Freedom has a price to pay, and the cost is most often violence. The new movie, “The Free State of Jones,” clearly presents this harsh reality. The movie is based on the real life story of Newton “Newt” Knight, a farmer who deserted the Confederate army. He took up company and became the leader of other poor white farmers in Jones County, Mississippi.
From Confederate Soldier to Robin Hood
The Civil War, like most wars, was about money—those who had it and wanted to preserve it at the expense of the free labor of others. The greed of the South went beyond slavery to include taxation by corrupt Confederate soldiers who stole animals and crops from local farmers, leaving their unprotected women and children with little means to survive.
In addition to the senseless loss of lives, Knight was disturbed by the “Twenty Negro Law.” This law was enacted to exempt the sons of wealthy slave owners from fighting in the war. One white male was exempt from military service for every 20 slaves the plantation owned. This was a classic case of the poor man fighting the rich man’s war. This war was crippling the economy and crippling families.
It is under this backdrop that Knight, a principled, loyal, family man rallied fighters in a form of guerrilla warfare against the Confederacy and became “Robin Hood” to his local community. Once they started to defeat military units and concur territories, Knight and his followers sought the support and affirmation of the Union, but that never officially came.
Therefore, they named their community “The Free State of Jones”, laying ground rules of equally of all people, the right for people to benefit from the fruit of their own labor, and to defend their rights to freedom. Some scholars believe that they officially declared themselves an independent nation.
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