Established after the 1832 Chickasaw land cession, Tippah County was created from land that included portions of Benton, Union, Alcorn, and Prentiss Counties. Tippah is located in northeastern Mississippi, on the Tennessee border. The name Tippah is said to have come from a Chickasaw word meaning “cut off.” The county seat is Ripley.
In the 1840 census, Tippah’s population consisted of 7,310 free people (the second-most in the state) and 2,134 slaves. Early residents included farmers, planters, and merchants who settled near waterways throughout the county. Tippah is surrounded by rivers, including the Tallahatchie and Tippah Rivers to the west and south and the West Hatchie and Hatchie Rivers to the east and north. Because of these rivers and nearby limestone, Tippah County’s soil was ripe for agricultural development, specifically food crops. This appealed to hill country farmers, who grew fruits and vegetables for home consumption more than cash crops such as cotton. Tippah residents also concentrated more than most Mississippians on raising livestock.
In 1860 the county ranked tenth in the state in the value of its livestock, sixth in sweet potatoes, and fourteenth in corn but only twenty-third in the value of its cotton. The county’s 129 industrial workers were employed in a variety of jobs, primarily at Tippah’s twenty lumber mills and twenty-one flour mills. The county had grown substantially and had 16,219 free persons and 6,331 slaves. Tippah also had seventy-two churches, including twenty-six Methodist churches, twenty-four Baptist congregations, eight Cumberland Presbyterian houses of worship, seven Union churches, four Christian churches, and three Presbyterian congregations.
After the Civil War, Tippah County’s population declined as a consequence of the creation of nearby Benton and Union Counties, which absorbed much of Tippah’s population. By 1880 Tippah had just 12,867 residents, 76 percent of them white. As in much of northeastern Mississippi, a substantial majority of farmers owned their land. Most farmers continued to concentrate on grains and tobacco. Tippah residents grew by far the most tobacco in the state.
In 1900 Tippah remained an agricultural economy, with just 71 industrial workers. During this period the majority of white farmers (56 percent) owned their land, though just 20 percent of the 422 African American farmers did so. Between 1880 and 1900 the population grew by a mere 116 people.
In 1873 Gen. Mark Perrin Lowrey established an all-female Southern Baptist institution, Blue Mountain College, in Tippah County. The first faculty members included Lowrey’s two daughters, Modena and Margaret. Modena Lowrey Berry, known as Mother, became the dominant personality of Blue Mountain and worked for the school for sixty-one years. Blue Mountain College students of note have included Carolyn Bennett Patterson, who went on to become a writer and editor for National Geographic, and artist Dusti Bongé.
In 1916 Baptists accounted for more than half of Tippah County’s 5,400 church members, with the majority belonging to the Southern Baptist Convention. The Methodist Episcopal Church, South also made up a large portion of Tippah’s religious population.
By 1930 Tippah’s population had topped 18,000. About 80 percent of the population was white, with African Americans making up 20 percent. Though farm-owning yeomen had dominated agriculture in the nineteenth century, farmers now operated only 41 percent of the farms. Small sawmills employed 114 industrial workers. The county had a tiny population of foreign-born residents—one immigrant born in Russia and one born in Iceland.
Among the notable residents of Tippah County were activist and editor Ida B. Wells, born in 1862, who spent part of her childhood in the area, and members of the well-known Falkner family. Ripley’s William Clark Falkner was a novelist, business leader, and military figure whose story was important in the mind of his great-grandson, William Faulkner. Donald Wildmon, the Methodist preacher who started his political activism by protesting sexual and secular content on television and then established the American Family Association in Tupelo, grew up in Tippah County. Ripley native Philip Gibbs was killed in the 1970 Jackson State University shootings. Ripley is also home to the First Monday Trade Day, an event that began in 1893 and continues as a popular spot for buying, selling, and bargaining over a variety of goods.
From 1930 to 1960 the county’s population decreased by more than 3,000. Whites accounted for 82 percent of Tippah’s 15,000 people in 1960. Farmers, who comprised more than a third of the county’s working people, concentrated on corn and hogs, the old standards of a yeoman economy. County farmers raised the second-most corn and third-most hogs in Mississippi as well as soybeans and cotton. Almost a quarter of Tippah’s workers were employed in manufacturing, especially in apparel factories.
Like nearly all of the counties in northeastern Mississippi, in 2010 the population in Tippah County was predominantly white, included a small but significant Hispanic/Latino minority, and had grown by almost 50 percent between 1960 and 2010, when it reached 22,232. Whites comprised 80 percent of residents, African Americans 16 percent, and Hispanics/Latinos 4 percent.
- 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)