Coleman Newton Biography & Facts
Newton Knight (November 10, 1829 – February 16, 1922) was an American farmer, soldier and Southern Unionist in Mississippi, best known as the leader of the Knight Company, a band of Confederate army deserters who resisted the Confederacy during the Civil War. Local legends tell of Knight and his men forming the "Free State of Jones" in the area in and around Jones County, Mississippi, at the height of the war. The nature and extent of the Knight Company's opposition to the Confederate government is disputed among historians. After the war, Knight joined the Republican Party and served in Mississippi's Reconstruction government as a deputy US Marshal.
Knight has long been a controversial figure in the region, with people divided over his motives and actions. He and his allies developed a small mixed-race community in southeastern Mississippi. His interracial marriage with Rachel Knight was considered illegal, as Mississippi had banned interracial marriages before and after the war, except for a brief period during Reconstruction.
Films about Knight have included Tap Roots (1948), directed by George Marshall, and Free State of Jones (2016), directed by Gary Ross and starring Matthew McConaughey as Knight.
Early life and education
Newton Knight was born near the Leaf River in Jones County, Mississippi, most likely in November 1837, to Albert Knight and his wife. His birth year has been recorded by his son, Tom Knight, in a biography as 1830, and his grandniece, Ethel Knight, wrote that he was born in 1829. His gravestone has his full name as "Capt. Newton Knight" born November 10, 1829 died February 16, 1922. But the 1900 census records that Knight was born in November 1837, likely from his own testimony. This date is consistent with census records from other years. However, it is possible Knight gave the wrong year of his birth to the census takers to hide his family origin.: 243 He was probably taught to read and write by his mother, as there were no public schools for yeomen children.: 85 Newton was a grandson of John "Jackie" Knight (1773–1861), one of Jones County's largest slaveholders before the war.: 62 Newton's father, Albert (1799–1862), however, neither owned slaves nor inherited any after his father's death. Newton Knight never owned slaves.: 64 His son wrote that he was morally opposed to the institution due to his Primitive Baptist beliefs. In accordance with its teachings, Newton forswore alcohol, unlike his father and grandfather.Newton Knight married Serena Turner in 1858, and the two established a small farm just across the county line in southwest Jasper County, Mississippi.
American Civil War
Jones County elected John H. Powell, the "cooperation" (anti-secession) candidate, to represent them at Mississippi's secession convention in January 1861. Powell voted against secession on the first ballot, but under pressure, switched his vote on the second ballot, joining the majority of whites in voting to secede from the Union. In an interview many years later, Knight suggested that many voters of Jones County, not understanding how limited Powell's choices were, felt betrayed by his action.Knight joined the Confederate army in July 1861, enlisting in the 8th Mississippi Infantry Regiment. Six months later he was given a furlough in order to return home and tend to his ailing father. In May 1862, Knight, along with a number of friends and neighbors, enlisted in Company F of the 7th Mississippi Infantry Battalion. They preferred to serve together in the same company, rather than with strangers.: 99 Throughout the summer and fall of 1862, a number of factors increased the rate of desertions from the Confederate army. There was a lack of food and supplies for soldiers in the aftermath of the Siege of Corinth. The men of Jones County and the region were disturbed by news from home reporting the poor conditions, as their wives and children found it hard to keep up the farms. Knight was enraged when he received word that Confederate authorities had seized his family's horses for their use. However, many believe Knight's principal reason for desertion was his anger over the Confederate government's passing of the Twenty Negro Law. This act allowed large plantation owners to avoid military service if they owned 20 slaves or more. An additional family member was exempted from service for each additional 20 slaves owned by the planter. Knight had also received word that his brother-in-law, Morgan, who had become the head of the family in Knight's absence, was abusing Knight's children.: 100–101 Morgan's identity has since been lost, but he is thought to have been Morgan Lines, a day laborer and convicted murderer.Knight was reported AWOL in October 1862. He later defended his desertion, arguing, "if they had a right to conscript me when I didn't want to fight the Union, I had a right to quit when I got ready." After making his way 200 miles home from deserting in the retreat following the defeat at Corinth, Knight, according to relatives, shot and killed Morgan.: 100 In early 1863, Knight was arrested and jailed for desertion, and possibly tortured, by Confederate authorities. They burned his homestead and farm as an example to others, leaving his family destitute.: 104 As the ranks of deserters swelled after the Union was victorious in the Siege of Vicksburg, Confederate authorities began receiving reports that deserters in the Jones County area were looting and burning houses. A local quartermaster, Captain W. J. Bryant, reported that "the deserters have overrun and taken possession of the country, in many cases exiling the good and loyal citizens or shooting them in cold blood on their own door-sills." General Braxton Bragg dispatched Major Amos McLemore to Jones County to investigate and round up deserters and stragglers. On October 5, 1863, McLemore was shot and killed in the Ellisville home of Amos Deason; Knight is believed to have killed him.Knight had taken to the swamp on the Leaf River to evade authorities, finding other deserters and fugitive slaves there. He and followers organized what they called the Knight Company on October 13, 1863. It was a band of guerrillas from Jones County and adjacent counties of Jasper, Covington, Perry and Smith, who intended to protect the families and farms from Confederate authorities, including high takings of goods for taxes. Knight was elected "captain" of the company, which included many of his relatives and neighbors. The company's main hideout, known as "Devils Den," was located along the Leaf River at the Jones-Covington county line. Local women and slaves provided food and other aid to the men. Women blew cattlehorns to signal the approach of Confederate authorities to their farms.: 112
From late 1863 to early 1865, the Knight Company allegedly fought fourteen skirmishes with Confederate forces. One skirmish took place on December 23, 1863, at the home of .... Discover the Coleman Newton popular books. Find the top 100 most popular Coleman Newton books.