The following History of Choctaw County is copied with permission from the Choctaw County, Mississippi Economic Development Foundation
Welcome to the Choctaw County, Mississippi Genealogy and History Network website. MSGHN is committed to providing a free, non-commercial environment for genealogy research on the Internet.
Choctaw County was formed in 1833 from land that was ceded to the United States by the Choctaw Nation. Some say that the name of the county comes from the Indian word, “chahta,” which means separation, most likely referring to the separation of the Choctaws from the Chickasaws. In all probability, the name of the county comes from the name of the Choctaw tribe’s first leader, Chief Chocta, from whom the tribe was named.
Choctaw County’s story begins earlier than 1833. Pioneer hunters and traders began settling in the area due to friendships between the Choctaws and the French. The Choctaw Chief, Pushmataha, befriended the French and his sister married a Frenchman. Their daughter, Rebecca, married Louis Lefleur, who established a trading post on the Pearl River. In 1801, Congress established a postal route between Nashville and Natchez, the capitol of the Mississippi Territory, along what is now known as the Natchez Trace. In 1810, Louis and Rebecca moved into the heart of the Choctaw Nation and established a tavern and trading post on that postal route, and the area became known as French Camp. In 1817, Mississippi became the twentieth State of the Union. In about 1822, the Presbyterian Church established an early Mission School in French Camp for the Choctaw Indians. It is known now as French Camp Academy, a co-educational boarding school still in operation. Louis and Rebecca Lefleur had a son, Greenwood. He later changed the spelling of his last name from Lefleur to Leflore. He was elected Chief of the Western District of the Choctaw Nation in the 1820’s and helped draw up the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, signed on September 27, 1830, which settled the removal of the Choctaws to Oklahoma Indian Territory. Their departure, along with Indians of other states, came to be known as the infamous “Trail of Tears.”
The county seat of Choctaw County is Ackerman, although it hasn’t always been there. In fact, the county seat has changed several times in the county’s history. Choctaw County was originally 1,080 square miles and contained all of what is now Webster County and parts of Montgomery, Grenada and Calhoun Counties. The first county seat was established at Greensboro, which is now in Webster County. A brick courthouse was erected by slaves in the area, and the village flourished. The town had a bloody reputation attributed to duels, hangings, and murders. Federal troops burned much of the town during the Civil War, and not much remains of Greensboro today.
In 1871, Montgomery County was created, taking away a big part of Choctaw County. The county seat was moved from Greensboro to a place located within two miles of the geographical center of the county. A new courthouse was erected at La Grange in 1872. The town rapidly grew, but a similar fate to Greensboro would befall La Grange. On the night of January 12, 1874, arsonists burned down the courthouse, along with all the records of the county. Many believed the arsonists were those in the county who wanted it to be divided in order to create a Republican county out of part of it. In 1874, Sumner County (now known as Webster County) was created, taking all of the territory of Choctaw County north of the Big Black River, which left the county seat a mile and a half from the county line. The county seat was removed from La Grange, and the town was abandoned.
A new county seat was created near the new geographical center of the county, and the place was named Chester. During this year, three townships were annexed to Choctaw from Winston County, forming what is now referred to as the “Panhandle.” Chester grew rapidly even though it suffered from political activities. In 1880, the wood-frame courthouse burned and was replaced by a brick structure made of Choctaw clay.
In 1885, the Illinois Central Railroad was completed and ran East to West through the southern part of the county. Also in 1885, the town of Ackerman was established. It was named after an official of the Illinois Central Railroad Company. A courthouse was erected in 1887, and the town was made the second county seat. It grew rapidly, with many of the people of Chester moving there. It soon surpassed French Camp, which had remained the largest town in the county since its creation. In 1904, the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio Railroad was built and ran North and South, intersecting the Illinois Central Railroad, which accelerated the town’s growth. Shortly, two cotton gins, a cotton compress and warehouse, and one of the largest combination sawmill and planer mills in the state were established. The town of Weir was also established during this time.
In August 1923, the two judicial districts were consolidated and the courthouse at Chester abolished. The building in Chester became a school and was used for that purpose until it burned down in 1928.
To give you an idea of how this county has progressed, the following is a timeline of select events of Choctaw County as researched and recorded by former Governor J.P. Coleman in his ChoctawCounty Chronicles, A History of Choctaw County, MS 1830-1973 with new events added to his list:
- Dec. 17, 1801 – Choctaw Indians agreed to the construction of the Natchez Trace (although it already existed, they made it into a trade and postal route)
- Dec. 23, 1833 – Choctaw Co.’s birthday, when an act was signed into law creating 16 counties
- 1840 – 6,000 people residing in Choctaw County
- Jan. 9, 1861 – Mississippi seceded from the Union
- Feb. 23, 1870 – Mississippi was readmitted to the Union (5 years after the war had ended)
- Aug. 1886 – Choctaw Co. voted to prohibit alcohol in county
- Feb. 3, 1900 – Ackerman was connected to the outside world by long-distance telephone
- Dec. 4, 1908 – An automobile passed through Ackerman
- Oct. 10, 11, and 12, 1910 – First annual Choctaw County Fair
- 1910 – Ackerman got first electric and water systems
- March 1913 – First movie theater in Ackerman and Choctaw County Agricultural School was established in Weir
- June 21, 1918 – First airplane in Ackerman
- May 1922 – First two radios in Ackerman
- 1946 – Ackerman streets were paved for the first time
- June 15, 1946 – Construction of rural electrification lines began in Choctaw Co.
- Feb. 23, 1951 – Natural gas was piped into Ackerman
- Sept. 6, 1953 – Choctaw County Hospital opened and the first annual Harvest Fest was held in French Camp
- May 23, 1958 – Contract let for the construction of a sewer system in Ackerman
- October 25, 1959 – The new Ackerman School was dedicated
- Dec. 11, 1962 – Choctaw County airport opened
- Feb. 15, 1968 – Ackerman began new water system, and in May, began first rural water system
- Aug. 5, 1970 – Choctaw County schools integrated by U.S. District Court order
- 1996 – Ackerman adds Internet service
- 2000 – 9,758 people residing in Choctaw County
- Choctaw County has produced two Governors, J.P. Coleman and Ray Mabus.
- Cheryl Prewitt, who was Miss America in 1980, came from Choctaw County.
- Roy Oswalt, who lives in Choctaw County, plays baseball for the Houston Astros.
- On average, Choctaw County is at as high an altitude as to be found in Mississippi even though it does not have the highest point.
- Choctaw County is located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and is considered an Appalachia county.
- Choctaw County has the only lignite mine in the state of Mississippi.
- The largest observatory in the state is located in Choctaw County, French Camp’s Rainwater Observatory and Planetarium.