One hundred and fifty years ago, Jefferson County, according to an 1860 newspaper, boasted of being “one of the richest cotton growing regions of the State,” whose county seat was “destined at no very distant day to command a commerce that must eventually build up a large and flourishing city.” Though mid-nineteenth century newspaper accounts were at least slightly exaggerated, the above note about Jefferson County’s agricultural feat was the exception. The Federal Agricultural Census on June 1, 1860, noted that of the 398,000 bales of cotton produced in the Arkansas River counties, 28,383 cotton bales were reported to have been produced in Jefferson County, totaling over 11 million pounds of cotton.
1860 was an exciting time for the expanding agricultural as well as educational and social dimensions of Jefferson County, including the opening of a new educational institution: the Pine Bluff Military Academy, whose function was to educate the young men of Jefferson County in the “science of war, and in fitting them for effectual resistance in case of emergency”, according to an 1860 newspaper account. Regarding the social and political atmosphere of South Arkansas in the months leading up to the Civil War, Jefferson County undoubtedly exhibited “more cheering and substantial evidences of progress and advancement” than previously thought.
The intent of this column is to inform readers on the various goings-on 150 years ago that lead up to the fraying of our nation to the point of rebellion and revolution, to a time when the country split over contradicting views. By the time the Civil War started officially in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina in April, 1861, Jefferson County had already had its share of problems, both militarily and politically. Over the next five years, the story of the people of Jefferson County will be explained, including various cultures and nationalities of citizens that called Jefferson County home.