Located in southeastern Mississippi, Jasper County’s lands have a long Native American history. Red Shoe, an eighteenth-century Choctaw chief and important leader in negotiations with the Chickasaw, English, and French, was from the area that became Jasper. The county was officially established from Jones and Wayne Counties in 1833 and is named for Sgt. William Jasper, a Revolutionary War hero. Jasper’s two county seats are Bay Springs and Paulding, which is named for another Revolutionary War figure, John Paulding. Just four years after founding the county, Jasper’s leaders established the publication that eventually became the state’s preeminent newspaper, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
In its early years Jasper had a substantial majority of free people relative to its slave population. By 1860 both the free and slave populations had nearly tripled, reaching 6,458 and 4,549, respectively. Like most Mississippi counties, antebellum Jasper was largely agricultural: the county’s first census in 1840 shows only 40 people working in commerce and manufacturing. Jasper’s farms practiced mixed agriculture, concentrating on corn, livestock, and sweet potatoes more than cotton.
In 1880, 251 of the county’s citizens identified as Native Americans, one of the largest such populations in Mississippi. The county’s population had increased to 15,394 by the turn of the century, with whites comprising a slight majority. Farming experiences differed markedly along racial lines: while 80 percent of white farming families owned their land, only a third of the African American farmers did so, with the rest working as either sharecroppers or tenants. Several books by Mississippi historian and memoirist S. G. Thigpen, born in Jasper County in 1890, detail rural life in South Mississippi during this era.
Jasper County has been home to a variety of churchgoing populations. In the 1830s a group of Irish settlers there founded the state’s second Catholic parish. Thirty years later, only five counties had more churches than did Jasper, and most of its congregations were Methodist or Baptist. The Southern Minstrel, a popular nineteenth-century shape-note compendium compiled and edited by Lazarus Jones, had roots in Jasper County. The religious census of 1916 shows Missionary Baptists as the county’s largest denomination, followed by the Methodist Episcopal Church; the Methodist Episcopal Church, South; the Southern Baptist Convention; and the Presbyterian Church.
By 1930 Jasper’s population had reached 18,634. Nonagricultural work opportunities were clearly on the rise, as the county’s industrial workforce, primarily laboring in timber, had grown to 400. While Jasper remained a largely agricultural county with more than three thousand farms, the majority of its farmers were now tenants.
The population declined slightly over the next three decades, falling to just under 17,000 in 1960. Jasper’s population was roughly split between white and black residents but also included a significant number of South Asian immigrants. The county’s agricultural sector, focused on corn and cattle, now employed only about half of Jasper’s workforce. The county’s more than three hundred thousand acres of commercial forest contributed to employment opportunities as well, and many of the county’s other laborers worked in either machinery or furniture production.
Since the 1960s, the Jasper County economy has benefited from significant natural gas and petroleum reserves. In 2010 Jasper produced more gasoline and oil than any other county in Mississippi. The 2010 census showed that the majority of Jasper’s 17,062 citizens were African American and that the county’s population had shown no significant change 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)