Sumner County in central Mississippi was formed in 1874. By 1890 the county was renamed in honor of US secretary of state Daniel Webster, in keeping with neighboring Clay and Calhoun Counties, which also were named for 1830s political heroes. Walthall is the county seat, and other communities include Eupora, Maben, and Mathiston.
In 1880 Sumner County had a population of 9,534. Three-quarters of its residents were white, and just 8 had been born outside the United States. Of the county’s 1,410 farmers, 72 percent owned their land, a figure far higher than the Mississippi average of 56 percent. The county’s nine industrial establishments employed just 22 people.
In 1900 Webster County was home to 13,619 people, 70 percent of them white. Webster was primarily an agricultural county, with just 100 men and 5 women working in industry. Among the county’s farmers, 61 percent of whites owned their land, while only 31 percent of African Americans did so. The turn-of-the century Populist movement had greater success in Webster County than in most of the rest of Mississippi.
According to the 1916 religious census, Southern Baptists accounted for half of Webster County’s churchgoers, while Missionary Baptists constituted another substantial group. The county also had a significant number of members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Webster County was home of one of the state’s earliest Sacred Harp singing conventions.
Webster County’s population declined in the early twentieth century, falling to just over 12,000 people by 1930. Nearly 80 percent of residents were white. Webster had 313 industrial workers, but farming remained the basis of the county’s economy. More than half of the 2,429 farms were operated by tenant farmers, who primarily raised cotton and livestock.
State political leader Thomas L. Bailey was born and raised in Webster County before moving to Lauderdale County. He served in the state legislature for more than twenty years before becoming governor in 1944.
Two important Mississippi artists grew up in Webster County. Ethel Wright Mohamed was born near Eupora in 1908. After she and her husband moved to Belzoni, she became an artist, using embroidery to tell stories about Mississippi life. William Dunlap, a painter and sculptor, grew up in Webster County and maintains a studio in Mathiston.
By 1960 the county’s population had fallen to 10,580. More than a third of Webster’s working people remained employed in agriculture, now mixing cotton and corn with soybeans. About a quarter of the workers had jobs in manufacturing, primarily in the textile and furniture industries.
Like many of its neighboring counties in central Mississippi, Webster County’s 2010 population was predominantly white and had remained about the same 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)