Washington County is a county in the U.S. state of Alabama. The county was named in honor of George Washington, the first President of the United States. As of the 2010 census, the population was 17,581, well below the state average of 71,399. As of 1 July 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the county population to be 17,109—or about 0.35% of the state's population—making Washington County the 51st most-populous county out of Alabama's 67 counties. Washington County is the sixth-largest county in Alabama by area, at 1080 sq mi (2,797 km²). The county seat is Chatom. Washington County is a dry county, with the exception of Chatom. The county's area code is 251 and its license plate county code is 65.
The area was long inhabited by indigenous peoples. In historic times, European traders encountered the Choctaw and later Creek Indians, who were driven southwest from Georgia by encroaching European settlement.
Washington County was organized on June 4, 1800 from the Tombigbee District, by proclamation of Governor Winthrop Sargent of the Mississippi Territory. It was the first county to be organized in what would eventually become Alabama, as settlers migrated westward following the American Revolutionary War. Washington County is the site of St. Stephens, the first territorial capital of Alabama. In 1807 Aaron Burr was captured at Wakefield in the county during his flight from prosecution for treason.
Although in the 1830s the U.S. government removed most of the Choctaw and Creek to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) west of the Mississippi River, some Native Americans remained in this area of Alabama and become state (and U.S.) citizens. They struggled to maintain Choctaw culture through years when the whites imposed a binary culture of white and "all other" people of color, classified as black. In 1979 the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians was recognized by the state. The people are concentrated along the border of Mobile and Washington counties.
In the 19th century, the county was largely developed for cotton plantations, with labor supplied by thousands of African-American slaves. Many were transported by slave traders to the Deep South in a forced migration. During the American Civil War, more than three-fourths of the adult men in the county volunteered and served in the Confederate Army as of 1863. At that time, a group of children petitioned the Confederate government to avoid drafting men, so they might serve as a sort of homeland militia. The petition said the men were needed to protect against potential slave uprisings, inasmuch as the county had numerous plantations with large slave populations.
While the county continued to rely on agriculture into the 20th century, the infestation of the boll weevil destroyed many crops. Mechanization also reduced the need for labor, and thousands of African Americans left the South in the Great Migration to Northern and Midwestern industrial cities, where they could get better jobs and escape the legal segregation of the South.
The county has gradually developed other businesses and industry, particularly petrochemical. Due to damage from Hurricane Frederic, the county was declared a disaster area in September 1979.
Note: Populations for 1800 and 1810 are totals of those counties of Mississippi Territory entirely or mostly within present-day Alabama. Population for 1820 excludes three counties, Lawrence (8,652), Perry (4,118), and Washington (3,646), whose returns were received too late for inclusion in the official State total.
Dumphries, located near Bilbo's Landing, near where the Tombigbee River meets Bilbo Creek, is part of the Ghost Town USA's Guide to the Ghost Towns of Alabama, hosted on RootsWeb.