||"dawnbreak in the west"|
Thursday, June 23, 2016
The palatinate in Jones County
I missed my usual Juneteenth rounds of (anti-)Reconstruction / -Union posts, but here - better late than never - I'll discuss a movie about the so-called Free State in northern Mississippi. The screenplay looks like a dog. The truth is more interesting.
The Appalachian side of the Deep South was never much on board with "the planters' war, the rednecks' fight". (Same, really, with the Irish in the North.) Some hillfolk fought for their State because it was, well, home. Many others decided not to bother; West Virginia was the outcome of one such mutiny. Northern Alabama and - especially - east Tennessee ("Franklin", some call it) almost went the same way; probably would have, if the west of Tennessee had held out for longer.
I was interested, so I looked up the King of Jones, one Newton Knight. Jones is far down south, the other side of the planters from hill-country; but still, we find, independently-minded. Best the story goes, when the Late Unpleasantness started up, our man signed up for the war and he got a fight; then at some point he decided, screw this for a lark, and ran away back home. The CSA's army alerted Mississippi's authorities, who duly came after him. Knight ran some calculations in his head, and figured that if he held out until the Union won then he'd be pardoned. There were other guys with him, and the surrounding county of Jones was getting pretty tired of The Losing Cause. By the time Reconstruction came 'round, he and his made a go of racial integration. It almost-sortof worked.
My first instinct on reading the story is that the man was an opportunist and a liar. But then I figured, pretty much everyone who has become a folk-hero was an opportunist and a liar - look at Ethan Allen and, yes, at Nathaniel Bedford Forrest (Forrest, by the way, recanted his own legend). Why should it be different on the Union side.
Tell the truth, the main part of Knight's biography that I didn't like was the part he impregnated his own wife's daughter. But since liberals don't care if Woody Allen did this too, I have to concede points for consistency...
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