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Alleged Secession of Jones County

By Goode Montgomery

Goode Montgomery was born on a farm in Pontotoc county, Miss., Oct. 7, 1877. He is of English, Scotch and Irish descent. His ancestors removed to Mississippi from Georgia and South Carolina. In 1903 he was graduated from the University of Mississippi with the degree of B.A. Since that time he has successfully prosecuted a course of graduate work in History and Economics in the same institution. He is now teacher of History and English in the Ellisville Graded School. —EDITOR.

Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society
Edited by Franklin L. Riley, Secretary
Vol. VIII.
Oxford, Mississippi
Printed for the Society

     Historic old Jones county began its career in 1826, when it was formed out of parts of Wayne and Covington counties. It was named for that intrepid seaman, John Paul Jones. This county developed very rapidly during the first four or five years immediately following its formation. Its prosperity then received a check from which it did not recover until after the War between the States. When the Choctaw lands in the central and northern parts of Mississippi were opened for settlement, a wholesale emigration set out from the older parts of the State for this newly opened country. As a result, Jones county, in common with many other counties of South Mississippi, was well-nigh depopulated. Col. J. F. H. Claiborne, who visited Jones county in 1841, wrote in his “Trip through the Piney Woods,” that there was not a doctor in all the county and that lawlessness was so rare that circuit court rarely lasted more than one day.

     About this time, the county officers, who were chosen at the regular election, failed to qualify, as the offices paid almost nothing, owing to the scattered population and the absence of litigation. When the terms of the retiring officers had expired, they left without ceremony, and the county was left for a considerable length of time without legal administration. Finally one of their number became interested enough to ride to Jackson on horseback to take the oath of office. He then returned and administered the oath of office to the other officers-elect.
From this period, according to the majority of the old citizens, though some put it at a later time, dates the rise of the title, “Free State of Jones,” which has been sounded far and wide in the subsequent stories told of her. Another version of the origin of this title is that it was given to the county by the citizens of neighboring counties who lived near the Gulf coast and along the line of what is now the Mobile and Ohio railroad, because of the entire freedom of the citizens of Jones county from the arbitrary rules of society and the restraints of fashion recognized elsewhere. They went to church barefooted, dressed in any way they saw fit, and carrying their guns to use in case any game might cross their path.

     After the “exodus,” referred to above, Jones county slowly grew in population until the War between the States, though at the opening of this great struggle it was but sparsely populated. In politics, Anti-Bond Democrats were in the majority. It was said by the Natchez Daily Free-Trader that there was not a Bond Democrat in Jones county in 1841. When the question of secession came up, they were almost a unit against it and elected J. D. Powell, the Anti-Secessionist condidate to the Secession Convention by a large majority, there being only twenty-four votes cast for J. M. Baylis, the Secessionist candidate. But when the test came, Powell voted for secession. This act created great excitement in Jones county. Powell was hanged in effigy and abused so much that he did not dare return to the county for some time.

     Notwithstanding all this demonstration, Jones county readily responded to the call of the Confederacy for troops, furnishing from her scanty population, three full companies and a great part of four more which were formed on her borders. One of these was formed just over the line in Covington, one in Wayne, and two in Jasper. The greater part of these troops served
 throughout the war.

     A few deserted and came home, most of them after the “Twenty Negro Law,” as they called it, was passed. Among these was Jasper Collins, who said that he did not propose to fight for the rich men while they were at home having a good time. In the latter part of 1862, the famous “Newt Knight Company” was formed, with Newt Knight as captain, Jasper Collins First Lieutenant, and W. W. Sumrall Second Lieutenant. Several of those who deserted from the Confederate army joined this company, which numbered when it was organized about sixty men, but later was increased to about one hundred and twentyfive Its members came from various parts of the country.

     Knight was from Jasper county, while others were from other counties and even from other States. They had their headquarters on an island in Leaf river near the present town of Soso. From this place they made their raids, which greatly annoyed the local Confederate authorities, and to it they retreated when pursued by an enemy. They captured a wagon train belonging to  Confederate forces, but the greater part of their exploits was among the civilians of Jones and Jasper counties. They had some communications with the Union officers at Memphis and Vicksburg. Jasper Collins was detailed by Captain Knight for this mission. He reported at Memphis but was referred to Vicksburg, where he went and reported to an officer by the name of General Hudson, or Huddleston (he does not remember which). From this general, he received some orders and instructions which Collins carried back to Captain Knight. These were of a military character and related to having Knight’s company sworn into the regular Union army. This company fought several battles with the Confederate forces, one, on Tallahala Creek, near where Laurel now is; another, in Ellisville; and a third near their headquarters on Leaf river.

     The county government was never interrupted, but went from the Union to the Confederacy and back to the Union without a hitch. The officers scarcely knew the difference. E. M. Devall, whose wife still lives in Ellisville, served as sheriff from just before the outbreak of the war until near its close, when he was succeeded by Henry Dossett, who served till the regular election after the close of the war. At that time Dave Pridgeon was  elected sheriff, together with a full ticket of county officers, all  of whom resigned, leaving the county for the second time without a legally organized government. Soon, however, other officers were appointed to fill their places, but not carpetbaggers, as was the case in most of the other counties of the State at that time. The fact that Jones county was never bothered with the pest of alien rule was due mainly to the fact that few negroes were in the county. According to the view of a few persons, the name,  “Free State of Jones,” arose at that time.
After the close of the war, when the loyal Confederates came home, they were ashamed of the reputation which Jones county had acquired in being the rendezvous of Knight’s men, and also the scene of the demonstration against Powell for voting against secession. They wished to change the name, and, as far as possible, blot out this record. They, therefore, petitioned the State Legislature, in 1865, to change the name of Jones county to Davis county, in honor of the President of the late Confederacy. They also wished the name of the county site changed from Ellisville to Leesburg for General Robert E. Lee. The petition was granted. But later the government changed hands and V. A. Collins, a native of Jones county who joined the Union army, represented her in the State Legislature. Under his influence, the name was changed back to Jones and the county site to Ellisville.

V. A. Collins also represented the county in the Black and Tan Convention, but soon becoming disgusted, returned home. That, however, did not stop his pay. He drew his salary, and used it in paying the State taxes for Jones county for that year, saying that his county should not suffer for the extravagance of a convention of which he was a member.
     The foregoing account is a brief general outline of the history of Jones county to about 1870 It has been gathered from the older citizens of the county and from such records as could be found by the writer. The story of the secession of this county dates from 1886, when an article from the pen of G. Norton Galloway, Historian Sixth Army Corps, was published in the November number of the Magazine of American History, under the title “A Confederacy within a Confederacy.” There was no sketch of the author nor anything except his signature by which he might be located. He gave no sources nor authorities for his statements. But for the fact that it was published in a magazine devoted to history, one would naturally place it, where it belongs, along side the sensational stories that appear in magazines devoted to such writings.

     He says among other things:

“It is not generally known, that in the latter part of the year 1862, a convention assembled in Ellisville, Jones county, Mississippi, and passed an ordinance seceding from the State of Mississippi and from the Confederate States of America.”
     He even went so far as to give the exact words of the ordinance, which are as follows:
"Whereas, The State of Mississippi has seen fit to withdraw from the Federal Union for reasons which appear justifiable, and whereas, we, the citizens of Jones claim the same right, thinking our grievances are sufficient by reason of an unjust law passed by the Congress of the Confederate States of America, forcing us to go to distant parts, etc., etc.,
therefore, be it
Resolved, That we sever the union heretofore existing between Jones county and the State of Mississippi, and proclaim our independence of said $tate, and of the Confederate States of America—and we call upon Almighty God to witness and bless the act.”