Located in central Mississippi, Winston County is named for Col. Louis Winston, a Natchez lawyer. The county seat is Louisville. Winston was founded in 1833 as part of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, which forced Choctaw tribes to leave Mississippi for Oklahoma. Winston County is the site of one of Mississippi’s most important ancient places, Nanih Waiya, a mound that two well-known Choctaw myths associate with the founding of the tribe. Likely built in the Middle Woodland period sometime between the year 0 and AD 300, the mound gained new importance in the 1800s, when Greenwood LeFlore used it as a site for tribal assemblies. In August 2008 the Mississippi legislature returned Nanih Waiya to the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
The 1840 census counted 4,650 people living in Winston County, 34 percent of them slaves, a figure well below the state average of 52 percent. The people of Winston County worked mostly in agriculture, producing cotton and corn and raising livestock. Whereas only 2 people worked in industry and commerce in 1840, that number had risen to 50 a decade later.
By 1860, Winston County had 9,811 residents, 43 percent of whom were enslaved. The county’s thirty-one churches included fourteen Methodist houses of worship, ten Baptist congregations, six Presbyterian churches, and Mississippi’s only Universalist church.
In 1874 a section of Winston County became Choctaw County, but the change did not greatly affect the county’s growth. In 1880 Winston was home to 10,087 people, with whites making up 61 percent of the population. Most of the remainder were African American, although the county had a small Native American population. Small farming continued to dominate, with most farmers practicing mixed agriculture and concentrating on corn and other grains, cotton, and livestock. Eighty percent of farmers owned their land. The importance of small farming was evident in county politics, as a high percentage of voters supported Populist candidates over the next two decades.
At the turn of the century, Winston County remained an agricultural and rural county, with no urban center and only 36 industrial workers, all of them male. Winston had the state’s fourth-lowest total industrial wages. Among white farmers, 73 percent owned their land, while only 41 percent of African American farmers did so.
Well-known historian Thomas D. Clark was born in Louisville in 1903. During his long tenure at the University of Kentucky, Clark was lauded both for his work as a southern historian and for preserving printed documents. Louisville is also well known for Stewart Pottery, which continues a family lineage of folk potters that dates back to the mid-1800s.
Winston County doubled in size between 1880 and 1930, reaching 21,239 residents, 62 percent of whom were white. The county’s businesses employed 840 industrial workers, many of them in sawmills, a creamery, and an ice cream factory. About half of Winston’s thirty-four hundred farms were operated by tenants, with corn and cattle the primary products and cotton secondary.
Winston County’s population declined by about 2,000 between 1930 and 1960, falling to 19,246. Whites accounted for 56 percent of the residents, African Americans 43 percent, and Native Americans 1 percent. A quarter of Winston’s working people now found employment in manufacturing, primarily the furniture and apparel industries.
Like many central Mississippi counties, Winston County was predominantly white in 2010 and had shown little change in size over the last half century, with a population of 19,198. However, African Americans now comprised more than 45 percent of residents.
- 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)