Greene County is located in the Piney Woods region of southeastern Mississippi along the Alabama border. The Leaf and Chickasawhay Rivers traverse the county; both are tributaries of the Pascagoula River, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Greene County was established on 9 December 1811 and is named for the Revolutionary War general Nathanael Greene. Founded in 1906, Leakesville, the county seat, is named for Walter Leake, governor of Mississippi from 1822 to 1825.
In the 1820 census, Greene County had a small population—1,065 free people and 380 slaves. Virtually everyone in the county worked in agriculture, with only seven people employed in commerce and manufacturing. Twenty years later, Greene’s population had hardly changed, reaching only 1,207 free people and 429 slaves.
While much of Mississippi had experienced dramatic population growth by 1860, Greene County was still home to only 1,527 free people and 705 slaves. On the eve of the Civil War, Greene’s agricultural yields ranked near the bottom of the state in most categories: with just 146 bales, the county’s cotton production was second-lowest; corn output had the same rank, and the value of livestock was third-lowest in the state. However, antebellum Greene County ranked near the top in rice production, coming in fourth among Mississippi counties. Like other Piney Woods counties, Greene maintained both considerable support for and opposition to the Confederacy.
Greene County’s population grew following the Civil War, reaching 3,194 (75 percent of them white) by 1880. Virtually all of Greene’s farmers owned their land (96 percent), so the county had almost no renting or sharecropping. Greene County farms averaged 268 acres, far above the state average. The county had two manufacturing firms that employed eleven men and one child. Like other Piney Woods counties, Greene did not attract immigrants: only seven people born outside the United States lived in the county.
By the opening decades of the twentieth century, Greene County’s distinction as a haven for yeoman farmers was beginning to change. In 1900, twenty-five manufacturing firms, including some lumber companies, employed 282 male industrial workers. However, the county continued to maintain high rates of landownership: 94 percent of Greene County’s white farmers and 122 of the total of 141 African American farmers (87 percent) owned the land they farmed. Moreover, the county’s farms remained fairly large.
Prior to the Civil War, Greene County had been home to fourteen churches—seven Methodist, five Baptist, and two Presbyterian. These denominations continued to dominate the county’s religious landscape into the twentieth century. In 1916 Baptists, both Southern and Missionary, Methodists, and Presbyterians reported the largest church memberships in the county.
In 1930 the county’s 10,644 residents (75 percent of whom were white) lived in a rural area with the fourth-lowest population density in Mississippi. Most white and African American farmers still owned their farms, but the industrial workforce had grown dramatically, topping 1,000.
Thirty years later, Greene’s population had decreased to 8,366, giving it the second-lowest population density in the state. Likewise, Greene’s labor force was the second-smallest in Mississippi, with more than 40 percent of workers engaged in the production of corn and winter wheat and the care of livestock. Although Greene contained more than 408,000 acres of commercial forest, the second-highest acreage in the state, by 1980 only 470 workers were employed in manufacturing, few of them in timber-related industries.
As with many of the state’s southeastern counties, in 2010 Greene County’s population had a white majority (72.5 percent). A total of 14,400 people lived there.
- 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)