EARLY HISTORY OF JEFFERSON COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI
A History of Mississippi
by Robert Lowery and William H. McCardle,
R. H. Henry & Co., 1891, pgs. 502-507.
JEFFERSON COUNTY, named for Thomas Jefferson, was established January 11th,
1802, and participated in the territorial legislation up to the formation of the
Constitution in 1817. In the Convention for forming a Constitution and State
government in the year mentioned, Cowles Mead, Cato West, Hezekiah J. Balch and
Joseph E. Davis were the delegates representing Jefferson county.
The early settlers of the county were from North and South Carolina, Virginia
and Maryland. The earliest settlement made in what is now the western portion of
Jefferson county was in1780, during the Spanish occupancy of the county. The
first American emigrants located on and contiguous to Coles Creek.
The most prominent of these pioneers were the families of Thomas, Abner and
Everard Green. Ancestors of the families of these names, and many others,
(descendants of the fourth generation,) now living in this community, came from
Virginia. Contemporaneously with these there came from North Carolina, Mr. Moss,
(the father of the late venerable Mrs. Martha W. Cox,) and also came Robert Cox,
who subsequently became the husband of the lady mentioned, and later to the same
neighborhood Rev. Abram Cloud, a deacon in the Protestant Episcopal Church.
Near the same period, while Governor Gayoso was exercising authority and
jurisdiction over the Spanish dominion, which embraced what is now Jefferson
county, came Roger Dixon from Virginia. Mr. Dixon was an active, energetic man
and exerted himself in behalf of the new comers in endeavoring to restrain the
oppressive policy of Spanish rulers. He accomplished much good and enjoyed the
respect and confidence of those among whom he lived.
Another of the prominent settlers was Thomas Calvit, of Calviton, father-in-law
of the late David Hunt, Sr. It was to his house in the early part of the present
Aaron Burr, after his surrender, was conducted. David Hunt, though not among the
first, was an early settler on Coles Creek. He became the most successful and
wealthiest planter in the county. He was a native of New Jersey, and when a
youth came west in the capacity of a clerk and assistant to his uncle, Abijah
Hunt, who received the appointment of sutler in Wayne's army which was sent to
chastise the turbulent tribes on the western
frontier. Abijah Hunt realized a considerable fortune from the appointment, and
when hostilities ceased he came to the "Natchez country" to invest his capital.
He engaged in large mercantile operations, established a number of stores, one
in Greenville, the then county site of Jefferson, which was in charge of his
nephew, David. Abijah Hunt fell in a duel with Governor George Poindexter. He
was a bachelor and left a considerable estate, upon which David was
administrator. David Hunt was a superior business man, and accumulated during
his long and successful life extensive and valuable possessions. He was a
liberal patron of public education and the principal founder of Oakland College.
He gave freely to all public enterprises that were meritorious.
At a later period George Dent settled on lower Cole's Creek, also Jas. Cowden.
On upper Cole's Creek were the Harrison brothers; they were nephews of Phillip
B. Barbor, the eminent statesman and jurist of Virginia. The elder brother,
Phillip B. Harrison, served as sheriff of the county. Some years later a
settlement was made in the vicinity of the present Church Hill; this was called
the Maryland settlement, as the most prominent settlers came from the State of
Maryland. Most of them brought their families, slaves and household effects ;
this was soon after the Spanish evacuation of the country, and its attendant
transfer of territory. Among them were Col. James G. Wood, (in future years,)
the patriarch of the tribe, Alexander Young, Richard Skinner, Captain Magruder,
sea captain, Leonard A. Magruder, Aaron Noble, John Steele, the Dunbars, Benoits
and Shields. A lady, known in history as the patroness of S. S. Prentiss, was a
member of the last named family. Joseph Dunbar filled several important public
positions, at one time Surveyor-General of the State, sheriff of the county, and
served several terms in the State Legislature. He invented the iron cotton tie
as a substitute for the rope. James Payne was for a long time an extensive
merchant and planter of Church Hill and at his death left numerous descendants,
all of whom occupy high social positions.
The Petit Gulf settlement, since and now called Rodney, was composed of Pierce
Nolan, Dr. Nutt, Dr. Eli Harden, John Tullis, Andrew Montgomery, the Harrisons,
Griffins and Gibsons. They were all prosperous people and grew rich. The leading
merchants at Rodney in the early days were John Ducker, Levi Harris, John Watt,
J. G. James, and later, the Warners, Kirkers, Yoes, Drakes, Evans, Eronghtons
and Becks. The principal physicians in those times in western Jefferson were
Drs. Bouldin, Nutt, Savage, Coleman and McPheeters.
A prominent gentleman and large planter in Jefferson, states that Cowles Mead
introduced the celebrated Bermuda grass, which has proved such a boon to this
country; where he procured it the gentleman is not advised.
In an early day there lived within a few miles of Fayette, the celebrated
robber, Mason. The commerce on the river was carried on in flat or keel boats,
and hundreds of men from the west would float these boats to New Orleans, sell
their produce and return on foot the entire distance to their homes. From
Natchez the generally traveled route was the old Indian trail, passing through
Jefferson, thence to Jackson and on to Florence, Alabama. These persons were
generally loaded down with Spanish dollars, which was then the principal
currency, and could usually stop at any house for the night as welcome guests,
on account of their ready cash. The grandmother of Hon. W. L. Harper, who has
represented Jefferson county in the Legislature a number of times, did her share
of entertaining. One of these travelers, a young Kentuckian, was taken sick at
her house and
detained for some weeks; his conduct and bearing was so unexceptional that she
took great interest in him, and actually quilted all his $600 (six hundred
dollars) in his coat and vest, partly to distribute his load, but chiefly to
deceive the robbers then infesting the road. She heard no more of him but the
supposition was that he was another of Mason's victims. Mason's depredations
continued to increase, until Governor Claiborne offered a
large reward for him dead or alive. One of Mason's gang killed an innocent man,
cut off his head, carried it to the Governor and claimed the reward. The
Governor sent for Mrs. Mason, who on examination swore that it was not the head
of her husband, and the claimant being identified by a gentleman just arrived,
as the very man who had robbed him a few days before, he, with another pal, was
hung at Greenville, the county site, in a field that is called the "gallows
field" to this day.
After the battle of New Orleans, and after peace had been restored, General
Jackson marched his men to Nashville, some six hundred miles; on the route they
camped at Greenville, in Jefferson county, where the people of the surrounding
out to greet them.
The lands of this county, much of which were British and Spanish grants, are
drained by the two branches of Cole's Creek, running west, which unite six miles
before reaching the river. The tributaries are numerous, with broad, rich
bottoms giving a fair proportion of hill and valley lands. The north fork of
Homochitto river, bearing southeast, is the principal drain for the eastern
section around Union Church. There are several smaller creeks, Fairchilds, Dowds
and others, that are short and serve as sewers for rain water.
Rodney is the chief shipping point for the country, called in honor of Judge
Rodney. Larger fortunes were, perhaps, made in Rodney merchandising than in any
town of like size in the South, owing in a great measure to the wealthy and
solvent condition of the planting interests on the fertile hills around it.
The Natchez, Jackson & Columbus and the Louisville, New Orleans & Texas
railroads pass directly through the center of the county.
The ancient county site, Greenville, has been converted into a cotton field, but
the site of the gallows can still be pointed out. Fayette, the present county
site, is a handsome little town, with excellent public buildings. Harriston, at
the junction of the two railroads, two miles from Fayette, is a thrifty village,
and claims to be a rival of its near neighbor, the county site.
Jefferson is an excellent county with an intelligent and prosperous population.
This county has 58,661 acres of cleared land ; average value per acre, as
rendered to the assessor, being $10.00; total value of cleared lands, including
incorporated towns, is $700,434.
The population of Jefferson county as shown by the census report
of 1890 : whites, 3,542; colored, 15,403; total, 18,945.
1820 Armstrong Ellis.
1821 Cowles Meade.
1822 Samuel Calvit.
1823 Samuel Calvit.
1825 Harden D. Runnels.
1826 Harden D. Runnels.
1827 John L. Irwin.
1828 John L. Irwin.
1829 John L. Irwin.
1830 Benjamin Kennedy.
1831 Benjamin Kennedy.
1833 Buckner Harris.
1835 Solomon Tracy. .
1837 Hugh Montgomery.
1838-'39 Hugh Montgomery.
1840-'41 P. O. Hughes.
1842 P. O. Hughes.
1843 P. O, Hughes.
1844 Edward Turner.
1846 Edward Turner.
1848 Parmenas Briscoe.
1850 Geo. Torry.
1852 Geo Torry.
1854 Henry T. Ellett.
1850-'57 Henry T. Ellett.
1858 Henry T. Ellett.
1859-'60 Henry T. Ellett.
1861-'62 Henry T. Ellett.
1865 P. K. Montgomery.
1866-'67 P- K. Montgomery.
1870-'71 Orange S. Miles.
1872-'73-'74 H. B. McClure.
1875 H. B. McClure.
1876 H. B. McClure.
1878 M. M. Currie.
1880 Thos. A. Magee.
1882 Thos. A. Magee.
1884 J. J. Whitney.
1886 J. J. Whitney.
1888 G. A. Guice.
1890 G. A. Guice.
1820 Jas. Dunbar, Joseph E. Davis
1821 Isaac N. Selser, Wm. Blanton
1822 Cowles Mead
1823 I. N. Selser, Thos. Hinds, R. Dunbar.
1825 Malcolm Gilchrist, Cowles Mead
1826 John L. Irwin, Malcolm Gilchrist
1827 Phillip Dixon
1828 Wm. Green, Claudius Gibson
1829 N. L. Boulden, Philip Dixon
1830 Joseph Dunbar, A. L. Boulden
1831 A. B. Bradford, Jno. L. Irwin
1833 Jas Dunbar, Philip Dixon
1835 Jas. Dunbar, Malcolm Gilchrist
1836 P. K. Montgomery, Geo. Leighton
1837 P. K. Montgomery, Geo. Leighton
1838-'39 Chas. Clarke, James Wood
1840-'41 Thos. Dobyns, G. H. Wilcox
1844 James Andrews
1846 George Torry
1848 George Torry
1850 G. H. Wilcox
1852 Howell Hinds
1854 Wm. L. Harper
1856-'57 G. G. Nowland
1858 — Duncan
1859-'60 E. H. Hicks
1861-'62 E. H. Hicks
1865 E. H. Hicks
1866-'67 Put Darden
1870-'71 P. Balch, M. Howard
1872-'73-'74 Jas. D. Cessor, Wm. Landers
1875 Jas. D. Cessor, Wm. Landers.
1877 Jas. D. Cessor, W. G. Millsaps.
1876 Jas. D. Cessor, W. G. Millsaps.
1878 Claude Pintard, C. B. Richardson.
1880 W. D. Torry, H. Cameron.
1882 W. L. Ha1per, J. J. Whitney.
1884 W. L. Harper, R. R. Applewhite.
1886 Jeff Truly, J. P. Wise.
1888 J. S. Hicks, J. J. Whitney.
1890 T. L. Darden, R. R. Applewhite.
Submitted by Sue B. Moore