Long before its official founding in 1833, the area that became Noxubee County, in eastern Mississippi along the Alabama line, had been the site of significant historical events. Choctaw chief Pushmataha, a critical figure in the growth of American migration to the region, was born there in the 1760s.
In September 1830 representatives of the federal government met with a group of Choctaw leaders in Noxubee County to sign the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. The treaty, negotiated by Noxubee County natives Peter Pitchlynn and family (members of the Choctaw Nation) and George Strother Gaines (liaison for the federal government), removed most Choctaws from Mississippi.
Newly available for American settlement, Noxubee County quickly developed into a productive agricultural county with a rapidly growing population. In the 1840 census, it had a population of 3,818 free people and 6,157 slaves. There, plantation leaders such as Joseph Beckham Cobb and Stephen D. Lee made and expanded the fortunes that helped start their political careers.
Between 1840 and 1860 Noxubee County’s population doubled, with the number of free persons growing to 5,171and the number of slaves growing to 15,496 (75 percent of the total). One of Mississippi’s most productive agricultural areas, Noxubee County ranked first in the production of corn, fifth in cotton, fourth in livestock, and sixth in sweet potatoes. Its farmland had the third-highest value in the state. Seventy-two people labored in industry, with most making bricks or working in lumber mills. In 1860 Noxubee County was home to thirty churches: fifteen Methodist, ten Baptist, four Presbyterian, and one Catholic.
In the postbellum period Noxubee became a popular destination for African Americans looking to improve their lives. While the number of whites remained stable, the African American population increased by almost 10,000 between 1860 and 1880, making the county one of the state’s largest, with 29,572 people. Noxubee had by far the largest number of Alabama natives who relocated to Mississippi. As in many black-majority counties, Noxubee had a large number of tenant farmers. Only 38 percent of the county’s farms were run by their owners, a figure well below the state average. At the same time, Noxubee remained an important center for agricultural production, ranking first in the state in production of corn and oats, tenth in cotton, and sixth in the total value of farms. The county’s 4,373 mules constituted the fourth-highest total in the state.
In 1880 Noxubee’s manufacturing firms employed 113 men, 6 women, and 18 children. In addition, the county was home to 89 foreign-born residents, most of them from Ireland and Germany.
From 1880 to 1900 Noxubee’s population increased minimally to 30,846, with African Americans comprising 85 percent of residents. The county also had an extraordinary number of African American tenant farmers (more than 3,300) but only 269 African American farm owners. By comparison, only about 200 of Noxubee’s 693 white farmers were tenants. Noxubee’s religious census for 1916 was unique in that Missionary Baptists made up more than half of all churchgoers. Methodist Episcopal; Methodist Episcopal Church, South; Southern Baptist; and Colored Methodist Episcopal churches accounted for most of the remainder.
Noxubee County’s population declined steadily in the early twentieth century, falling to just 25,560 in 1930. African Americans outnumbered whites by a ratio of four to one. In many ways, the demography of this East Mississippi county resembled a Delta county, with a large but decreasing African American population and a small white population. Still an agricultural county with more than 4,600 farms, Noxubee employed 449 industrial workers. Eighty percent of Noxubee’s farms were run by tenants rather than owners.
Notable natives of Noxubee County include poet T. R. Hummer, born in Macon, the county seat, in 1950, and home demonstration leader Sadye Hunter Wier, who was born in 1905 and attended Noxubee Industrial School, founded by her parents, Samuel and Minnie Hunter.
By 1960 Noxubee County’s population had decreased to 16,826 and was 78 percent African American. Noxubee also ranked in the bottom five counties in the state in per capita income. Only 11 percent of its workers were employed in industry (primarily furniture and apparel firms), whereas 45 percent had jobs in agriculture. The county stood out for its large numbers of hogs and cattle (second and third in the state). The population decline continued, and by 1980 the county was home to only 13,212 people.
Unlike most eastern Mississippi counties, Noxubee had a predominantly African American population in 2010. The number of residents continued to decline, falling to 11,545.
The county seat is Macon, and other towns include Brooksville and Shuqualak.
- 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)