The State of Jones

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Mississippi's Free State of Jones

Powell stayed away from Jones County for a while after that, and he was burned in effigy in Ellisville. Although he was against secession, Knight voluntarily enlisted in the Confederate Army once the war began. We can only speculate about his reasons. He kept no diary and gave only one interview near the end of his life, to a New Orleans journalist named Meigs Frost. But the leading scholar of the Knight-led rebellion, Victoria Bynum, author of The Free State of Jones , points out that Knight had enlisted, under no threat of conscription, a few months after the war began, in July She thinks he relished being a soldier.

Victoria Bynum traces the origins and legacy of the Jones County uprising from the American Revolution to the modern civil rights movement. In bridging the gap between the legendary and the real Free State of Jones, she shows how the legend reveals a great deal about the South's transition from slavery to segregation. Returning home, they found their wives struggling to keep up the farms and feed the children.

A Confederate colonel named William N. In early , Knight was captured for desertion and possibly tortured. After Vicksburg fell, in July , there was a mass exodus of deserters from the Confederate Army, including many from Jones and the surrounding counties. The following month, Confederate Maj. Amos McLemore arrived in Ellisville and began hunting them down with soldiers and hounds. By October, he had captured more than deserters, and exchanged threatening messages with Newt Knight, who was back on his ruined farm on the Jasper County border.

Soon afterward, there was a mass meeting of deserters from four Piney Woods counties. They organized themselves into a company called the Jones County Scouts and unanimously elected Knight as their captain. Welborn, their former commanding officer in the Seventh Mississippi, later recalled. In March , Lt. Wirt Thompson reported that they were now a thousand strong and flying the U. That spring was the high-water mark of the rebellion against the Rebels. Polk ordered two battle-hardened regiments into southeast Mississippi, under the command of Piney Woods native Col. With hanging ropes and packs of vicious, manhunting dogs, they subdued the surrounding counties and then moved into the Free State of Jones.

They were deep in the swamps, being supplied with food and information by local sympathizers and slaves, most notably Rachel. After Lowry left, proclaiming victory, Knight and his men emerged from their hide-outs, and once again, began threatening Confederate officials and agents, burning bridges and destroying railroads to thwart the Rebel Army, and raiding food supplies intended for the troops.

Three months later, the Confederacy fell. In , the filmmaker Gary Ross was at Universal Studios, discussing possible projects, when a development executive gave him a brief, one-page treatment about Newton Knight and the Free State of Jones. Ross was instantly intrigued, both by the character and the revelation of Unionism in Mississippi, the most deeply Southern state of all.

The first thing he did was take a canoe trip down the Leaf River, to get a feel for the area. Then he started reading, beginning with the five now six books about Newton Knight. That led into broader reading about other pockets of Unionism in the South. Then he started into Reconstruction. He was giving me no quarter. Ross worked his way slowly and carefully through the books, and went back with more questions. Foner answered none of them, just gave him another reading list. Ross read those books too, and went back again with burning questions.

You ought to think about studying this. I tell people this movie is my academic midlife crisis. In Hollywood, he says, the executives were extremely supportive of his research, and the script that he finally wrestled out of it, but they balked at financing the film. So I went and did Hunger Games, but always keeping an eye on this. Matthew McConaughey thought the Free State of Jones script was the most exciting Civil War story he had ever read, and knew immediately that he wanted to play Newt Knight.

He did so deliberately, and to the hell with the consequences. I really kind of marveled at him. The third act of the film takes place in Mississippi after the Civil War. There was a phase during early Reconstruction when blacks could vote, and black officials were elected for the first time. Then former Confederates violently took back control of the state and implemented a kind of second slavery for African-Americans. Once again disenfranchised, and terrorized by the Klan, they were exploited through sharecropping and legally segregated.

He was hired by the Reconstruction government to free black children from white masters who were refusing to emancipate them. His commitment to these issues never waned.

Free State of Jones

Much as Ross wanted to shoot the movie in Jones County, there were irresistible tax incentives to film across the border in Louisiana, and some breathtaking cypress swamps where various cast members were infested with the tiny mites known as chiggers. Nevertheless, Ross and McConaughey spent a lot of time in Jones County, persuading many county residents to appear in the film. On the website of Jones County Rosin Heels, the local chapter of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, an announcement warned that the film will portray Newt Knight as a civil rights activist and a hero.

Then the writer inadvertently slips into the present tense: Doug Jefcoate was listed as camp commander. I found him listed as a veterinarian in Laurel, and called up, saying I was interested in his opinions on Newt Knight. Come to the animal hospital tomorrow.

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The receptionist led me into a small examining room and closed both its doors. I stood there for a few long minutes, with a shiny steel table and, on the wall, a Bible quotation. Then Jefcoate walked in, a middle-aged man with sandy hair, glasses and a faraway smile. He was carrying two huge, leather-bound volumes of his family genealogy. He gave me ten minutes on his family tree, and when I interrupted to ask about the Rosin Heels and Newt Knight, he stopped, looked puzzled, and began to chuckle.

He laughed uproariously, then settled down and gave me his thoughts. Cox, an animated year-old radio and television announcer with a long white beard, welcomed me into a small office crammed with video equipment and Confederate memorabilia. All he had so far was the credits Executive Producer Carl Ford and the introductory banjo music. And like all poor, white, ignorant trash, he was in it for himself. Some people are far too enamored of the idea that he was Martin Luther King, and these are the same people who believe the War Between the States was about slavery, when nothing could be further from the truth.

There seemed no point in arguing with him, and it was almost impossible to get a word in, so I sat there scribbling as he launched into a long monologue that defended slavery and the first incarnation of the Klan, burrowed deep into obscure Civil War battle minutiae, denied all charges of racism, and kept circling back to denounce Newt Knight and the simpering fools who tried to project their liberal agendas on him.

Joseph Hosey is a Jones County forester and wild mushroom harvester who was hired as an extra for the movie and ended up playing a core member of the Knight Company. Scruffy and rail-thin with piercing blue eyes and a full beard, he looks like he subsists on Confederate Army rations and the occasional squirrel.

A few years later, there was a vote on it, and the names were changed back. Thank God, because that would have sucked. Like his grandfather before him, Hosey is a great admirer of Newt Knight. It made me really wish my grandfather was still alive, because we were always saying someone should make a movie about Newt. I ask him what he admires most about Knight. Newt Knight gives me something in my heritage, as a white Southerner, that I can feel proud about. After Reconstruction, with the former Confederates back in charge, the Klan after him, and Jim Crow segregation laws being passed, Knight retreated from public life to his homestead on the Jasper County border, which he shared with Rachel until her death in , and continued to share with her children and grandchildren.

He lived the self-sufficient life of a yeoman Piney Woods farmer, doted on his swelling ranks of children and grandchildren, and withdrew completely from white society.

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He gave that single long interview in , revealing a laconic sense of humor and a strong sense of right and wrong, and he died the following year, in February He was 84 years old. However, the storytelling is a bit problematic, as it takes on too much; skipping around a lot and working in a subplot about Newt's great-grandson.

However, the production values are especially good, giving an authentic look and feel for the time period. And the drama is really intense and exciting. Free State of Jones has a few problems, but overall it's a compelling film about a fascinating piece of American history.

Free State of Jones (2016)

The film isn't perfect and some of the supporting cast let the film drag at times. The court room snippets didn't work and often left little to the overall film, that battle deserves a film on its own merits. I can't see why this was released in summer, the film died horribly when other films successfully limped along. The strong areas work so well and the aftermath of the battle for Jones is heartbreaking. There is a great film here but its smothered by unneeded influence by the director Ross.

This deserves an audience. The script is plodding and unfocued, and the story is puzzlingly episodic.

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The costumes and locations are good, but McConaughey oozes contemporary morality and seems ill-suited for this period piece. The only noticably good acting was from Mahershala Ali.

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The film might have as lief been entitled "Talent-Free State of Jones". Spend your ticket money on popcorn and just hang out in the theater lobby, kids. This one's a stinker. Well meaning and somberly recreated, Free State of Jones is a historical drama that wants to illuminate the story of Newton Knight Matthew McConaughey who deserted from the Confederate army and seceded from the very people who seceded from the United States. Knight and the people of Jones county Mississippi declared themselves independent and awaited the consequences.

At first the Confederate army is annoyed, but as armed skirmishes increase and Knight's team swells with poor farmers and runaway slaves, garnering Robin Hood-esque folk hero status, you're expecting an escalating level of force that will doom Newton. We've seen this kind of historical drama before where men usually men of courage and politics ahead of their time are stamped out by the forces of oppression and we then celebrate their noble sacrifice.

I kept waiting for Jones to go this route, and then slight historical spoilers the Civil War ends and instead the last half hour is an episodic history tour that includes the rise of the KKK, registering freed black men for voting, and early voter suppression acts. There is also a storyline strewn throughout that takes place in a s Mississippi courtroom. At first you're left scratching your head about the flash forwards, and then the connections come to bear.

We're watching Knight's great? It's a storyline that just doesn't really gel with the movie as a whole and really only serves to remind you that years later Mississippi was still a pretty terrible place to live. Free State of Jones' failure is that it doesn't make this slice of history emotionally engaging.

The relationship is treated very tenderly and Mbatha-Raw aces her scenes. Also warning to dog lovers: Free State of Jones works better as a history lesson rather than as a fully formed movie. More Top Movies Trailers Forums. Apocalypse Better Call Saul: Season 4 Castle Rock: Season 1 The Deuce: Season 2 Fear the Walking Dead: Season 3 The Walking Dead: View All Videos 2. View All Photos Banding together with other small farmers and local slaves, Knight launched an uprising that led Jones County, Mississippi to secede from the Confederacy, creating a Free State of Jones.

Knight continued his struggle into Reconstruction, distinguishing him as a compelling, if controversial, figure of defiance long beyond the War. Matthew McConaughey as Newton Knight.

The State of Jones - John Stauffer

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Rachel. Keri Russell as Serena Knight. Mahershala Ali as Moses Washington. Jacob Lofland as Daniel. Sean Bridgers as Sumrall. Jessica Collins as Annie. Bennett as Junie Lee. Christopher Berry as Jasper Collins. Thomas Francis Murphy as Elias Hood. Bill Tangradi as Lt. Brian Lee Franklin as Davis Knight. Joe Chrest as James Eakins. Donald Watkins as Wilson. Jill Jane Clements as Aunt Sally. Dane Rhodes as Ward. Lawrence Turner as Chester.

Troy Hogan as George. Greg Kennedy as Jesse. Charlie Anderson as Malachi. Dave Jensen as Defense Attorney. Bill Martin Williams as Whittington. Jim Kelly as Court Clerk. Rhonda Dents as Mabel Ely. David Maldonado as Polling Station Clerk. Jane McNeil as Woman in Courtroom. John Neisler as Leonidas Polk. Sharon Landry as Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Ellis as Margaret. Kurt Krause as Injured Soldier. Andrew Petrotta as Union Official.

Joseph Hosey as Joseph Collins. Marshall as Sergeant Battlefield.