Although writing can help decipher history, it’s our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Newton Knight: Free State of Jones

Newton Knight
Newton Knight (November 1837 – February 16, 1922) was an American farmer, soldier and southern Unionist, best known as the leader of the Knight Company, a band of Confederate army deserters that turned against the Confederacy during the Civil War. Local legends state that Knight and his men attempted to form the "Free State of Jones" in the area around Jones County, Mississippi, at the height of the war, though the exact nature of the Knight Company's opposition to the Confederate government is disputed. After the war, Knight aided Mississippi's Reconstruction government.
Knight has long been a controversial figure. Historians and descendants disagree over his motives and actions, with some arguing he was a noble and pious individual who refused to fight for a cause in which he did not believe, while others have portrayed him as a manipulative outlaw. This controversy was fueled in part by Knight's postwar marriage to a freed slave, which effectively established a small mixed-race community in southeastern Mississippi. The marriage would have been considered illegal as Mississippi banned interracial marriages except from 1870 to 1880 during the Reconstruction era.
The 1942 James H. Street novel, Tap Roots, was inspired by Knight's actions in the Civil War. The novel was the basis for the 1948 film of that name, which was directed by George Marshall.
Newton was a grandson of John "Jackie" Knight (1773–1861), one of Jones County's largest slaveholders. Newton's father, Albert (1799–1862), however, did not own any slaves, and was the only child of Jackie Knight who did not inherit any slaves. Newton, likewise, did not own any slaves. Some say he was morally opposed to the institution due to his Primitive Baptist beliefs. As a staunch Primitive Baptist, Newton also forswore alcohol, unlike his father and grandfather. He was probably taught to read and write by his mother.
Knight, like many Jones Countians, was opposed to secession. The county elected John H. Powell, the "cooperation" (anti-secession) candidate, to represent them at Mississippi's secession convention in January 1861. Powell voted against secession on the first ballot, but under pressure, switched his vote on the second ballot, joining the majority in voting to secede from the Union. In an interview many years later, Knight suggested many Jones Countians, unaware of how few options he had, felt betrayed by Powell.
Knight enlisted in the Confederate Army in July, 1861. He was given a furlough in January 1862, however, to return home and tend to his ailing father. In May 1862, Knight, along with a number of friends and neighbors, enlisted in Company F of the 7th Battalion, as they preferred to serve together in the same company, rather than with strangers.
Throughout the summer and fall of 1862, a number of factors prompted desertions by Jones Countians serving in the Confederate Army. One factor was the lack of food and supplies in the aftermath of theSiege of Corinth. Another involved reports of poor conditions back home, as small farms deteriorated from neglect. Knight was enraged when he received word that Confederate authorities had seized his family's horse. However, many believe Knight's principal reason for desertion was his outrage over the Confederate government's passing of the Twenty Negro Law. This act allowed wealthy plantation owners to avoid military service if they owned twenty slaves or more. An additional family member was exempted from service for each additional twenty slaves owned. Knight had also received word that his brother-in-law, Morgan, who had become the head of the family in Knight's absence, was abusing Knight's children. Morgan's identity has since been lost, but he is thought to be Morgan Lines, a day laborer and convicted murderer.
Knight was reported AWOL in October 1862. He later defended his desertion, arguing, "if they had a right to conscript me when I didn't want to fight the Union, I had a right to quit when I got ready." After returning home having deserted in the retreat following the defeat at Corinth, Knight, according to relatives, shot and killed Morgan.
In early 1863, Knight was arrested and jailed, and possibly tortured, by Confederate authorities for desertion. His homestead and farm were destroyed, leaving his family destitute. 
As the ranks of deserters swelled in the aftermath of the Siege of Vicksburg, Confederate authorities began receiving reports that deserters in the Jones County area were looting and burning houses. A local quartermaster, Captain W. J. Bryant, reported that "the deserters have overrun and taken possession of the country, in many cases exiling the good and loyal citizens or shooting them in cold blood on their own door-sills." General Braxton Bragg dispatched Major Amos McLemore to Jones County to investigate and round up deserters and stragglers. On October 5, 1863, McLemore was shot and killed in the Ellisville home of Amos Deason, and Knight was believed to have pulled the trigger.[3]
Leaf River
On October 13, 1863, the Knight Company, as it was called, a band of guerillas from Jones County and the adjacent counties of JasperCovingtonPerry and Smith, was organized to protect the area from Confederate authorities. Knight was elected "captain" of the company, which included many of his relatives and neighbors. The company's main hideout, known as "Devils Den," was located along the Leaf River at the Jones-Covington county line. Local women and slaves provided food and other aid to the men. Women blew cattlehorns to signal the approach of Confederate authorities.
From late 1863 to early 1865, the Knight Company allegedly fought fourteen skirmishes with Confederate forces. One skirmish took place on December 23, 1863, at the home of Sally Parker, a Knight Company supporter, leaving one Confederate soldier dead and two badly wounded.
During this same period, Knight led a raid into Paulding, where he and his men captured five wagonloads of corn, which they distributed among the local population. The company harassed Confederate officials, with numerous tax collectors, conscript officers, and other officials being reported killed in early 1864. In March 1864, the Jones County court clerk notified the governor that guerillas had made tax collections in the county all but impossible. In 2016, a letter dated February 13, 1864 from a Union scout addressed to Maj. Gen. John M. Palmer of the Union Army was discovered by a historian working in the National Archives. It estimates the Knight Company's numbers to be as high as 600 and confirms their intention to join up with the Union Army. The exact number is still a matter of debate, in light of an interview Knight gave after the war stating, "There was about 125 of us, never any more."
General Polk
By the spring of 1864, the Confederate government in the county had been effectively overthrown. Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk wrote Jefferson Davis on March 21, 1864, describing the conditions in Jones County. Polk stated that the band of deserters were “in open rebellion, defiant at the outset, proclaiming themselves ‘Southern Yankees,’ and resolved to resist by force of arms all efforts to capture them.” On March 29, 1864, Confederate Captain Wirt Thomson wrote James Seddon, Confederate Secretary of War, claiming the Knight Company had captured Ellisville and raised the U.S. flag over the courthouse in Jones County. He further reported, “The country is entirely at their mercy.” General William Tecumseh Sherman received a letter from a local group declaring its independence from the Confederacy. In July 1864, the Natchez Courier reported that Jones County had seceded from the Confederacy.
General Polk initially responded to the actions of the Knight Company by sending a contingent under Colonel Henry Maury into the area in February 1864. Maury reported he had cleared the area, but noted the deserters had threatened to obtain "Yankee aid" and return. Shortly afterward, Polk dispatched a veteran contingent of soldiers led by Colonel Robert Lowry, a future governor who would later describe Knight as an "ignorant and uneducated man." Using bloodhounds to track down guerillas in the swamps, Lowry rounded up and executed ten members of the Knight Company, including Newton's cousins, Benjamin Franklin Knight and Sil Coleman. Newton Knight, however, evaded capture. He later stated his company had unsuccessfully attempted to break through Confederate lines to join the Union Army.
At the end of the war, the Union Army tasked Knight with distributing food to struggling families in the Jones County area. He also led a raid that liberated several children who were still being held in slavery in a nearby county. Like many Southern Unionists, he supported the Republican Party, namely the Reconstruction administration of Governor Adelbert Ames. As conflict mounted between white neo-Confederate resistance (the Ku Klux Klan) and the Republican Reconstruction government, Ames appointed Knight Colonel of the First Infantry Regiment of Jasper County, an otherwise all black regiment defending against Klan activity. After southern Democrats regained control of the state government, he withdrew from politics.
In 1870, Knight petitioned the federal government for compensation for several members of the Knight Company, including the ten who had been executed by Lowry in 1864. He provided sworn statements from several individuals attesting to his loyalty to the Union, including a local judge and a state senate candidate. But the federal Court of Claims ruled that "the evidence fails to support the allegation of the petition that the Jones County Scouts were organized for military service in behalf of United States or that they were in sentiment and feeling throughout the war loyal to the Government of the United States."
Rachel Knight
By the mid-1870s, Knight had separated from his wife, Serena, and married Rachel, a woman formerly enslaved by his grandfather. During the same period, Knight's son, Mat, married Rachel's daughter, Fannie, and Knight's daughter, Molly, married Rachel's son, Jeff. Newton and Rachel Knight had several children before her death in 1889. Newton Knight died on February 16, 1922 at the age of 84. In spite of a Mississippi law that barred the interment of whites and blacks in the same cemetery, he was buried next to Rachel on a hill overlooking their farm. Newton's engraved epitaph stated "He lived for others."
Newton and his grandson abt. 1910's

Thursday, June 9, 2016

15 Badass Historical Women To Name Your Daughters After

1. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
Listen carefully to your pregnant belly: Can you hear the romantic sighs of a celebrated poet? Then name your daughter Juana or Inés for the 17th-century poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, who lived in Mexico City and wrote many kinds of poetry, including somewhat raunchy love poems.
As a child, Juana taught herself a wide range of subjects using her grandfather’s library, and continued her rigorous programme of self-education into adulthood. She eventually joined a convent in order to be left alone with her studies and her ~scandalous~ poetry. She came to be “one of the world’s most daring erotic writers” of her time and ruffled a few feathers in the Catholic church for that reason.
Just think of the feathers your baby Juana Inés will ruffle.

2. The Mirabal sisters

The Mirabal sisters
Does your baby possess uncommon courage? Does your baby fill your uterus with equal parts bravery and righteousness? Then name your daughter for Patria,Minerva, or María Teresa Mirabal – Dominican sisters who boldly opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the 1950s.
The three sisters, along with their husbands, participated in constant underground political actions against Trujillo’s regime, and came to be regarded as symbols of resistance and feminist icons known as the “Butterflies”. Even multiple stints in prison weren’t enough to stop their activism. When Trujillo’s government assassinated the sisters in 1960, it sparked a massive public outrage, which was among the catalysts leading to Trujillo’s own assassination just six months later.
Nowadays the Mirabal sisters are commemorated every 25 November by the United Nations, which declared an International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in their honour.

3. Raden Ajeng Kartini

Raden Ajeng Kartini
Do you suspect your future daughter to be a famous writer and activist? Of course you do. So name her Raden or Kartini for Raden Ajeng Kartini (1879-1904), who advocated for women’s emancipation and education, and wrote about the need for the improvement of public health and the protection of traditional arts on the island of Java. She also wrote passionately against Dutch colonial rule of Indonesia.
Today she is known in Indonesia as the country’s “first feminist”, and 21 April is celebrated as Kartini Day. So, try to give birth to your baby on 21 April.
(An update from our Indonesian readers: “Raden” is actually an honourific title like “Duchess” or “Sir”. Her given name was “Kartini” – the “Raden” just means she’s ~fancy~.)

4. Hildegard von Bingen

Name your daughter Hildegard for Hildegard von Bingen. (Or Hilda, if you must. Or even Sybil, as she was also known as “Sybil of the Rhine”.) Old Hildy, you see, was an adviser to kings and popes and more. She was a composer and a writer and a mystic and a poet and about 100 other things. She also wrote important scientific and medical treatises because why the fuck not?
Is your future daughter a mystic and a polymath? Then let’s hear it for Baby Hilds.

5. Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Ida B. Wells-Barnett
R. Gates/Hulton Archive / Getty Images
You couldn’t pick a better name for a baby girl than Ida, if your baby girl is the kind of baby girl who fights tirelessly for justice, i.e. an absolute baby badass.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a brilliant American journalist, suffragist, and anti-lynching campaigner who lived from 1862-1931. When three of her friends were lynched in 1892, she investigated the murders in her newspaper, The Free Speech. In response to her work, the newspaper offices were destroyed by a mob. She moved to Chicago where she continued to write on the law and history of lynching, worked with multiple organisations for the advancement of African-American women, and marched in Washington, DC, in 1913 for universal suffrage.
Along with fellow suffragist Jane Addams, she “successfully blocked the establishment of segregated schools in Chicago”. Later, she was a co-founder of the NAACP, and in 1930, she ran for a position on the Illinois State Legislature. Just think what YOUR Ida will do.

6. Artemisia Gentileschi / Creative Commons
Look closely at your ultrasound: Is your baby in possession of a fine artistic mind? Then name her Artemisia.
Artemisia Gentileschi was “one of the most famous and skilled painters of the Baroque era” who achieved great artistic acclaim at a time when women were not allowed to attend the artistic academies. Her father, also an artist, had encouraged her artistic training as a child. At age 18, Artemisia was raped by a colleague of her father’s, and went through a brutal trial in which she was tortured to “confirm” her story. Her rapist was convicted, but never served out his sentence.
After the trial, Artemisia painted one of her most famous works, Judith Slaying Holofernes, pictured above on the right, which some see as a “revenge” for her trial. So, name your daughter for this ridiculously gifted master of painting who achieved great renown against all odds. And anyway, Artemisia is a ridiculously beautiful name.

7. Nancy Wake

Keystone / Getty Images / Creative Commons
Nancy Wake was a spy, a journalist, and a hero of the French Resistance during World War II. Would you like your baby to be exceedingly glamorous? Then name herNancy.
Born in New Zealand, Nancy ended up settling in Paris, where she worked as a journalist and passed her time in the enjoyment of “a good drink” and handsome French men. When war broke out, she joined the Resistance and saved the lives of “hundreds of Allied soldiers and downed airmen between 1940 and 1943 by escorting them through occupied France to safety in Spain”, and later joined the British Special Operations Executive as a spy.
One time, Nancy got her parachute stuck in a tree. A nearby Frenchman said he wished all trees could bear such “beautiful fruit”, to which Nancy responded, “Don’t give me that French shit.”
Just think, these could be your baby girl’s first words.

8. Tomoe Gozen

Tomoe Gozen
Tomoe Gozen, seen here destroying an oafish, unworthy enemy, was a legendary samurai warrior in 12th-century Japan. She’s described in The Tale of the Heiki like this:
“She was…a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents….She performed more deeds of valor than any of [her commander’s] other warriors.”
What more could you want for your baby than to achieve such mythical heights of badassery? Name her Tomoe.

9. Yaa Asantewaa

Is your daughter liable to be a brave and tireless leader? Yes? Then name her for Yaa after Yaa Asantewaa, who was a leading figure in a war against British colonialists from 1900-1901 in what is today Ghana. The war had broken out when a colonial governor demanded he be given the Golden Stool, a sacred symbol to the Asante, apparently because he was a whiny asshole. Unfortunately for the governor, there was a certain Warrior Queen (who also happened to be a 60-year-old grandmother) who was not having it.
Nowadays Yaa Asantewaa is celebrated in Ghana and elsewhere as “an epitome of African womanhood and resistance to European colonialism”. A great name for a powerful baby, no? 

10. Madam CJ Walker

Do you want your baby girl to grow up to be fabulously wealthy? And also a trailblazing businesswoman and a great philanthropist? But, like, a fabulously wealthybusinesswoman and philanthropist? Then name her after Madam CJ Walker, born Sarah Breedlove in 1867 – America’s first self-made female millionaire, who made her fortune creating a line of haircare products for African-American women.
Yes, money can’t buy everything – but it can buy you a convertible like the one above. Just look at her driving her friends around town. Look at their fabulous hats.That could be your daughter – little baby Maddy, perhaps.

11. Rosa Luxemburg

Place a hand upon your pregnant belly, and feel for kicking. Are those the kicks of a future leftist revolutionary? Of a little girl who longs for the overthrow of capitalism? Whose dearest wish is a socialism that upholds its democratic ideals?
If yes, then name your daughter Rosa, for Rosa Luxemburg. She was a brilliant Polish-German Jewish revolutionary and political theorist who developed and advocated for “a humanitarian theory of Marxism, stressing democracy and revolutionary mass action to achieve international socialism”. Even when imprisoned, she managed to smuggle out her articles and pamphlets. She also worked “to persuade her women friends to take an independent role in politics, and to free themselves from the domination of their husbands”.
Name your baby Rosa, and watch her grow to overthrow the bourgeoisie.

12. Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians

There are many good reasons to name your daughter for the Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of Alfred the Great – but here are the two most important reasons:
1. Your daughter will be named for a warrior queen who, after her husband died, took over to rule from 911 to 918 AD, during which time she fended off Vikings and proved herself a talented ruler respected throughout the land.
2. Your daughter will walk through life with the satisfaction of having not one, but twoof those fun little a and e combination letters in her name.
Name your daughter Æthelflæd (or maybe just…Ethel) and she will never surrender to any man – especially not a Viking.

13. Qutulun

OK guys, we need to talk about Qutulun.
Qutulun was a 13th-14th-century Mongol princess who “swore that she would only marry a man who could best her in a wrestling match” and “demanded a hundred horses from any contestant who failed”. Needless to say, she amassed a lot of horses in her lifetime. The painting above shows her with her skirts hitched up, wrestling a gentleman caller, horses watching their future owner kick some suitor ass.
Is your daughter a wrestler princess? Yes, of course she is. Name her Qutulun.

14. Nzinga Mbandi

Nzinga Mbandi (1583–1663)
Nzinga Mbandi, the Queen of Ndongo and Matamba (modern day Angola), was a straight-up boss bitch. She took power when her brother Ngola Mbandi died in 1624, and gained international acclaim for her brilliance in diplomacy, military tactics, and giving zero fucks. Her skill in warfare, espionage, trade, alliance-building, and religious matters helped her hold off Portuguese colonialism for the duration of her life.
Nzinga, you literal queen.

15. Murasaki Shikibu 

Murasaki Shikibu (973–1025...ish)
Murasaki Shikibu was a lady-in-waiting in Japan’s imperial court during the Heian period, and wrote what is believed to be the first novel in human history: The Tale of Genji.
Her father apparently praised her intelligence, but lamented that she was “born a woman”. In her diary, she records that she learned Chinese by listening through the door to the lessons her father gave her brother, because women were not meant to learn Chinese. 

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Even though I am from Kansas, I enjoy venturing into other worlds from around the globe which is why my writing focuses on diversity. With fluid accessibility to modern media and traveling opportunities, my Midwestern world can expand and explore beyond my own backyard. In addition to studying cultures, I take pleasure in studying history. Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

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