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The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War [Paperback]

by Victoria E. Bynum
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 2, 2002 0807854670 978-0807854679
Between late 1863 and mid-1864, an armed band of Confederate deserters battled Confederate cavalry in the Piney Woods region of Jones County, Mississippi. Calling themselves the Knight Company after their captain, Newton Knight, they set up headquarters in the swamps of the Leaf River, where, legend has it, they declared the Free State of Jones.

The story of the Jones County rebellion is well known among Mississippians, and debate over whether the county actually seceded from the state during the war has smoldered for more than a century. Adding further controversy to the legend is the story of Newt Knight's interracial romance with his wartime accomplice, Rachel, a slave. From their relationship there developed a mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended, and the ambiguous racial identity of their descendants confounded the rules of segregated Mississippi well into the twentieth century.

Victoria Bynum traces the origins and legacy of the Jones County uprising from the American Revolution to the modern civil rights movement. In bridging the gap between the legendary and the real Free State of Jones, she shows how the legend--what was told, what was embellished, and what was left out--reveals a great deal about the South's transition from slavery to segregation; the racial, gender, and class politics of the period; and the contingent nature of history and memory.

Frequently Bought Together

The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War + The State of Jones: The Small Southern County that Seceded from the Confederacy + Legend of the Free State of Jones
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Editorial Reviews


"Well researched."
New York Times Book Review

[This] book should be praised as an original and cogent piece of scholarship on a devilishly complicated and demanding subject.
(Washington Times)

"Bynum shows how future historians might convincingly knit together the all too-often disparate fields of political, ideological, gender, and racial histories.
(Virginia Quarterly Review)"

"Powerful, revisionist, and timely, Bynum's book combines superb history with poignant analysis of historical memory and southern racial mores.

"The Free State of Jones is clearly a story that needs to be told, and Bynum has done impressive research to bring it to a modern audience.
(Altina L. Waller, University of Connecticut )"

"Few communities fought as much of the war on their own terms or generated as distorted yet profound a legacy afterward as did the men and women of this renegade county in Mississippi's Piney Woods. It's a fascinating story.
(John C. Inscoe, coauthor of The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War)"

From the Inside Flap

Across a century, Victoria Bynum reinterprets the cultural, social, and political meaning of Mississippi's longest civil war, waged in the Free State of Jones, the southeastern Mississippi county that was home to a Unionist stronghold during the Civil War and home to a large and complex mixed-race community in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. --This text refers to the Unknown Binding edition.

Product Details

  • Series: Fred W. Morrison Series in Southern Studies
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (December 2, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807854670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807854679
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #783,877 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Professor Victoria E. Bynum's historical research focuses on Southern dissenters: women who did not behave like "ladies"; whites who crossed the color line socially and sexually; African Americans who did not follow Jim Crow rules; and families that opposed secession and the Confederacy. Her works include UNRULY WOMEN (Chapel Hill, 1992), THE FREE STATE OF JONES (Chapel Hill, 2001), and THE LONG SHADOW OF THE CIVIL WAR: SOUTHERN DISSENT AND ITS LEGACIES (Chapel Hill, 2010).

To learn more about Victoria Bynum's work, visit her website, Renegade South, at, and her blog site at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not your father's Civil War December 19, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a native Mississippian I began delving into my genealogy expecting to find the usual host of Confederate anestors. There were some, to be sure. What I didn't expect to find was one gr-gr grandfather who was a Union veteran from Maine and a gr-gr-gr grandmother who sheltered a band of deserters who took up arms against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi.

Victoria Bynum's book concerns the latter event, its antecedents, and its reverberations down through the years. Jones County stood in marked contrast to most of antebellum Mississippi. In 1860 55% of the state's population was held in slavery, whereas in Jones County the figure was 12%. The area was heavily forested and more suitable to raising livestock than plantation agriculture. Thus Jones County citizens were by and large anti-secessionist. Once the war broke out, however, a goodly number of young men joined Confederate units. Others only did so a year later one step ahead of conscription. But many of the late joining soldiers felt no espirit de corp once the Confederacy lost Vicksburg in 1863 and then passed a law exempting owners of 20 or more slaves from military service. Confederate deserters were not unique to Jones County, but in the Piney Woods their numbers and the support they received from kin and sympathisers were enough to draw attention. And in Newt Knight they had a man willing to organize them and fight. After several attempts, Confederate forces waged a successful campaign that diminished but did not eradicate the Knight Band.

While she did not grow up in Mississippi, Victoria Bynum has kinship links that made her aware of this odd story of a rebellion within the rebellion. After a decade of research she has written what will likely remain the definitive book on the subject.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well Researched History of the "Republic" of Jones August 5, 2002
I have always wondered exactly what happened in Jones County, Mississippi, during the recent unpleasantness, and after reading The Free State of Jones, now I know. Often billed as the county that seceded from the Confederacy, the author provides an excellent local history of Southwest Mississippi from the early 1800s to the dawn of the Civil Rights movement. The author begins with the immigrants to Mississippi territory, mainly from the Carolinas. Excellent maps of migration routes and the early counties in the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi are included. During the Civil War, a band of 100 or so deserters from Confederate military service hid in Jones County, where the soil did not promote large commercial planting, and few individuals owned slaves. While there was never a formal act of secession from the Confederacy by the county government of Jones, the band of deserters did fight fourteen skirmishes with Confederate troops between 1863 and 1865, and many locals were sympathethic, either because they were relatives, they didn't like the relatively strong central Confederate government, or Confederate troops misbehaved by stealing from their small farms. Many of the band deserted because the felt the war was "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight"--especially after the "20 Negro Law" was passed exempting slaveowners with 20 or more slaves from Confederate military service. The author also goes into the mixed racial family of the leader of the band of deserters, Newt Knight, who survived until 1922. There are few places to read the details of this interesting micro-history within the Confederacy. Ms. Bynum's thoroughly researched book encompasses the whole story, and is worth the effort of delving into such a detailed local history.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Opposition to secession in Mississippi January 6, 2009
I grew up in a community called Union in Jones county, but never heard about the Free State of Jones. I only heard about the glorious Southern cause growing up. In Mississippi, the victors were the secessionists, followed by the segregationists. This book shows a different side of Mississippi - opposition to secession, resistance to that secession, and different views about race in Jones county.

Ms. Bynum even has stories about my g-g-grandmother, who lived to be almost 100. I have found that my g-g-grandfather and three of his brothers actually joined the Union army in New Orleans. Many other men from the county joined about the same time. Ms. Bynum shows the origins of the opposition to secession. She has uncovered a great deal of information that I did not know existed. I am impressed by her work.

There was division. Jones county did send troops to fight for the South. Some of those later deserted, such as Newt Knight

A movie about the Free State of Jones is now in production by Gary Ross of Seabiscuit fame. Since I read the book I have been collecting everything I can find on the web about the Free State of Jones. I have links to Victoria Bynum's blog and other sites at [...]

This is a great story that Victoria Bynum has unearthed and told in amazing detail. I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in Southern opposition to secession.

You might also like Bitterly Divided by David Williams. It tells of opposition to secession throughout the South. His book is convincing, but rather repetitious in its examples. I found Ms. Bynum's book much more accessible and interesting.

The opposition to secession in the South is story that needs telling. This is a great place to start learning that story.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book
The book was informative and included a lot of detailed info such as dates and family names and date of births.
Published 1 month ago by mike
5.0 out of 5 stars Free State of Jones
Very well written....enjoyed reading it and will probably read it again as to be able to digest all information. Thanks...
Published 2 months ago by Betty Thompson
1.0 out of 5 stars Making bricks without straw
Ms. Bynum has spent a career trying to rewrite history and turn marginal actors into central players of the American Civil War. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Charles C. Burgess
2.0 out of 5 stars Very dull reading
I was really looking forward to this book because I have always enjoyed history and this seemed like an interesting small piece of Civil War history. Read more
Published 5 months ago by David Belling
5.0 out of 5 stars "Free State of Jones" and "The State Of Jones"
Great condition of the book and detail information, plus one line of the Knight family is in my maternal line. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Jim Minor
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched but intensely human
Victoria Bynum has an academic's knack for documentation and primary sources, but she also adds the personal touches to this story which accentuate the intensely human... Read more
Published 10 months ago by inbtr
3.0 out of 5 stars Reference Book
Full of details - a lot of stories told by locals from their personal point of view. Lots of references to people and the location. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Maggie's Momma
5.0 out of 5 stars Civil War
Very interesting book about Jones County seceding from the state of Mississippi during the Civil War. I've not heard of any other individual county that did this in any state.
Published 21 months ago by Phoebe
5.0 out of 5 stars Jones
Great story about the Civil War. Does put a lot of things in perspective about the south. Too bad the south is still living in the past today over 160 years later.
Published on April 4, 2011 by Jerry Rubin
2.0 out of 5 stars Well researched but stumbles...missing some glaring facts
Several facts on this subject need to be mentioned.

1. In late 1864 a large Union cavalry raid of several thousand men, from Baton Rouge, La., to Pascagoula, Ms. Read more
Published on October 30, 2010 by DavyCrockett
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