Newton Knight was a white farmer who opposed slavery and revolted against the Confederate forces in the course of the American civil war. He did not only gather his own army to fight the separatist forces but also freed his home county of Jones County from the rule of the Confederate government.
Newton Knight is however not without some controversies. He is one of the divisive figures in the history of the American civil war. While some regard him as a betrayer of the southern cause, others see him as a hero and champion of the rights of the downtrodden.
Newton Knight Bio
Newton Knight was born in Jones County, Mississippi, in 1929. He was born into a poor farming family. Newton, on growing up, equally became a farmer. Even though his grandfather (John “Jackie” Knight) was a slaveholder, Newton (and his father, Albert) never took part in the inhumane practice. Unlike many farmers in the south, they did not rely on slaves to do their farm work but instead enlisted the help of their children to do so.
Newton did not receive any formal education but was homeschooled by his mother. In 1958, he got married for the first time to a woman by the name, Serena Turner and they both continued the farming life in Jasper County, Mississippi. They would go on to have nine children together.
His Role In The American Civil War
From the onset, Newton was opposed to slavery as a result of his religious beliefs. However, when the civil war broke out in April 1861, Newton signed up to fight for the Confederate army. Many reasons have been proffered as to why Newton would fight for a cause he opposed. Some argue that he volunteered to avoid being conscripted while others say that it was because of his loyalty to his fatherland. It has also been suggested that he simply loved being a soldier, this may not be false as he was renowned for his shooting skills. Whatever the reason, Newton joined the Confederate forces in July 1861 and fought on their side for some time.
However, Newton Knight quickly grew disillusioned with the Confederate forces and deserted the army in October 1862. Some of the reasons for his desertion include the fact that the army was not being supplied with the provisions they needed, they were being sent to fight the enemy with no arms. Also, the soldiers got reports from home that the authorities were forcibly seizing their properties from their family members in order to support the so-called war effort.
Newton and other deserters were further irked by the “Twenty Negro Law” promulgated by the Confederate forces. The law made it possible for farmers who owned up to 20 slaves to avoid fighting in the war. Also, for any extra 20 slaves they had, they could also obtain a similar waiver for a family member. This law made the soldiers realize that the poor were merely pawns being used by the rich to fight for their own selfish interest.
Upon deserting the army, Newton went back to Jones County where he was saddened by the state of the affairs. The women and children, who couldn’t keep up with the farm work by themselves, were basically living in poverty and yet the army was still seizing whatever little they had in the name of the war effort. This motivated Newton to form a group of freedom fighters known as The Knight Company in October 1863. The group consisted of fellow army deserters as well as runaway slaves numbering 125. Led by Newton Knight, the group fought and chased away Confederate officers sent to seize people’s properties or force them to join the army. The group also seized food and supplies meant for the army and redistributed it to the ordinary people. They took many steps to undermine the Confederate army and were involved in at least 14 clashes with the army.
The Knight Company’s efforts extended beyond Jones County and covered the south-east parts of Mississippi. The group was supported by the rural people who fed them not only food but also information. In 1864, Newton and his company had completely run the Confederate authorities out of Jones County, raising the U.S. flag over the courthouse. Newton also reportedly declared Jones County, and surrounding areas, a free state known as “The Free State of Jones”. Some accounts, however, are of the view that he did not go as far as making that declaration.
The belligerent activities of the Knight Company got the attention of the highest echelon of the Confederate authorities who sent two regiments to deal with the group. The regiment succeeded in killing some members of the group but Newton managed to escape and regroup. Newton and his company were involved in another clash with the Confederate forces (at Sallsbattery, in January 1865) before the civil war eventually ended in April 1865 following the surrender of the Confederacy.
Post Civil War Period
At the end of the civil war, Newton returned to farming life but also continued to play a role in public affairs. He was appointed by the new pro-union government to share food amongst the poor. He also took part in raids to free slaves that their masters had refused to release despite the fact that slavery had been abolished. Newton eventually left politics after separatists won the state government election in the late 1870s. The new government, sadly, would go on to impose new segregation laws that would discriminate against black people. At this stage, Newton withdrew to private life on his farm.
His Wife And Children
Newton Knight got married for the first time in 1958. His wife’s name was Serena Turner. They had nine children together. In the 1970s, Newton and his wife separated and he got married to Rachael, a woman who was previously his grandfather’s slave. This was against the segregation laws in Mississippi but Newton did not give a hoot. They went on to have five children.
Due to the fact that they were of mixed race, these children were discriminated against. Neither the whites nor the blacks accepted them. This made them intermarry amongst themselves. For instance, one of Newton’s sons with Serena, Mat, married one of Racheal’s daughters fathered by another man. Also, one of Newton’s daughter with Serena, Molly, married one of Rachael’s son fathered by another man. This intermarriage has led to the formation of a sizable interracial community, based in the town of Soso, Jones County, even till this day.
Newton Knight passed away in Mississippi in February 1922. He was buried near his wife, Rachael, despite the fact that it was illegal to do so. Even in death, Newton Knight still did not tolerate any form of discrimination on the basis of skin color.