The Founders, Religion, and Conscience

April 24, 2020 § 3 Comments

Was it the intention of the founders to establish a Christian nation?

Witness their thoughts:

  • “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?”  — James Madison
  • “Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. State churches that use government’s power to support themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of the church tends to make the clergy unresponsive to the people and leads to corruption within religion. Erecting the ‘wall of separation between church and state,’ therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.”  —  Thomas Jefferson
  • “The religion of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate … We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society, and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. The civil government functions with complete success by the total separation of the Church from the State.”  —  James Madison
  • “We should begin by setting the conscience free. When all men of all religions shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and equal chance for honors and power we may expect that improvement will be made in the human character and the state of society.”  —  John Adams
  • “I beg you be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.”  —  George Washington
  •  “I contemplate with solemn reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”  —  Thomas Jefferson
  • “It is contrary to the principles of reason and justice that any should be compelled to contribute to the maintenance of a church with which their consciences will not permit them to join …”  —  George Mason
  • “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as a public liberty without the freedom of speech; which is the right of every man as by it he doe not hurt or control the right of another …”  —  Benjamin Franklin
  • “Conscience is the most sacred of all property.”  —  James Madison
  • “That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience …”  —  George Mason

April 4, 1968

April 4, 2018 § 6 Comments

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis fifty years ago today.

Rev. King’s footprints crossed Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement. He led a March Against Fear in North Mississippi, visited Jackson, Meridian, Philadelphia , and other locales, was instrumental in “Freedom Summer,” and spread his message of nonviolent change — but unrelenting, inevitable change — across the South. He died a southerner in the South, murdered while encouraging striking garbage-workers in Memphis.

Those of us alive back then recall how he was libeled as  a “Communist,” charged with fomenting Black revolution, and hated because he insisted that America’s unjust, hateful system of Apartheid must end. His message was condemned by white politicians, many of whom capitalized on fear of desegregation among white voters to feather their own political nests.

But King, a martyr to his own cause, has over time prevailed. His remarkable life and untimely death were the catalyst for much change. Much of the racial interaction and Black achievement that we take for granted today would have been unimaginable in 1968.

King was right. History has proven him right.

1968 was a devastating year. In January alone, in Viet Nam the bloody seige of Khe Sanh began, the USS Pueblo was seized by North Korea, and the Tet Offensive rocked America’s confidence in the ever-expanding Viet Nam War. Later in the year, the nation was shocked by the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and unsettled by the violent protests and police reaction in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention. Prague Spring, led by Alexander Dubcek, brought the light of hope to Czechoslovakia in January, only to have it cruelly crushed by Warsaw Pact troops in August. “The Troubles” began in Ireland when police brutally beat protesters in Northern Ireland. Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not be a candidate for reelection as President after losing to Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary.

It would have been understandable were the Civil Rights Movement to have flickered out in the face of all this trauma, but the flame that Rev. King had lit was strong, and it burned bright, consuming and defeating hate, political expediency, and bigotry in its peaceful heat.

Fifty years along, our progress toward racial peace is not as advanced as Rev. King would have wished, but we are much further along than we would have been able to be without him.

Betty Allen and the Gift of Toney: Their Role in the Modern Rights of Married Women

March 9, 2017 § 4 Comments

In 1830 the Mississippi Legislature abolished the tribal character of the Choctaws and Chickasaws and conferred upon them the rights of citizenship, subjecting them and their property to the operation of Mississippi law. One section of the law provided:

“That all marriages and matrimonial connections entered into by virtue of any custom or usage of the said Indians, and by them deemed valid, should be held as valid and obligatory as if the same had been solemnised [sic] according to the laws of the state.”

In 1830, Mississippi followed the common law principle of coverture, which provided that married women and their property were under the absolute control of their husbands.

Some time in the 1780’s, Elizabeth Love, also called Betty or Betsy, was born in the territory of the Chickasaw Nation in what was to become the State of Mississippi. Her parents, Thomas Love and Sally Colbert, were Chickasaws who owned slaves, and Betty came to own many slaves herself. Around 1797, Betty married James Allen, also known as John, in a Chickasaw ceremony. Allen was a North Carolina widower who had moved to Mississippi. Together they had eleven children, and they resided on Love property in Chickasaw territory.

In November, 1829, Betty Allen made a gift to her daughter Susan, a minor, of Toney, who was one of her slaves. The transaction was part of gifts she made to her children, and title was properly recorded according to the law at the time. Betty, I am sure, gave the transaction little thought, since Chickasaw custom and usage was that married women retained separate ownership of property in their own name.

John Allen became involved in a lawsuit and retained the services of a lawyer, John Fisher. When Allen failed to pay his fee, Fisher sued and obtained a default judgment against Allen for $200 in March, 1831, in the Circuit Court of Monroe County. Fisher executed on the judgment by having a writ issued for seizure of any property belonging to John Allen to sell at auction in satisfaction of the judgment. In response, the sheriff seized the slave Toney on the basis that Toney was John Allen’s property under coverture, and the conveyance by Betty to her daughter was ineffective.

George Allen, Susan’s brother, sued on her behalf for trial of right of property, and the case was decided in Susan’s favor by jury verdict. Fisher appealed to the High Court of Errors and Appeals of Mississippi.

In Fisher v. Allen, 2 Howard 611, 3 Miss. 611 (1837), the court held that, under the customs of the Chickasaws, a husband acquired no right to the property belonging to a woman at the time of the marriage. Under the acts of 1830 mentioned above, the state could not alter the conditions of persons whose marriages were validated by the acts, nor could it extend the rights of husbands. Property belonging to the wife under Chickasaw customs is not liable for the debts of the husband. The effect of the appeal was to affirm the trial court’s ruling.

The case had an impact on Mississippi law, and, indeed, on American law.

In 1839, Mississippi Senator T.B.J. Hadley was involved in a dispute with his creditors, and he introduced two bills in the legislature: one provided for married women’s rights with respect to their property; the other asked protection from his creditors. The two are apparently related. His wife, who moved to Mississippi from Louisiana, where the civil law did not recognize coverture, was not happy that a boarding house she owned could be jeopardized by Hadley’s debt problems. The bill relieving him of his debts passed easily, no doubt due to cronyism, but the property bill was voted down twice before it finally passed. Hadley argued persuasively that, if the Chickasaws and Choctaws were exempt, all Mississippi citizens should be also. He used the Fisher v. Allen case as his template. The legislature adopted his law, and upon its passage Mississippi became the first common law state to depart from the rule of coverture. The statute provided:

“[t]hat any married woman may become seized or possessed of any property, real or personal, by direct bequest, demise, gift, purchase, or distribution, in her own name, and as of her own property, provided the same does not come from her husband after coverture.”

Other states soon followed suit. England itself abrogated the common law rule with its own statute some years later.

In 1880, the Mississippi Legislature adopted a statute completely abolishing the disability of coverture (MCA 93-3-1).

When the 1890 Mississippi Constitution was adopted, its Article 4, Section 94 included a permanent prohibition against re-enactment of any coverture concepts. It provides:

The Legislature shall never create  by law any distinction between the rights of men and women to acquire, own, enjoy, and dispose of property of all kinds, or their power to contract in reference thereto. Married women are hereby fully emancipated from all disability on account of coverture …

It was Betty Allen’s gift to Susan back in 1829, and Susan’s fight for her rights, that started the impetus to change.

There is an Historical Marker on Highway 278/6 in western Pontotoc County that is pictured below. Betty Allen’s grave had been adjacent to Highway 6, with a bronze marker, but had to be moved when the highway was widened.


Although the Fisher v. Allen case does involve property rights in a slave, an issue considered repugnant by today’s standards, the legal conflict reflects the prevailing law and culture of that time, and must be seen in that context. Regardless of how we view it today, Betty Allen’s legacy has benefitted generations of Mississippi women.

MPB has a series of historical sketches in honor of Mississippi’s bicentennial this year. One such piece, presented by Marshall Ramsey, tells Betty Allen’s story. It’s a story that touches on many themes of early Mississippi: the derecognition of the indigenous tribes; slavery and the incidents of slave ownership; legal disabilities of women; and — yes — Mississippi’s relative progressivism in the formative years of its law and jurisprudence.

Franklin Church

February 17, 2017 § 4 Comments

Franklin is a once-thriving community in Holmes County. Settlers, primarily from South Carolina and Virginia, arrived in the area in the early 1830’s, soon after it was ceded by the Choctaws. They developed cotton plantations worked by the slaves they had brought with them.

Still standing is the church built east of Franklin in 1841 with slave labor.


The church has two front doors, one of which is obscured by a tree in the picture above. Originally, one door was used by men, the other by women.

The cemetery behind the church is filled with graves of the early settlers, many of whom had been born in the 1700’s. Many of the tombstones remark that the decedent was from the Abbeville District in South Carolina.


The photo below shows the gravestone of Benjamin W. Russell, who immigrated to the area from North Carolina two years before his death in 1857 at only 21 years of age. The intriguing inscription recites his tragic history, which sounds like treachery in a business deal, and perhaps a duel: “Here lies entombed an honest man whose courage forced him from a distant land, by fortune’s wheel untimely thrown, this grave bespeaks his solemn moan. Let youth in future great caution take, and never join in business for fortune’s sake, for hearts today in manly friendship beat, tomorrow in a warlike attitude may meet.”

In the waning days of the Civil War, on January 2, 1865, only three months before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, 1,100 Confederate Home Guards led by General Wirt Adams attacked a column of 3,300 mounted federal troops near the church. The union forces included some of the Second U.S. Colored Cavalry, which consisted of black men recruited from Mississippi, according to a nearby Historical Marker. The battle resulted in heavy Confederate losses, and many were taken prisoner. None of the soldiers who died there are buried in this cemetery; at least none is so noted. Some sources state that the church still bears bulletholes from the clash, but none were visible to us when we visited recently. The historical marker incorrectly states that the battle was part of Grierson’s Raid, but that action actually took place in 1863, and Grierson’s force, which numbered only 1,700 men, did not come near Franklin.

So, who were these people? Who were the farmers, the slaves, the shopkeepers, blacksmiths, homemakers, the soldiers, cavalrymen? What did they hold dear, and what did they care nothing about? What filled their days? What did they dream about? What were their stories? What did they leave behind to mark their time on earth other than tombstones?

There are many communities in Mississippi in decline and on the way to their own extinction. It’s hard to grasp how places that were once so vital, pulsing with the lives and endeavors of people, can simply wither away and return to wilderness, but they do. It’s a sort of cultural entropy. Franklin reminds us that what can seem so important and even critical to us today will be forgotten and faded to nothing over time. Sic transit gloria mundi.



D-Day Plus Three Score Years and Ten

June 6, 2014 § 6 Comments








Boler’s Inn

March 22, 2014 § 1 Comment

On September 27, 1830, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed, putting into motion the first great removal of Native Americans under recently-enacted federal laws. The treaty ceded around 11 million acres of Choctaw lands in a wide swath across Mississippi from the Mississippi River, southeasterly across the Delta, and encompassing all of east-central Mississippi. In exchange, the tribe acquired lands in what is now Oklahoma, and the treaty granted US citizenship to any Choctaws who chose to remain peacefully in their former territory.

The treaty was made public some five months later, and white settlers began to move into the length and breadth of the area affected by the treaty.

In 1833, in the area of East Mississippi ceded by the Choctaws, Neshoba County was formed, consisting of what is now Neshoba and Newton Counties. The county seat was established near the center of the new county, a few miles east of what is now the town of Union. The Montgomery-to-Jackson Stagecoach Road, a major thoroughfare, passed through the settlement.

In 1834, Wesley Boler sold his land in Hinds County and purchased land on the stagecoach road in an area known as New Ireland. Boler’s property encompassed what eventually became the entire town of Union.

In 1836, Neshoba County was divided into its present arrangement: Neshoba County to the north, with its county seat in Philadelphia, and Newton County to the south, with its county seat at Decatur. The town of Union grew up near the old county seat at the Neshoba-Newton County line.

In 1856, Boler built a two-story dogtrot home on the stagecoach road at the edge of the village of Union. Here is how the property appeared in 1907, in its earliest known photograph:


Only a few years later the Civil War had engulfed the nation, and in another couple of years it reached Newton County. Grierson’s Raid in 1863 resulted in armed clashes near Philadelphia and at the railroad station at Newton (loosely depicted in the 1959 John Wayne movie The Horse Soldiers). Sherman in 1864 marched a force of 20,000 through Newton County en route to his destruction of Meridian, burning the Decatur courthouse and tearing up miles of railroad on his way. On his return from Meridian to Canton, Sherman took over and spent the night in Boler’s home on February 21, 1864.

There is a local legend that Sherman declined to burn Boler’s home because he mistakenly believed or was falsely led to believe that the name “Union” had come about because Wesley Boler was in the Union army. Boler was, however, enrolled in the Confederate army. There is nothing in Sherman’s journals of the Meridian campaign to support the local account, although he does use quotation marks with the name “Union.” Was that an ironic wink at the inaptly-named town? He did not offer us an explanation.

We know from Sherman’s records that he had tarried at Meridian awaiting reinforcements of 7,000 cavalry from Memphis that never arrived, and, having completed the razing of Meridian and the destruction of all railroad lines and facilities in the surrounding area, Sherman determined to return to the main body of Union forces to the west. The journal of one of Sherman’s officers indicates that the force had marched 21 miles west from the burning of Meridian in haste to get to Canton the following day, and was in need of rest when it found Boler’s place to be the only suitable one in the area, which probably explains why the invaders did not take the time for destruction.

It is unclear when Boler’s home made the transition from private residence to Stagecoach Inn. It is reasonable to surmise that Boler himself may have taken in boarders soon after the home was built, given the location of the home on the heavily-travelled road, the lack of rail transportation in the area until later, and the configuration of the home that would enable the family to live comfortably downstairs with guests upstairs. Boler sold the building after the Civil War to a gentleman who did operate it as an inn and tavern.

Some claim that both Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson were among the lodgers at Boler’s. It is quite possible that Davis stayed there, since his route eastward from his plantation near Natchez would have taken him through the area. If Jackson was ever a guest, that would help establish that Boler’s was an inn before the Civil War, since Jackson did not survive the conflict.

The property fell into disrepair through the years until a foundation took on its restoration. Today, it is restored and houses a museum. It is located in sight of Union’s downtown, in an area with some grand, old homes.

Carolshouse is one web site with historical notes and photographs of Boler’s Inn. The Newton County historical and Genealogical Society maintains another web site with a narrative history of the inn.

Trials of the Earth

February 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am an epic history nerd.

So, when Circuit Judge Ashley Hines recently told me about a remarkable memoir of Mississippi Delta life in the 1880’s, I made it my business that very day to find and buy a copy at Square Books in Oxford.

trialsThe book is Trials of the Earth, by Mary Hamilton, who lived from 1866 to 1937. How her papers came to be published is a story in itself.

In 1931, Delta writer Helen Dick Davis and her husband, Reuben, moved to a home that Mr. Davis had built in Phillip, Mississippi, north of Greenwood. Reuben’s younger half-brother married Mary Hamilton’s daughter, Edris, and it was through this family connection that Helen Davis came to know and befriend Mary Hamilton, who lived nearby at the time.

As they whiled away time together, Helen was enthralled by Mary’s tales of a Delta altogether unknown and foreign to Helen’s experiences. The Delta that Helen knew was rich farmland under cultivation, civilized towns, culture and agriculture. The Delta that Mary painted in vivid hues was a nearly impenetrable wilderness of virgin timber and flood-prone bottomlands where people lived in isolation, in peril from sudden floods, storms, panthers, wolves, bears, snakes, and disease. It was a land where one’s very existence had to be wrested from the earth every day. Mere survival came at the cost of bone-wrecking toil.

Helen urged Mary to reduce her memories to writing, but the elderly woman, then in her mid-sixties, at first declined. It was only after she fell ill and had a feverish dream which she interpreted to mean that she should commit her story to paper that she began writing. And write she did. In 1933, she turned over a 150,000-word handwritten manuscript to Helen, who edited it and wrote a preface. She submitted it to Little Brown publishing house, which rejected it.

Before she could submit it to another publisher, however, she got word from Mary not to try any more to publish it. Mary said that her dead husband, Frank, had come to her in a dream and told her that the stories were their “private Valentine,” not for others to read. Helen put the manuscript away.

Helen’s daughter, Carolyn, discovered the manuscript in 1991, and submitted it to the University of Mississippi Press, where JoAnne Morris, wife of Willie Morris, was Senior Editor. Before she married Willie Morris, she had been JoAnne Prichard of Yazoo City, a co-worker of Helen Davis. The book was accepted for publication. It was released in 1992, only a few months after Helen died, and it included a foreword by Mississippian Ellen Douglas.

Mary Hamilton’s heirs filed suit to stop publication and to establish their claim to the rights, and they succeeded on both counts. The book sold out the run published by University Press, and lay un-republished until January, 2013, when it was self-published including the Davis and Douglas additions, and an introduction by Morgan Freeman. The 2013 edition is in paperback, and is available through Nautilus Publishing of Oxford.

As Ellen Douglas points out in her foreword, we have many portrayals of Delta life in the form of slave narratives and tales of upper-class plantation life, but memoirs depicting the everyday struggles of poor whites in the lowlands along the Mississippi River before the land was cleared and put into cultivation are practically non-existent. The story of the poor white settler of that era is what Mary Hamilton gives us.

In eloquent, simple language, Mary’s book tells how she was forced into a marriage to a secretive, mysterious Englishman when she was only 17 years old, and how they embarked on a hard life full of struggles, minor successes, gargantuan failures, births and deaths, dangers, joys and heartaches. They were among the first white people to enter the Mississippi Delta to clear it and make it habitable. Remarkably, all this occurred in only the twenty years or so before the dawn of the twentieth century. The following passage will give you a sense of what they were up against:

… Cane, undergrowth, blackberry briars, grape and poison oak and muscadine vines, all growing to enormous size out of that rich Delta ground, interlaced through that fallen timber so that it was one tangled mat. Not a trail or path through it.

But the whole country was almost as bad. A man couldn’t get through any of the woods without a compass in one hand and a cane axe in the other to blaze every foot of the way. In throwing the timber the men had to cut a path to their tree every morning. then they would estimate the direction they would throw the tree, and each man cut a path to get away in when the tree started to fall, and God help them if they couldn’t outrun the falling tree.

At the end of the book is a holographic transcription of Mary’s writing, demonstrating at once her command of imagery and description, as well as her inadequate spelling, grammar and lack of understanding of punctuation and paragraphing. The editors took care to preserve her plain language, correcting only as needed to render a readable product. Fair warning: the editors also left intact her language describing those of other races, which reflect the attitudes of her day, and not those appropriate to the 21st century.

You don’t have to be a history nerd to be fascinated by this book. It’s a story that oscillates between vibrant adventure and humdrum existence, pretty much like most people’s lives, which is a key reason why it is so approachable and entertaining.    

Rocky Springs

February 22, 2014 § 3 Comments

The community of Rocky Springs, in Claiborne County, grew up at the site of natural springs near the Natchez Trace where settlers had first set down roots in 1796. The springs attracted thirsty travelers on the heavily-used Trace.

In 1837, a Methodist church was built on the bluff overlooking the village.


By 1860, the population of Rocky Springs had grown. Within two and one-half miles of the village center were more than 2,600 people, which number included around 2,000 slaves. Farming occupied most of the community outside the immediate environs of the town. Fifty-eight planters worked the land with slave labor, primarily in cotton, which was the area’s principal economic engine. Within the village there were physicians, merchants, trades, clergy, and even an academy.

General Grant’s invading army in 1863 marched north from its river crossing near Bruinsburg and passed through Rocky Springs on its roundabout march to invest Vicksburg.

The village survived the economic devastation of the Civil War, but traffic on the Natchez Trace had dwindled as the area developed and the wilderness receded. In 1878 the population was slashed by a yellow fever epidemic.

By the 1900’s poor farming practices and severe erosion had crippled the cotton industry, and In the 1920’s the boll weevil infestation essentially ended it in the area.

In the 1930’s the springs dwindled and then dried up completely. The last store closed.

The only surviving structure of the once-thriving community is the Methodist church. It continued active until 2010, when its membership became too small to sustain it, but its doors are still open to visitors. On the chilly day that we dropped in we added our names to the register alongside others from New York, Germany, New Zealand, the UK, and many other places.

Behind the church is its cemetery. Tombstones date from the early-to-mid 1800’s to the present.



The National Park Service displays a painting purporting to depict what Rocky Springs looked like in its heyday.


The painting may be fanciful, or it may be an accurate depiction. I can’t say for certain. It does show the land cleared and cultivated, as we know it was, and the cluster of village buildings below the bluff commanded by the Methodist church. Still, it’s hard to square that idyllic portrait with the overgrown, heavily wooded, and deserted contemporary scene.

Today, Rocky Springs is nothing more than an historical stop on the Natchez Trace with an interpretive trail through its site. There is a nearby campground.


The National Civil Rights Museum

January 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

We visited the National Civil Rights Museum the weekend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, birthday. The museum is in downtown Memphis, where Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

The museum incorporates the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King was lodging, and the boarding house across the street, from which the killer fired the fatal shot.IMG_2726

Dr. King had come to Memphis in support of a strike by Memphis garbage workers for better pay. He and his cohort, Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, checked in at the Lorraine in adjoining rooms. The motel was their customary lodging whenever they were in the city. They stayed at the Lorraine so frequently that motel staff and the guests jokingly referred to their rooms as the “King-Abernathy Suite.” Dr. King was staying in Room 306. At around 6:00, p.m., he was standing on the second-floor balcony, chatting about plans for supper with some friends in the parking lot below, when the rifle shot took his life.IMG_2724

People were not as security conscious in 1968 as they are now. Police were posted nearby, but they were there primarily to keep away anyone who approached on foot or by automobile. No one gave any thought to securing the shabby boarding house across the street. The killer, James Earl Ray, shot Dr. King using a .30-06 rifle with scope. He shot from the small, upper-right window in the building with the white door, about 100 yards from his target.IMG_2734

Ray had to stand in a bathtub in his boarding house bathroom, resting his rifle on a widow sill, to fire at his target. You can see the motel through the window. For a rifleman with a scope, the shot was not challenging.IMG_2729

Much of the museum is closed now for refurbishing, so most of the exhibits one sees now focus on Dr. King’s assassination. When the museum is fully open, however, it offers exhibits interpreting the entire scope of the civil rights movement. Visitors during the renovation are able to access the balcony, which includes a look into Dr. King’s room as it was the evening of the assassination.IMG_2735

Exhibits … The first picture below depicts the exhibit showing the rifle used by the murderer, his jacket, a box of ammunition, and some other items discovered in the investigation that linked him to the crime.IMG_2730

IMG_2731 IMG_2732

The story of Ray’s stalking and murder of Dr. King, and his subsequent international pursuit and arrest by the FBI, are captured in riveting detail in Hampton Sides’ book, Hellhound on his Trail, which I posted about here.IMG_2723

Jacinto Courthouse

November 4, 2013 § 6 Comments

Shortly after the Chickasaws sold their lands in north Mississippi in 1832 and moved west, settlers populated the area, established villages and towns, and set up local government.

In the northeast corner of the state, the County of Tishomingo was founded, comprised of what are now Prentiss, Alcorn, and Tishomingo Counties, and covering nearly 1,000 square miles.

The town of Jacinto was established in 1836 as the County Seat at the center of the large county, and it quickly became the commercial and governmental hub of the area. Named for the site of Sam Houston’s decisive victory in the Texas Revolution, the little town’s population grew, and it soon had boarding houses, a newspaper, taverns, inns, smithies, mercantile shops, and all of the other amenities one would expect in a prospering frontier town. At the height of its growth, the town had more than 6,600 residents. Its future appeared bright.

In keeping with its ambition to greatness, the county in 1859 constructed a fine courthouse in the federal style in the center of the town to replace the original log building.

Only a few years later, however, the Civil War raged through the area. Corinth, 15 miles north, was devastated by two major, bloody battles over its vital railroad junction, and Shiloh, only a few miles north of Corinth, was the site of two of the deadliest days of the entire conflict.

In 1870, the original Tishomingo County was split into its three present-day counties. Since Jacinto was not conveniently located, it was no longer suitable for a county seat.

The town’s once-promising future became doubtful when it lost the government business that came to the county seat, as well as the trade and traffic that came with it. To compound the problem, the town fathers had made a crucial strategic error when they voted not to allow the noisy, smoky, intrusive railroad to come through the town. Jacinto was further isolated when the telegraph companies refused to run lines into the town after local farmers kept chopping down the poles, blaming the telegraph for a disastrous drought.

The population dwindled until the thriving town was no more than a forgotten rural wayside, albeit a rural wayside with a lovely courthouse.

Through the years the grand old former courthouse served as a Methodist school and church. In the 1960’s the building was sold for salvage for $600. Local citizens became involved and persuaded the salvage company to sell it to them for $2,000. A doctor wrote the check, a foundation was set up, the group raised funds, and preservation of the courthouse was assured. The foundation saw to it that the building was restored faithfully to its original condition. Today, the Jacinto Courthouse is regarded as one of the finest examples of federal style architecture in the nation, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1972, the movie Tomorrow, starring Robert Duvall and Olga Bellin, was filmed in the area. Courtroom and courthouse scenes were filmed in Jacinto.

The courthouse is open to visitors. A caretaker will usher you through and tell you the stories of the town and the old courthouse. There is a rustic museum and there are some reconstructed outbuildings of interest.

Jacinto (the locals pronounce it JAY-sinna) is the site of a massive July 4 celebration each year that is renowned for its political speaking. Thousands of folks congregate for the holiday celebration, and the event is considered second only to the Neshoba County Fair in its attraction for statewide politicians.


The court room, on the second floor, on the left side of the building in the photo above. Jurors sat on the semi-circular bench …



First-floor lobby. The floor is unglazed bricks set in sand. When the building was restored, the bricks were worn, so, in order to keep the original bricks, they were simply turned over in place. The tax collector’s office is the door to the right …


Judge’s chambers on the first floor …



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