Interview with Sally Jenkins & John Stauffer co-authors of “The State of Jones”

Sally Jenkins, co-author "The State of Jones"I recently read a very interesting new book, “The State of Jones,” by Sally Jenkins, and John Stauffer.  Due to be released by Doubleday on June 23, 2009, this book details Southern Unionism in the state of Mississippi, during the Civil War.  The book is non-fiction and focuses on the life of Newton Knight, and the family slave, Rachel.  Knight is against secession and questions slavery.  While his family is pro-slavery, Newton maintains strong feelings against it.  Knight was drafted into Company F, 7thMississippi Infantry Battalion.  He would fight at Corinth, after which time he would desert.  After being captured, he would go back to his infantry unit as an alternative to being executed.  He and his 7th Mississippi Infantry Battalion would be in the trenches at Vicksburg, and would be paroled after Vicksburg fell to US Major General Ulysses S. Grant, on July 4, 1863.  Once again, Knight would desert – this time for the last time.  In October 1863, the Unionists of Jones County would meet at Smith’s Store, near Ellisville, and form the Jones County Scouts.  Knight, believed to be the ablest and bravest of the “Scouts,” was elected the captain.  For the remainder of the Civil War the Jones County Scouts would harass the Confederate army, and when possible aid the Federal armies.  They became guerrillas, destroying transportation hubs and other important facilities.  Knight would receive special commendation John Stauffer, co-author "The State of Jones"from brevet US Brigadier General William L. McMillen, for his support of the Federal army, during the closing months of the Civil War.  Unfortunately, Knight’s difficulties were not over withthe close of the war.  He would continue to have difficulties raising his family, and would have an open relationship with the family’s previous slave, Rachel.  He would live much of the remainder of his life on his farm, always on the watch for those plotting against him.

“The State of Jones” is a book that is long overdue.  It is a real page turner – often biting off an hour of time, in what seems to be a few minutes.  Most importantly, Jenkins and Stauffer, through great research and writing, provide an important glimpse into an often overlooked portion of our country’s history.  This book is a must read for all Civil War enthusiasts.

About the Authors:

SALLY JENKINS is an award-winning journalist for the Washington Post and the author of eight books, three of which were New York Times bestsellers, most notably It’s Not About the Bike with Lance Armstrong. Her work has been featured in GQ and Sports Illustrated, and she has acted as a correspondent on CNBC as well as on NPR’s All Things Considered. She lives in New York City.(i)

JOHN STAUFFER writes and lectures on the Civil War era, antislavery, social protest movements, and visual culture.  He is the author of seven books and more than 45 articles, including The Black Hearts of Men:  Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race (2002), which won four major awards, including the Frederick Douglass Book Prize, the Avery Craven Book Award, and the Lincoln Prize runner-up.  His essays have appeared in Time Magazine, Raritan, New York Post, 21st: The Journal of Contemporary Photography, and The Harvard Review; and he has appeared on national radio and television shows.  His new book, GIANTS: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, was published in November 2008 by TWELVE.

John received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1999, began teaching at Harvard that year, and was tenured in 2004.  He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife, Deborah Cunningham, and their two-year-old son, Erik Isaiah Stauffer.(ii)

Buy at Amazon.comDetails about “The State of Jones”
Written by: Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Doubleday
Date of First Edition: June 23, 2009
ISBN-10: 0385525931



On May 26, 2009, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sally, and John, about their soon-to-be-released book, “The State of Jones.”  The interview provides a great deal of insight into their collaboration on this wonderful book.  I am sure you will enjoy listening to the interview, as much as I enjoyed doing it.

Sally Jenkins & John Stauffer Interview – 10 Parts
Total Time: 1 hour, 4 minutes, 13 seconds

Part 1:  The State of Jones Interview Pt 1
Time: 6:14
Contents:  Introductions | Background about “The State of Jones” | How Jenkins and Stauffer began their collaboration

Part 2:  The State of Jones Interview Pt 2
Time: 5:15
Contents:  Sally’s prose and writing style | Working with Gary Ross | The State of Jones (the movie) | Why write about Jones County?

Part 3:  The State of Jones Interview Pt 3
Time: 7:17
Contents:  Significance of Southern Unionism in Mississippi | Research and finding new materials for “The State of Jones” | Understanding Newton Knight | Newton Knight and desertion

Part 4:  The State of Jones Interview Pt 4
Time: 4:08
Contents:  Difficulties in researching “The State of Jones” | The use of parallel stories

Part 5:  The State of Jones Interview Pt 5
Time: 4:30
Contents:  The relationship between Newton and Serena Knight, and Rachel | Local slave communities support for the Jones County Scouts | Newton’s relationship with the local community after the Civil War

Part 6:  The State of Jones Interview Pt 6
Time: 8:25
Contents:  Jones County Scouts formed | Detail on Jones County and Southern Unionism | Confederate concerns about Unionism in Mississippi | Use of swamps in Mississippi by renegades and refugees | Scouts evading Confederate pursuers | Guerilla raids by Jones County Scouts

Part 7:  The State of Jones Interview Pt 7
Time: 6:43
Contents:  Rachel as a spy for the Jones County Scouts | Slaves and Jones County Scouts knew they needed each other | Deserters and runaways received support from Rachel and the slave community | Rachel and Newton’s wartime partnership | Pursuit of the Scouts by Lowery’s 6th Mississippi Veterans | Southern Unionists believed they had a right to secede from the Confederacy

Part 8:  The State of Jones Interview Pt 8
Time: 4:37
Contents:  Swamps as the “great equalizer” | Standing Confederate order – do not leave a company alone in Jones County | Lowery’s lasting legacy – summary execution | Difficulties for Newton Knight after the Civil War

Part 9:  The State of Jones Interview Pt 9
Time: 8:39
Contents:  Knight’s frustration with the Federal government | Application of “new rights” during Reconstruction | Ku Klux Klan and pressure on black suffrage | Newton as a target of post war violence | Newton deeding Rachel 40 acres

Part 10:  The State of Jones Interview Pt 10
Time: 8:25
Contents:  Newton’s ability to evade trouble | Knight kin protecting Newton | 20th Century legal proceedings against the Knight family | Civil Rights era as the Second Reconstruction | Future projects for Stauffer and Jenkins | Thank you and wrap up

Other books by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer

It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back To Life
Written by:  Sally Jenkins
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher:  Berkley Trade
Date of Publication:  September 4, 2001

The Real All Americans
Written by:  Sally Jenkins
Paperback:  368 pages
Publisher:  Anchor
Date of Publication:  August 12, 2008

The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race
Written by:  John Stauffer
Paperback:  384 pages
Publisher:  Harvard University Press
Date of Publication:  March 30, 2004

Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln
Written by:  John Stauffer
Hardcover:  448 pages
Publisher:  Twelve
Date of Publication:  November 3, 2008

(i) Sally Jenkins author spotlight, at
(ii) John Stauffer bio, at

About Michael Noirot

I grew up in the Central Illinois farming community, of Dunlap. Growing up, I played sports, tinkered with cars and enjoyed photography. While I did well in school, I did not become passionate about history until my early 30's. I have built a large library, of books on early America, politics and the Civil War. I am an avid reader. Fortunately, I have had plenty of opportunities to travel, over the years, and have been to most of the Civil War battlefields. I work while I travel, so more often than not, I am up, in the middle of the night, to get sunrise pictures, or I will be out until well after dark, exploring Civil War battlefields. I have other hobbies, and passions, that I really enjoy. Number one on the list would be guitar. I play my guitars on a regular basis, and enjoy the Bluegrass, and Contemporary Christian (CCM) genres. I play a style of guitar, called FLATPICKING, where using a flat pick, you play lead solos, similar to the way a fiddle would have been played during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Laura, my wife, and I also enjoy scuba diving, travel and spending time at our property, in the country. Lastly, we spend as much time with our families, as possible. Thanks for stopping by.
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5 Responses to Interview with Sally Jenkins & John Stauffer co-authors of “The State of Jones”

  1. Victoria Bynum says:

    I listened to your interview with Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer with great interest. I am the “woman” that Ms. Jenkins referred to as having written a book about the Free State of Jones. For the record, I am a senior historian with a doctorate from the University of California, San Diego.

    The title of my book is “The Free State of Jones,” (University of North Carolina Press, 2001), not “The Legend of the Free State of Jones,” as stated by Jenkins. And, despite Mr. Stauffer’s remark that historians have largely ignored Southern Unionism, my work is only one of many fine studies on that topic.

    My next book, “Southern Communities at War,” (UNC Press, spring 2010), is a collection of essays about various Unionist communities, and will include an in-depth analysis of Newt Knight’s thirty-year effort to gain compensation as a Unionist.

    Those interested in knowing more about my work may visit my blog at

    Thank you,
    Victoria Bynum

  2. Victoria,
    Thank you for providing feedback on this article. I certainly look forward to your new book coming out and would be pleased to feature it on my blog.

    Best Regards,
    Michael Noirot
    Chief Blogger

  3. Jonathan Odell says:

    How very disappointing. After listening to the interview I read “State of Jones,” wondering what else could possibly be documented concerning Newt Knight and the Free State of Jones, considering everything that has preceded this latest publication. Well, after reading the book, I can confidently say, Nothing. The book seems to be a rehash of Bynum’s well documented work, “The Free State of Jones,” plus a few fictional leaps plus a few lectures from what sounds like a high school history class on the Civil War. What is most distressing is the impression that I got early on in the book that authors started out with an agenda to romanticize Newt and Rachel’s relationship and to liberalized Newt’s views on race, torturing evidence, rumor and supposition until it confessed. That’s fine. It certainly updates the story for 21st Century sensibilities, but at least call it fiction. Of course, this treatment of the material will undoubtably make for a great movie script. But I’m sure the authors never thought of that.

  4. Jonathan,
    Thank you for your comment. I have never read Victoria Bynum’s book. For me, the book was fascinating as it was new material for me. I know the authors had uncovered a lot of new source material in their travels to Mississippi, primarily from relatives of Knight. The authors were also quick to point out, in the interview, that Bynum had written a quality book on Knight and Unionism in Jones County.

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