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The Quest for Fugitive Slave Ancestors

Slave Era: Knights in Jones Co. Mississippi

After the Escape: Knights in North Carolina

Migration Back to MS: Knights in Bolivar Co. Mississippi

Summary: Knight Family History

Tom Knight's Story

"Tom Knight was a slave on the Newton Knight Plantation in Soso, MS. He had escaped, and took his wife with him. They had to hide in caves along the way. The conditions were so bad, Tom's wife lost a few of her toes. They finally made it to North Carolina where they settled and had several children."

It is a common misconception that elders hold a monopoly on good historical information. I have learned that not only should you speak with elders, but generally anyone over the age of 20 will do. These younger folks may have been close to someone who just passed away, done some genealogical digging of their own once and want to share, or heard a family tale that no one else seems to remember. Case in point, my third cousin was the one who told me the story about Tom Knight. Also, my peers have been a very effective link between myself and elders whom I am not very familiar with. Talking through peers is a nice way to "warm up to" some elders before speaking with them directly.

"Newton Knight Owned No Slaves"

After contacting some Knight genealogists, to my dismay I was informed that Newton Knight owned neither slaves nor a plantation. I was beginning to have serious doubts about Tom's awe-inspiring story. Although disheartening, this conflict in tales taught me a valuable carefully trace your lineage and never jump to conclusions. Despite the popular history, I will accept Tom's story as valid until I find proof to the contrary. Listed below are documents and data that I have compiled in order to unveil the slave history of Jones Co., MS.

Investigating the Slave History of Jones Co.

My Data

Since direct research of Newton Knight left me empty-handed, I set out to gather names of plantations in Jones Co. However, several Jones Co. residents informed me that "Jones Co. had no plantations" and "The people were too poor to afford slaves." Even after hearing this and reading the legend of the "Free State of Jones", I just didn't buy it. I had transcribed the Jones Co. Slave census myself and there were over 900 slaves listed.

Investigating Black Families of Edgecombe, NC

My Data

Grandma Abbie's Social Security Application states that she was born in NC, and that her parents names were Tom Knight and Cora (maiden name unknown). The 1870 Index of Black Heads of Household revealed a Thomas Knight living in Edgecombe, NC. His wife's name was Cora. I still need to find early historical records pertaining to my NC Knight family. I haven't been able to get any specific information on my Knight family in Edgecombe, so I am expanding my search to include all Black families in that area.

Summary: Knight Family History

Tom/Thomas Knight (b.1822-1845 d.????): Born in VA
Cora Knight
(b.1830-1852 d.????): Born in NC, wife of Tom Knight

Upon escape or emancipation from their master's plantation, ex-slaves often took advantage of their mobility to return to the land of their previous owner, seeking out friends, family, and the resting places of loved ones. Tom and/or his wife Cora may have originated in Edgecombe County, NC. Research of Edgecombe Co. NC Knight Family estate records reveal the movement of several Knight slaves out of the state, and some into Mississippi.

According to oral history, Tom and Cora Knight were fugitives from a plantation in Soso (Jones Co.) MS. The name of the owner is allegedly "Captain Newton Knight", however, Soso Knight family history, slave schedules, and the story of the "Free State of Jones" suggest that Newton Knight never owned slaves. Tom and Cora eventually settled in NC and had several children. The census seems to corroborate this part of the story: Thomas and Cora Knight are listed in the 1870 and 1880 NC census as residents of Sparta Township, Edegcombe Co. Unfortunately, Abbie (b.1877) does not appear in the household of Thomas and Cora in 1880. Instead, only one child, Maggie Knight, is listed as age 7 mo. in 1870 and age 10 yrs. in 1880.

Interestingly, one of the ex-slaves of the white Edgecombe Knights (Andrew "Drew" Knight: given to William Knight by his father Willis) is found living in the adjacent township, Lower Conetoe, in 1880 with a 9 year old daughter named Maggie Knight. Could Maggie actually be Andrew's daughter? Did Maggie migrate between her relative's households? Does this suggest a connection between Thomas Knight and Andrew Knight...and to an original slave-holder? More research should reveal answers to these questions.

The Family of Thomas and Cora Knight

daughter (?) Maggie Knight (1869/NC - ????)
Born - Edgecombe Co., NC
daughter Abbie Knight MARTIN
(1877/NC - 1972/MO)
Born - NC
Married - Dock Martin, March 11, 1899; Sharkey Co. MS
Died - St. Louis, MO
daughter Mary Etta Knight (1886/NC - ????)
Born - NC
son John "Uncle JK" Knight (1887/NC - ca.1950/MO)
Born - NC
Married - Gertrude Greathouse
Died - St. Louis, MO
granddaughter Edna SCOTT (1890/NC - ????)
Born - NC
Widowed in 1910; maiden name unknown

The oral history ends with the Knight family in NC, but the census reveals the Knight family in Bolivar MS in 1910. Tom and Cora are still together after 65 years of marraige and eight children (four surviving). The family has no recollection of a Maggie Knight, but a Maggie SANDERS is living next door to the MS Knight family in 1910. She is listed as sister-in-law to a Rufus THOMPSON.