I read THE FREE STATE OF JONES: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War by Victoria Bynum after seeing the movie, “The Free State of Jones,” which I liked, in order to see how much of the movie is based on fact.
The movie dramatized the true story of Newton Knight, a white Mississippi farmer led a guerrilla revolt against the Confederacy during the Civil War, and was never captured or defeated.
He took his grandfather’s slave as a lover and became the patriarch of an interracial community which continued to exist down tinto the middle of the 20th century.
Victoria Bynum’s book begins with the origins of the families who fought in the Knight Company. In colonial times, they lived in the backwoods of the Carolinas, and opposed rich plantation owners in the political struggles of those times.
Racial lines were not drawn so strictly in those days as later, and some sons of poor white indentured servants felt they had more in common with black slaves than with slave owners..
During the American Revolution, many wealthy planters such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were rebels, and many poor backwoodsmen were Tories.
After the Revolution, many backwoodsmen migrated into the lawless frontier region that later became the states of Alabama and Mississippi. They endured great danger, hardship and isolation, particularly the women, but rejoiced in being their own masters.
Slaveowners adopted, taught and enforced a rigid ideology of racism. to a degree previously unknown, Bynum wrote.
Anybody with “one drop” of Negro “blood” was considered black. White men had a duty to preserve the chastity of white women, lest white “blood” be contaminated. This was supported by a religious practice that condemned dancing, alcohol and sensuality.
No doubt the slaveowners sincerely believed in these things, but they served a function of keeping the black slaves isolated and preventing them from joining forces with whites.
But, according to Bynum, not all white people followed the accepted code. Some enjoyed feasting, dancing and drinking, sometimes among black companions. Some preferred charismatic, revival meetings, sometimes led by women, to the stricter and more authoritarian religion. There were those who became lovers across the color line.