Resident’s research finds family tie to new movie “Free State of Jones”

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ted Musgrove reads the documents of his heritage connecting his family to the man that started the free state of Jones rebellion, Newt Knight.

Ted Musgrove reads the documents of his heritage connecting his family to the man that started the free state of Jones rebellion, Newt Knight.

During the Civil War one story stuck out from the rest, the one about the free state of Jones County, Mississippi. Gary Ross, an American film director, directed the upcoming movie, “Free State of Jones” and after 30 years of research by Picayune resident Ted Musgrove, found that his kin was involved in the historical events the Hollywood film depicts. In fact, his great grandfather, Joe Washington Knight, was a first cousin of Newt Knight, played by Matthew McConaughey.

The story behind the “Free State of Jones” is a true story of how Newt Knight, a medic for the Confederate Army from Jones County, decided not to secede from the Union like the rest of the South, stirring controversy in the nation, Musgrove said.

Knight was opposed to slavery, and chose to help the wounded rather than fight the Union. Knight decided to return to his home in Jones County to guard his family after seeing his nephew killed, Musgrove said. According to the Smithsonian, in the spring of 1864, the Knight Company overthrew the Confederate authorities in Jones County and raised the United States flag over the county courthouse in Ellisville.

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“Back in those days, if you left the war for any reason, you were considered an outlaw. Most people now see him as a hero, however back then, most of the South saw him as a corrupt citizen, including part of his own family,” said Musgrove.

Musgrove said that once Knight got home, he had to flee because he was wanted and being hunted down by the Confederate Army for desertion and also for holding “safe houses” for the runaway slaves. Knight established a runaway slave refuge and forged an alliance with the slaves along with his family and other kin, the Musgroves, leading a rebellion that will forever be remembered in history Musgrove said.

The family marched and fought alongside the slaves with the aspiration of becoming free so they could live with one another in harmony Musgrove said. Throughout these efforts developed one of the first interracial civilizations in the South, which was in northern Jones County, Soso, said Musgrove.

Knight was disliked for being an “outlaw” of the Confederate Army, and also because he had a relationship with a slave, Rachel. Knight and Rachel married after the war, which was frowned upon, Musgrove said, and had a family together. They then developed their own community with schools and churches that accepted all races.

Musgrove said his triple great grandfather loaned land to Newt as a hide out or safe house for the runaway slaves in Jones County and if anyone came in and did not know the password, they were killed on site.

“Every time Newt was on that property, my great grandfather said he always had “Old Sal,” his shotgun, an arm length away,” said Musgrove.

“During this time, mixed individuals did not have a place in society. They were not accepted by neither whites nor blacks so they had nowhere to go, which is a huge part of this story that I hope the movie touches on,” said Musgrove.

Musgrove hopes the movie won’t fantasize what occurred and the personalities of his kin.

“I am excited for this movie to come out. I think it is going to spark a lot of interest and history on the subject. It is a forgotten time and I want people to understand the struggles of what these mixed individuals went through.”