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Known as the City Beautiful, it was created by Midwestern timber barons who razed the longleaf pine forests and built themselves elegant homes on oak-lined streets and the gorgeous world-class Lauren Rogers Museum of Art.

The old county seat, and ground zero for the Free State of Jones, is Ellisville, now a pleasant, leafy town of 4, people. He was hired by the Reconstruction government to free black children from white masters who were refusing to emancipate them. A tall white man with a deep Southern drawl, Gavin has a stern presence, gracious manners and intense brooding eyes. Returning home, they found their wives struggling to keep up the farms and feed the children.

Ross read those books too, and went back again with burning questions. That led into broader reading about other pockets of Unionism in the South. Wirt Thompson reported that they were now a thousand strong and flying the U. That spring was the high-water mark of the rebellion against the Rebels. Soon afterward, there was a mass meeting of deserters from four Piney Woods counties. Foner answered none of them, just gave him another reading list.


In the spring ofthe Knight Company overthrew the Confederate authorities in Jones County and raised the United States flag over the county courthouse in Ellisville. Victoria Bynum traces the origins and legacy of the Jones County uprising from the American Revolution to the modern civil rights movement.

Reaching higher ground, Gavin points across the swamp to various local landmarks. Matthew McConaughey thought the Free State of Jones script was the most exciting Civil War story he had ever read, and knew immediately that he wanted to play Newt Knight. Even the liberals carry handguns. Knight also fathered nine children with his white wife, Serena, and the two families lived in different houses on the same acre farm.

The grand old columned courthouse has a Confederate monument next to it, and no mention of the anti-Confederate rebellion that took place here. Then former Confederates violently took back control of the state and implemented a kind of second slavery for African-Americans.

Polk ordered two battle-hardened regiments into southeast Mississippi, under the command of Piney Woods native Col. Robert Lowry. With hanging ropes and packs of vicious, manhunting dogs, they subdued the surrounding counties and then moved into the Free State of Jones. Once again disenfranchised, and terrorized by the Klan, they were exploited through sharecropping and legally segregated. But Mississippi is nothing if not layered and contradictory, and this small, rural county has also produced some wonderful creative and artistic talents, including Parker Posey, the indie-film queen, the novelist Jonathan Odell, the pop singer and gay astronaut Lance Bass, and Mark Landis, the schizophrenic art forger and prankster, who donated fraudulent masterpieces to major American art museums for nearly 30 years before he was caught.

So I went and did Hunger Games, but always keeping an eye on this. Although he was against secession, Knight voluntarily enlisted in the Confederate Army once the war began. Then he plants his staff on the ground and turns to face me directly.

The true story of the ‘free state of jones’

He was a nightmarish opponent in a backwoods wrestling match, and one of the great unsung guerrilla fighters in American history. With two rat terriers trotting at his heels, and a long wooden staff in his hand, J. Gavin le me through the woods to one of the old swamp hide-outs. He described Jones County as the most conservative place in Mississippi, but he noted that race relations were improving and that you could see it clearly in the changing attitudes toward Newt Knight.

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He did so deliberately, and to the hell with the consequences. Ross was instantly intrigued, both by the character and the revelation of Unionism in Mississippi, the most deeply Southern state of all. After Lowry left, proclaiming victory, Knight and his men emerged from their hide-outs, and once again, began threatening Confederate officials and agents, burning bridges and destroying railro to thwart the Rebel Army, and raiding food supplies intended for the troops.

Those views were not unusual in Jones County. A Confederate colonel named William N. In earlyKnight was captured for desertion and possibly tortured.

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Grant and William T. When secession fever swept across the South inJones County was largely immune to it. The county was known as the Free State of Jonesand some say it actually seceded from the Confederacy. Driving toward the Jones County line, I passed a to Hot Coffee—a town, not a beverage—and drove on through rolling cattle pastures and short, new-growth pine trees. They were deep in the swamps, being supplied with food and information by local sympathizers and slaves, most notably Rachel. We reach a small promontory surrounded on three sides by a swampy, beaver-dammed lake, and concealed by foot-high cattails and reeds.

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The old folks call this one Sal Batree. He kept no diary and gave only one interview near the end of his life, to a New Orleans journalist named Meigs Frost. I came to Jones County having read some good books about its history, and knowing very little about its present-day reality. It was reputed to be fiercely racist and conservative, even by Mississippi standards, and it had been a hotbed for the Ku Klux Klan. Then he started into Reconstruction.

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He waged guerrilla war against the Confederacy and declared loyalty to the Union. You ought to think about studying this.

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Joel E. Welborn, their former commanding officer in the Seventh Mississippi, later recalled. Downtown has some old brick buildings with wrought-iron balconies.

The Knight Negroes, as these children were known, were shunned by whites and blacks alike. The following month, Confederate Maj. Amos McLemore arrived in Ellisville and began hunting them down with soldiers and hounds.

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The third act of the film takes place in Mississippi after the Civil War. There was a phase during early Reconstruction when blacks could vote, and black officials were elected for the first time. This, more than anything, explains its widespread disloyalty to the Confederacy, but there was also a surly, clannish independent spirit, and in Newt Knight, an extraordinarily steadfast and skillful leader. We can only speculate about his reasons. His commitment to these issues never waned.

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This story is a selection from the March issue of Smithsonian magazine. There were isolated farmhouses and prim little country churches, and occasional dilapidated trailers with dismembered automobiles in the front yard.

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Then he started reading, beginning with the five now six books about Newton Knight. By October, he had captured more than deserters, and exchanged threatening messages with Newt Knight, who was back on his ruined farm on the Jasper County border. One of them is titled Sal Batreeafter the place he wants to show me.

At the urging of Ross, Stauffer and co-author Sally Jenkins published their own book on the Jones County rebellionin He was giving me no quarter. I tell people this movie is my academic midlife crisis. In bridging the gap between the legendary and the real Free State of Jones, she shows how the legend reveals a great deal about the South's transition from slavery to segregation.

With a company of like-minded white men in southeast Mississippi, he did what many Southerners now regard as unthinkable. In MarchLt. Confederate Capt. Three months later, the Confederacy fell. So many men tried so hard to kill him that perhaps his most remarkable achievement was to reach old age.

We make our way around the lakeshore, passing beaver-gnawed tree stumps and snaky-looking thickets. An interracial community began to form near the small town of Soso, and continued to marry within itself. Ross worked his way slowly and carefully through the books, and went back with more questions.

Powell, received When Powell got to the secession convention in Jackson, however, he lost his nerve and voted to secede along with almost everyone else. They organized themselves into a company called the Jones County Scouts and unanimously elected Knight as their captain.

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Powell stayed away from Jones County for a while after that, and he was burned in effigy in Ellisville. After Vicksburg fell, in Julythere was a mass exodus of deserters from the Confederate Army, including many from Jones and the surrounding counties. Modern Ellisville is dominated by the sprawling campus of Jones County Junior College, where a semiretired history professor named Wyatt Moulds was waiting for me in the entrance hall. The big trees were an ordeal to clear, the sandy soil was ill-suited for growing cotton, and the bottomlands were choked with swamps and thickets.

This part of Mississippi was dubbed the Piney Woods, known for its poverty and lack of prospects. A large, friendly, charismatic man with unruly side-parted hair, he was wearing alligator-skin cowboy boots and a fishing shirt. After he and Serena separated—they never divorced—Newt Knight caused a scandal that still reverberates by entering a common-law marriage with Rachel and proudly claiming their mixed-race children.

But the leading scholar of the Knight-led rebellion, Victoria Bynum, author of The Free State of Jonespoints out that Knight had enlisted, under no threat of conscription, a few months after the war began, in July She thinks he relished being a soldier.

A new hollywood movie looks at the tale of the mississippi farmer who led a revolt against the confederacy

Inthe filmmaker Gary Ross was at Universal Studios, discussing possible projects, when a development executive gave him a brief, one- treatment about Newton Knight and the Free State of Jones. Some of the young guys are really identifying with Newt now, as a symbol of Jones County pride.

I really kind of marveled at him. The first thing he did was take a canoe trip down the Leaf River, to get a feel for the area. I drove past many small chicken farms, a large modern factory making transformers and computers, and innumerable Baptist churches.

In Hollywood, he says, the executives were extremely supportive of his research, and the script that he finally wrestled out of it, but they balked at financing the film. Laurel, the biggest town, stands apart.

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