Legend of the Free State of Jones Reprint Edition, Kindle Edition
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- Length: 143 pages
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
- Page Flip: Enabled
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Top Customer Reviews
Both books, and this one as well, deal with Jones County's complicated participation in the Civil War, including anti-secessionism, deserters, resistance, active engagement against Confederate forces, and alleged attempts to ally with Union forces. The Jenkins/Stauffer and Bynum books also address in some detail the roles of slavery and racial relations and interactions in Jones County as part of the larger story.
This book was written earlier than the other two, and it reads as a more scholarly investigation of the "legend" of the "Republic of Jones" or "The Free State of Jones." The author concludes that, while there was no real secession per se, and no actual local government set up in opposition to the Confederacy, there are some facts backing up the legend. The facts were just exaggerated in the interest of a more dramatic and even humorous story.
But Leverett seems equally motivated to investigate and dispel positive accounts of Netwon Knight, a central figure in the legend, as any sort of politically motivated resistor and champion of anti-secessionism. Both the later books paint a much more sympathetic, if mixed, portrait of Knight, depicting him as a politically motivated Unionist. Leverett's book, on the other hand, reads at times like a prosecutor's case against Knight, portraying him as a common thief, for whom any real political motivations were opportunistic inventions either by him or by his chroniclers.
A prosecutor's case should be listened to, but it shouldn't be the only thing we listen to, and it should be listened to with a critical ear. In particular, I question Leverett's distinction between "political convictions" on one hand and "concerns of economic survival" on the other. His contention is that Knight's activities were motivated by economic hardship and not political conviction. I'm not so sure that the two are so sharply separate -- one thing that Leverett does not give much room to in his account is the burden placed on Southern farmers, particularly in as poor a region as Jones County, by the Confederate government to supply its troops. Economic resistance and political resistance to that burden would be difficult to distinguish -- food is politics. When Knight and his band, for example, raided the Confederate supply depot at Paulding and took away some quantity of corn, they may well have been acting out of both economic hardship and political conviction.
The Jenkins/Stauffer and the Bynum books both present dimensions of the story not present in Leverett's account. Bynum in particular takes on sociological tones in her depiction of race relations in Jones County at the time, and Jenkins/Stauffer tell a much more detailed story of Newton Knight's own life, personality, his marriage, and his relationship with the slave Rachel Knight (and his "second family" with her). I have to admit that, as Jenkins/Stauffer remark in their commentary on sources, I find it odd that so central a feature of Knight's life as his relationship with Rachel and his other purported interactions with slaves of the area went completely without comment in Leverett's book. The fact that slavery was scarce in Jones County (as Leverett says, no more than three percent of Jones County residents owned any slaves) does not account for that absence, particularly given Leverett's intention to assess Knight's motivations.
(I read them all before seeing the movie which may have been a mistake. It didn't hold up against what I had learned.)
I read this one third and I'm glad I did. The other two refer to it and present strong evidence that the Knight family came from a history of rebellion dating to the era before the Revolution.
It is clear in virtually every sentence the Mr Leverett had made up his mind before even starting, referring to the Knight band as deserters and using other pejoratives.
He never mentions that he is a direct descendant of a Confederate officer who was executed by Newton Knight. He is clearly a neo-Confederate and adherent of the Lost Cause nonsense. While that is acceptable, to allow it to color a non-fiction work is just sloppy history.
I hope Leverett's admirable example of sticking to the facts and avoiding sensational conjecture in regard to this fascinating piece of local history will give conscience to those who have recently succumbed to the temptation of twisting the truth for profit and fame.
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