Construction History of the Deason House, Jones County, Mississippi

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Geography and Geology


Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences


The Deason House is located in the heart of the Piney Woods region in the town of Ellisville, Mississippi. During the American Civil War, the Deason House became the epicenter for an event that started a rebellion against the Confederate government. On 5 October 1863, a Confederate deserter named Newton Knight allegedly shot and killed Confederate Major Amos McLemore in the Deason House, which eventually lead to the formation of the Free State of Jones. Despite the historical importance of the house, oral accounts and written documents have failed to provide accurate construction history of the structure. We coupled techniques of dendrochronology and geophysical surveyto better understand the construction history of the Deason House and cultural activities of its inhabitants. We extracted 35 Pinus palustris (Mill.) timbers along the west-facing exterior weatherboards and from various logs within the second-floor attic, 25 of which were successfully crossdated against a P. palustris reference chronology located 15 km south in De Soto National Forest (1742–2013). The Deason House chronology anchored against the De Soto time series during the period 1742–1875 (r = 0.55, t = 4.01, p < 0.0001) and extended the reference chronology back to the year 1680 CE. Clustering of cutting- and near-cutting dates from timbers revealed 3 possible stages of construction. First, the house likely existed as a single-pen structure built in the winter of 1835/1836, based on two timbers with wane/bark that were affixed to the original chimney made of clay bricks fired on the homestead. Second, based on the clustering of 1855 cutting dates, we suggest this was the most likely time the original structure was expanded with a vestibule, porch, and larger 4-room house. Finally, six timbers revealed a back addition was constructed in the year 1866. Ground penetrating radar (GPR) helped provide evidence mentioned in written records that the back addition (1866) existed as the detached kitchen then was affixed to the structure ca. 1890. The GPR data revealed geophysical anomalies that indicated the original sites of the detached kitchen, water well, livestock pen, privies, and trash pit. Through the use of dendrochronological analyses and geophysical survey, we were able to provide an updated history of the Deason House construction dynamics and cultural activities of its inhabitants beyond the historical record.

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