Simpson County, MS circa 1860

[Ed. HERALD OF THE SOUTH [BRANDON, MS], March 14, 1860, p. 1, c. 4]

Simpson County

            Simpson County was a wilderness until the year 1820. The uplands are composed of an unbroken succession of pine hills, too poor to be cultivated. Pearl river bounds the western side of the county for about fifty miles, counting the meanderings of the stream. The flat on the Simpson side of the river will average a mile and a half wide. It is high and dry and very generally cultivated. Strong river runs through the county from northwest to southwest, affording a great deal of fine bottomland, resembling that of Pearl river. The greatest difficulty is, it is rather too dry. There are many creeks in the county which are all bordered by excellent land. The creeks, particularly those on the southeast side of Strong river, are beautiful clear streams with sandy bottoms, and affording excellent water power for mills or other manufacturing purposes. Strong river has several falls, which will no doubt be seats of manufacturing establishments at some future day. There are so many fine mill seats on the creeks, that the river has never been used for that purpose but in one instance.
B. H. Jayne built a mill at the falls, nine miles northeast of Westville, in 1833, and named the place Millhaven for the purpose of having a postoffice established there. The place has now gone overboard. Simpson was originally a beautiful country; the hills covered with waving grass, the ravines with reed, and the broad bottom with tall cane. The water courses were big with the finny tribe, deer loitered in the forest, and the swamps were roamed by unusual numbers of bear, panthers, and wolves. There is a very large Indian mound on the northwest side of Strong river, even miles west of Westville. It covers a quarter of an acre, and is filled with bones, paint rock and other relics.
Simpson was originally a part of Copiah County; it commenced being settled in 1820. The first settlers were James Bogan, Whorton Berry, Samuel Butler, Willis Walker and Orin C. Dow, on Silver Creek. John Gates on the west prong of that creek, was, perhaps the very first settler in the county. His location is six miles south of Westville, and now owned by Col. James M. Damphier. In 1822, Daniel and Duncan McLaurin, from North Carolina, settled on Bowie creek, and the next year the McNears from the same state settled on Okatoma Creek. Through the influence of the McNears and McLaurins, a Presbyterian church was built up in that section of the county, and is still in a flourishing condition. Orin C. Dow, whose name has been mentioned among the early settlers, was born in Connecticut, raised in New York, and came to Mississippi in 1815 by way of New Orleans. He returned to New York, and came to Mississippi again in 1817, and settled in Lawrence County. He moved to Simpson County in 1822, to Rankin in 1824, where he was clerk of the Circuit County Courts for many years. He now lives on the northwest [tear in paper] miles from [tear in paper].
The [tear in paper] the northwest side of Strong river, were Daniel McCaskill and Jacob Neely. They crossed the river in February, 1822, four miles west of Westville. McCaskill settled where his son James S. McCaskill now lives, seven miles from Westville, on the Grand Gulf road. Neely settled one mile west of him. James S. McCaskill was taken sick in 1838 with a slight fever, and during his sickness suddenly lost the use of his lower extremities, and has never recovered it. He thinks that his physician, in aiming to give him a dose of calomel, gave him something else, and thus the paralyses [sic] was produced. He has not walked a step in twenty-three years, but is quite fleshy and is moved over the house in a chair fixed on rollers.
James B. Satterfield settled in 1822, three and a half miles west of Westville, where Col. John Berry now lives. John C. Alford obtained the place from Satterfield in 1824, and built a mill on Mill Creek, where Berry's Mill now stands. As it was the first mill built in the county, the neighbors joined in and assisted him as they would at a log-rolling or corn-husking. After he got his mill in operation, an officious neighbor of his went to the land office at Clinton, and entered the land on which it stood. But the settlers became so indignant at the idea of their benefactor having his mill taken from him, compelled the artful land speculator to give up the title to Alford. Before this mill was built the inhabitants of this part of the county had to go down to Col. Reynolds' Mill on Silver Creek, in Lawrence County.
The first cotton gin built in the county was on Limestone Creek, by John Richardson, in 1827. Its location is about twelve miles west of Westville. The bottom of Limestone Creek is composed of a brown sand stone, resembling that in Campbell's Creek in Rankin County. The Indian name for Big Creek in the western part of the county is Boughloma.
The first settlers on Pearl river above the mouth of Strong river, were Kiah Mitchell and James Welch, in 1823, Absalom Harper in 1824, Edmond Barron and John C. Weeks, in 1825. The settlements commenced near the mouth of Strong river and extended up.
Simpson was divided from Copiah County, by an act of the Legislature, on the 23d of January, 1824. The name was in honor of Hon. Josiah Simpson. In the same act it was provided that the county seat when located, should be called Westville, in honor of Col. Cato West, of Adams County. On account of the courthouse having been burnt in 1844, and all the records destroyed, I have not been able to learn the names of the commissioners of public buildings, and other particulars concerning the organization of the county, which I have been in the habit of obtaining from that source.
The first court was held at J. C. Alford's Mill. By an act of the Legislature passed on the 1st of February, 1825, it was ordered that court should be held at the house of Wm. Gibson, until otherwise provided for by law. Gibson's house was about a quarter of a mile north of the courthouse at Westville. He was then cultivating the location in corn. F. E. Plummer bought Gibson out, and donated [fold in paper] acres as an inducement to locate the courthouse there. It is a very unsightly place, situated on a hill between two small creeks. The square was laid off on the east side of the donation, with a wing on the south side for a jail to be guilt on, and one on the north side for a "stray pen." As the county was remarkable for its adaptation to grazing, it was thought best to have a place near the courthouse to keep stray cattle in until disposed of according to law. The courthouse was built in the centre of the public square, facing Centre street, which ran out west, and composed the main part of the town. The first building put up in the place in anticipation of the courthouse being located there, was a log house, about three hundred yards northwest of the square, by Malcom McDuffee for a grocery. When the commissioners [tear in paper] the present site, he was left [tear in paper] of town. After the town was laid off, John R. Hubbard put up a store on the northwest portion of the square. About the same time Nathaniel Freeman commenced merchandizing on the north side of Centre street, one hundred yards west of the square. Thos. Miller was also an early merchant. Daniel S. Farrington built a frame house on the south side of Centre street, one hundred and twenty yards from the square for a hotel. Until the courthouse was built in 1829, court was held in a small log house, one hundred and twenty yards from the square, on the north side of Centre street. The courthouse was a framed building, and was burnt in 1844 by an incendiary, as the fire was first discovered near the door of the Clerk's office. The present courthouse is a two story brick building, situated about twenty steps south of the old one. It cost about five thousand dollars.
Green Fenn, Esq., is now the oldest inhabitant in the place. He moved to Westville from Lawrence County, in 1832, and now lives on the south side of Centre street, about one hundred yards from the square. In 1845, three persons were killed by lightening in his gallery, a brother, a son and a school boy, who had stopped in out of the rain. Several other persons were knocked down but all recovered in the course of a few hours.
The first church organized in the county, was the Baptist church near Berry's Mill, in 1826. The Methodist established [nine lines torn off] them a few feet in the rear of the other. In 1854, the Campbellites and Sons of Temperance built a house near the Methodist church, and each flourished for a short time. The upper story being occupied by the Sons of Temperance, was passed into the hands of the Social Circles, and after a short career they also fell through, and the room is now occupied by a company of shoemakers. But it is hoped that the former occupants of the house will renew their exertions and again come to life. There is a tanyard at Westville that was established in 1833, also a Wool Carding Mill that was built in 1849.
The first lawyer that settled in the place was Anson Asberry. Franklin E. Plummer, who was the first clerk of the county, was also among the first lawyers. He was a self-made man. First an ox driver, then a farmer, a clerk, a lawyer, and finally a member of Congress. Westville is the only village in the county. It contains two hundred inhabitants, two lawyers, two physicians, two stores, two drink shops, and one shoe shop. There has never been a newspaper published in the village.
The first Sheriff of the county was James Briggs, first clerk, Franklin E. Plummer, and first Judge of the Probate Court, Duncan McLaurin.
The trade of Simpson is mostly to Jackson and Brandon. Before the railroad was built out to those places from Vicksburg, the trade was divided between Natchez, Grand Gulf and Vicksburg.
There was a hurricane that passed over Pearl river swamp in 1824, and prostrated every thing before it. The home of James Welch was blown down and every thing in it scattered through the woods.
In 1828, a storm passed up the southeast side of Strong river, laying waste all in its track. It blew down the church at Alford's Mill, and also Mrs. Williamson's house near the same place. There was a hail storm in 1844, eight miles southwest of Westville, that stripped the trees of their leaves for three or four miles in extent, and lay on the ground for several days.
The population of Simpson County is 4,734, of which, 3,190 are white, and 1,541 colored. Three free negroes and fourteen foreigners. The amount of wealth in the county, is $1,325,000, which makes it, compared with other counties, stand No. 44. In individual wealth, it is No. 39. The average amount to each individual being $415. The number of bales of cotton produced in 1850, was 1,851. Number of acres in cultivation, 23,152, being one-sixteenth of the whole, which is 391,680.