John Demos, Jill Lepore, Annette Gordon-Reed, Stephen Greenblatt, and other eminent biographers of people who left slim records of their lives.
We do not “claim” that Newton Knight served at Vicksburg; we offer an assessment based on the available sources and acknowledge that any interpretation is necessarily speculative, given the paucity of evidence. And we also make clear that whether or not Newton was at Vicksburg is ultimately irrelevant to our larger argument about his Unionism. And yet you and Bynum assert that our interpretation is a major problem, without explaining why.
Conceptually, there is a basic divide between Bynum and us: We view scholarship as a shared and diverse community of multiple perspectives and interpretations, which together adds to our understanding of the past. Bynum sees scholarship as a form of turf warfare, with only one valid interpretation of the past, which effectively renders history useless. Hopefully, this summary will disabuse you and your readers of the notion that our work lacks firm documentary basis. Or that there can only be one authority on the subject. We hope we have corrected at least some of the record.
John Stauffer, Chair of the History of American Civilization, Harvard University, and Sally Jenkins, The Washington Post
Addendum: A second “movie edition” of The Free State of Jones was released this year and contains the same quotes from the Meigs Frost interview as the first edition, cited above.
I read Richard Grant’s article in the March, 2016 Smithsonian. I am a granddaughter of New Orleans journalist Meigs O. Frost, the only person given an interview by Newton Knight. I would like to read the interview, and I am surprised that none of the letters references the interview (for The Times Picayune). I learned from Richard Grant that Stuffer and Jenkins reference the interview in their book.
I am the author of the 2001 book, The Free State of Jones. I referenced your grandfather’s interview with Newt Knight extensively in that book (see pp. 98, 100, 103, 112, 123, 127, 153, 171. I have an old xerox copy of the complete interview and would be happy to share it with you.
Thank you, Catherine Clark. I only just today saw your post.
Dr. Victoria Bynum is a brilliant scholar and consummate professional. Her integrity is beyond reproach and her brilliance illuminated me every time she spoke. I know having meet her many times that she is a honest, thoughtful, considerate person and exemplary scholar who welcomes debate, discourse and any outside revelations from research.
I was born and raised in Jones County and I have read almost every book on this subject including Dr. Bynum’s and Stauffer/Jenkins book. It is evident that Bynum’s book was written from a historical perspective and Stauffer/Jenkins book, from a historical/entertainment perspective. I loved both books. The above reviews are almost as entertaining as the books. Both books have plenty to offer the reader and I encourage anyone interested in this subject to read both. This is a fasinating story, so don’t get caught up in which book is historically correct. Since none of us were alive during this era, our historical facts are based on the opinions and interpretations of those people that were alive during this era. Even documents that we have from the era, are slanted based on the belief of the author of the document. Two direct decendents of Newt Knight, Tom and Ethel, both wrote books about Newt, based on personal accounts and family stories handed down, and they came to completely different conclusions. History is only as accurate as the personal view of the historian and that of their sources.
Both authors have something to offer the reader. The arguement over what is historical fact seems petty. If they do make a movie based on the history of Newt Knight, I will be the first to buy a ticket; regardless of whether a loblolly pine grows to be 60 feet tall or 150 feet tall. Let’s compomise and say it grows to 105 feet tall and all go see the movie together.
I was born and raised in south Mississippi and am intimately familiar with this story besides all that I’ve read from original sources as well as authors such as you and Mrs. Bynum. I haven’t yet read what Mrs. Bynum said about your book and I don’t have a dog in this fight. But I have read your book and in all honesty, I have never read a “history” book that contains so many obvious errors as this one. It is so fraught with errors that I found it not only difficult to read, but even moreso difficult to seriously consider this book as a thoroughly researched scholarly work to depend on for truth in this subject. Following are just a handful of the errors I couldn’t help but NOTICE as I struggled to read this book. Many of them are minor, but nonetheless consequential when the authors claim to be preeminently knowledgeable on their subject matter. If you can’t get the simple things straight, how can you expect to interpret the more complex parts correctly.
p. 48 “A vast, dark, meandering cypress marsh ran through the region, known as the Dismal Swamp.”
The authors must be confused with the Dismal Swamp located in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. I’ve never heard of or seen Dismal Swamp in south Mississippi. I can’t even find reference to it on the internet.
p. 49 “…colossal pines that shot sixty feet in the air,…” These would be middling sized pine trees. Longleaf pine, which are the predominant native species in the area, easily grow as tall as 100 feet, and before the virgin timber was cut out in the late 1800’s, they reportedly grew as tall as 150 feet tall.
p. 54 “He attempted to impose his morality on a flock full of unruly and unrepentant backwoodsmen, censuring various members for offenses such as drinking, dancing, fiddling, and fornicating.” It appears the authors completely misunderstand what they have read about Baptists from this time and era. Devout Baptists, at least in 19th century south Mississippi, truly believed these were evils based on their own experiences and on the Biblical text. It was common practice to exclude individuals with a democratic vote by the remainder of the congregation if that person had “sinned” and was unrepentant.
pp. 56, 62, 131, etc. The authors erroneously refer to New Augusta as a town during the time of their story. New Augusta did not exist until many years later when the railroad from Hattiesburg to Mobile was laid through the county on the south side of Leaf River. “Old” Augusta, simply known as Augusta during the Civil War, was north of Leaf River and remained the county seat of Perry until 1906. I’ve got my doubts that McLemore made his headquarters there for the purpose of rounding up deserters in Jones and Covington Counties. It was an isolated hamlet in a low population density county many miles south of both of these counties.
p. 58 “His kin founded Meridian, the second-largest city in the state,…” Meridian was founded only in 1860. Here is a quote from the March 30th 1862 journal entry of William Pitt Chambers, a private in what became company B (the Covington Rebels) of the 46th Regiment Mississippi Infantry. “I expected to find a “town” at Meridian, but was sadly disappointed. In fact, there is not a fine building in the place, no stores and no streets.”
p. 76 “He dubbed it ‘the Rosinheels’, a term for the rearing of an eager horse. Where did this outlandish definition for Rosin Heels come from? I evidently made the assumption, being raised in south Mississippi, that its definition was self-apparent. Obviously not. Rosin Heels actually refers to pine rosin that commonly sticks to your heels when you walk barefooted in south Mississippi. It has the same connotation as North Carolina “Tar Heels”. It would have been a coloquial reference to regional pride.
p. 80 “…an uncontrolled retreat…” In military terms, even common terms, this is usually coined “a rout”. I just thought this was strange.
p. 100 “Union forces had seized every other Confederate asset along the Mississippi River: Forts Donelson and Henry,…” I’m sorry, even the geographically illiterate civil war historian should know that neither of these forts is on the Mississippi River….not even close.
p. 100 “Vicksburg, 225 miles above New Orleans, was the last citadel and stronghold” (on the Mississippi River) Wrong again, Port Hudson was very much in Confederate control and did not surrender until after Vicksburg.
p. 134 “Their senses were concussed, their ears ringing, and their eyes filled with the bitter cordite smoke.” (Regarding McLemore’s fellow soldiers immediately after the assassin shot and killed him.) Once again, cordite was not invented until 1889 in the UK. One of its advantages over gunpowder was that it was “smokeless”.
Okay, I think I’ve made my point. No offense Doc, but this wasn’t a very well researched book. Some of your interpretations are really way off base too. But that’s a whole ‘nother issue.
Kevin, unless this statement:
We do not “claim” that Newton Knight served at Vicksburg; we offer an assessment based on the available sources and acknowledge that any interpretation is necessarily speculative, given the paucity of evidence. And we also make clear that whether or not Newton was at Vicksburg is ultimately irrelevant to our larger argument about his Unionism. And yet you and Bynum assert that our interpretation is a major problem, without explaining why.
…flagrantly mis-states what is in the book, it puts to rest Bynum’s characterization. It would be rare for an author to directly misquote their own published work in order to defend it. Reading the book will I hope provide a much more detailed picture.
Thanks so much for the comment. You said: “It does appear that Bynum exaggerated how firmly Stauffer rested claims of fact on undisputedly speculative evidence.” What are we to make of this point if you admittedly haven’t read the book?
First, a brief disclosure: although it took me a few minutes to recognize John Stauffer’s name, I did photo research for his earlier work, Meteor of War: The John Brown Story from Brandywine Press, co-authored by Zoe Trodd. I also have ancestors named Jenkins, but know of no direct connection to Stauffer’s present co-author. I find it difficult to take sides in this debate. Reading Bynum’s critique first, I was shocked at the apparent egoism of Stauffer and Jenkins. Reading Stauffer’s reply, I cannot fathom the narrow-minded name-calling of Bynum. Setting aside the personality disputes, both offer some valid points. It does appear that Bynum exaggerated how firmly Stauffer rested claims of fact on undisputedly speculative evidence.
If everyone recognizes that such research is filling in blanks in a picture we can never be entirely certain of, there seems little to fight over. Bynum is correct that women of African descent didn’t have a lot of choice when approached by a “white” man, but there are many accounts, autobiographical and scholarly, of inter-racial couples which were based on mutual affection. The Delaney sisters’ family history, and the more recent book My Confederate Kinfolk come to mind. If Stauffer and Jenkins suggested that Knight was close to unique, they’ve missed a good deal of the background. One reason southern culture is rife with phrases like “a spoonful of Negro blood” or “a touch of the tar brush” is because inter-racial marriages, or voluntary liaisons, were rife, and most southern families were in fact of partial African descent, although most tried to set it aside. (I generally assume that my mother’s mother’s family is among these families.) I find it difficult to give much credence to debate as to whether the voters of Jones County held a formal meeting to adopt a Constitution of the State of Jones. They were, after all, in the middle of a war. That the county, by and large, successfully resisted Confederate authority and flew the flag of the United States connotes an independent de facto political existence, tied to an evident political loyalty. I look forward to reading ALL the books referenced in this debate, and hopefully overlooking whatever sniping and rivalry may continue between the authors. IF Bynum is motivated by a desire to claim or retain turf, to say so adds nothing to the debate. She would no doubt make that self-evident in the fullness of time.
Ive read both books; I throughly enjoyed both books. In my unprofessional opinion, I found Ms. Bynums book to be more scholarly in tone; Ms. Jenkins and Dr. Stauffer presented more of a narrative. I did feel like Ms. Jenkins and Dr. Stauffer fell in love with Newt Knight and made him the center of their book for various reasons. He is almost mythological, a figure of folklore. I will say this; for a man to defy the Confederancy the way he did, then to engage in the family life he had during and after Reconstruction in Mississippi and survive, he must have been one strong willed and violent man.
I found Victoria Bynum’s review of The State of Jones extremely informative. I did not perceive it as any sort of attack.
In fact, the only discrediting that I noted was in the Jenkins/Stauffer response. They dismissed Ms. Bynum as a disinterested scholar. They protest too much and that protest reflects badly on them. Why challenge the motives of another scholar. They are the ones defending their turf. Get a grip, guys! She is trying to document the record, not attack you.
A little note on Jasper Collins. He did name his son Ulysses Sherman Collins. That actually means he names him after two Union generals, Grant and Sherman. Grant’s middel name is not Sherman. Obviously, a poke in the eye of many Southerners who hated Sherman.
Dropping names does not improve the case for Jenkins/Stauffer. I have never heard of your legendary publisher. I’ll bet few peopel outside the publishing field have either. That has no bearing on what I think of the book, which I am interested in reading.
Just cover the documentation and love you put into the effort. Why level personal attacks.
There is no such thing as objectivity. The story is never just the facts, but must be built on fact. Your view of how the world works has points you to the facts that you select. As a reader, the best you can do is to understand the views of the author and how the facts are selected. You form your judgments then.
Jenkins/Stauffer’s attack on Ms. Bynum by impugning her motives and character is a poor way to proceed.
I’ve been going through the 1870 and 1880 census records to find out exactly how many white Southerners actually did name their children after Grant (and Lincoln and Sherman).
The answer? More than you might expect.
I am still hung up on the idea that being a Primitive baptist would predispose someone into being an abolitionist. I simply don’t believe its true. That is why Newt Knight’s multiracial family is so unique. As Jenkins and Stauffer admit, his post war family life alienated him from most of his family and friends. They presumably shared his religious upbringing, but obviously didn’t approve of his “arrangements.” Why would they? Even in the best light, he was an adulturer and a bigamist. His wife Serena, showed great patience with the man to stay with him as long as she did. I know of no Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, whatever, that would approve of an unabashed adulterer. For the sake of arguement, I would like to suggest that rather than Newt being raised a Primitive Baptist, he may have been, for lack of a better term, raised as a hardshell baptist or “old timey Baptist”, as my wife would phrase it. This sect washes feet and drinks real wine during the Lord’s Supper or Communion; they do not share the Primitive ban on insturmental music or its hyper Calvinism. It was this sect, I believe, that was alienated by the Southern Baptist orthodoxy and broke away from it. The Piney Woods are full of their adherents.
Thank YOU, Kevin, for providing me with an unprecedented opportunity to defend my work and my name. You have moderated this discussion with great skill and sensitivity.
A Note to My Readers:
My goal in posting the response by Stauffer and Jenkins was to generate a healthy debate about this subject. I did not anticipate a response that would challenge Professor Bynum’s integrity and for that I must apologize. Professor Bynum has made every effort to respond to Stauffer’s and Jenkins’s critique and she has done so in a professional manner throughout. I think I speak for all of us when I say that I look forward to hearing much more from Jenkins and Stauffer as anything less will reflect poorly on their sense of scholarship and fair play.
You’ve been very patient in your handling of the response by Jenkins and Stauffer and I appreciate that. I have to say that I am disappointed that they have not been more active in engaging you and my readers in defending their claims about “The State of Jones.”
I appreciate all the thoughtful posts. Let me first point out that the idea that Jones County actually seceded from the Confederacy during the Civil War—that is, drew up documents that created a mini-republic—was once asserted by journalists as though it were fact. Therefore, Sherree, it would not make sense for historians to use it as metaphor unless they wanted to revive that argument. For those who are interested in learning more, I discuss the historiography of this “secession-within-secession” on pages 155-168 of my book, The Free State of Jones.
For those who have not read Free State of Jones, I would like to clarify several misleading claims made by Ms. Jenkins and Professor Stauffer in their opening remarks to this forum. The authors lay out a dazzling array of documents, stating that “This is just a bare sampling of what can be found in the Official Records and various Mississippi archives. To ignore these documents – out of sheer defensiveness — is to willfully distort the record. It is simply not good scholarship, or history.”
To accuse me of ignoring the Official Records of the Civil War when in fact I discuss them at length in chapters five and six—they form the backbone of much of my analysis—misrepresents my work to the public or indicates a shocking lack of familiarity with the contents of my book.
The authors also make much of their book’s attention to the important role that Newt Knight played in the administration of Adelbert Ames. In part three of my review of State of Jones, I credit them with employing additional sources beyond those used by me to enrich that discussion. Still, their interpretation of Newt’s role in Reconstruction politics, and his relationship with Governor Ames, does not differ substantially from mine (see chapter seven, “Reconstruction and Redemption,” in my Free State of Jones).
Jenkins and Stauffer also make the following statements:
1. “Nor have scholars previously known that Newton Knight deeded 160 acres of land to the former slave named Rachel Knight, with whom he lived and fathered children. He also deeded land to Rachel’s son Jeffrey. We have copies and can provide them for your viewing.”
Using the 1870 and 1880 Agricultural Censuses, I reported these transfers of land from Newt to Rachel and their children on p. 145.
2. “How many white Southerners do you know who, in 1868, named a son after Ulysses S. Grant? Newton’s closest friend and comrade, Jasper Collins, did-another fact that has not been properly emphasized previously.”
On p. 140 of Free State of Jones, I wrote, “Jasper Collins celebrated the changing of the political climate by naming a son born in 1867 Ulysses Sherman Grant.” Since throughout my book, I emphasize the firm Unionism of Jasper Collins, I’m at a loss as to how I should have more “properly emphasized” the naming of a child after a Union general—should I have sent out belated birth announcements to fellow historians?
3. “We offer extensive evidence showing that Newton treated the ex-slave Rachel as an equal and common-law wife, raising their children as his own without embarrassment, and effectively living in a black community.”
I have devoted extensive scholarship to the relationship between Newt and Rachel Knight, publishing essays on them in the Journal of Southern History (May 1998) and in two anthologies before completing The Free State of Jones. In my book, I provide lengthy analysis of the importance of their relationship for historians of race relations and racial identity in the postbellum and twentieth-century South. In regard to the above statement by the authors, I would further point out that while we know that Newt Knight lived openly with Rachel and their children, we don’t know that he treated her as an equal, or even well. We do know that Newt Knight is believed by many of his descendants to also have fathered upwards to four children by Rachel’s daughter, George Ann. Between 1873 and 1875, some six children were born to Rachel, George Ann, and Newt’s wife, Serena. The fact is that no historian knows for certain the inner details or quality of Newt’s sexual relationships.
4. “There is also evidence from more than one source, including the ex-slave Martha Wheeler, that Newton helped build an integrated schoolhouse, a symbol of racial equality, which then was burned down.”
I tell this story on p.145 of my book.
5. “After all, how many white abolitionists chose to live in a black community? We know of three: Albert Morgan, an Oberlin graduate and Union officer who moved to Yazoo, Mississippi after the war and lived with blacks; John Brown, who lived in a black community at Timbucto in the Adirondacks; and to a much lesser degree Gerrit Smith, who helped transform his village of Peterboro, New York, into a model interracial community.”
That Newt lived among his descendants in a multiracial community is well known and is indeed remarkable, as I emphasize in my entire body of scholarship. However, it was a different sort of choice from those made by Albert Morgan and John Brown, who lived in black communities not comprised of their own family members.
Thank you all for your interest. Let me end by saying that my motive for laying all this out is my reverence for the craft of history, which has been my profession for some twenty-five years.
No, the subtitle as metaphor won’t work, as the discussion here shows. That was just my initial response. Art, storytelling, and the of writing history are not (always) the same thing, as Dr. Bynum has stated in a different way.
It is nice to speak with you as well, and thank you for your kind words. Also, you, I and your readers have no doubt that Michaela will get her dissertation written, and signed, sealed and delivered, too. Go, Michaela!
“If a bunch of Illinois farmers had gone to fight for the Confederacy…” — Actually, about three dozen men from Williamson County, Illinois, crossed the Ohio in the spring of 1861 and enlisted in a Tennessee regiment. One of them was the brother-in-law of future Union general John A. Logan.
I cannot enter this discussion on your blog as an unbiased reader because of my deep respect and sincere admiration for Dr. Bynum. Therefore, out of respect for Dr. Bynum, whose work and conduct speak for themselves and stand on their own merits, I state my bias.
Toby highlighted what is constructive about this debate; the story of Newt Knight is being presented to a broader audience. Knight’s story would have remained part of local history and folklore only, had Dr. Bynum not researched the history in depth, and then written the history and sought and obtained a publisher. Since the authors of State of Jones cite Dr. Bynum’s work, yet disagree with her interpretation, it seems to me that Dr. Bynum should have been contacted prior to publication of the book, not to quell debate, but as a matter of simple courtesy.
On the issue of the subtitle of State of Jones:
To me, this issue seems to be one of semantics, but I am not an historian, and that is the salient point. I initially read the subtitle of State of Jones as a metaphor used to describe the independent spirit of the state of Jones. I did not read the subtitle to mean that the state of Jones actually seceded from the Confederacy. That is one of the differences between history and art, however. Metaphors are difficult to document.
Congratulations to Michaela on her recent accomplishments!
Nice to hear from you. I read your comment over at Renegade South and thought it was very fair and quite thoughtful. I honestly don’t know what to think about the title of the book, though it’s difficult to explain it away as a metaphor. It is my hope that the authors will eventually address some of the questions posed to them in the comments section.
Thanks for the kind words re: Michaela’s successful defense. Now all she has to do is write the damn dissertation. 🙂
Most of this is new to me, and Newton Knight sounds like a helluva guy. Obama should be sending a wreath to his grave every year, if not honouring it with a personal visit.
I have always felt that historians have made a meal of highlighting Northern divisions (draft resistance, draft riots, Copperheadism etc.) while ignoring divisions in the Confederacy, like bread riots, Jones County & the existence of units like the 1st Alabama Cavalry. If a bunch of Illinois farmers had gone to fight for the Confederacy, how many films and books would have been published about them?
I cannot help but wonder what the “libertarian” sympathizers with the Confederacy would make of Jones County.
On this current debate, Victoria Bynum gets my sympathy vote, but also my vote on the facts presented so far. Her presentation has a better “feel” to it as a balanced examination of the extant evidence.
I’m sure there are people out there who might dismiss a study out of hand because it originated at a filmmaker’s suggestion, but I don’t think that’s a legitimate basis on which to judge a work of history. I hasten to add that I’m not accusing Kevin of doing this; I’m just responding to the question.
The reason for a historian’s interest in undertaking a book project shouldn’t reflect negatively on the finished product. There are all sorts of reasons a scholar might undertake a project–someone’s suggestion, a childhood visit to a site, a desire for tenure, intellectual curiosity, a mortgage, or whatever. But it’s still the finished product that remains to be evaluated on its own merits. Otherwise, we commit the same fallacy seen in the recently-discussed John Bell Hood controversy, impugning a scholar’s motives rather than addressing the work.
I stress again that I’m not accusing Kevin, Dr. Bynum, or anybody else here of having this attitude. They’ve raised legitimate questions about evidence and argument, and that’s what historians do. I’m just throwing in my two cents regarding some of the possible questions about the book’s origins that, as Kevin mentioned, some people may ask.
I would like to return to the following statements by Jenkins and Stauffer:
“Knight was a Primitive Baptist, a distinctly pre-War branch that flourished in Mississippi from the 1820s on, as Randy Sparks and other scholars have documented, and a central tenet of which was the equality of souls. Our identification of Newton as a Primitive Baptist stems from multiple sources, including the fact that it was the dominant religion in the area and that both his father and grandfather were Primitive Baptists.”
First, would the authors please provide evidence that Newt’s father and grandfather were Primitive Baptists? Second, following up on Greg Rowe’s earlier post, I would like to know what evidence they have that there was an ANTI-SLAVERY Primitive Baptist church in Jones County, Mississippi. Beyond 1820-1830, such a church in the South would have been extremely rare according to Randy J. Sparks, Anne Loveland, and Christine Heyrman, three historians of religion whose work greatly influenced my own lengthy discussion of religious forces in Jones County before the war.
Finally, the authors’ assertion that Primitive Baptist churches were dominant in Jones County is disputed by Suzanne Spell’s 1961 master’s thesis, “History of Jones County” (Mississippi College). Spell identified 18 churches in the county in 1860: 6 Baptist, 6 Methodist, 4 Congregational Methodist, 1 Presbyterian, and 1 Primitive Baptist.
Since the authors now admit that they actually DON’T argue in their book that Jones County seceded from the Confederacy, I repeat the question I asked in part two of my review of STATE OF JONES. Why is the subtitle of their book “The Small Southern County that Seceded From the Confederacy”? I don’t believe I’ve ever before seen a history book where the title so contradicts the book’s contents. Was this a publisher’s marketing decision?
Victoria E. Bynum
No discrepancy. As we said, our book was contracted by Doubleday, via Phyllis Grann. The filmmaker Gary Ross indeed plans to do a film some day about Newton Knight and Jones County, and four years ago he contacted John Stauffer and asked him to consult on his project. It was thus through Gary Ross that John first became aware of the Jones material and began working on the subject, for which we thank him. If you’ll turn to the dedication, you’ll see that we even dedicate the book to both Gary, who has become a friend, and Phyllis together. Gary Ross’s film is not in production at this time, but he is no mean historian, and very faithful to the subject, as his film Seabiscuit attests, and we look forward to seeing his own take on Jones some day.
A note: it has been put about that our book was rushed into print to accomodate a film project, but that’s not true. We actually received an extension so that we could dig deeper.
Thanks for the response. I want to emphasize that I am not suggesting in any way that your book was rushed to production. I should also clarify that I am not suggesting that the book was written for the purposes of a movie. Thanks again for taking the time to clarify.
Note: I just noticed that it was a poor choice of words to say “promise.” It suggests that I am implying a promise to you, which is not what I was going for. What I meant to ask is that given that Stauffer read the script early on I was wondering how the book’s interpretation deviates. For example, what does the script say about Primitive Baptists, the question of the secession of Jones County, and the relationship between Newt and Rachel Knight? Thanks.
Sally and John,
You state the following in your review of Bynum’s critique:
“Our book was commissioned by the legendary publisher Phyllis Grann of Doubleday Books, and it is firmly documented in every respect.”
However, in the first paragraph in the acknowledgments section of the book you state:
“The origin of this project was unusual-ordinarily the film comes after the book. In this case, the opposite was true: there would not be a book without film director and screenwriter Gary Ross, who brought the powerful narrative of Newton and Rachel Knight to us as a gift, and shared his vision of them as forgotten American patriots. It was Gary who introduced us to each other and proposed that we work together on a book and it was Gary who presented the idea to Phyllis Grann at Doubleday.”
Now that I’ve read most of the book as well as Professor Bynum’s critique it is clear to me that there are legitimate questions to be asked about your interpretation. Of course, there is nothing surprising about that given the nature of historical studies, but what do you say to people who might be concerned that that the genesis of this project was a film director with the promise of a movie? How does Ross’s screenplay, “The Free State of Jones” differ from your own. What exactly did his vision of the Knight’s as “forgotten American patriots” entail? I hope you do not interpret this question as a challenge to the integrity of your work, but there is a discrepancy between what you say in the book and this post.
Ms. Jenkins: Thanks much for the suggestion of the Storey book. As for buying both your book and Ms. Bynum’s, while I am sure booksellers all over would applaud this idea, the young lady in charge of the Epperson family finances would not 🙁 I’m going to have to choose, alas.
For Unionism in Alabama see Margaret Storey’s gripping Loyalty and Loss, which contains some material about Winston County.
To further answer Prof. Simpson’s question about how the books differ for readers: the chief difference a reader would see is in presentation, and conclusion. Our book is a narrative, and we believe the basic narrative of Newton Knight’s life — outlined chronologically in the points above — is extremely powerful and leads to a bold conclusion about who he was. A reader would also hopefully feel that we were able to add something to the impressive documentary record of Knight built by Dr. Bynum.
Mr. Epperson, the answer is simple. You should buy both. One hopefully does not come at the other’s expense.
To add to the reply to Prof. Simpson, the differences a reader would see between our book and Dr. Bynum’s would be chiefly in presentation, and conclusion. Our book is a narrative, Dr. Bynum’s is a social history. We believe that the basic narrative of Newton Knight and Jones County — which I tried to lay out in those points — is powerful, and leads to a bolder conclusion about who he was and what happened in Jones County. We also believe we were able to add some things to the documentary record of Newton Knight built by Dr. Bynum — for one thing, she is the first scholar to recognize Rachel Knight’s role in his life — especially concerning his behavior during Radical Reconstruction.
This is really a “partially on-topic question” rather than a comment. I used to live in Alabama, and there we had Winston County, which was supposed to be a hot-bed of resistance to the Confederacy. Is there any scholarly work on Winston County?
Mr. Simpson, thanks for your question, and your comments. I listed those points that, if memory of her work serves, Ms. Bynum wouldn’t dispute. I’m looking for common ground.
Thanks for commenting, all. To address the “problematic claim” of Jones Co’s secession issue: We make no such claim, we make it clear in the opening chapter of the book that Jones County didn’t issue a formal act or declaration, or if it did, that piece of paper hasn’t been found. During his Meridian campaign, which came within 20 miles of Jones, William T. Sherman did receive a declaration from a body of anti-Confederates in the region, declaring their “independence.” He considered it important enough to forward to Henry Halleck. However, the paper has been lost, so we can’t say specifically where it came from. All we know is that it was from the basic vicinity of Southeast Mississippi.
What we say in the book is exactly what the evidence we quoted from supports: the people of Jones resisted the Confederacy by force of arms until they ran Rebel authority out of the county, and asserted their Union loyalties, and they did so collectively. In surveying the Official Records and other documents on Jones, multiple sources refer to public meetings, and public decision-making by the citizens there. One of Knight’s chief concerns was that his right to due process had been abrogated. Among the first things he and his men did when it became clear the Confederacy had lost the war was come out of the woods and try to vote. If Knight were here he’d tell you Jones didn’t have to secede, because it had never left the Union in the first place. He’d argue such a formality would have given the Confederacy a legitimacy it didn’t deserve. He and his followers didn’t recognize it as legal (and neither did most Northerners). Immediately after the war, Knight and his compatriots wrote a petition to the statehouse asserting that they had remained loyal to the Union in the face of the secession avalanche, and therefore they should be promptly appointed to replace the Confederate-loyals holding the local civic offices.
I’ve read this exchange with some interest. Disclaimers: I’ve read Bynum’s book, and I look forward to reading Jenkins and Stauffer’s book. I barely know two of the participants in the exchange: Stauffer through an e-mail to one of my students, and perhaps (or perhaps not) Bynum at an introduction at a historians’ meeting (I have worked with one of her students, Mark Weitz). Like Jim Epperson, I don’t have a dog in this fight.
That said, I have to question why Jenkins and Stauffer feel the need to offer their opinions on what they believe to be Bynum’s motives for offering her review of the book. They say: “Debate is one thing; we welcome that-indeed we would be happy to debate Victoria Bynum (or a disinterested scholar) on your blog or any other venue. It’s quite another thing for Bynum to try to discredit our book, The State of Jones, as part of her effort to trumpet her own book and remain the only source on the subject.” I find no evidence that such is Bynum’s motive. Are Jenkins and Stauffer, who cite Bynum’s book as authority for some of their statements, questioning her knowledge of the subject? Fine. Are they taking issue with her criticism? Fine. But I’d appreciate it if we let that criticism rise or fall on the documents and how one interprets them rather than to make unsubstantiated claims about an author’s motives. After all, they aren’t disinterested scholars in this matter, either.
Jenkins and Stauffer later take another swing at Bynum: “Conceptually, there is a basic divide between Bynum and us: We view scholarship as a shared and diverse community of multiple perspectives and interpretations, which together adds to our understanding of the past. Bynum sees scholarship as a form of turf warfare, with only one valid interpretation of the past, which effectively renders history useless.” I see nothing in Bynum’s review to support that characterization of her motive. I might, in fact, argue that I find Jenkins and Stauffer engaging in a turf war in which they declare that they stand on higher ground. That ground might well prove shaky.
Unlike Jenkins and Stauffer, Bynum does not speculate about the motives behind the work of Jenkins and Stauffer. Blogger Harry Smeltzer implicitly did: “It does appear that this new book draws a sharper line between ‘black hats’ and ‘white hats’. That should play better on the big screen.” I think it would be wrong to claim without any evidence that Jenkins and Stauffer were thinking of offering a simplified view of the past in order to make it more attractive to movie producers and thus enrich themselves. But I also can’t escape feeling that the way in which Jenkins and Stauffer attack Bynum that they don’t invite the same sort of retort in kind.
I draw two conclusions from reading the rejoinder. First, I think there’s a good deal of conjecture and speculation in The State of Jones in certain areas, because the authors’ rejoinder contains evidence of such an approach. Second, I do have to scratch my head over the authors’ handling of the issue of secession and exactly how Kevin Levin addressed that issue. For the authors to claim that the Free State of Jones seceded is to accord a legitimacy to secession that participants, who viewed themselves as Unionists, would have questioned. In pressing that argument, they slightly but significantly distort what Levin said, almost in passing. Levin said: “For instance, despite the book’s subtitle there is no evidence that a declaration of secession was ever issued.” Jenkins and Stauffer claim that Levin “state[s], citing Victoria Bynum, “there is no evidence” that Jones County seceded from the Confederacy.” That’s not what Levin said: he said there was no declaration of secession issued. Jenkins and Stauffer don’t produce documentation that one was issued. Nor was that point a minor one to Newt Knight, as even Jenkins and Stauffer admit. As they say in their rebuttal letter, “Newton Knight was interviewed by journalist Meigs Frost in 1921 and asked if Jones had actually seceded. His reply was perfectly truthful, and showed the depth of his Constitutional beliefs. Jones didn’t have to formally secede from the Rebel state, he averred, because it had never been disloyal to the federal government in the first place.” Exactly. That would explain why there was no declaration of secession, and it reveals how Knight viewed the situation: he was a loyalist, a Unionist, not a secessionist.
Bynum offered her review of the work of Jenkins and Stauffer without speculating as to their motives. Unfortunately, Jenkins and Stauffer could not do the same in replying to her review. In the process they offered a rebuttal which, ironically, lends even more credence to criticisms of the book and will lead to even more speculation as to their own motives. That’s unfortunate, but it is of their own doing.
In closing, I must confess that in reading this exchange I was reminded of another recent blogging topic highlighted by Levin and blogger David Woodbury: the attack on author Wiley Sword by admirers of John Bell Hood. Sword’s critics became rather personal in their characterization of Sword’s work and ultimately of Sword himself. My own comment in that thread suggested that one could effectively criticize another historian’s scholarship without engaging in speculation about that historian’s motives. After reading the rejoinder by Jenkins and Stauffer, especially in how they characterize Newt Knight, I am also reminded of something else I once said … namely, that it’s a bad business to fall in love with dead people. I offer that unsolicited advice as mere suggestion.
Brooks D. Simpson
ASU Distinguished Foundation Professor
Arizona State University
Ms. Jenkins: Are any of the points you present as undisputed by historians disputed by Dr. Bynum? If not, how do your books differ? What information would assist Mr. Epperson, for example, in making a choice?
I have read neither book myself, though I have great respect for both John Stauffer and Victoria Bynum as historians. If one of the disputes here is over whether or not Jones County “seceded” from the Confederacy, I would ask whether the Unionists of Jones County ever considered secession itself legitimate. If so, then might their actions constitute not so much a secession in itself, but an assertion of the illegitimacy of the Confederacy?
Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer have created the proverbial straw man. They expend great energy and time replicating documents (particularly from the Official Records of the Civil War), practically all of which I myself used in the FREE STATE OF JONES to argue, as they do, that Newt Knight was a Unionist who led a powerful insurrection against the Confederacy.
As Chris Meekins explained in an earlier comment, they conflate secession from the Confederacy with insurrection. Furthermore, in their attempt to present their work as a strikingly new interpretation, they insist that I failed to perceive Newt Knight’s opposition to the Confederacy during and after the war. How absurd! If they believe that, they obviously did not read my book.
I certainly agree with the authors that scholarship is (or should be) “a shared and diverse community of multiple perspectives and interpretations.” That’s why I conferred with every major author of the Free State of Jones–Ethel Knight, Rudy Leverett, and Kenneth Welch–living at the time that I researched my book. The Free State of Jones, as I have pointed out time and time again on my blog, Renegade South, is a living history. My forthcoming book will address multiple areas of analysis missing in STATE OF JONES. And so it goes. Scholars will continue to research and write the history of the Free State of Jones long after the present generation is gone.
I stand by my three-part review of STATE OF JONES, which addresses the authors’ other misrepresentations of my work.
Victoria E. Bynum
Ms.Jenkins: I don’t have a dog in this fight, I’m just trying to decide which book to buy. But I have to agree with Mr. Meekins, that acts of loyalty to the US or resistance to the CS do not constitute an act of secession from the CS. So it would seem that your book has at least one problematic claim.
Let’s take a look at the facts about Newton Knight that are not disputed.
1. He did not own slaves, despite the fact that his grandfather was one of the largest slave owners in Jones County.
2. He deserted the Confederate Army not once but twice.
3. He led an armed resistance against the Confederacy in Jones County. About 125 men fought with him, many of whom enlisted formally in the Union Army after they were driven out of Jones. Fifty-three men from Jones served in Union uniforms.
4. He was aided by a slave named Rachel during the war, and fathered a child with her.
5. In 1865 he liberated a black child from an unrepentant slave-owner.
6. In 1865 he carried out written orders from Union officers occupying Jones County.
7. Also In 1865 he also met with Union General William McMillen in Meridian and received several thousands pounds of rations from the federal stores.
8. He applied five times for a Union pension.
9. His pension case was championed by Adelbert Ames, and three other of the most fervent Unionists and Radical Republicans in Congress.
10. He accepted a commission from Adelbert Ames as captain of a black militia unit at the height of the postwar racial terrors in Mississippi.
11. After the war he lived with the ex-slave named Rachel, with whom he fathered several children that he acknowledged and provided for as his own.
12. In 1876 he deeded Rachel 160 acres.
13. His white wife left him, and he lived the rest of his live with Rachel’s family in a black community.
14. He was buried in the cemetery among Rachel’s family, despite the fact that Mississippi mandated segregated cemeteries.
Now let’s look at the facts about Jones County that are beyond dispute
1. The people of Jones County voted against secession. When their delegate voted for secession at the state convention, they burned him in effigy.
2. Jones County was the site of armed resistance against the Confederacy that required two interventions by Rebel troops, one led by Henry Maury, and another led by Robery Lowry, neither of which succeeded in quelling the resistance.
3. In March 1864 Confederate officials could no longer collect Rebel taxes or conduct official business there, and reports reached the Confederate high command that a federal flag had been raised over the Jones Co. courthouse.
4. Fifty-three men from Jones County went to New Orleans to formally enlist in the Union Army.
5. The reports of highly organized Unionist activity Jones in the Official Records are unmatched by reports from any other Mississippi county.
6. After the surrender, beaten Confederates returning to Jones were so shamed by the Unionist activities during the War that they petitioned the statehouse to change the name of the county to Davis.
No historian disputes any of the above, all of which is supported by records. So I really don’t see what the argument is about, or how the conclusions of our book go beyond the evidence.
Debate about other pieces of evidence that are slightly more equivocal – whether Knight was a Primitive Baptist before the War or after, and whether he deserted just before Vicksburg or just after it – should not obscure the main facts, or the totality of the record on Newton Knight and Jones County.
Very interesting response. I plan on checking out this book for myself, and you’ve given some food for thought.
First, let me say I have read portions of both The Free State of Jones by Victoria Bynum and The State of Jones by John Stauffer and Sally Jenkins, but I am still working my way through both.
That said, I do not agree with Stauffer’s and Jenkins’ claim that Newt Knight’s acceptance of and membership in, at any point, the Primitive Baptist denomination is sufficient evidence that he was influenced by his religious beliefs to be an equality-minded abolitionist. Indeed, Primitive Baptists did have the “central tenet” of “the equality of souls,” but so did almost every other Southern denomination before the war. In religious terms, the equality of the soul before God at judgment after death is vastly different from equality of the soul in society while living. The term “equality of souls” cannot be thought to mean both as it regards antebellum Christian doctrine and denominations in the South.
While the authors of State of Jones do make arguments that Knight treated blacks differently and collaborated with other whites to ensure their place in postwar Southern society, I believe that is a far cry from saying he thought of them as equals, absent personal writings by him to that effect. The specific point here is that all of the authors being discussed here — Bynum, Jenkins and Stauffer — make this same claim of Knight treating blacks differently. The interpretation of how it motivated him is vastly different and, in my opinion, Stauffer and Jenkins read more into the available evidence than can be reasonably concluded.
I have Bynum’s book, though I’ve not read it. I’ve read parts of her reviews of this new book, and don’t find them to be of the character depicted in the “response” above. In addition, I see some of the new authors’ defenses against “charges” of “conjecture” to be based on just that, conjecture – “must have beens” and “probablys” (see their evidence presented in support of the notion that Knight was a primitive bapitst ‘fo de woah). But maybe that’s just me.
It does appear that this new book draws a sharper line between “black hats” and “white hats”. That should play better on the big screen.
Sorry for all the quotation marks. Maybe if I throw in a few more parenthetical comments and a couple of colons, I can pass myself off as an academic? Probably not.
Individual acts of loyalty to the Union do not in and of themselves constitute seceding from the secession. Even a series of collective acts of Unionism do not stand as such – to secede is a willful act of a body politic declaring a principle on which they stand or refute, etc. I am sympathetic to the authors working with a series of loyal acts or even groups of people opposing Confederate policy. And that is exactly what should be noted and discussed. In my little burg of Unionism in neNC we have Quakers and Wesleyan Methodists, Constitutional Unionists and probably a few conscript dodgers – many vote against secession when given the chance (May 1861), many vote against the larger issue in 1860 by voting for John Bell but when pressed they would accept assistance from either power structure (Confederate or Union) until, after two years of relentless guerrilla warfare, General Wild’s raid proved to the local Unionists that neither power structure would or could protect them. They meet in a legal body and drafted a resolution with two main points: the requested removal of all forces from the region (Union and Confederate) and the end to blockade running in the area (by this they meant the illegal traffic in goods flowing through the area). So, while expressing Union sentiments through 1862 and 1863, and some very overt acts at that, it was not until December 19, 1863 when 501 local men signed the two part resolution that I can say there was a secession from the secession: truthfully it was more of an attempt to secede from the war.
Although this rebuttal shows plenty of scholarship and resources I think it still comes up short of the claim of showing secession. It does show a strong tether to the old Union before the war and a connection to the changed Union post-Emancipation Proclamation. Show me a body politic voting on a resolution and then I will have no choice but to agree. Otherwise, stay within your evidence – which still makes a convincing argument just not the exact one claimed. In MHO.