Choctaw County, founded in 1833, is located in central Mississippi. The county is named for the Choctaw people. The Natchez Trace Parkway travels through Choctaw County, and the Tombigbee National Forest is partially located in the county. Waterways in the county include Besa Chitto Creek and Big Bywy Ditch. The county seat is Ackerman. Other towns include French Camp, Mathiston, and Weir.
In its first census in 1840, Choctaw County had a population of 6,010, 74 percent of them free and 26 percent slaves. The vast majority of residents worked in agriculture, with only sixty-three people employed in manufacturing. While many parts of Mississippi witnessed dramatic increases in the percentage of slaves in the 1840s and 1850s, Choctaw County registered only a 1 percent increase in slaves by 1860. At the end of the antebellum period, Choctaw was home to more than fifteen thousand residents, most of whom worked on farms. As in many areas with free majorities, Choctaw emphasized corn and livestock more than cotton. With forty-three industrial establishments employing 146 workers, Choctaw had a more active industrial economy than most Mississippi counties. The Mississippi Manufacturing Company, chartered in 1848, became one of the state’s first significant textile mills. Choctaw had forty free women working in establishments that turned cotton and wool into cloth. Other industrial workers were employed primarily in blacksmithing and lumber.
In the religious census of 1860, Choctaw County had seventy-three churches, the most in the state, among them thirty-six Baptist churches, twenty-seven Methodist churches, eight Presbyterian churches, and two Christian churches.
In 1880 Choctaw County had a population of 9,036, 6,537 of them white and 2,498 African American. The county’s twenty-nine manufacturing establishments employed just fifty-three men and no women. Agriculture remained the primary economic concern, and about two-thirds of the 1,358 farmers owned their land. Representing the interests of smaller farmers, the Populist movement did particularly well in Choctaw County.
By 1900 Choctaw County’s population had topped 13,000. Two-thirds of the 1,684 white farmers owned their farmland, about twice the rate among the 505 black farmers. The number of industrial workers increased to 102.
According to the religious census of 1916, the largest church groups in Choctaw County were Southern Baptists and Missionary Baptists, which combined to account for more than half of Choctaw’s churchgoers. Other major groups included the Methodist Episcopal Church, South; the Methodist Episcopal Church; the Presbyterian Church; and the Churches of Christ. Methodists founded Wood College in Mathiston in 1886. The Blackwood Brothers, one of the most popular quartets in gospel music, started in Ackerman in the 1930s, first singing in churches and soon performing on the radio. Other musicians of note who grew up in Choctaw County include fiddlers Hoyt Ming, Willie Narmour, and Dock Hemphill.
From 1900 to 1930 Choctaw’s population declined slightly, with the county now home to 12,339 people, 8,866 of them white and 3,473 African American. Choctaw County farmers grew more corn than their counterparts elsewhere in Mississippi.
By 1960 Choctaw County’s 8,423 people represented one of the state’s smallest and most sparsely settled populations, and 70 percent of residents were white. More than half of the workforce still labored in agriculture, largely corn and cattle. Over the next two decades, the number of people involved in manufacturing rose from 310 to 1,310, though personal income rose only from third-lowest in the state to seventh-lowest over that period.
Notable people born or residing in Choctaw County include National Football League player Kenneth Johnson and Major League Baseball pitcher Roy Oswalt, who also played on the gold-medal-winning team during the 2000 Olympics. Choctaw County was home to another Olympian, track star Coby Miller, who earned a silver medal in the men’s 4 ×100 relay in the 2004 Olympics. Cheryl Prewitt, Miss America 1980, is from Choctaw County, as are two Mississippi governors. James P. Coleman, the state’s fifty-first chief executive, and Ray Mabus (fifty-ninth), who later served as US secretary of the navy and ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
Like many central Mississippi counties, Choctaw County’s 2010 population remained predominantly white, and at 8,547, it had not changed significantly in size since 1960.
- 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)