The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War

By Victoria E. Bynum | Go to book overview

Chapter Three
Piney Woods Patriarchs
Class Relations and the
Growth of Slavery

There is a story that a dark skinned, curly haired
family moved to Ellisville about the time that
the county was being organized. They were
seized and sold as slaves, and the money was
used to build the first court house.—Sue Boyd
Neill, WPA writer, 1936

[The farmers of South Mississippi] hate slavery
and slaveowners almost as much as they hate
Yankees.—James Street, Taproots, 1943

Although there is no evidence that any seizure of a dark-skinned, curlyhaired family ever occurred in early Jones County, that legend marks a pivotal moment in the history of Piney Woods Mississippi. Jones County was founded in 1826 in response to the influx of settlers from the Southeast into Mississippi after the War of 1812. Although Jones’s farmers could never have duplicated the realm of the vastly more fertile plantation belt, they did build a world similarly divided between white freeholders and black slaves. The legend thus seems to have purged Jones County of the last vestiges of free people of color, who, it claimed, were immediately sold into slavery. The cash from the sale of these mixed-race people, who had curly, not kinky, hair—and dark, not black, skin—was used to build the county courthouse. For nineteenth-century whites the courthouse was the ultimate symbol of law and order, but the seizure and sale of these darkskinned people also underlay a “creation myth” crucial to a slave-based society. According to this myth, people of color were only the slaves of whites, not their ancestors or intimates.1

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