It is known that many thousands of years ago the Mississippi Delta was a part of the Gulf of Mexico, but gradually the Mississippi River, in its mad rush to the sea at floodtime, overflowed its banks and deposited so much mud along them and at its mouth, that it formed one of the largest and most fertile deltas in the world.
Lying in the heart of the great land section referred to above as the Delta, Quitman County is renowned for its superior fibre of long staple cotton, and is, consequently, noted as one of the great cotton producing regions of the South. The soil, generally designated as black alluvial, is inexhaustible, has plenty of moisture, and is capable of producing a great variety of agricultural products.
Formation of County
The immense fertility of the soil and the valuable timbered section have drawn settlers from different parts of the country to this northwestern portion of the state. After the War between the States, there were enough people in the district to make it expedient to form a new county from certain territories which belonged to Tunica, Panola, Coahoma, and Tallahatchie counties, respectively.
The bill for the formation of the county was introduced in the legislature by L. Marks (Leopold Marks 1852-1910), representing Tunica County, and passed on February 1, 1877, during the administration of Governor John M. Stone. The first officers appointed were: J.T. Phipps, sheriff; C.E. Stanford, clerk. The Third District in Mississippi embraced Quitman County, and Judge Powell was the first judge.
“The original boundaries were as follows: Beginning in the NE corner of Coahoma County and running thence south with the boundary of Coahoma County to the NE corner of Section 33, T. 28, R. 2, west; thence west on section lines to the range line to the SW corner of T. 26, R. 2, west; thence east on the Township line to the range line between ranges 1 and 2 east; thence north on said line to the boundary line between the Chickasaw and Choctaw cession; thence NW with said line to the point at which it touches the western boundary of Panola County; thence north with the said boundary to the NE corner of T. 7, R. 10, west, of the Chickasaw survey with the northern line of the beginning. The old boundary line between the Chickasaw and Choctaw cessions cuts across the NE corner, and forms the northeastern boundary for a short distance.”1
Quitman County is bounded on the north by Tunica; on the east by Panola and Tallahatchie, on the south by Tallahatchie, and on the west by Coahoma.
Quitman County has a land surface of 395 square miles, and is a narrow irregular tract of land.
Coldwater River flows from the north in a winding course through the center and unites near the southern border with the Tallahatchie and Yocona rivers, to form the sluggish Yazoo. These streams, together with Cassidy’s Bayou and Opossum Bayou, afford good water facilities.
“It was decreed that the county of Quitman be attached to the 6th Congressional District, the 28th Senatorial, and the 3rd Circuit and Chancery Court Districts, and should be entitled to one member in the lower branch of the State Legislature in connection with Tunica County, and that said county should receive its proportion of the common school fund, as other counties of the state.”2
Name Selected for County and County Seat
The new county was named for John A. Quitman, a distinguished citizen, who was born in New York in 1798, and who moved to Mississippi in 1821, and soon became a prominent lawyer at Natchez. At one time, he was elected president of the State Senate, and later, governor of the state.
When war with Mexico was declared, the First Mississippi Regiment was organized and was a part of General Quitman’s Brigade. He rendered himself conspicuous by his gallantry at Belen Gate, where he was first among those to enter the proud capital city of Mexico. Hence, it was decided that the courthouse town should bear the name of this historic gate.
In 1908, Judge M.E. Denton (Manford Esca Denton 1872-1935) organized the Marks Township Company, laid off the town of Marks, and named it for Leopold Marks, pioneer settler of the county. The county seat was then located there by special election.
Hill Home was First Courthouse
The story of the creation of the new county called Quitman and that of its first white settler, Tom Hill, are so closely interwoven that they may well be told together; the Hill home, located on the bank of Coldwater River, was used for the first courthouse.
The Act creating the county, however, directed that the seat of justice be located by the Board of Supervisors at a point on the west side of Coldwater River, and that it be called Belen. Subsequently, in 1883, the courthouse was moved to this village, which extended to the west of the county.3 An old log house was used as the jail and a blacksmith’s shop was the courthouse. Then, when the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad avoided that place in the early nineties and passed through the center of the county, the county seat was transferred to Marks, and has remained there since.4
Stories Connected with Thomas B. Hill
Various tales have been handed down of the aforementioned Hill, two of which are given here for what they may be worth to this history. One is: In 1861, Mr. Hill, a bachelor from Panola County, decided to migrate to Texas, and as he crossed Coldwater River at a location which is now Marks, he noted the great richness of the soil, and resolved that this would be a suitable place on which to settle. Immediately, he started building a brick home and with the aid of his slaves it was soon completed. By making the walls a thickness of nine bricks, he fortified his house against any outside attack, a constant cause of dread to all new-comers in this wild and unsettled land. The building was commodious, containing slave quarters in the rear. The land which he bought from the government, and later became his plantation, occupied all the north end of the river front; not long after, Tom Hill was domiciled in his new home, the War between the States broke out. However, he was not responsive to its call, and took his faithful slaves and fled to Whitening Thicket to make his abode in an old shack until the end of the war.5
The other, as told by George Moreland in the Commercial Appeal, of December 9, 1928, is as follows:
“The story of the coming of this first white settler–or certainly among the first–is interesting. His name was Thomas B. Hill. Whence he came the annalists have not learned. That he was a man of wealth and affluence is apparent, because it is known he brought along 100 slaves, using them to clear a great plantation in the heart if the wilderness along what was then called Moore’s Bayou, now known as Cassidy Bayou, which winds through the City of Marks.”
“Even before the arrival of this man Hill in the vicinity, a denizen of the wilds–a trapper and woodsman named Moore–had established a home upon the bank of Coldwater on the side, it is said, of the Quitman County courthouse. Hill ousted the old trapper, who, probably, had no legal title to the lands. He departed for parts unknown, and nothing has ever been heard from him. His name for many years applied to the Bayou, but it was later renamed Cassidy Bayou, which name it still retains.”
“When Thomas B. Hill died, his slaves buried his body in an Indian mound in the vicinity, but its location is not known now by any citizen of Quitman County. He is said to have been a man of eccentricities and whims. However, he was a man of prominence, and James A. Alcorn, whose home was not far away, was his friend, and often visited him at his ‘castle’ upon the banks of the Coldwater.”6
In refutation of, at least the former impression of this man, depicting non-patriotism, county records show that he was awarded for services rendered in the Mexican War as under the provision of an Act of Congress all soldiers who had fought a length of time in the Mexican War were allowed homestead land. Through this Act, Thomas B. Hill, an early settler of Quitman County, obtained title to 161 acres of land on October 4, 1849, which later became known as the Hill Place. This now is section 33, near the town of Marks.
In connection with Grants, the Government disposed of land through the Chickasaw School Land Grant, in 1845. Thus, every sixteenth section, south of the boundary line was reserved for the schools. There are eight of these sections in the county. All of the sixteenth sections north of boundary line, the government rented, and the money was held in trust for school purposes.
When a part of Georgia was added to this territory, and because of the strife and warfare which existed between the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians, a boundary line was drawn so that each of these tribes would have, and could recognize, his own ground. This line runs through the northeast corner of Quitman county, and because of this divisional line, some of the land sections are not over three miles.7
Early Settlements and Landmarks
Belen, one of the first settlements opened in the county, was peopled by only a few whites and a small number of negroes, who had been slaves to the Hatch and Hill families. Near here lived J.J. Burleyson , or “Uncle Jap,” the first voter of the newly-formed county and who, with his family, played an important part in the development of affairs. He acquired a large tract of land and, with his brothers, John and Newt, tilled the soil. His old home is located near Belen, in the center of a plantation which passed out of the Burleyson’s possession some years ago. The house is built of logs and has two large bedrooms, with a hall between, and two side rooms. It has been modernized, but the logs are still underneath the weather-boarding. The family burial ground is almost a backyard for the place.8
Near to the Belen opening, M.M. Gibson (McAfee Moses “Mack” Gibson (1853-1934), from Cumberland Gap, Virginia, located in 1874, when Quitman was a part of Tunica County. He paid taxes in Austin, Tunica County, while assisting in 1880, in the clearing of the surrounding land–then a wilderness.4
Darling was named in honor of Major Darling, civil engineer, who built the Y. & M. V. Railroad; Hinchcliff, was named for Titus Hinchcliff, land owner and an early resident of that section. In 1850 A.C. Crowder patented from the Government several thousand acres of land, a part of which was the location of a town. It was named for its founder, Crowder; however, the land changed hands in 1900.
Among the oldest settlements of the County, were Shine Turner’s (William Abner Turner 1846-1912) neighborhood, Neil’s Ferry Crossing, and Riverside. There had been some cultivation, and a few farm houses and cabins had been built. A draw-bridge, operated across the Coldwater river at the Turner place, was a convenience for travelers coming into or leaving the country, and was used particularly, by those coming or going to “the hills.” Prayer-meetings and occasional preaching services were held in a log house, which still stands.9
Riverside attracted a group of settlers because of its nearness to the center of the county, and its easy access from different directions. Quite a few people, principally trappers and hunters, and those who sensed the timber values in the section, were among the first to come. Religious services, as well as any meeting of interest to all, were held under the grove of oak trees growing in the banks of Coldwater River.10
The Oak Tree which stands on the banks of Coldwater River in front of the home of S.S. Cox (Sprugeon S. Cox 1892-1946), in Marks, was once a land mark. Pieces of board were placed there to show directions and distances, and from this, old rivermen determined their whereabouts. It is said, because of this bit of history, M.I. Marks (Maurice Isaac Marks 1888-1962), son of L. Marks, chose this site for home, which he later sold to S.S. Cox.12
Will Hatch lived here when Quitman County was a part of Tallahatchie, Panola, Tunica, and Coahoma counties. He built and lived in what is known as the “Shine Turner Home,” before the War between the States. The first marriage certificate issued in this county was for the union of his daughter, Thirza Hatch, to J.J. Blackmon, in 1877.11 (Map of Mississippi in 1856, before the formation of Quitman County.)
According to James A. Blackmon, son of Joe Blackmon, the second sheriff of the county, a ferry was once operated across Coldwater River, near the point where the town of Sledge is located; it was an important point along the way to Tunica County, when land-owners here paid taxes in Austin. It was known as “One-Eyed Gleason’s Ferry,” and when this was reached, it was “such and such a distance” to Austin. Sledge was named for R.F. Sledge (Ruffin Fanning Sledge 1865-1940), prominent planter and early citizen.12
Fitting tributes should be paid to such early settlers as the Hatch, Jamison, Turner, and other families, among them Joe Blackmon and John Cooper (John Addison Cooper 1849-1913), second sheriff and clerk, respectively, of the county.4
From Works Progress Administration for Mississippi, Source Material for Mississippi History, Quitman County, Vol. LX, Compiled by State-Wide Historical Research Project, Susie V. Powell, State Supervisor, Illustrated 1936-1938, Chapter 1, pages 1-8.
1 Dunbar Rowland‘s Heart of the South, Vol. II
2 Record in Circuit Clerk’s Office and Heart of the South, Dunbar Rowland, Vol. II
3 Record in Circuit Clerk’s office
4 Mrs. Blanchard Ingram (Blanchard nee Walton Ingram 1889-1976), Marks, Mississippi
5 Blanche Denton (Blanche V. nee Phillips Denton 1879-1949), Jackson, Mississippi
6 Commercial Appeal, December 9, 1928
7 Quitman County Records
8 Mrs. Beulah Ashmore (Beulah G. nee Patterson Ashmore 1882-1955), Marks, Mississippi
9 Jim Blackmon, Marks, Mississippi
10 W.A. Cox, Marks (William Arthur Cox 1877-1959), Mississippi
11 Philey McArthur, Marks, Mississippi
12 James Blackmon, Marks, Mississippi
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