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The State of Jones

A book by Sally Jenkins

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Newton Knight should be a folk hero for his courage and convictions

  • Jun 23, 2009
  • by
This is one of the most fascinating historical accounts I have ever read, as it emphasizes some points of American history that are rarely emphasized. Furthermore, it also demonstrates how mindless patriotic fervor can be mishandled into catastrophe, something that the United States has unfortunately not been able to outgrow.
One terrible fact rarely mentioned is that if there had been an honest and binding vote of all white males of voting age in each of the states of the Confederacy, few if any of them would have seceded. The poor whites were largely pro-Union and the members of the Southern aristocracy browbeat and threatened all those with voices brave enough to take a pro-Union stand.
Newton Knight was a poor white farmer in the county of Jones, Mississippi, one of the poorest regions in the country. Newton was a man with a life so amazing that he should be a folk hero. Shortly after the American Civil War began, he was conscripted into the Confederate army, forced to leave his wife and children behind and fought in many battles. He was disgusted with the brutal and uncaring way in which the aristocratic officers treated the common soldiers. The men were poorly paid, even though it was often in arrears, were fed inadequate rations and marched around like slaves. Even worse while they were off fighting, Confederate officers were showing up at their farms and confiscating their family's food and animals.
Newton quickly became fed up with the situation and deserted, going back to Jones County and forming an armed company that fought to keep the county on the Union side. Although they were small, his company fought battles with Confederate forces and they managed to keep a degree of freedom for his county until the war ended. Freed slaves aided Newton in his struggles and he learned that he had more in common with blacks than he did with his fellow whites.
His attitude remained unchanged after the war ended; he remained a champion of black rights, even openly having two wives, his white one from before the war and a black one that he acquired during the war. In an age when black women could be used as sex slaves at the whim of their white masters and their offspring sold as slaves, Newton treated his black wife as an equal and his black children as his own. As reconstruction began to collapse and the white aristocracy began to reassert itself via killings of blacks and their white supporters, Newton was disgusted and withdrew somewhat, but he remained such a dominant figure in his area that his relatives were largely left alone. Although in those years, Newton never went anywhere without his firearms and even in his seventies he was combative enough to cut the throat of a man threatening members of his family. In a sad turn, many of the white men that fought alongside him in his quest for freedom turned their backs on him due to his interactions with blacks.
Newton fathered so many children and there was so much intermarriage among his group that his descendents literally covered the entire spectrum of racial qualification from black to white. In 1946, after Newton Knight has passed away, Davis Knight, his great-grandson by his black wife, was charged with miscegenation after he married a white woman. Davis was a veteran of World War II that was socially white. The trial centered around whether he was at least one-eighth black and he was convicted, although the guilty verdict was overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court as there was not enough proof. It was a political decision made out of fear that the guilty verdict would invite federal interference in Mississippi's segregation laws.
Truly a man of conviction, determination and with a whole lot of cussedness, Newton Knight was a legend in his own time, hated by many, loved by some and feared by his opponents, he left a genetic legacy that made color barriers absurd. His story is fascinating; no fiction writer could ever come up with anything close to the truth about this amazing man. This is a great book about a great American.

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More The State of Jones reviews
review by . August 23, 2009
The events that followed the end of the American Civil War from 1865 through roughly 1900, known as Reconstruction, mark the darkest days and events in American history, because they revealed a cold-blooded racial hatred that was deep-seated in the hearts and minds of the majority of white Americans. The history of individual families, black and white, from those years who lived through the worst of the violence, particularly in the deep south states like Mississippi, is one of terror and violence, …
review by . June 29, 2009
First off, The State of Jones is extremely well written and exhaustively researched. That alone would earn it at least 4 stars in my estimation. The Civil War category of history books tends to get over crowded with dry academic readings and revisionist polemics that aim to bolster someone's modern agenda (with themes that range from "clearing the family name" to defending racial politics). The subject and storytelling here dodges the first bullet, making for an engrossing read that truly is "difficult …
review by . July 10, 2009
In his 1927 work Liberalism (Lib Works Ludwig Von Mises PB), Ludwig von Mises wrote, "The right of self-determination in regard to the question of membership in a state thus means: whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it be a single village, a whole district, or a series of adjacent districts, make it known, by a freely conducted plebiscite, that they no longer wish to remain united to the state to which they belong at the time, but wish either to form an independent state …
review by . June 16, 2009
In an era when everybody and his mother is writing yet another book praising Lincoln, The State of Jones by Harvard historian John Stauffer is a fresh and original history of the Civil War. Even if you've already read a lot about the Civil War, this book will radically change your understanding of Civil War history.    The book discusses a pro-Union insurrection deep in the heart of the Confederacy - Jones County, Mississippi. It begins with the horrors of war during the battle …
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Charles Ashbacher ()
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Charlie Ashbacher is a compulsive reader and writer about many subjects. His prime areas of expertise are in mathematics and computers where he has taught every course in the mathematics and computer … more
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Amazon Best of the Month, July 2009:Make room in your understanding of the Civil War for Jones County, Mississippi, where a maverick small farmer named Newton Knight made a local legend of himself by leading a civil war of his own against the Confederate authorities. Anti-planter, anti-slavery, and anti-conscription, Knight and thousands of fellow poor whites, army deserters, and runaway slaves waged a guerrilla insurrection against the secession that at its peak could claim the lower third of Mississippi as pro-Union territory. Knight, who survived well beyond the war (and fathered more than a dozen children by two mothers who lived alongside each other, one white and one black), has long been a notorious, half-forgotten figure, and inThe State of Jonesjournalist Sally Jenkins and Harvard historian John Stauffer combine to tell his story with grace and passion. Using court transcripts, family memories, and other sources--and filling the remaining gaps with stylish evocations of crucial moments in the wider war--Jenkins and Stauffer connect Knight's unruly crusade to a South that, at its moment of crisis, was anything but solid.--Tom NissleySally Jenkins and John Stauffer on State of Jones

Newton Knight is the most famous Civil War hero you’ve never heard of, because according to Mississippi legend he betrayed not only the Confederacy but his race as well. In 1863 Knight, a poor farmer from Jones County Mississippi, deserted the Confederate Army—and began ...

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ISBN-10: 0385525931
ISBN-13: 978-0385525930
Author: Sally Jenkins
Genre: History
Publisher: Doubleday
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