• E-Books
  • Latest Catalogs
  • Books for Courses
  • Exhibits Listing
  • View Cart

Quick Browse





336 pp., 53/4 x 91/4, 32 illus., 9 charts, 10 maps, appends., notes, bibl., index
Published: Fall 2001


$22.95 paper
ISBN 978-0-8078-5467-9
Published: Spring 2003

 Add to cart
 View cart
 Checkout


The Free State of Jones
Mississippi's Longest Civil War

by Victoria E. Bynum

Copyright (c) 2001, 2003 by the University of North Carolina Press. All rights reserved.




Part I: The Origins of Mississippi's Piney Woods People

Chapter 1
Jones County's Carolina Connection
Class and Race in Revolutionary America

We can't boast of our ancestors because, when we get started talking about our families, out jumps the ghost of a pirate or a cousin of color. --Sam Dabney, from James Street's Tap Roots, 1943

[The Knights were of] the old aristocracy, bringing in slaves and finery from an older civilization. --Ethel Knight, Echo of the Black Horn, 1951

Although South Carolina was the birthplace of most Jones County settlers, most of the parents of these settlers, especially those born before 1820, came from North Carolina. Swept by the forces of evangelical revivalism, the Regulator Movement, and the American Revolution, they participated in various "uncivil" wars, creating antiauthoritarian traditions among their descendants that later would support desertion of the Confederacy as well as secession from the Union. Thus the divisions that ripped apart families and neighborhoods in Civil War Jones County would be nothing new for the Welborns, Knights, Collinses, Sumralls, Bynums, Valentines, and Welches, who shared with one another a rich heritage of dissent and conflict.[1]

While it would be a mistake to attribute Southern dissenters' political views and behavior to their ancestors' experiences, that heritage did influence descendants' future economic, geographic, and marital choices, which in turn influenced their Civil War behavior. So important, in fact, is the historical background of participants in the Free State of Jones that it, too, became contested terrain between novelist James Street and local historian Ethel Knight.

Street's allusions to pirates and cousins of color in Tap Roots were part of his effort to link the origins of anti-Confederate sentiment in Piney Woods Mississippi to the ancestry of its participants. Interwoven within his tale of action and romance were the Revolution, the War of 1812, the settling of the frontier, and the historical evolution of relations of class and race from the perspective of his fictional characters. As an author of history as well as fiction, Street wanted readers to understand that the past weighed mightily on the Civil War generation.

To understand Street's effort to connect the Free State of Jones to the Revolutionary era, however, one must read his earlier novel, Oh, Promised Land, published in 1940. The popularity of Tap Roots, reflected in Universal Studio's release in 1948 of a movie by the same name, overshadowed his earlier novel in which he discussed not only race relations but also the class origins and political backgrounds of Piney Woods settlers. Using the Dabneys as a fictional composite of Jones County's early Anglo settlers, Street placed them in frontier Georgia as former Tories, Indian fighters, and plain folk who eventually came to hate the institution of slavery.[2]

If Street had gone back one more generation, he likely would have added Revolutionary era Regulators and radical Baptist exhorters from North and South Carolina to his cast of characters. Between 1750 and 1815 in the Carolinas, plain folk participated in religious schisms, civil disorders, and battles with Indians over possession of lands. Political and economic conflict rocked both colonies, driving people from one frontier to another until finally they headed to the Southwest. Baptist Separates, Regulators, Tories, and especially, land-hungry farmers fled from North Carolina into Tennessee and Georgia, but particularly over the border into South Carolina's districts of Camden, Orangeburgh, and Ninety Six. In 1766 tensions over taxes and lands culminated in North Carolina when farmers organized the Regulator Movement to overturn corrupt local governments dominated by elite planters, merchants, and lawyers. Regulators struggled to maintain their status as independent producers who enjoyed a "competency" based on both self-sufficiency and commercial exchange.[3]

Among these families were many ancestors of Jones County settlers who later shared a historical predisposition to view the Civil War as a "rich man's war and a poor man's fight." Still, traditions of civil disaffection among the Southern yeomanry did not in and of themselves cause later generations to oppose the Confederacy. Indeed, in Jones County as elsewhere, many white Southerners believed that rebellion against the Union was the ultimate act of principled civil disobedience against greedy tyrants. The local context in which a family encountered Confederate authority greatly influenced whether that family would be anti- or pro-Confederate, and branches of the same families frequently adopted opposite stances.[4]

Ethel Knight, raised to revere the American Revolution and slavery, as well as the supremacy of the white race, could not abide such a history for her ancestors. She assured her readers that although many early white migrants to Jones County were "without lands or money," or "simply adventurers and vagabonds," the founding families, including the Knights, were part of "the old aristocracy, bringing in slaves and finery from an older civilization." Historical records, however, do not bear out such aristocratic claims. As Street recognized, the ancestors of Jones County families were mostly plain folk who migrated to Mississippi Territory in search of elusive prosperity.[5]

In 1951, however, Street's images of racially mixed ancestors disturbed Ethel Knight more than his class-conscious characters and drove her to write Echo of the Black Horn. Street's creation of the Tap Roots character Kyd Fermat Dabney, a Cajun orphan adopted by Hoab and Shellie Dabney who secretly possessed "Moorish blood," seemed particularly to disturb Ethel. Although Kyd was not by birth a Dabney, Street's description of her as an orphan suggested that she might be modeled after Mason Rainey Knight, Newt Knight's mother and Ethel's direct ancestor.[6]

The mysterious tales about Mason Knight, who was reputed to have been the "ward" of Jackie Knight before she married his son Albert, were tailor-made for Street's novel of adventure and scandal, and he may indeed have built on legends about her to create Kyd. In 1935 Tom Knight described his grandmother as an orphan whose surname was actually Griffin, not Rainey. He further explained that she was raised by Jackie and Keziah Knight alongside their own children. Around the same time, Martha Wheeler, a former Knight family slave, told Works Projects Administration (WPA) writer Addie West that "she had always been told" that Mason Rainey had "attached herself" to the Knights in Asheville, North Carolina, after her own people died of the flux. Strikingly similar to Wheeler's story was Street's description of how a yellow-fever epidemic killed the parents of Kyd Fermat, causing her to turn to the Dabneys for sustenance.[7]

Kyd Dabney's resemblance to Mason Rainey disturbed some Knights because of her mixed-blood ancestry. "Those black eyes of Kyd's," mused Kyd's adoptive father, Sam Dabney, "ay they glow like bits of polished ebony in a tiny spoon of milk. And those full lips. And her happy nature. She's too unrestrained to be all white." Ethel Knight thus widened the distance between Street's fictional Kyd and her great-great-grandmother by expanding on Tom Knight's and Martha Wheeler's tales. She insisted that Mason Rainey's true name was Rebecca Griffith and that she and her brother were orphaned by their wealthy parents' death from the "bloody flux" during their move west. Shortly thereafter, she claimed, a group of Masons rescued the orphaned children and found a new home for the girl among the Knights. Ethel claimed that the Masons showed up on the Knights' doorstep on a rainy night--hence, the Knights renamed her Mason Rainey.[8]

To further counter any suggestion that Mason, like Kyd Dabney, might have had "black blood," Ethel described her as a "strange and beautiful" "Spanish-type lady." Since it was important to Ethel in 1951 that Mason's body contain not a drop of African blood, she explained her apparent lack of ivory skin and aquiline features by endowing her with an exotic (but European) ancestry. Because of Tap Roots and Davis Knight's trial, the racial identity of all Jones County Knights was openly in question at that time, and Ethel placed the blame for that squarely on the shoulders of James Street and Newt Knight.[9]

Although Ethel Knight's racial attitudes conformed to those exhibited by many white Southerners of her generation, these sentiments had evolved over a period of three centuries. By the 1840s, claims of Indian, Iberian, or Mediterranean ancestry defended one's whiteness against race-based laws and social harassment. But before the nineteenth century--and especially before slavery became firmly entrenched in the Carolina and Georgia backcountries--racial identity was more fluid, even negotiable in some cases. Nothing better exemplified its uncertain meaning in the era of the American Revolution than the prominent role played by Gideon Gibson, a light-skinned slaveholder of partially African ancestry, in South Carolina's Regulator Movement. As enforcement of race laws hardened, mixed people, including many of Gideon Gibson's descendants, migrated west in search of whiteness as well as fresh lands.[10]

During North America's colonial period, the yeoman ancestors of Jones County settlers lived in a patriarchal world bounded by lines of gender, class, and increasingly, race. The decision by colonial planters--the overwhelming majority of whom were white men--to abandon bound labor in favor of chattel slavery hastened their disproportionate control over land and wealth. In this world of expanding agricultural commerce and slavery, ordinary men understood that attaining economic success and individual honor depended on their ability to gain and cultivate land through the violent dispossession of Indians and ownership of African slaves.[11]

The rise of white men in the expansive colonial economy in turn gave rise to a racialized class structure. Even though slaveowners comprised only a minority of North Carolina's white population, their replacement of white servants with black slaves nonetheless sent the message to ordinary white men and women that servitude was uncomfortably close to slavery. As whiteness became the essential basis for freedom, white women became the crucial vessels of racial purity; black men, its despoilers. The policing of white women's and black men's sexual behavior revealed most strikingly the need for discrete categories of race in a society undergirded by the labor of enslaved Africans. Black women were designated as bearers of racially "polluted" offspring--whether fathered by black or white men--while notions of racial and sexual purity converged in the "chaste" white woman. Legally and socially, white women who crossed the color line entered a racialized realm of whoredom. As whites increasingly associated unbridled carnality, lust, and "nasty" sexual impulses with Africans, the term "wench" became almost synonymous with a female slave. At the same time, blame for the mixing of the races was placed squarely on the shoulders of white women, the designated repositories of chastity and racial purity, for their lewd "polluting" of white bloodlines.[12]

Male honor also became wedded to whiteness in this structure. A white man's success as patriarch depended not only on his owning land and mastering a household but on conquering "savage" Indians or owning "barbarian" Africans. Nevertheless, the bifurcation of racial identity into discrete categories of black and white was a long and ultimately illusory process. People of mixed racial ancestry were legally restrained and socially ostracized, but they could not be erased. Whether labeled Mulattoes, Mustees, Melungeons, Creoles, Cajuns, or the like, the mixing of peoples in early America was a visible fact.[13]

Despite increasingly close connections between racial and class identity in Revolutionary America, lower and middling white men continued to resent powerful white men, and an interracial subculture continued to flourish underground. Even slaveholders clandestinely participated in activities that regularly occurred among slaves and free blacks, often in wooded areas outside mainstream society. Sexual relationships, illicit trade, feasts, and religious celebrations flourished in what Rhys Isaac has termed an "alternative territorial system." Although whites moved in and out of this world, they asserted the prerogatives of whiteness when it served their interests to do so.[14]

In a world that increasingly linked white male honor to the ownership of African Americans, white men who openly shared their hearths and homes with blacks beyond the use of their labor were considered dishonorable. So embedded became the construction of whiteness as a marker of both racial and class supremacy that, one hundred years later, few whites questioned that Newton Knight and his children's interracial relationships were the result of degraded, "unnatural" impulses.[15] Interracial mixing had not abated; it had merely moved underground. Had Newt and his children treated their proscribed relationships as shameful liaisons to be kept secret, they would have posed little threat to society. Instead, Newt welcomed Rachel Knight and her children into the fold of his own family, thereby severing masculine honor from the prerogatives (and responsibilities) of whiteness, an act more shocking to his neighbors than his rebellion against the Confederacy.[16]

To help drive home her contention that Newt was an aberrant, deviant member of an otherwise distinguished family, Ethel Knight emphasized that his grandfather Jackie Knight was the son of a Revolutionary soldier and one of Jones County's largest slaveholders. While it is true that Jackie Knight owned twenty-two slaves by 1850, he did not begin adult life as a large slaveholder, nor could Ethel prove that he, her great-great-grandfather, was the son of a Revolutionary patriot soldier. And like most of his Piney Woods cohorts, Jackie Knight was descended from North Carolinians who grew up amid profound political, economic, and religious struggles that included the Regulator Movement, evangelical revivals, Indian Wars, and the Revolution.[17]

The Revolutionary generation's own ancestors were plain folk driven south from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by rising populations, land pressures, and the Chesapeake's glutted tobacco economy.[18] Many of them had moved directly to the Piedmont region of North Carolina, while those from Virginia's south side often entered the state's coastal region and settled in Albemarle County. The ingredients for class and racial strife reemerged in setting after setting. In North Carolina, as in Virginia and Maryland, the final decades of the seventeenth century were filled with violent strife, as small freeholders and "new men" struggled to achieve economic prosperity and political power. Culpeper's Rebellion, Bacon's Rebellion, and by the mid-eighteenth century, the Seven Years' War, were all symptomatic of societies in painful transition.[19]

This was the New World, where a free man was supposed to rise by his own efforts, but old worlds, it seemed, constantly encroached on new ones. The more fluid economic conditions of the early seventeenth century, produced by large immigrant populations, high death rates, and bound labor, were eroded by rising populations of planters, yeomen, and landless freedmen who competed for land that became increasingly dear. And so it went, generation after generation.[20]

During the eighteenth century, many yeoman families like the Knights struggled to rise beyond the status of mere landowners and began entering the ranks of slaveholders. Increasingly, the hallmark of the upper classes was more than mere prosperity and education; it was the practice of the polite rituals of "gracious living," including engagement in social events centered around formal dancing and ceremonious dinners. This genteel living necessitated ever more money for the acquisition of space and material goods. Separate rooms for separate functions and household goods--linens, tableware, and silverware--enabled members of the upper class to display their "refinement."[21]

By comparison, lower-class people appeared ever more "rude," too governed by their material poverty and unremitting labor--or so many of the upper class thought--to participate meaningfully in society. The daily hard work required of nonslaveholders and small slaveholders who farmed and raised livestock left little capital for the purchase of material possessions. Many yeomen occupied sparsely furnished, one-room log homes that might include additional sleeping space in overhead lofts or offer sheds that provided extra shelter or storage space. The badges of their class were painfully visible: leather pants derisively labeled "buckskins"; a diet of cornpone, pork, and milk; and the modest, sometimes disorderly structures they called home. Still, these were propertied free men who voted and sat on juries; gentlemen had to treat them with at least a modicum of respect.[22]

As in the Chesapeake, white North Carolinians built their society on the principles of a domestic patriarchy wherein men dominated public and private institutions. Women contributed to household economies by laboring both in fields and at hearths and were especially valued for their breeding capabilities. The good wife assured her husband's prosperity by obediently and cheerfully serving as his helpmeet in return for his protection. Unlike slaves, considered incapable of honor by whites, wives gained status to the extent that their husbands succeeded financially. Fortunately land was cheap and plentiful in eighteenth-century North Carolina. Propertied men became powerful patriarchs of status, however, to the extent that they were masters to slaves and servants as well as wives and children.[23]

The expanding network of Knights who lived in Edgecombe County understood this well and rose in stature during the second half of the eighteenth century. Although the exact birthplace of Jackie Knight and the name of his father are unknown, Jackie was likely descended from these Knights. Born in North Carolina on September 7, 1773, his mother, Mary, was from neighboring Hertford County. Jackie's grandfather may well have been William Knight of Bertie County, who raised both livestock and tobacco, apparently without slaves. William's 1752 will directed that his son John, who perhaps had already received land, inherit his "smith tools" and "wipsaw"; his second son, William, received land and a horse, and his third son, Nehemiah, received land.[24]

Slaveholding was more common among the next generation of Knights. In 1770 the estate of John Knight included two slaves and the household goods of a prosperous man: three featherbeds, a table, a desk, a chest, a brandy still, iron pots, pewter basins, dishes, and eating utensils. Nehemiah Knight, who appears in the tax and land records of late-eighteenth-century Georgia in the region to which Jackie Knight's family moved, was a slaveholder at the time of his death in 1819. Yet not all Knights were entirely comfortable with slavery. In 1789, in the midst of the nation's constitutional debates over the institution, Ephraim Knight of Halifax County (formed from Edgecombe in 1758) manumitted two mulatto slaves, Richard and Alexander.[25]

Several other ancestors of Jones County immigrants had made their way into the ranks of slaveholders before the close of the eighteenth century. In 1751 Younger Welborn's great-grandparents William and Isabel Teague arrived in North Carolina with their family, including several grown sons, from western Maryland. Their son Moses Teague moved to Rowan County in 1756, where his children intermarried with those of his neighbor, William Welborn, also from Maryland. The Rowan County Welborns remained nonslaveholders, but Moses Teague eventually acquired "one negro man, Abraham."[26]

Several Bynums of the North Carolina Piedmont also advanced into the ranks of slaveholders. When William Bynum Sr. died in 1746, he owned six slaves, forty head of cattle, and numerous household items that included featherbeds, books, and Bibles--items not commonly found in the homes of ordinary farmers. James Bynum (probably William's brother) was less prosperous; his 1763 will directed that three slaves, some supplies of corn and bacon, five cows, several featherbeds, and several unspecified items of furniture be distributed among his heirs.[27]

The acquisition of land, slaves, and material comforts brought a new anxiety to household patriarchs. Not all men could rise in this world; nor could those who did advance be certain that their rise would continue or that they could maintain the wealth they had gained. Those who became Regulators sought what they believed was a just reordering of power. Eighteenth-century farmers knew that their livelihood--indeed, their very survival--depended on participation in the developing commercial economy. Their fears of economic decline reflected a rational assessment of the changing world they faced.[28]

Slave-based commercial agriculture contributed vitally to the modern Atlantic trade system between 1730 and 1815, but most farmers participated only marginally in this golden age of plantation agriculture. Consequently, thousands of people in western North Carolina supported the Regulator Movement during the 1760s, and on May 15, 1771, two thousand men participated in the Battle of Alamance. Regulators condemned lawyers and merchants as parasites who made their wealth off the productive labor of farmers. In particular they resented the coteries of men who assigned exorbitant taxes, seized people's lands, and appropriated public monies through dominance of county politics.[29]

Among the ancestors of future members of the Knight Company, for example, the Welborns were most visible in the Regulator Movement. Aaron Welborn, the ancestor of numerous settlers of Piney Woods Mississippi, including three members of the Knight Company and Serena Knight, wife of Newton Knight, grew up in Rowan County, North Carolina. During the 1760s the Abbotts Creek neighborhood of Aaron's birth bristled with excitement from the activities of Regulators and New Light Baptists.[30] Likewise, from Anson County the early kinfolk of the Jones County Collinses--Jacob and Joshua--participated in the Regulator Movement.[31] The Collinses were two of ninety-nine men who protested the county's unfair taxation policies, arguing that "no people have a right to be taxed but by consent of themselves or their delegate."[32] And, among the North Carolina Bynums, James Bynum was indicted on March 11, 1771, for Regulator activities.[33]

The explosive effects of the Great Awakening lent force to North Carolina's Regulator Movement. Less than a decade before Regulators organized their activities, several Separatist New Light Baptist ministers had traveled to the North Carolina Piedmont from New England. The most successful New Light minister was Shubal Stearns, who led North Carolina Baptists in 1758 in forming the Sandy Creek Separate Association. Although New Light preachers offended most upper-class members of society, they touched the hearts of angry people when they condemned the greed of merchants and planters in their fiery jeremiads.[34]

Moreover, several New Light preachers were intimately connected to ancestors of Knight Company members. Philip Mulkey of Orange County, one of Shubal Stearns's chief disciples, was related by marriage to Regulator James Bynum. Stearns himself and his brother-in-law, Daniel Marshall, intermarried with the Regulator Welborn family. Two Welborns also married daughters of Regulator James Younger, a lesser known Baptist exhorter whose piety and "earnest exhortations" converted many of his neighbors to the Baptist faith.[35]

Evangelical radicals optimistically urged personal engagement in the world, promising that if people would only act in God's name, they could build morally pure republican communities. Although slaveholders and nonslaveholders alike responded to New Light preaching, those who became Regulators tended toward middling economic status. They were not simple rustics confused and frightened by a rapidly expanding market economy. Many, like the Teagues, Welborns, Youngers, Collinses, and Bynums, were prosperous farmers whose self-interest fueled their opposition to political and economic corruption. They voiced their complaints in the language of republican rights and Awakening morality, suggesting that white people could remain uncorrupted if they owned few, if any, slaves in a nonplantation region. Accepting the necessity of a commercial economy, many Regulators believed that land and slaves must be widely diffused among free white men in order to prevent greed and political corruption.[36]

The use of unordained "lay" ministers to spread the gospel had obvious appeal to women and to men of humble origins, such as James Younger, who infused his political activism as a Regulator with New Light morality. Around 1756 he visited Daniel Marshall in the Sandy Creek settlement and brought him back to Abbotts Creek, where Marshall founded the Abbotts Creek Baptist Church. Because Marshall was as yet unordained, Shubal Stearns accompanied the men to the new church, located not far from Welborn's (or Kimbrough's) Meeting House, where Regulators sometimes met. Stearns applied to Nicholas Bedgegood, minister of the Welsh Tract Baptists on the Peedee River in South Carolina, to assist in the ordination of Marshall. Bedgegood, a regular Baptist, refused, denouncing Separate Baptists as a "disorderly set, suffering women to pray in public, and permitting every ignorant man to preach that chose."[37]

Bedgegood's words suggest that not only men but also women in Civil War Jones County might draw on an antiauthoritarian heritage. Although most radical theologians did not question women's subordination to men, religious activism encouraged some women to enter the public world, seizing forbidden public spaces, as did some Jones County women during the Civil War. During the Great Awakening, exhorters Martha Stearns Marshall (sister of Shubal and wife of Daniel), Eunice Marshall (sister of Daniel), and Nancy Mulkey, whose exhortations "neither father nor brother could equal," crossed gendered boundaries in the name of delivering God's Word. As it has done historically, social crisis drew some women onto male fields of action.[38]

Persecution and criticism from political leaders and conservative clergy drove many itinerant New Lights to seek fresh fields of converts. Around 1762, on Fairforest Creek in the Ninety Six District, Philip Mulkey and his North Carolina followers founded the first Baptist church of the South Carolina backcountry. Daniel and Martha Marshall left Abbotts Creek in 1760 for the South Carolina backcountry and, eventually, Georgia, with several Stearns and Welborn kinfolk. In 1771, at age sixty-five, Daniel and his family settled on Kiokee Creek, about twenty miles northwest of Augusta. Almost immediately Daniel was arrested under Georgia's legislative act of 1758 that forbade preaching outside the Church of England.[39]

Martha Stearns Marshall's spirited defense of her husband anticipated women's protection of husbands and sons in Civil War Jones County. Drawing on her skills as an exhorter, Martha allegedly quoted scripture to both the constable who arrested Daniel and the magistrate who tried him. Legend has it that she converted both. Whether true or not, the story's importance lies in its retelling to generation after generation of Baptist women. In times of moral crisis, New Light Baptists granted Christian women power to act outside their traditional sphere.[40]

The radical behavior of New Lights continually drew fire from the established ministries, who considered them rude and dâclassâ. Charles Woodmason, the famous Anglican backcountry minister, railed against the newly arrived and "infamous" Philip Mulkey. According to Woodmason, Mulkey came to South Carolina "in Rags, hungry, and bare foot" but could, "at his beck, or Nod, or Motion of his finger lead out four hundred Men into the Wilderness." Woodmason judged the Carolina backcountry's people through upper-class lenses and thought no better of them than he did Mulkey. The "Indians are better cloathed and lodged" than the plain people of Beaver Creek, he wrote, because of the latter's "Indolence and laziness." He described Beaver Creek folks as a "pack of wretches" who were "wild as the deer."[41]

Woodmason's class-based disgust had sexual overtones when directed toward backcountry women. Just as white colonial leaders questioned the chastity of white women who crossed the color line, so also did Woodmason suggest that those who followed itinerant preachers were sexually corrupt. He scolded pretty young women for attending church in "shifts" and "short petticoats, . . . barefooted and Barelegged," and he shamed them by inviting them to ponder what upper-class ladies would think of them. Sexual impurity thus merged with religious exuberance in his image of backcountry Baptist women.[42]

Woodmason's negative images of plain backcountry folk anticipated stereotypes that by the late nineteenth century would be staples of Northern and New South rhetoric (see Chapters 7 and 8). Small wonder, given the steady barrage of degrading images of plain people that spewed forth for the next century and a half, that status-conscious Ethel Knight would recast her Jones County ancestors as aristocratic slaveholding patriots rather than Regulators, itinerant preachers, and Tories.[43]

As New Light preachers moved into the South Carolina-Georgia backcountry, many Regulator families followed their paths. Several sons and daughters of James Welborn Sr. and James Younger moved from North Carolina to the Pendleton district of South Carolina's old Ninety Six District. In 1788, under the leadership of the Reverend Moses Holland, they helped establish the Big Creek Church near the Saluda River. In 1801 James Welborn Jr., a nonslaveholder, served as a deacon. These families had successfully reestablished themselves as solid citizens of the South Carolina backcountry.[44]

The Welborns' kinsman, outlawed Regulator Joshua Teague, fled across the North Carolina border around 1770 and settled at Bush River, where he soon joined Philip Mulkey's New Light Bush River Baptist Church.[45] Migration to the South Carolina backcountry brought the Welborns and Teagues into a region with its own conflicted history, including the brutal Cherokee war of 1760-61, Great Awakening schisms, the Regulator Movement, and a vicious inner civil war between Whigs and Tories during the Revolution. Before displaced North Carolina Regulators arrived, however, South Carolina Regulators had generally quelled the violence, thievery, hand-to-mouth existence, and general lawlessness that flourished in the South Carolina backcountry after the Cherokee war.[46]

There were important differences between the Regulator Movements of North and South Carolina and, accordingly, in the forces that determined whether a family supported the Revolutionary movement or remained loyal to the Crown. The South Carolina backcountry's leading men of property and local stature launched their Regulator campaign against anarchy and disorder in 1767-68. By 1770, often by excessive means, they had successfully transformed chaos into order. Unlike North Carolina's Regulators, they directed their movement toward consolidation of their own economic and political power, gaining dominance by dispossessing Indians and disciplining or driving off outlaws, thieves, and hunters.[47]

The experiences of Jacob Summerall, great-great-grandfather of Newton Knight's second lieutenant, William Wesley Sumrall, demonstrated that South Carolina's Regulators sought more to expand and protect their own wealth than to promote economic democracy. Summerall was an anti-Regulator who later helped lead the Moderator Movement against Regulator excesses in South Carolina. In 1762 he was justice of the peace in the Edgefield district (formerly part of Ninety Six) and owned 550 acres of land in New Windsor Township, near the Savannah River. Summerall's friendship with British superintendent of Indian affairs John Stuart and the importance of New Windsor as an Indian trading post indicate that Summerall probably engaged in the Indian trade. That fact alone would have displeased Regulators, who blamed Indian traders and agents for many of their problems with the Cherokees. Also, Summerall's brother Henry had been convicted of horse theft, which raised questions about his own stance toward crime. Regulators frequently brutalized magistrates whom they considered too "easy" on criminals. Several of them dragged Summerall from his home in New Windsor Township, stripped him, tied him to a tree, and whipped him. When Summerall sued them, they retaliated by seizing him yet again.[48]

Col. John Stuart freed Summerall from the Regulators after Summerall's wife, Ann, appealed to him directly. Shortly thereafter, Summerall warned Stuart that Regulators were after him, too. On November 10, 1768, he wrote to Stuart that Regulator Laurence Rambo "thinks your Honor ought to be taken and whipped and your goods taken from you as you are giving to the damn'd Indians to kill the Back Woods people." Not surprisingly, Summerall's experience at the hands of Regulators led him into the Moderator Movement, organized in March 1769. As in the case of many backcountry people, Regulator oppression encouraged Jacob to become a Tory, while his brother Jesse supported the Revolution.[49]

The Summeralls were typical of many families who found themselves politically divided during the American Revolution. Fierce local schisms generated by Indian wars, the Great Awakening, and the Regulator Movement often determined whether one became Whig or Tory. In the South Carolina backcountry, Regulators and Regular Baptists tended to be Whigs, while those whom they attempted to "order" tended toward loyalism. Particularly in the Ninety Six and Camden Districts, Whigs and Tories chose sides according to neighborhood loyalties. Thus, relatives living in different neighborhoods might easily find themselves on opposite sides of the Revolution.[50]

Clearly, the memory of past conflicts blended with one's immediate political concerns to determine Revolutionary allegiances. There were both Whig and Tory ancestors among families that migrated from the Carolinas and Georgia to Piney Woods Mississippi, and many men may pragmatically have served both armies at different times. According to family tradition, the South Carolina Valentine family was so divided during the Revolution that the patriot branch of the family changed its name to Vollentine to separate itself from the Tory side. In Georgia, where New Lights were persecuted by those who had supported the Revolutionary cause, Daniel Marshall, Luke and James Bynum, and William and Thomas Welch all became Tories. So did most members of the Wrightsborough Quaker community, many of whom were former Regulators from North Carolina. It would be no different some ninety years later in Civil War Jones County, where many families linked by kinship and shared histories would split over whether to support the Confederacy.[51]

As exhilarating as it appeared in hindsight, the Revolution created social chaos and sowed bitter divisions among families. The trials of nation building put enormous social strains on Americans, temporarily flattening the heady ferment of religious zeal and doctrinal conflict. Churches were destroyed, and many congregations and ministers lost their spiritual moorings. Evangelical Whigs persevered, however, arguing that God had decreed America's victory over the British. Their efforts to revitalize religious piety through organization and missionary activity bore fruit with the Second Great Awakening.[52]

Such were the forces--evangelical revivalism, commercial growth, and the Revolution--that propelled people to move west. Fittingly, the main character of James Street's Oh, Promised Land, Sam Dabney, began his trek west in 1795 as a scout for frontier settlers. Like Jackie Knight, he hungered for wealth and status, which he eventually achieved by acquiring land and slaves. Sam, wrote Street, "was a Georgia redneck with a pocket full of yellow gold. He was the New South, the get-rich-quick South. He drank too much and talked too much, ready to fight, hyper-sensitive, trying to hide his red neck under a fine collar." Yet, in Sam Dabney, Street also introduced readers to a white Southern man who eventually turned against slavery and who believed by 1861 that secession was madness.[53]

In Tap Roots Street transformed the brash Sam Dabney from a cotton nabob into an older and wiser yeoman farmer, chastened by his long life on the Southwestern frontier. Unlike Jackie, Sam died a nonslaveholder, convinced by his own "bad investments" that slavery was "economic stupidity." As Sam approached death in the summer of 1858, his granddaughter reminded him that a newspaper editor had once referred to him as the "aristocrat of the aristocrats." By now an old man disgusted by Mississippi's pretensions of gentility, Sam snorted, "God's jawbone! There are not enough aristocrats in Mississippi to serve as pallbearers of a-a-a gnat."[54]

After presenting the Revolution as an important force shaping the lives of Jones County ancestors, Street's novels revealed the frontier to be of equal importance. Whether they intended to become slaveholders or not, families such as the Dabneys rolled onto the frontier in pursuit of Thomas Jefferson's agrarian republic of prosperous white farmers. They would soon face again what many hoped to escape--a rapidly commercializing economy in which powerful planters bought the best lands, owned the most slaves, and all too often, determined political policy.[55]


The Free State of Jones | Home

© 2012 The University of North Carolina Press
116 South Boundary Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27514-3808
How to Order | Make a Gift | Privacy
Greenpress Initiative Network Solutions