Wayne County

One of Mississippi’s first counties, Wayne County was founded in 1809 and was named for US Army general Anthony Wayne. It is located along the Alabama border in southeastern Mississippi. The Leaf and Chickasawhay Rivers run parallel through the county and provide the area with outdoor recreational activities and an attractive landscape. The county seat is Waynesboro.

In 1820 Wayne County was a fairly small agricultural area with more than twice as many free people (2,258) as slaves (1,065). Wayne County relied very little on manufacturing, employing only 12 workers in commerce and 6 in manufacturing. Unlike some parts of southern Mississippi, Wayne did not attract widespread settlement in the antebellum period. In 1840 the county was home to 1,141 free people and 979 slaves; twenty years later, the population remained small—1,744 free people (including just 7 born outside the United States) and 1,947 slaves.

Despite its small size, Wayne County produced its share of notable residents. Waynesboro’s Powhatan Ellis served as a representative, US senator, and Mississippi Supreme Court justice. George Strother Gaines, a planter and trader who helped negotiate the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek with the Choctaw in 1830, spent much of his time in Wayne County, where he owned land and slaves.

Antebellum Wayne County ranked near the bottom of Mississippi’s counties in the value of its farms and in its livestock, cotton, and corn. The county had twelve Methodist churches, three Baptist congregations, and three Presbyterian houses of worship.

Postbellum Wayne County grew substantially, with 8,741 residents, 57 percent of them white, in 1880. Still largely agricultural, Wayne continued to rank near the bottom of the state’s counties in growing both corn and cotton but had reached the middle rank in the production of molasses, rice, and sweet potatoes and in the number of livestock, especially sheep. In 1880 Wayne County ranked third in the production of wool. Wayne continued to attract relatively few foreign-born immigrants but had a small but growing manufacturing sector, with twenty-four firms employing 108 people.

By 1900 Wayne County was home to 12,539 people, 60 percent of them white. Three-quarters of white farmers owned the land they worked, while just under half of African American farmers did so. Wayne’s industrial workforce had increased substantially, with 352 men and 6 women employed in manufacturing. The dramatic growth of the timber industry accounted for most of the area’s industrial development.

Wayne County’s population stayed constant at around 15,000 from 1900 to 1930 and was about two-thirds white. In 1930 Wayne County had 514 industrial workers, many of them employed at a cannery or small sawmills. Despite the development of Eucutta Fields, the first successful oil field in eastern Mississippi, the area continued to rely on agriculture—mainly cattle, swine, and corn. In 1930 far more of Wayne County’s farmers (55 percent) owned their farms than the state average (30 percent). Like many southern Mississippi counties, Wayne was sparsely populated, with the sixth-lowest population density in the state.

By 1960 the county’s population had increased slightly to 16,258. Wayne’s manufacturing industry expanded, providing about 11 percent of the county’s workers with jobs, mostly in the furniture and clothing industries. Thirty percent of the residents still worked in agriculture. The major enterprises consisted of corn, livestock, and soybeans, but trees dominated the county’s agriculture. In 1960 Wayne County had the most commercial forestland in Mississippi.

Wayne’s population jumped to 19,135 people in 1980. As in most southeastern Mississippi counties, Wayne County’s 2010 population was predominantly white and had grown significantly since 1960. Among Wayne’s 20,747 residents in 2010, 59 percent were white and 39 percent were African American, while the county had small Asian and Hispanic/Latino populations.

Further Reading

  • 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)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Wayne County
  • Author
  • Website Name Mississippi Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date July 10, 2020
  • Publisher Center for Study of Southern Culture
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 15, 2018