Traversed from north to south by the Chickasawhay River, Clarke County borders Alabama in southeastern Mississippi’s Piney Woods region. The county was established in December 1833 from lands ceded to the United States by the Choctaw Nation under the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. It is named for Joshua G. Clarke, Mississippi’s first state chancellor. Clarke’s county seat is Quitman, and its largest towns include Pachuta, Shubuta, and Stonewall.
At the time of its first census in 1840, the county had about twice as many whites (2,077) as slaves (909). However, Clarke’s reliance on slave labor subsequently intensified, and by 1860 the county had 5,695 whites and 5,076 slaves. Like most Piney Woods counties during this era, Clarke County comprised primarily small farms and ranked fairly low in the state in agricultural production. Clarke County remained distinctive in that it was the only county in the Mississippi to concentrate on tobacco cultivation. The eighty thousand pounds of tobacco grown on Clarke’s farms in 1860 outstripped the entirety of the rest of the state. On the eve of the Civil War, Clark County had only six churches—three Baptist, two Methodist, and one Presbyterian—a surprisingly low ratio of churches to citizens.
Clarke County’s 1880 population of 15,021 remained almost evenly split between whites and African Americans. Although the county’s producers continued to concentrate on agriculture, its twenty manufacturing firms employed more workers (158) than most Mississippi counties of the era.
By 1900 two-thirds of Clarke’s white farmers owned their land, compared to one-third of the county’s black farmers (considerably higher than the state average of 14 percent). With the rise of textile mills in Stonewall at the end of the nineteenth century, Clarke’s industrial workforce expanded to 575 (including 198 women and 120 children) in 1900. Mississippi’s first (unsuccessful) attempt to drill an oil well took place near Enterprise in 1903.
As in much of Mississippi, Baptists made up about half of the county’s churchgoers in the early twentieth century. The 1916 religious census showed that the National Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention had the highest memberships in the county, followed by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South; the African Methodist Episcopal Church; the Presbyterians; and the Disciples of Christ.
In 1930 Clarke County’s 1,793 industrial workers ranked fifth in the state. The county’s largest business, Stonewall Cotton Mill in Enterprise, employed more than 500 people. During the Great Depression, the Congress of Industrial Organizations made significant efforts to recruit Stonewall’s workers.
Clarke was home to nearly 20,000 people in 1930, but the county’s population declined over the next several decades, reaching 16,493 in 1960. Its racial demographics remained stable, with whites maintaining a slight majority (60 percent) over African Americans. Clarke’s economic activity largely revolved around textiles and timber, and the county possessed the sixth-largest timber acreage in the state. With sixteen oil wells, petroleum also figured prominently in the county’s economy.
Clarke County has left its distinctive mark on popular culture. Shubuta’s Osceola McCarty attracted national attention in the 1990s for her major donation to the University of Southern Mississippi. In 2004 Women’s Studies scholar Gayle Graham Yates published Life and Death in a Small Town: Memories of Shubuta, Mississippi, a personal memoir and history of Yates’s hometown. In addition, Al Young, a distinguished novelist and 2005–7 poet laureate of California, set a poem, “Pachuta, Mississippi/A Memoir,” in Clarke County.
Like many of Mississippi’s eastern counties, Clarke County’s 2010 population of 16,732 was predominantly (two-thirds) white. While Clarke’s population had not changed significantly in size over the previous half century, the county boasted a small but growing Latino population.
- 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)