History of Monroe County

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Named for President James Monroe, Monroe County was the first in north Mississippi and one of the oldest of Mississippi’s 82 counties. At the time of its formation in 1821, there were only 13 other counties, all clustered along the Gulf Coast and the lower Mississippi Valley.

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Robert Gordon was a Scottish trader in the region whom the Chickasaws trusted and who was instrumental in persuading them to cede their lands to the Federal government in 1816. A few years later, the first white settlement in the county grew up across the Tombigbee River from a Chickasaw village located on the hill above a 1736 French fort. This new community eventually became known as Cotton Gin Port, now extinct.

On February 9, 1821 the legislature passed, and Gov. Leake approved, a law creating Monroe County. Originally described as all that territory east of the Tombigbee River to the Alabama line and south to Gaines Trace, Monroe County was separated from the remainder of the state by Chickasaw and Choctaw territories from Cotton Gin Port to Walnut Hills (later renamed Vicksburg).

In the early 1830s the legislature added all of the Chickasaw territories making Monroe County the largest in the state. It ran from its former southern boundary west to Mayhew Mission and diagonally northwest by Elliott Mission to the Mississippi River and the southwest boundary of Tennessee. This included part or all of what was later divided into 25 counties, giving it the nickname “Mother Monroe”.

As part of their treaty, the Chickasaws and the heirs of Levi Colbert, also known as Chickasaw Indian Chief Itawamba had asked that the Federal Government give Gordon a piece of land for a settlement. He selected as the site the land south of Matubba Creek, east to the Tombigbee River and west to what is now Meridian Street, and the town was established in 1834, named Dundee. Gordon asked that it be pronounced “Dun-Day”, as the Scots do, but when the settlers insisted on calling it “Dun’dy”, he changed the name to Aberdeen for his native Aberdeen, Scotland. The city was incorporated in 1837.

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Hamilton, 12 miles east of Aberdeen, was made the first county seat, but political struggles and consideration of geocentricity resulted in the seat being moved 5 times among the towns of Athens, Cotton Gin Port, and Aberdeen, before coming at last to reside in Aberdeen in 1847. Cotton, hardwood and the manufacture of fine jewelry resulted in a bustling steamboat trade that by 1860 made Aberdeen the largest city in the state.

During the Civil War, while cities all around were raised, legend has it that Aberdeen was spared because both the Confederate soldier in charge of the city and the commander of the approaching Union troops were members of the Order of Freemasons.

As a result Monroe County has, with very recent additions to the Historic Register, more than 270 historic structures – a priceless treasure. The oldest intact church building is St. John’s Episcopal Church on East Commerce Street, begun in 1850 and completed in 1853.

Aberdeen was once a busy cotton port that shipped its products by boat to Mobile. The wealth that came from cotton built great homes and lavish mansions, many of which still dot the city’s treelined streets. Another "building boom" at the turn of the century created magnificent early Victorian dwellings along what is now known as "Silk Stocking Avenue."

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The town of Amory located on the east bank of the Tombigbee River was established by the K.C.M.&B. Railroad (Kansas City, Memphis & Birmingham). It is situated at the halfway point between Memphis and Birmingham and named for railroad magnate, Harcourt Amory. Amory became an important rail stop. The town of Amory was plotted and the first lots were sold at auction in November 1887, when the railroad came through the area; incorporation followed in 1888. People rushed in to buy property and the new railroad town was on its way. Amory was known as the "Planned City". Its wide streets and carefully arranged business and residential areas helped pave the way for Amory’s future. The history of the city is carefully preserved at the Amory Regional Museum, and residents honor their railroad past each year at the Amory Railroad Festival.

Monroe County is still one of the largest counties, ranking 8th in the state by land area, 772 square miles. The population is estimated to be over 38,000.