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Jones County, Mississippi
Jones County Mississippi Courthouse.jpg
Jones County courthouse in Ellisville, Mississippi
Map of Mississippi highlighting Jones County
Location in the state of Mississippi
Map of the U.S. highlighting Mississippi
Mississippi's location in the U.S.
Founded 1826
Seat Laurel and Ellisville
Largest city Laurel
 - Total
 - Land
 - Water

699.73 sq mi (1,812 km²)
693.82 sq mi (1,797 km²)
5.91 sq mi (15 km²), 0.84%
 - (2010)
 - Density

93/sq mi (36/km²)

Jones County is a county located in the U.S. state of Mississippi. As of 2010, the population was 67,761. Its county seats are Laurel and Ellisville[1].

Jones County is part of the Laurel Micropolitan Statistical Area.


According to the 2000 census, the county has a total area of 699.73 square miles (1,812.3 km2), of which 693.82 square miles (1,797.0 km2) (or 99.16%) is land and 5.91 square miles (15.3 km2) (or 0.84%) is water.[2]

Major highways[]

  • I-59.svg Interstate 59
  • US 11.svg U.S. Highway 11
  • US 84.svg U.S. Highway 84
  • Circle sign 15.svg Mississippi Highway 15
  • Circle sign 28.svg Mississippi Highway 28
  • Circle sign 29.svg Mississippi Highway 29

Adjacent counties[]

National protected area[]

  • De Soto National Forest (part)


Jones County, formed out parts of Covington and Wayne counties, was established on January 24, 1826 and was named for John Paul Jones. There are other counties named Jones, but it appears that this is the only one named for John Paul Jones. Ellisville, the county seat, was named for Powhatan Ellis, a member of the Mississippi Legislature who claimed to be a direct descendant of Pocahontas. During the economic hard times in the 1830s and 1840s, there was an exodus of population from South Mississippi, principally to Texas, and the slogan "GTT" ("Gone to Texas") came into currency. The situation was especially acute in Jones County, which became so depopulated that it acquired the derisive nickname "The Free State of Jones".

During the American Civil War, Jones County and neighboring counties, especially Covington County to its west, became a haven for Confederate deserters. A group of men, called Knight's Company, led by Captain Newton Knight engaged in sporadic battles with State and Confederate units sent to arrest them for desertion.[3] The notoriety of Captain Knight's "rebellion" led to the fabrication of elaborate stories alleging Jones County's "secession" from the Confederacy and the establishment of an entity called "The Free State of Jones". The event was heavily fictionalized in the 1948 movie Tap Roots. In fact, Jones County never seceded from the Confederacy.

A controversy exists among historians as to the extent and breadth of the Jones County rebellion.[4]

The notion that Jones County seceded from the confederacy was put to rest by Rudy H. Leverett in 1984. His seminal book on the topic, Legend of the Free State of Jones, originally published by University Press of Mississippi in 1984 (in reprint as of 2009), was the first scholarly book on the events in Jones County before and during the American Civil War. Leverett enumerated multiple factors establishing Jones County residents' overwhelming loyalty to the Confederacy, including (1) the proportion of eligible men in the county who served the Confederacy; (2) the militant response of area residents to a Union raid at Rocky Creek balanced against their cordial reception of expeditions by Confederate officers Maury and Lowry; (3) the repeated written requests of area residents to Confederate authorities for assistance defending against deserters; (4) the community's shunning after the war of Newt Knight; and (5) the renaming of the county by popular request "after the war to honor the two greatest heroes of the Confederacy, and this at a time when genuine Union supporters could be expected to be at the zenith of their influence".[5] Leverett concludes that while "few of these people had any real stake in the great economic and political issues that precipitated the war and that most of them opposed the political policy of secession [of the South from the Union]", "the threat of coercion of the South by the North galvanized the loyalties of Jones Countians to their region and their way of life. And for most of them, that loyalty never wavered."[5] It should be noted that Rudy H. Leverett was the Great-grandson of Major Amos McLemore, whom Newton Knight and his band killed while McLemore was engaged in the duty of capturing and returning the Jones County deserters to Confederate military duty. Without rebutting the facts Leverett presents, John Stauffer and Sally Jenkins (see below) have attacked Leverett's book as having been written to discredit Knight and glorify Leverett's kin.

The label, "Free State of Jones", may have predated the Civil War. According to alternate theories of the term's origin, "Free State of Jones" came to be associated with Jones County for one of two reasons: 1) in reference to the county's reputation as a sparsely populated "backwater" of the young state, whose few residents were notorious for their disdain for organized governmental authority, or 2) due to a period of time in the early 1840s when, due to low population numbers and lack of legal proceedings, the county was left without duly-inducted legal and/or civil authorities. The true origin of the nickname could be traced back to either or both of these conditions.[6]

As Mississippi debated the secession question, the state called a secession convention which met in January 1861. Two men from Jones County vied to represent the county at the convention: J.M. Bayliss was the pro-secession candidate and John Hathorne Powell, Jr. was the anti-secession candidate. Powell was elected to represent Jones County at the convention but when he did so, he voted for secession. Legend has it that, for his vote, he was burned in effigy in Ellisville, the county seat. The reality is more complicated, for the only votes possible at the Secession Convention were for immediate secession, on the one hand, or a more cautious, co-operative approach to secession among several Southern states, on the other. Powell almost certainly voted for the more conservative approach to secession—the only position realistically available to him that was consistent with the anti-secessionist views of his constituency.[7]

Although Jones Countians opposed the South's secession from the Union on the eve of the Civil War, the greater proportion of the County's able-bodied men served the Confederate army without incident once that issue was mooted. One such man was Amos McLemore, until the war a Jones County schoolteacher and pastor and of a family established in the South for nearly two hundred years. McLemore took charge as Major of the Rosin Heels, "the second [company] among eight raised in the area that consisted of all, or significant numbers of Jones County men.[8] In spite of pre-War opposition to secession and the number of "transient deserters" in the county, Leverett asserts that the activities of such formerly anti-secessionist individuals as McLemore along with the facts "that virtually every able-bodied man in the county was on active duty in organizations such as those commanded by McLemore ... and that the Union raiding party entering the county in June of 1863 was captured by civilians, and the Union prisoners had to be protected from the local citizens" -- among other facts—present undeniable evidence that the citizens of Jones County were loyal to the Confederacy.[8]

-The "Rosin Heels"

One of these deserters and his followers murdered Major McLemore in October 1863 when McLemore was dispatched temporarily from the front back to Jones County to round up deserters who had returned there. The leader of a number of the resident deserters, Newton Knight, shot McLemore in the back as McLemore and other officers and friends sat around the fireplace of state Representative Amos Deason's house in Ellisville.[9]

Victoria Bynum, whose father was born in Jones County, became interested in researching the county’s Civil War uprising after learning of its alleged secession from the Confederacy. Her book is a people’s history of the Free State, one that emphasizes the cultural, geographic, economic, and kinship roots of the anti-Confederate outrage that plunged the county into a bloody inner civil war between 1863 and 1865. Bynum takes this history well beyond the Civil War, however, by examining the interracial relationship between guerrilla leader Newton Knight and Rachel Knight, a former slave, and by tracing its legacy into the twentieth century.[10]

Bynum details the expedition of Col. Robert Lowry into the area to address Confederate concerns about deserter collaboration with the Union Army, with reports such as that made on March 29, 1864 by Captain W. Wirt Thomason that the deserters were frequently in company of Yankees and warnings in early April by Daniel P. Logan that the deserter bands, "openly boasting of their being in communication with the Yankees", were assembling in the area of Honey Island, adding that:

According to Newt Knight, during this period his company continually sought connections with the Union Army. He recounted how Jasper Collins had traveled without success to Memphis and Vicksburg to seek the company’s recruitment into the Union Army. Newt also recalled that “Johnny Rebs busted up the party they sent to swear us in,” explaining that a company of Union forces sent to recruit men of the Knight Company was waylaid by Confederate forces at Rocky Creek. After that, he said, “I sent a courier to the federal commander at New Orleans. He sent us 400 rifles. The Confederates captured them.” Newt concluded that “we’ll all die guerrillas, I reckon. Never could break through the rebels to join the Union Army.”[11]

After the War, the Mississippi Legislature along with Jones Countians changed the county's name to Davis (for Jefferson Davis) and the name of its county seat to Leesburg (for Robert E. Lee). The Reconstruction Constitution of 1869 repealed these acts and restored the names of Jones County and Ellisville. The county was divided into judicial districts in 1906, with seats of justice at Ellisville (First District) and Laurel (Second District).[12]

A more recent account,[13] by Sally Jenkins (of the Washington Post) and John Stauffer (chair of the Program in the History of the American Civilization and professor of English and of African and African American studies at Harvard University[14]), which developed from a screenplay, draws on what they claim to be more extensive research to emphasize the extent to which, in the view of those authors, Knight ended Confederate control of Jones County during the war, and the extent of Knight's Unionist and anti-racist sympathies, both during the war and during Reconstruction. Jenkins and Stauffer's book relies heavily on Leverett's and Bynum's scholarship.

Bynum has published a detailed three-part critique of Jenkins' and Stauffer's book, citing their use of suspect sources, unsubstantiated conclusions, and selective use of primary source material and their "stretching of the evidence to support highly exaggerated claims that Newt 'fought for racial equality during the war and after,' and 'forged bonds of alliance with blacks that were unmatched even by Northern abolitionists' (pp. 3-4)."[15]

Film director Gary Ross is currently producing the movie The Free State of Jones. Ross hired Stauffer as a consultant for the movie. Stauffer's book deal with bestseller-writer Sally Jenkins and Random House for State of Jones arose from Ross's screenplay.


Historical populations
Census Pop.
1830 1,471
1840 1,258 −14.5%
1850 2,164 72.0%
1860 3,323 53.6%
1870 3,313 −0.3%
1880 3,828 15.5%
1890 8,333 117.7%
1900 17,846 114.2%
1910 29,885 67.5%
1920 32,919 10.2%
1930 41,492 26.0%
1940 49,227 18.6%
1950 57,235 16.3%
1960 59,542 4.0%
1970 56,357 −5.3%
1980 61,912 9.9%
1990 62,031 0.2%
2000 64,958 4.7%
2010 67,761 4.3%
MS Counties 1900-1990
GeoHive - 2000 & 2010 statistics

As of the census[16] of 2000, there were 64,958 people, 24,275 households, and 17,550 families residing in the county. The population density was 94 people per square mile (36/km²). There were 26,921 housing units at an average density of 39 per square mile (15/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 71.11% White, 26.34% Black or African American, 0.39% Native American, 0.27% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 1.41% from other races, and 0.48% from two or more races. 1.96% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 24,275 households out of which 32.60% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 53.00% were married couples living together, 15.10% had a female householder with no husband present, and 27.70% were non-families. 24.40% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.00% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.61 and the average family size was 3.08.

In the county the population was spread out with 25.80% under the age of 18, 10.50% from 18 to 24, 27.30% from 25 to 44, 22.20% from 45 to 64, and 14.20% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 93.70 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.10 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $28,786, and the median income for a family was $34,465. Males had a median income of $28,273 versus $19,405 for females. The per capita income for the county was $14,820. About 14.30% of families and 19.80% of the population were below the poverty line, including 25.00% of those under age 18 and 16.80% of those age 65 or over.

Government and infrastructure[]

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health South Mississippi State Hospital Crisis Intervention Center is in Laurel and in Jones County.[17]


Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport is located in an unincorporated area in the county, near Moselle.[18][19]

Notable natives[]

  • Lance Bass: Singer with NSYNC
  • Jason Campbell: Quarterback for the Washington Redskins [traded to Oakland Raiders]
  • Mary Elizabeth Ellis-Day: Actress
  • Faith Hill: Country music singer
  • Newton Knight: Confederate deserter and self-proclaimed Unionist; anti-racist
  • Major Amos McLemore: Schoolteacher, Methodist pastor and one-time opponent of Southern secession from the Union, turned Confederate officer once invasion by the North was imminent, assassinated by Newton Knight
  • Charles W. Pickering: Retired Federal Circuit Judge who served on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
  • Parker Posey: Actress
  • Leontyne Price: Operatic soprano

See also[]

  • National Register of Historic Places listings in Jones County, Mississippi


  1. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  2. ^ "Census 2000 U.S. Gazetteer Files: Counties". United States Census. Retrieved 2011-02-13. 
  3. ^ Kelly Jr., James R. Newton Knight and the Legend of the Free State of Jones. Mississippi History Now. Mississippi Historical Society.
  4. ^ Cieply, Michael (July 30, 2009). "Civil War Fires Up Literary Shootout". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ a b Leverett, Rudy H., Legend of the Free State of Jones, University Press of Mississippi, 1984, page 124.
  6. ^ Leverett, Rudy H., Legend of the Free State of Jones, University Press of Mississippi, 1984, pages 31-36.
  7. ^ Leverett, Rudy H., Legend of the Free State of Jones, University Press of Mississippi, 1984, pages 38-41.
  8. ^ a b Leverett, Rudy H., Legend of the Free State of Jones, University Press of Mississippi, 1984, pages 65-68.
  9. ^ Leverett, Rudy H., Legend of the Free State of Jones, University Press of Mississippi, 1984, page 64.
  10. ^ The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War by Victoria E. Bynum, Professor of History at Texas State University, published by Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
  11. ^ Bynum, Free State of Jones, pp. 115, 117
  12. ^ As to the derivation of the nickname "Free State of Jones", see, e.g., "Flush Times, Depression, War, and Compromise", by John Edmond Gonzales, in A History of Mississippi (McLemore, ed.), Vol. I, p 295 (Jackson, 1973), citing Mississippi: A History, by John K. Bettersworth, p 185.
  13. ^ "The State of Jones"
  14. ^ "History of American Civilization". Retrieved 20 February 2010. 
  15. ^ Bynum, Victoria, Renegade South, July 13, 2009;
  16. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  17. ^ "Contact Us." South Mississippi State Hospital. Retrieved on November 1, 2010. "SMSH Crisis Intervention Center 934 West Drive Laurel, MS 39440."
  18. ^ "Contact." Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport. Retrieved on July 15, 2011. "Our Address Airport Director, 1002 Terminal Dr. Moselle, MS 39459"
  19. ^ "Hattiesburg city, Mississippi." U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved on July 16, 2011.

Further reading[]

  • Victoria E. Bynum, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War (The University of North Carolina Press 2002).
  • Downing, David C. A South Divided: Portraits of Dissent in the Confederacy. Nashville: Cumberland House, 2007. ISBN 978-1-58182-587-9
  • Jenkins, Sally, and John Stauffer. The State of Jones. New York: Random House, 2009. ISBN 978-0-385-52593-0
  • Leverett, Rudy H., Legend of the Free State of Jones, University Press of Mississippi, 1984, 2nd printing 2009. ISBN 0878052275, ISBN 978-0878052271

External links[]

Coordinates: 31°37′N 89°10′W / 31.62, -89.17

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Jones County, Mississippi. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.