The name of the state derives from the Mississippi River, which flows along its western boundary and comes from the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi ("Great River"). Jackson is the state capital and largest city, with a population of around 175,000 people. The state overall has a population of around 3 million people. Mississippi is the 32nd most extensive and the 31st most populous of the 50 United States. On multiple other rankings, however, Mississippi ranks last of all states, such as in health, educational attainment, and median household income. Mississippi has been ranked the most religious state in the country since 2011.
The state is heavily forested outside of the Mississippi Delta area, which was cleared for cotton cultivation in the 19th century. Today, its catfish aquaculture farms produce the majority of farm-raised catfish consumed in the United States.
Near 10,000 BC Native Americans or Paleo-Indians arrived in what today is referred to as the South. Paleoindians in the South were hunter-gatherers who pursued the megafauna that became extinct following the end of the Pleistocene age. After thousands of years, succeeding cultures of the Woodland and Mississippian culture eras developed rich and complex agricultural societies, in which surplus supported the development of specialized trades. Both were mound builder cultures. Those of the Mississippian culture were the largest and most complex, and the peoples had a trading network spanning the continent from North to South. Their large earthworks, which expressed political and religious concepts, still stand throughout the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys.
Descendant Native American tribes of the Mississippian culture in the Southeast include the Chickasaw and Choctaw. Other tribes who inhabited the territory of Mississippi (and whose names were honored in local towns) include the Natchez, the Yazoo, and the Biloxi.
The first major European expedition into the territory that became Mississippi was that of the Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto, who passed through the northeast part of the state in 1540, in his second expedition to the New World. In April 1699, French colonists established the first European settlement at Fort Maurepas (also known as Old Biloxi), built in the vicinity of present-day Ocean Springs and settled by Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville. In 1716, the French founded Natchez on the Mississippi River (as Fort Rosalie); it became the dominant town and trading post of the area. The French called the greater territory "New France"; the Spanish continued to claim part of the Gulf coast area (east of Mobile Bay) of present-day southern Alabama, in addition to the entire area of present-day Florida.
Through the eighteenth century, the area was ruled variously by Spanish, French, and British colonial governments. The colonists imported African slaves as laborers. Under French and Spanish rule, there developed a class of free people of color (gens de couleur libres), mostly multiracial descendants of European men and enslaved women, and their children. In the early days the French and Spanish colonists were chiefly men. Even as more European women joined the settlements, the men had interracial unions among women of African descent (and increasingly, also European descent), both before and after marriages to European women. Often the European men would help their multiracial children get educated or have apprenticeships for trades, and sometimes settled property on them; they sometimes freed the mothers and their children if enslaved. With this social capital, the free people of color became artisans, sometimes educated merchants and property owners, forming a third class between the Europeans and most enslaved Africans in the French and Spanish settlements, although not so large a community as in New Orleans. After Great Britain's victory in the French and Indian War (Seven Years' War), the French surrendered the Mississippi area to them under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1763).
Southern slave codes did make the willful killing of a slave illegal in most cases. For example, the 1860 Mississippi case of Oliver v. State charged the defendant with murdering his own slave. Beginning in 1822, slaves in Mississippi were protected by law from cruel and unusual punishment by their owners.
On December 10, 1817, Mississippi was the 20th state admitted to the Union. David Holmes was elected as the first governor of the state. Plantations were developed primarily along the rivers, where waterfront gave them access to the major transportation routes. This is also where early towns developed, linked by the steamboats that carried commercial products and crops to markets. The backcountry remained largely undeveloped frontier.
When cotton was king during the 1850s, Mississippi plantation owners—especially those of the Delta and Black Belt regions—became wealthy due to the high fertility of the soil, the high price of cotton on the international market, and their assets in slaves. They used the profits to buy more cotton land and more slaves. The planters' dependence on hundreds of thousands of slaves for labor and the severe wealth imbalances among whites, played strong roles both in state politics and in planters' support for secession.
By 1860, the enslaved population numbered 436,631 or 55% of the state's total of 791,305. There were fewer than 1000 free people of color. The relatively low population of the state before the Civil War reflected the fact that land and villages were developed only along the riverfronts, which formed the main transportation corridors. Ninety percent of the Delta bottomlands were frontier and undeveloped. The state needed many more settlers for development.
On January 9, 1861, Mississippi became the second state to declare its secession from the Union, and it was one of the founding members of the Confederate States of America. During the war, Union and Confederate forces struggled over dominance on the Mississippi River, critical to supply routes and commerce. More than 80,000 Mississippians fought in the Civil War, and casualties were extremely heavy. Union General Ulysses S. Grant's long siege of Vicksburg finally gained the Union control in 1863.
While Mississippi typified the Deep South in passing Jim Crow laws in the late 19th century and a constitution in 1890 that essentially disenfranchised blacks, its history was more complex. Because the Mississippi Delta contained so much fertile bottomland that had not been developed before the Civil War, 90 percent of the land was still frontier. After the Civil War, tens of thousands of migrants were attracted to the area. They could earn money by clearing the land and selling timber, and eventually advance to ownership. The new farmers included freedmen, who achieved unusually high rates of land ownership in the Mississippi bottomlands. In the 1870s and 1880s, many black farmers succeeded in gaining land ownership.
Around the start of the 20th century, two-thirds of the farmers in Mississippi who owned land in the Delta were African American. Many were able to keep going through difficult years of falling cotton prices only by extending their debts. Cotton prices fell throughout the decades following the Civil War. As another agricultural depression lowered cotton prices into the 1890s, however, numerous African-American farmers finally had to sell their land to pay off debts, thus losing the land which they had developed by personal labor.
White legislators created a new constitution in 1890, with electoral and voter registration provisions that effectively disenfranchised most blacks and many poor whites. Estimates are that 100,000 black and 50,000 white men were removed from voter registration rolls over the next few years. The loss of political influence contributed to the difficulties of African Americans in their attempts to obtain extended credit in the late 19th century. Together with Jim Crow laws, the increased frequency of lynchings beginning in the 1890s as whites worked to impose supremacy, failure of the cotton crops due to boll weevil infestation, and successive severe flooding in 1912 and 1913, created crisis conditions for many African Americans. With control of the ballot box and more access to credit, white planters expanded their ownership of Delta bottomlands and could take advantage of new railroads.
The Second Great Migration from the South started in the 1940s, lasting until 1970. Almost half a million people left Mississippi in the second migration, three-quarters of them black. Nationwide during the first half of the 20th century, African Americans became rapidly urbanized and many worked in industrial jobs. The Second Great Migration included destinations in the West, especially California, where the buildup of the defense industry offered higher paying jobs to African Americans.
Blacks and whites in Mississippi generated rich, quintessentially American music traditions: gospel music, country music, jazz, blues and rock and roll. All were invented, promulgated or heavily developed by Mississippi musicians, many of them African American, and most came from the Mississippi Delta. Many musicians carried their music north to Chicago, where they made it the heart of that city's jazz and blues.
So many African Americans left in the Great Migration that they became a minority after the 1930s. In 1960 they made up 42% of the state's population. The white administered, discriminatory voter registration processes had persisted, preventing most of them from voting, due to provisions of the 1890 state constitution. During the Civil Rights Movement, Mississippi was a center of activity, based in black churches, to educate and register black voters. Students and community organizers from across the country came to help register black voters and establish Freedom Schools. Resistance and the harsh attitudes of most white politicians (including the creation of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission), the participation of many Mississippians in the White Citizens' Councils, and the violent tactics of the Ku Klux Klan and its sympathizers (most notably the murder of three civil rights activists in 1964 during the Freedom Summer campaign) gained Mississippi a reputation in the 1960s as a reactionary state. African Americans in the state began to exercise their franchise in the mid-1960s, after passage of federal civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965 ending segregation and enforcing constitutional voting rights.
In 1966, the state was the last to repeal officially statewide prohibition of alcohol. Prior to that, Mississippi had taxed the illegal alcohol brought in by bootleggers. Governor Paul Johnson urged repeal and the sheriff "raided the annual Junior League Mardi Gras ball at the Jackson Country Club, breaking open the liquor cabinet and carting off the Champagne before a startled crowd of nobility and high-ranking state officials."
The state repealed its ban on interracial marriage (also known as miscegenation) in 1987 (which the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional in 1967). It repealed the segregationist-era poll tax in 1989. In 1995, it symbolically ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, which had abolished slavery in 1865. Though ratified in 1995, the state never officially notified the U.S. archivist, which kept the ratification unofficial until 2013, when Ken Sullivan contacted the office of Secretary of State of Mississippi, Delbert Hosemann, who agreed to file the paperwork and make it official. In 2009, the legislature passed a bill to repeal other discriminatory civil rights laws, which had been enacted in 1964 but ruled unconstitutional in 1967 by federal courts. Republican Governor Haley Barbour signed the bill into law.
Note: Most of present-day Mississippi was part of Georgia until the south-central portions of Mississippi and Alabama were established as Mississippi Territory, authorized by Congress in 1798 and agreed to by Georgia in 1802. In 1804, the Territory was expanded to include the northern parts of the two future States. The Gulf Coast portions were added in 1812, although still in dispute with Spain until 1819. Mississippi was admitted as a State on December 10, 1817 with essentially its present boundaries. Census coverage of present-day Mississippi began in 1800 in the southwestern section close to the Mississippi River. The populations shown for 1800 and 1810 exclude counties now in Alabama. The central and northern portions were not fully covered by the census until 1840.. Total for 1800 excludes population (1,250) of Washington County, Mississippi Territory, nearly all of which is now in Alabama; total for 1810 excludes population (9,046) of Baldwin, Madison, and Washington Counties, Mississippi Territory, now entirely or mostly in Alabama. Mississippi's present-day Madison and Washington Counties were created in the 1820's.
Births, Marriages, and Deaths
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