Jones County, Mississippi

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Jones County, Mississippi
Jones County Mississippi Courthouse.jpg
Jones County courthouse in Ellisville
Map of Mississippi highlighting Jones County
Location in the state of Mississippi
Map of the United States highlighting Mississippi
Mississippi's location in the U.S.
Founded 1826
Named for John Paul Jones
Seat Laurel and Ellisville
Largest city Laurel
 • Total 700 sq mi (1,813 km2)
 • Land 695 sq mi (1,800 km2)
 • Water 4.9 sq mi (13 km2), 0.7%
 • (2010) 67,761
 • Density 98/sq mi (38/km²)
Congressional district 4th
Time zone Central: UTC-6/-5

Jones County is a county located in the U.S. state of Mississippi. As of the 2010 census, the population was 67,761.[1] Its county seats are Laurel and Ellisville.[2]

Jones County is part of the Laurel, MS Micropolitan Statistical Area.


Less than a decade after Mississippi became the country's 20th state, settlers carved out a 700-square mile of pine forests and streams for a new county in 1826. They named it Jones County after John Paul Jones, the early American Naval hero who rose from humble Scottish origin to military success during the American Revolution.[3]

Ellisville, the county seat, was named for Powhatan Ellis, a member of the Mississippi Legislature who claimed to be a direct descendant of Pocahontas. During the economic hard times in the 1830s and 1840s, there was an exodus of population from South Mississippi, principally to Texas, and the slogan "GTT" ("Gone to Texas") came into currency.

Soon after the election of Abraham Lincoln as United States president in November 1860, slave-owning planters led Mississippi to join South Carolina and secede from the Union in January 1861. Other Southern states would follow suit. Mississippi’s Declaration of Secession reflected the planters’ interests in its first sentence: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery…” However, the yeoman farmers and cattle herders of Jones County had little use for a war over a “state’s right” to maintain the institution of slavery. By 1860, slaves made up only 12% of the total population in Jones County, the smallest percentage of any county in the state.[4]

What followed was a period of anti-Confederate rebellion that resulted in what has come to be known as the Free State of Jones. No fewer than four books, numerous articles, one novel and a film based on that novel have been inspired by the events in Jones County during the American Civil War.

As Mississippi debated the secession question, the inhabitants of Jones County voted overwhelmingly for the anti-secessionist John Hathorne Powell, Jr. In comparison to the pro-secessionist J.M. Bayliss, who received 24 votes, Powell received 374.[5] However, at the Secession Convention, Powell voted for secession. Legend has it that, for his vote, he was burned in effigy in Ellisville, the county seat.[5]

The reality is more complicated, however, for the only votes possible at the Secession Convention were for immediate secession, on the one hand, or a more cautious, co-operative approach to secession among several Southern states, on the other. Powell almost certainly voted for the more conservative approach to secession—the only position realistically available to him that was consistent with the anti-secessionist views of his constituency.[5]

During the American Civil War, Jones County and neighboring counties, especially Covington County to its west, became a haven for Confederate deserters.[4] A number of factors prompted desertions. The lack of food and supplies was demoralizing while reports of poor conditions back home made the men fear for their families' survival. Small farms deteriorated from neglect or were despoiled by the Confederate tax-in-kind agents who took excessive amounts of yeoman farmers’ goods. Many were also outraged over the Confederate government's passing of the Twenty Negro Law, allowing wealthy plantation owners to avoid military service if they owned twenty slaves or more.[4]

On October 13, 1863, a band of deserters from Jones County and adjacent counties organized to protect the area from Confederate authorities and the crippling tax collections.[6] The company, led by Newt Knight, fought 14 skirmishes with Confederate forces. They also raided Paulding, capturing five wagonloads of corn that had been collected for tax from area farms, which they distributed back among the local population.[7] The company harassed Confederate officials, with reports of deaths among numerous tax collectors, conscript officers, and other officials in 1864.[4] The governor was then informed by the Jones County court clerk that deserters had made tax collections in the county impossible.[8] By the spring of 1864, the Confederate government in the county had been effectively overthrown.[4] The American flag was raised over the courthouse in Ellisville, and General William T. Sherman received a letter from a local group declaring its independence from the Confederacy.[4] In July 1864, the Natchez Courier reported that Jones County had seceded from the Confederacy.[9]

The legend of Newt Knight and his “company” soon became lore. His son, Thomas J. Knight, wrote an account of his father that painted a Robin Hood-like character, protecting poor white farmers from the abuses of tax agents.[10] A subsequent book was written by another relative, Ethel Knight, entitled Echo of the Black Horn. This piece of family history was highly critical of Knight, branding him a traitor to the Confederacy and castigating him for a mixed-race relationship with a former slave named Rachel, with whom he would have children and next to whose body Newt Knight is buried.[11]

The novel Tap Roots by James H. Street, loosely based on the Jones County rebellion, was published in 1942. A film version was made by Universal Pictures in 1948. This was a very loose fictionalization that used the Jones County rebellion as a basis for allegory.

Rudy H. Leverett's book The Legend of the Free State of Jones (University of Mississippi Press, 1984, reprinted 2009) was the first to take a scholarly look at events in Jones County before and during the Civil War. In the book, Leverett presents the case that Jones County never seceded from the Confederacy.

Victoria E. Bynum, professor emerita at Texas State University, was the next person to turn a scholarly eye on Jones County and the secession legend.[12] Bynum, whose father was born in Jones County, became interested in researching the Civil War uprising after learning of its alleged secession from the Confederacy. Her book emphasizes the cultural, geographic, economic, and kinship roots of the anti-Confederate outrage that plunged the county into a bloody inner civil war between 1863 and 1865. Bynum takes this history beyond the Civil War, however, examining the interracial relationship between Newton Knight and Rachel Knight, a former slave, and by tracing its legacy into the twentieth century.[13]

Bynum also details the Confederate reaction to Knight: an expedition of Colonel Robert Lowry into the area to root them out. She documents Confederate concern including a warning from Daniel P. Logan that the deserter bands were "openly boasting of their being in communication with the Yankees", and were assembling in the area of Honey Island. Bynum writes:

According to Newt Knight, during this period his company continually sought connections with the Union Army. He recounted how Jasper Collins had traveled without success to Memphis and Vicksburg to seek the company’s recruitment into the Union Army. Newt also recalled that “Johnny Rebs busted up the party they sent to swear us in,” explaining that a company of Union forces sent to recruit men of the Knight Company was waylaid by Confederate forces at Rocky Creek. After that, he said, “I sent a courier to the federal commander at New Orleans. He sent us 400 rifles. The Confederates captured them.” Newt concluded that “we’ll all die guerrillas, I reckon. Never could break through the rebels to join the Union Army.”[14]

A more recent account[15] by Sally Jenkins (sports columnist for the Washington Post) and John Stauffer (chair of the Program in the History of the American Civilization and professor of English and of African and African American studies at Harvard University[16]), expands marginally on Leverett's and Bynum's research. The authors contribute additional research to emphasize the extent to which, they contend, Knight ended Confederate control of Jones County during the war and continued to express anti-racist pro-Unionist sympathies during Reconstruction. Stauffer and Jenkins point to post-war incidents that they argue indicate Knight’s struggle did not end in 1865. He rescued an African American child from a forced “apprenticeship” in the immediate aftermath of the war. In March 1875, he accepted a commission by Governor Adelbert Ames to the 1st Mississippi Regiment of Infantry in Jasper County, which by that point in Reconstruction was an all-black unit, defending African Americans from Klan violence. Perhaps most significantly, Stauffer and Jenkins point to the fact that Newt Knight chose to be buried in an all-black cemetery (in direct violation of Mississippi law at the time).

Leverett's book stands in contrast to others and is less sympathetic to Knight. Leverett argues that the Jones County rebellion was overstated and that Knight's actions were not representative of Jones County residents who, Leverett says, were overwhelmingly loyal to the Confederacy.[17] Leverett states that while "few of these people had any real stake in the great economic and political issues that precipitated the war and that most of them opposed the political policy of secession [of the South from the Union], the threat of coercion of the South by the North galvanized the loyalties of Jones Countians to their region and their way of life [The Confederacy]. And for most of them, that loyalty never wavered."

As an example, Leverett points to his own great grandfather, Amos McLemore, who until the war was a Jones County schoolteacher, pastor, and of a family established in the South for nearly 200 years. McLemore took charge as Major of the Rosin Heels, "the second [company] among eight raised in the area that consisted of all, or significant numbers of Jones County men."[18] In spite of pre-War opposition to secession and the number of "transient deserters" in the county, Leverett points out that the activities of such formerly anti-secessionist individuals as McLemore along with the fact "that virtually every able-bodied man in the county was on active duty in organizations such as those commanded by McLemore ... and that the Union raiding party entering the county in June of 1863 was captured by civilians, and the Union prisoners had to be protected from the local citizens" suggest that the citizens of Jones County were loyal to the Confederacy.[18]

Major McLemore was killed by Newt Knight in October 1863 when McLemore was dispatched temporarily from the front to Jones County to round up deserters who had returned there.[7]

Knight remains an elusive figure and the rebellion in Jones County has been characterized as everything from some local skirmishes to a full-fledged war of independence.

Film director Gary Ross is currently developing a movie titled Free State of Jones. He has optioned both the Bynum and Stauffer/Jenkins books with a U.S. release date set for May 13, 2016.[19]


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 700 square miles (1,800 km2), of which 695 square miles (1,800 km2) is land and 4.9 square miles (13 km2) (0.7%) is water.[20]

Adjacent counties[edit]

National protected area[edit]


Historical population
Census Pop.
1830 1,471
1840 1,258 −14.5%
1850 2,164 72.0%
1860 3,323 53.6%
1870 3,313 −0.3%
1880 3,828 15.5%
1890 8,333 117.7%
1900 17,846 114.2%
1910 29,885 67.5%
1920 32,919 10.2%
1930 41,492 26.0%
1940 49,227 18.6%
1950 57,235 16.3%
1960 59,542 4.0%
1970 56,357 −5.3%
1980 61,912 9.9%
1990 62,031 0.2%
2000 64,958 4.7%
2010 67,761 4.3%
Est. 2014 68,290 [21] 0.8%
U.S. Decennial Census[22]
1790-1960[23] 1900-1990[24]
1990-2000[25] 2010-2013[1]

As of the census[26] of 2000, there were 64,958 people, 24,275 households, and 17,550 families residing in the county. The population density was 94 people per square mile (36/km²). There were 26,921 housing units at an average density of 39 per square mile (15/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 71.11% White, 26.34% Black or African American, 0.39% Native American, 0.27% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 1.41% from other races, and 0.48% from two or more races. 1.96% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 24,275 households out of which 32.60% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 53.00% were married couples living together, 15.10% had a female householder with no husband present, and 27.70% were non-families. 24.40% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.00% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.61 and the average family size was 3.08.

In the county the population was spread out with 25.80% under the age of 18, 10.50% from 18 to 24, 27.30% from 25 to 44, 22.20% from 45 to 64, and 14.20% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 93.70 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.10 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $28,786, and the median income for a family was $34,465. Males had a median income of $28,273 versus $19,405 for females. The per capita income for the county was $14,820. About 14.30% of families and 19.80% of the population were below the poverty line, including 25.00% of those under age 18 and 16.80% of those age 65 or over.


According to the Economic Development Authority of Jones County,[27] the top employers in the county are:

# Employer # of Employees
1 Howard Industries 3,700
2 South Central Regional Medical Center 1,837
3 Ellisville State School 1,459
4 Jones County School District 1,162
5 Sanderson Farms 889
6 Wayne Farms 715
7 Laurel School District 600
8 Walmart 585
9 Masonite 556
10 Jones County 510
11 Sawmill Square Mall 450
12 Jones County Junior College 427
13 MS Industries for Individuals with Disabilities 415
14 Southern Hens 390
15 City of Laurel 317
16 Tanner Construction 185
17 Hudson's Salvage Center 153
18 Dunn Roadbuilders 145
19 Morgan Brothers Millwork 137
20 West Quality Food Service 135
21 Thermo-Kool 135
22 Laurel Machine & Foundry 131
23 The Essmueller Company 115
24 Howse Implement 113
25 Care Center of Laurel 107

Government and infrastructure[edit]

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health South Mississippi State Hospital Crisis Intervention Center is in Laurel and in Jones County.[28]


Major highways[edit]


Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport is located in an unincorporated area in the county, near Moselle.[29][30]




Census-designated place[edit]

Unincorporated communities[edit]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved September 3, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  3. ^ Jones County Mississippi Official Site
  4. ^ a b c d e f Kelly Jr., James R. Newton Knight and the Legend of the Free State of Jones. Mississippi History Now. Mississippi Historical Society.
  5. ^ a b c Leverett, Rudy H., Legend of the Free State of Jones, University Press of Mississippi, 1984, pp. 38-41.
  6. ^ "The State of Jones" co-authored with Sally Jenkins, New York: Doubleday, 2009, page 378
  7. ^ a b Leverett, Rudy H., Legend of the Free State of Jones, University Press of Mississippi, 1984, page 64.
  8. ^ Leverett, Rudy H., Legend of the Free State of Jones, University Press of Mississippi, 1984, page 112.
  9. ^ Leverett, Rudy H., Legend of the Free State of Jones, University Press of Mississippi, 1984, page 17-29.
  10. ^ [Knight, Thomas J. "Thos. J. Knight’s Story of His Father, Newton Knight"]
  11. ^ Knight, Ethel. The Echo of the Black Horn, pp. 69, 261, 321, 327.
  12. ^ Vikki Bynum, "Did Jones County Secede from the Confederacy?" Renegade South (blog), December 23, 2008.
  13. ^ The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War by Victoria E. Bynum, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
  14. ^ Bynum, Free State of Jones, pp. 115, 117
  15. ^ "The State of Jones"
  16. ^ "History of American Civilization". Retrieved 20 February 2010. 
  17. ^ ["American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31]
  18. ^ a b Leverett, Rudy H., Legend of the Free State of Jones, University Press of Mississippi, 1984, pages 65-68.
  19. ^ Busch, Anita (October 22, 2015). "STX Pushes ‘Free State Of Jones’ To Summer 2016, Dates ‘The Space Between Us’". Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
  20. ^ "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Retrieved November 4, 2014. 
  21. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014". Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  22. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 4, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved November 4, 2014. 
  24. ^ "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 4, 2014. 
  25. ^ "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 4, 2014. 
  26. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  27. ^ Major Employers
  28. ^ "Contact Us." South Mississippi State Hospital. Retrieved on November 1, 2010. "SMSH Crisis Intervention Center 934 West Drive Laurel, MS 39440."
  29. ^ "Contact." Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport. Retrieved on July 15, 2011. "Our Address Airport Director, 1002 Terminal Dr. Moselle, MS 39459"
  30. ^ "Hattiesburg city, Mississippi." U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved on July 16, 2011.

Further reading[edit]

  • Victoria E. Bynum, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War (The University of North Carolina Press 2002).
  • Downing, David C. A South Divided: Portraits of Dissent in the Confederacy. Nashville: Cumberland House, 2007. ISBN 978-1-58182-587-9
  • Jenkins, Sally, and John Stauffer. The State of Jones. New York: Random House, 2009. ISBN 978-0-385-52593-0
  • Leverett, Rudy H., Legend of the Free State of Jones, University Press of Mississippi, 1984, 2nd printing 2009. ISBN 0-87805-227-5, ISBN 978-0-87805-227-1

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 31°37′N 89°10′W / 31.62°N 89.17°W / 31.62; -89.17