Skip to main content

The Free State of Jones


Mississippi's Longest Civil War

Truth or Myth?

The state of Mississippi voted to secede from the Union.

Did the county actually secede from the state of Mississippi? No.

Was there opposition to secession? Yes.

The county voted against secession for their representative at the convention on secession. David Williams shows there was opposition to secession all over the South. He also shows there was a lot of manipulation of votes by slaveowning secessionists to maneuver secession across the South. For wahterver reason John Powell, the representative from Jones county, decided to vote for secession at the convention.

The state did send troops to the county during the war restore order in the county. Was there a revolt against the state? Certainly there was active opposition to the war. Men from Jones county joined the Union Army in New Orleans.

This could be a great story. As you can see below, one movie has been made about the Free State of Jones. Maybe even a second movie.



Some white Southerners really did oppose secession.

I grew up in a small community called Union in southern Jones county, Mississippi. I wondered about the name, Union. I could not believe the name was connected with support for the Union, after all there was the glorious Lost Cause we learned about in school. I never even thought to ask the question. Why not? Opposition to secession was not even mentioned.

My family attended the Burruss Memorial Universalist Church, pictured. Many of my relatives helped found the church about 1903. I believe Jasper Collins, who was definitely a Union man, was involved in its founding.

I did hear calls to abolish the segregation laws and integrate the schools. Although, the members support was lukewarm, but the ministers continued to make the case that segregation was wrong. This had to be one of the few churches in Mississippi where there were calls for support for the civil rights movement. There is a connection between the Universalists and the Free State of Jones. Too many of my relatives and Union supporters were also Universalists.

My mother remembers the church had black members in the 1920s and 30's. They were in the back of the church, but they did attend. By the fifties and sixties, blacks attending white churches in Mississippi made national headlines.

I first heard of the "Free State of Jones" after graduating from high school. My senior English teacher, Mary Kitchens, fondly called "Bloody Mary," wrote a book about it. Since then I have found much more information on the "Free State of Jones."

The state of Mississippi was moving toward secession in 1861. Few Jones county citizens owned slaves. Jones county citizens voted overwhelmingly to have their representative, John Powell, vote against secession. He went, saw the way the wind was blowing and voted for secession. He never returned to the county. Or he went planning to vote for secession. There is no way to tell which was his motive.


Active opposition came later

There were Confederate units from Jones county. Desertions did increase after the state voted that owners of more than twenty slaves did not have to serve in the army.

Active resistance came later. Newt Knight and assorted friends did fight the Confederates. One story says they set up a government seceding from the state of Mississippi.

Session from the state is not literally true, no government was formed. The county did not really secede from the state. There was a lot of opposition to the war. Confederate troops were sent to restore order. There were problems for the Confederates in the area. Troops were sent in to punish the opposition. Men died in the fighting.

Scroll to Continue

Men from Jones county went to New Orleans in 1864 and joined the 1st Regiment New Orleans Infantry, a part of the Union Army. This regiment was a supplement to the Union troops around New Orleans.

Little things tell the tale. One of Knight's followers, Jasper Collins, named his son, Ulysses Sherman Collins in 1867. Note that he was able to get both great Union generals in the name, Grant and Sherman. Grant's "S" is not for Sherman. There is no doubt about Jasper Collins feelings about the Union.

My great-great Grandmother, Alzada Courtney (the woman on the right in this picture), told about taking a broom to both Union and Confederate soldiers trying to steal her chickens.

I discovered in my genealogical research that my g-g-grandfather and three of his brothers joined the Union Army in New Orleans.

Free State of Jones books

Newton Knight and the Legend of the Free State of Jones

From Mississippi History Now

Newton Knight and the Legend of the Free State of Jones by James R. Kelly, Jr, a history instructor at Jones County Junior College offers a good summary of Newt Knight and his rebellion. A good read.


The State of Jones

The view from Harvard

John Stauffer can have the first words. Mr. Stauffer is interviewed at Amazon. He says their research revealed Newt Knight's opposition to slavery, something that Victoria Bynum missed.

I hoped for a great book. The authors want it to be seen as history. I see the book as a historical novel. I like that historical novels.

The authors have done a lot of research. Long on speculation about the war in Mississippi, but short on any sourcing the material. The speculation is interwoven with their view of the historical record, a historical novel.

Here is an excerpt from the book on the Wall Street Journal.

Victoria Bynum's review gives us an in depth review in three parts. Her review is the best single review of the work. Always professional in her assertions with references to how and why she thinks what she does, she asks probing questions. As an example, she disagrees with Stauffer about Knight's opposition to slavery. No one else finds evidence for this particular view.

Stauffer and Jenkins take offense a the review at Kevin Levin's blog, Civil War Memory. They start by questioning Ms. Bynum as a disinterested scholar and accuse her of trying to protect her turf in the Free State of Jones. They come across as very defensive. Why attack? What did they not just lay out their reasoning.

Unfortunately, Stauffer and Jenkins pursue the attack against those who disagree. Michael B. Ballard writes a critique that shows a lack of understanding of what is known about the war and Jones county. He disagrees with some of their assessments and says why he disagrees.

The response? The State of Jones Was Real, and Ahead of Its Time according to the WSJ letter headline. Stauffer and Jenkins say that Michael Ballard makes errors of fact and interpretation which require correction. Read their response.

The customer reviews on Amazon show me that those with the least understanding of Jones county and the history are the most impressed with the book.

"The State of Jones" crosses border into pseudohistory says Steve Raymond in a review at the Seattle Times.

Great controversy. The book is a good read. Read both books, see what you think.


1st Regiment New Orleans Infantry

National Park Service: Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System

To find individuals, who served, search the

Civil War Soldiers and Sailor System:

1) Select Union and Louisiana, then search.

2) Choose 1st Regiment New Orleans Infantry from the list.

Spellings vary, so you may have to look thru all the names to find someone you are searching for.

Recently an even better source became available,

It lists the entire regiment with records attached for each soldier. Find under Civil War, Union Soldier Service Records, Louisiana, First New Orleans Infantry. You can look thru these with a trial membership. If you want to do more research, their monthly fees are reasonble.

Union Men from Jones County

Members of the 1st Regiment New Orleans Infantry

This is a list in progress. These are the men from Jones county in the 1st Regiment. There are certainly more names to be added.

Note: I wonder if the two names listed as Martin V. are also named after Martin van Buren.

R. D. Bounds

Prentice Bynum

Riley J. Collins

Wiley C. Courtney

John Culpepper

Thomas Johnson

Willis Jones

William Knight

Henry Landrum

John Landrum

Thomas Landrum

William P. Landrum

James W. Lee

William Mauldin

L. B. Parker

Martin V. Parker

Daniel Pitts

Martin V. Shows

Drayton L. Tucker

James S. Tucker

John Tucker

Martin van Buren Tucker

Albert Walters

Archy Walters

Drury Walters

Joel W. Walters

Marada Walters

Richard Walters

Tolbert Welborn

William Elbert "Pet" Welborn

Richard Welch

I overlooked this post by Ed Payne on Renegade South, Crossing the Rubicon of Loyalties: Piney Woods enlistees in the Union 1st and 2nd North Orleans Infantry. Ed lists over 200 men from Mississippi, mostly from the Piney Woods who joined the Union forces in New Orleans.

E-mail me at if you want someone added to the list, or if I need to make a correction.

Southern Unionists

Union support around the South

Southern Unionist Chronicles has stories from around the South about supporters of the Union and opposition to secession.

Sites about the Free State of Jones

Jones County on the Map

Free State of Jones on YouTube - Cary Hudson

Jones County Jubilee

A song by Gregg Andrews about the Free State of Jones.

  • Jones County Jubilee
    This site was recommended by Vikki Bynum. I'm sure it is an unbiased opinion about her husband's work. Go to the site, listen to "Jones County Jubilee." I like it.

Street was born in Lumberton, MS. One of his books was Tap Roots, the one made into the movie about the Free State of Jones.

Movie? Game? - Keep checking to see if there is any progress.

Gary Ross, producer of Seabiscuit, is the director/writer of an announced movie, The Free State of Jones. The movie is listed as being in production.

  • Movie Link
    Can there be another movie about Jones county? Check this out. Sounds unlikely now.
  • Free State of Jones game
    You've read the book, will see the movie, and now let's look at the game.
  • Tap Roots
    The 1948 movie loosely based on the Free State of Jones in the book Tap Roots by James Street.

Bitterly Divided

Opposition to secession throughout the South

In this book, David Williams shows the widespread opposition to the session and the war with examples from letters, newspaper accounts, and books. As in Jones county, the slaveowners manipulated the results to gain approval for secession.

How did they fool the people? Representatives for the slaveholders claimed they would vote against secession. Once elected, they voted for secession, as did J. D. Powell from Jones county.

There was a clear line dividing the planters from the rest of the people. Slaveowners were generally exempt from service. Slaveowners did not grow food for the troops because cotton brought them more money. Some took the land from families whose breadwinner was away fighting for the South.

Williams lays out lots of evidence that the planters were simply out to make money from the war. Prices went up mostly because the government was increasing the money supply, not thru a nefarious scheme of the planters. The planters were plenty greedy and acted almost entirely in their interests.

What was the reason for secession? Slavery. No it was not for some abstract idea of states rights. This sounds like the usual cover story where we're just doing things to help you. We want to look good as we line our pockets.

The fighting was mainly done by those who did not own slaves. The money was made by those who did not fight.

If you think this was a noble cause, read this book.


Slavery by Another Name

Slavery after the Civil War

Slavery by Another Name is Douglas A. Blackmon's site about his book of the same name. He has found a lot of evidence of another form of slavery following the war. I believe it comes out of the same mindset as that of the slaveholders before the war. They struggled to keep their power after the war. This is an important work that adds to the real story of the South.

The story of the glorious lost cause of the Confederacy is beginning to unravel. It was the only story I heard as I grew up. The takeover of the Southern states by the old slaveholders is an important story. Their use and abuse of the government to enforce their views and power over others is one that needs telling.

This is an important book that deserves a wide reading. This should make your blood boil.

Your thoughts

anonymous on January 19, 2012:

What a great story. I've bookmarked your lens so I can visit again. I live in and grew up in Selma, Alabama. Here in Alabama we have The Free State of Winston. Winston County, Alabama was against secession and stayed loyal to the Union. I never knew that the same thing happened in Mississippi until I found your lens today. Thanks for sharing this interesting lens with us.

E L Seaton from Virginia on September 09, 2011:

Fascinating look at one county of OUR home state. Thanks for such a well researched and told tale of the history of that part of Mississippi. Great lens.

anonymous on September 20, 2009:

[in reply to vickylee]

My GG G Grandmother is Alzada Courtney. My Mother's brother is one of the small children in the picture that shows Alzada Courtney with her daughter and husband (Martin Van Buren Tucker). I have several grainy snapshots of Grandmaw Courtney, but they are too poor to blow up or frame. I would love to see what your photo of her is like as I hope to make a shadow box containing her obituary--printed in the 1936 Leader Call-- a photo, a piece of jewelry that was hers and the two clay pipes that she smoked--all currently in my Mother's possession. My Grandmother, Maudie Arcola Tucker told me a story of Alzada Courtney cutting off the hand of a man with her wood cutting axe.

Contact me at

Would you please


vickylee on January 02, 2009:

Hi Ralph,

Haven't visited here in awhile and am always impressed with how you keep your site current. Hope you'll visit my relatively new website and blog. I've posted Alzade's picture on the website!

Donaldson_Grisham on October 24, 2008:

Very interesting lens. It's always interesting to hear more about the Civil War outside of the famous heroes and battles. We'd love for you to visit our lens when you have a chance. Be sure to leave a comment and say hi when you visit.

anonymous on February 12, 2008:

this web site had excellent information. i had to research our history for school and this was part of a class discussion. great web site!

Related Articles