148 A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI NEWT KNIGHT Newton Knight, born in 1837 in Jones County, is famous for becoming a Confederate Army deserter who formed the Knight Company, a band of deserters who fought against the Confederacy to protect their homes in and near Jones County during the Civil War. Knight, who never owned slaves, worked as a farmer to support his family until he reluctantly enlisted in 1861 to fight for the Confederate Army during the Civil War. At those times, men who refused to enlist could be prosecuted. Knight only served a few months before coming home to tend to a sick relative. He re-enlisted in May 1862. By November 1862, Knight was so frustrated with actions of the Confederacy reportedly seizing his property at home and exempting men who owned twenty or more slaves from battle, that he went Absent Without Leave (AWOL). Once home, Knight found women and children starving. After refusing to rejoin the Army, he was taken prisoner by the Confederates. Meanwhile, the number of deserters was growing in the area near Knight’s home in Jones County and neighboring counties. Knight formed the Knight Company in 1863. The men often hid in the swamps to avoid capture by the Confederates. Locals, including whites and some slaves, especially a slave named Rachel, helped the company. The Knight Company reportedly sought to claim the area as the Free State of Jones (County) as a sign it had seceded from Mississippi and thus the Confederacy. So outdone with the Knight Company’s exploits, the Confederate Army finally prevailed in an attack on the deserters in April 1864. Several men were killed, but Knight was not captured. When the Civil War ended, Knight worked for the Union. He eventually returned to his farm. His wife left him, and he married Rachel, the former slave, and fathered several children. Rachel died in 1889, and Knight passed in 1922. Despite a Mississippi law that prohibiting burying African Americans and whites in the same cemetery, Knight left instructions to be buried next to Rachel, which were fulfilled. PHOTO COURTESY OF VICTORIA BYNUM VIA THE LATE EARLE KNIGHT majority of the thirteen-county area that is the focus of this chapter was ceded by the Choctaw nation to the United States government on November 16, 1805. This effectively opened a large swath of South Mississippi above the 31st parallel to settlement by citizens of the United States. The terms of this treaty also formalized the northern boundaries of these future counties: Wayne, Jones, Covington, Jefferson Davis, and Lawrence. In the same year Ellicott initiated his survey, 1798, the United States formed the Mississippi Territory. At that time, the only area in western Mississippi Territory open to settlement was the Natchez district. The First Choctaw Cession opened to settlement in 1805, and in 1812 the area between the 31st parallel and the Gulf of Mexico was formed into counties. When the Mississippi Territory looked toward petitioning for statehood, it was unclear how the vast territory, which included both modern-day Alabama and Mississippi, would be divided. A gathering of interested residents from across the territory met at the John Ford home twenty miles south of Columbia to ponder the statehood issue. Ford, a South Carolina transplant and Marion County pioneer, was active in the War of 1812, and at least one account documents that Andrew Jackson spent a night in the Ford home on his way to the Battle of New Orleans. The 1816 meeting, dubbed the Pearl River Convention, called for the Mississippi Territory to be admitted as a whole to the United States of America. The group sent Harry Toulmin to Washington, D.C., to argue this course of action. In the end, the territory was instead split in half, with the western half admitted as the state of Mississippi in 1817 and the eastern half as Alabama in 1819. Ford served as a Marion County delegate to the Mississippi Constitutional Convention of 1817 and signed Mississippi’s original constitution. In 1817 the Piney Woods contained five of the new state’s fourteen counties: Greene, Lawrence, Marion, Pike, and Wayne. The Antebellum Piney Woods, 1817–1960 In1820,75,448peoplecalledMississippihome.Ofthat number,21,505,or28.5percent,livedinthePineyWoods.The settlerswhomigratedtothePineyWoodsintheantebellumperiod oftenjourneyedwestfromsimilarsouthernclimates.Matthewand CassandraCarter,forexample,migratedfromBullochCounty, Georgia,toPerryCounty,MississippiandinSeptember1811 “boughtalittleimprovementinthepineywoods.”Thedistance fromtheGulfCoastandtheecologicalclimateofBullochCounty andPerryCountyaresimilar,andthefamilycarriedwiththemthe folkwayslearnedinsouthernGeorgia.