Washington County is a county in the U.S. state of Alabama. As of the 2010 census, the population was 17,581. The county seat is Chatom. The county was named in honor of George Washington, the first President of the United States. It is a dry county, with the exception of Chatom.
The area of today's Washington County was long inhabited by various indigenous people. In historic times, European traders encountered first Choctaw and later Creek Indians, who had moved southwest from Georgia as early European settlers encroached on their land.
Washington County was organized on June 4, 1800 from the Tombigbee District of the Mississippi Territory by proclamation of territorial governor Winthrop Sargent. It was the first county organized in what would later become Alabama, as settlers moved westward after the American Revolutionary War. Washington County is the site of St. Stephens, the first territorial capital of Alabama. In 1807 former U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr was arrested at Wakefield in Washington County, during his flight from being prosecuted for alleged treason (which he was eventually found innocent of).
Even though the U.S. government removed most of the Choctaw and Creek to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) west of the Mississippi River in the 1830s, some Native Americans remained behind and become state (and U.S.) citizens. They struggled to maintain their Choctaw culture through years during which the U.S. government imposed a binary system of diving people into white and "all other" people of color (blacks and Indians). In 1979 Alabama recognized the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians. Its members 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 were serving in the Confederate Army by 1863. In that year, a group of children petitioned the Confederate government to avoid drafting more men, so they might serve as a home guard militia. The petition claimed it was needed to against a potential slave uprising, since there were numerous plantations with large numbers of slaves.
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.