My friend Hal Bauer urged all his friends to see the movie, Free State of Jones. I saw it, and it is as good as Hal said it is.
The movie tells the story of Newton Knight, a white farmer in southern Mississippi, who led a rebellion against the Confederacy itself.
Knight was 6-foot-4 with black curly hair and a full beard—“big heavyset man, quick as a cat,” as one of his friends described him. He was a nightmarish opponent in a backwoods wrestling match, and one of the great unsung guerrilla fighters in American history. So many men tried so hard to kill him that perhaps his most remarkable achievement was to reach old age.
“He was a Primitive Baptist who didn’t drink, didn’t cuss, doted on children and could reload and fire a double-barreled, muzzle-loading shotgun faster than anyone else around,” said [local historian Wyatt] Moulds.
“Even as an old man, if someone rubbed him the wrong way, he’d have a knife at their throat in a heartbeat. A lot of people will tell you that Newt was just a renegade, out for himself, but there’s good evidence that he was a man of strong principles who was against secession, against slavery and pro-Union.”
Source: Richard Grant | Smithsonian
Knight hated the 20-slave rule, which gave slave-owning families one exemption from military service for every 20 slaves they owned. He also hated Confederate confiscations of livestock, crops and food from small farmers.
For a time, his Knight Company drove the Confederate Army out of Jones County and surrounding areas of southern Mississippi. Contrary to the impression given by the movie title, he didn’t intend to set up Jones County as an independent nation. He was loyal to the Union.
He didn’t only fight for independent white farmers. He fought against slavery himself. He defended the rights of newly-freed slaves after the Civil War. After the triumph of the Ku Klux Klan, he retreated to his homestead where he lived with his inter-racial family.
I had no idea Newton Knight existed until I saw the movie.