Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Organization of Lafayette County –– February 9, 1836

Lafayette County, Mississippi was given its charter by the state of Mississippi on February 9, 1836.  The Treaty of Pontotoc Creek in 1832 between the federal government and the Chickasaw Indian Nation caused the cession of more than ten million acres in north Mississippi.  From that cession, ten counties were formed and added to the list of Mississippi counties.

The treaty provided for the land to be surveyed and sold privately and at public auctions.  The federal government hired private contractors to survey north Mississippi, using the United States rectilinear system, which had been used in the central and western parts of our nation and in Florida.

The north Mississippi frontier in the 1830s brought together in the area a variety of people.  In addition to the Chickasaw Indians and their slaves, the frontier teemed with federal surveyors, land speculators, agents for eastern land companies, planters seeking to purchase choice tracts of virgin soil, merchants who hastily constructed tent and log stores and saloons, and various other opportunists who sought to profit from money paid to the Indians for their land.

The state legislature marked the boundaries and created the new county of Lafayette.  The act that created Lafayette County was passed by the legislature on February 9, 1836.  The act read as follows:  “And be it further enacted, that the territory within the following limits, to wit:  beginning at the point where the line between townships eleven and twelve intersect the basis meridian, and running thence north with the line of the basis meridian, to the center of township six, thence west, through the center of range five west, thence south, through the center of range five west, according to the sectional lines, to northern boundary lines of Yalobusha (sic) county, thence along the northern and eastern boundary lines of Yalobusha (sic) county to the point where the line between townships eleven and twelve intersects the eastern boundary line of Yalobusha (sic) county, and thence east with the said township line beginning, shall form a new county, and shall be called the county of Lafayette.”

This act was a general act in which other counties were created out of the Chickasaw Cession.  After the boundaries were set for the several newly created counties, commissioners were named to organize the various counties.  The men who were appointed to organize Lafayette County were Volney Peel, Wyatt Mitchell, John Peyton Jones and A.R. Herod.

County records give some information on three of these men.  Wyatt Mitchell and Volney Peel were considered land speculators.  They were both interested in the formation of the town of Wyatt.  Jones was to become a rather large land owner and planter on Woodson Ridge and he would layer become the father-in-law of Congressman Jacob Thompson.  Most of the meetings of these four men would be held in the Jones Plantation Home on Woodson Ridge.

An election of county officials was held on April 2, 1836.  In this election, some of the county officials elected were as follows:  William T. Hewlett, Probate Judge; Charles G. Butler, Sheriff (he would later become the maternal great-grandfather of William Faulkner); Claiborne Phipps, Circuit Clerk; James L. Craig, Probate Clerk; John W, Hester, Appraiser and Tax Collector; E.A. Meaders, County Treasurer; M.G. Relso, County Surveyor; C.W. Hanks, Ranger; and Francis B. Hobson, Coroner.

University of Tennessee Geography Professor Charles S. Aiken, a native of Harmontown, wrote in his book, William Faulkner and the Southern Landscape, about Lafayette County being a “large, rectangular political unit drained in the north by the Tallahatchie River and in the south by the Yocona, a river whose name was corrupted from the Indian name “Yockeney-Patafa” or Yoknapatawpha (later the name was used as the name for Faulkner’s fictional Mississippi county).

Professor Aiken also writes in his 2009 publication,  “… in 1860, Eugene W. Hilgard, an agriculturalist-geologist-geographer at the University of Mississippi, described Lafayette County as composed of two basic soil-physical areas, divided at a line drawn from N.E. corner (the mouth of the Pouskous Creek [Puss Cuss Creek] to the head of the Yellow Leaf Creek, down that creek to its mouth, and thence nearly due S.”

Hilgard goes on to state, “North and west of this line lay the best agricultural lands in the county, ranging from the ‘fine cotton uplands’ or ‘table lands’ covered by two to four feet of ‘yellow loam’ (loess) to the Tallahatchie River bottom. Which ‘though always fertile’ was subject to frequent overflow.  To the south and east of the dividing line lay the ‘Pine Hill’ lands and most of the Yockeney-Patafa bottom, though better than the hill lands, was considered inferior to the Tallahatchie bottom because the spring overflows drained away slowly.”

The county Seat, Oxford, is five hundred feet above sea level, which is two hundred feet higher that the Tallahatchie and Yocona River bottoms.  The physical landscape of the rolling upland areas of north Mississippi Loess Plains is similar to that of the Piedmont of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, an area from which a number of early settlers of Lafayette County migrated.

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