LaPlace man related to ‘Free State of Jones’ leader

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, July 6, 2016

LAPLACE — When the marketing campaign began for the locally filmed “Free State of Jones,” many people probably headed to the Internet to find out the story behind the story of Newt Knight and his rebellion against the Confederacy.

Henry Knight didn’t have to.

The LaPlace resident is a distant nephew of Newt Knight, the lead character played in the film by Matthew McConaughey.

Newt Knight was a Mississippi farmer who left the Confederate Army (some say deserted) and led a group of residents from Jones County, Mississippi, in an historic stand against the Confederacy.

Some say Jones County effectively succeeded from the state — hence, the title of the movie — with Newt Knight as its governor.

Henry Knight would be a grand nephew with a couple of greats tacked on.

“One of my grandfathers way back was one of Newt’s brothers,” Knight said.

“I had heard all the stories all my life. I never thought they would make a movie of it.”

Knight has left the complex genealogy of the family to his cousins, who have the daunting task of tracing the lineage of Newt Knight’s nine children with his white wife, five children with his black wife Rachel, a former slave, and the several children he fathered after Rachel’s death with one of her daughters by another husband.

Knight’s first real knowledge of the story of his ancestor came when he was in college.

“My dad called me one day and said, ‘You have to read this book,’” Knight said.

The book was “Echo of the Black Horn” by Ethel Knight, one of his descendants, who also was a historian.

It was a blistering denunciation of Knight and his band of renegades.

“The book says he was trying to create a new race of blacks mixed with whites,” Knight said. “I don’t know about that. I see him as a hero. He sided with the Union during the Civil War.”

Knight, who was born in Mississippi, made his way to St. John the Baptist Parish and taught history for many years.

“When I first got here, I drove up River Road as far as Convent and looked at all the houses and the plantations,” he said. “I took pictures and used them in my Louisiana history lessons.”

Now, Knight can claim that his family is a footnote in history.

“I can’t wait to see the movie,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”