Carroll County is a hilly area with fertile valleys in central Mississippi, flanked by the Big Black River along its southeastern border and originally by the Tallahatchie and Yazoo Rivers at its western periphery. The county was founded on 23 December 1833 from land ceded to the United States by the Choctaw Nation under the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. A significant percentage of the original county acreage was eventually incorporated into neighboring Leflore, Grenada, and Montgomery Counties. Carroll County and its seat, Carrollton, take their names from wealthy colonial politician Charles Carroll. In 1840 the county’s population was almost evenly divided, with 5,136 whites, 1 free black, and 5,344 slaves.
By 1860 the county’s slave population of 13,808—the ninth-highest in the state—was markedly larger than the county’s free population of 8,227. Through the toil of this sizable slave labor force, antebellum Carroll County developed a flourishing agricultural economy and the sixth-most-valuable farmland in Mississippi. Carroll County’s farms and plantations ranked eighth in the state in cotton grown, fifth in corn and sweet potatoes, third in livestock, and first in peas and beans by a wide margin. The county had twenty-three churches, divided evenly among Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians.
In the postbellum period, the county’s population remained largely African American. Carroll County had a higher percentage of farmers who owned their farms (65 percent) than the state average in the last decades of the nineteenth century, and those farmers tended to work larger-than-average lots of land. The county had a small manufacturing economy in 1880, with twenty-one establishments employing forty-five men, nineteen women, and eleven children.
In the early 1890s Mississippi’s first chapter of the Southern Farmers’ Alliance formed in Carroll County, and the journal of the state’s Colored Farmers’ Alliance, the Advocate, was published in Vaiden. Carroll County was the home of James Z. George, a Populist leader who became a main force behind the state’s 1890 constitution.
By the early twentieth century, Carroll had grown to more than twenty thousand people, with African Americans still slightly outnumbering whites. Farming continued to dominate the economy. Slightly more than half of Carroll’s white farmers owned their own land, while only 17 percent of African American farmers did so; the rest were either tenants or sharecroppers.
In 1916 the county’s churchgoing population was divided among several Protestant groups. The National Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist Convention were the largest denominations, followed by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South; the Methodist Episcopal Church; the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church; the Presbyterian Church, and the Disciples of Christ.
In 1930 Carroll County was still extremely rural, with 90 percent of the population living on farms. Less than a quarter of the county’s farmers owned their land, while Carroll had a small but growing industrial base of about 150 workers.
Carroll has been home to a good number of creative Mississippians. Willie Narmour and Shell Smith, popular string band musicians of the 1920s and 1930s, grew up there. Elizabeth Spencer, author of The Voice at the Back Door and Light in the Piazza, grew up in Carrollton, which she discusses in her memoir, Landscapes of the Heart.
In 1960 Carroll County was home to 11,117 people, about 58 percent of them African American. Two-thirds of the workforce was involved in production of various agricultural staples, including cotton, corn, wheat, livestock, soybeans, and timber. By 1980 the agricultural workforce had decreased to around 10 percent of the working population. The county’s few manufacturing firms were largely connected to the timber and furniture industries, while a few minor mineral industries had emerged as well, producing sand and gravel. Carroll was one of the state’s poorest counties, with the second-lowest per capita income and more than 10 percent of the population receiving federal aid.
Between 1960 and 2010, Carroll County’s population remained relatively stable, although the white proportion of the total increased to 66 percent, a phenomenon common in many central Mississippi counties.
- Mississippi State Planning Commission, Progress Report on State Planning in Mississippi (1938)
- Mississippi Statistical Abstract, Mississippi State University (1952–2010)
- Charles Sydnor and Claude Bennett, Mississippi History (1939); University of Virginia Library, Historical Census Browser website, http://mapserver.lib.virginia.edu
- E. Nolan Waller and Dani A. Smith, Growth Profiles of Mississippi’s Counties, 1960–1980 (1985)