History of Newton County, Mississippi, from 1834 to 1894

Chapter 8



[page 58, par 1]

[page 58, par 2]
It appears that after the building of the second court-house the people became restless in some parts of the county, and proposed to move it to the geographical center. This central location in the county would be a half mile south of the Isham Hollingsworth place on the road from Decatur to Newton, about three hundred yards east of the road. This is a very broken, hilly place, and apparently a very unsuitable place for a town, yet it is said that there was some town lots sold on the location designated. A great gathering of people collected at the place, an old-fashioned barbecue was given, (the old barbecue pit is still there). This was no doubt a great meeting of the people; probably some speeches made favorable to the location and removal. Doubtless there was a large amount of liquor drank, many fights, and much that was exciting and amusing, but all to no avail; when the vote was taken the court-house still remained at Decatur. It is not known at precisely what date this occurred, but the supposition is that it was between 1842 and 1845.

[page 59, par 1]
In February, 1864, Gen. Sherman's army marched through the county on its way to Meridian. It stopped at Decatur, and besides many other things that the soldiers did, they burned the court-house. This house was not a valuable one, but it answered the purpose at the time, and supplied the wants of the people. The records were saved and the court-house business done in a private house, northeast present site of business, where Mrs. Hinton now lives.

[page 59, par 2]
Thus matters went on until after the close of the war in the year 1865. Soon after this time an agitation of the same question was had, and at the first meeting of the Legislature after the war, the question of removing the county site at Decatur to Newton was submitted to this body at Jackson, and again it was put before the people. When the vote was taken it was shown that Decatur was again chosen by the voters. At once steps were taken to build a new court house on the old site. The board of police at once met and passed an order for the building of the new court house, and the contract was awarded to Montgomery Carleton, the amount said to be $3000. This house was about the size of the one that Sherman's army burned, and was a very peculiarly constructed building. The court was held on the ground floor, and the rooms for the officers were on the second floor. The house was not as convenient as if the court had been held on the second floor and the rooms for the officers on the first. It, however, served a very good purpose and was a great loss to the county when it was destroyed. The jail was built by Thomas Wells for $1500. Much business was done in this court-house. There were stirring times in the county; great political events were happening; much was done to excite the people. In this court-house officiated the radical appointees and the scalawags elected to office. Here speeches were made by patriotic Democrats urging the people to strive to get from under the yoke of political oppression. Here it was that the Radical speakers, from various parts of the State, came and used this court-house as a place to proclaim to the few people who would follow them then, the doctrines of the Radical party. Here, too, in this court-house, was the Radical party overthrown and the Democrats returned to power.

[page 60, par 1]
In the month of September, probably the second day of the term of circuit court in 1876, this court house was burned. It was at first supposed to be the work of an incendiary, and a man by the name of Spencer, a lawyer attending the court, was suspected. So strong was the suspicion in the minds of the grand jury that a true bill was found against Mr. Spencer. He, feeling that this was all wrong, demanded a speedy trial, which was given him, and he was honorably acquitted. It is now supposed that the fire was accidental, occurring from the leaving of some candles that burned down and ignited the wood on which they were placed, and that fired the building.

[page 60, par 2]
This entailed a great loss to our county, as the court-house had to be rebuilt, and a greater loss in the records of the county, which for forty years were gone. A minute book and docket and a few papers were all that were saved. The records of the county, including all important matters that had been there from the commencement of the county, with the record of all the land deeds, and all other important transactions, were gone, and without power to reclaim many of them. Judge Mayers was holding the court, and the day after the burning the court repaired to the Baptist church, where the term was finished, and probably one or two subsequent courts were held there.

[page 61, par 1]
As soon as the news of the burning of the court-house was well understood in the county, the people began to agitate again as to the removal, and at the next meeting of the Legislature, which took place during the year 1877, a petition was presented by the representative of the county, Hon. Isaac L. Pennington, and a bill was passed allowing the court-house site to be removed from Decatur. Now comes an exciting time in the county of Newton.

[page 61, par 2]
The town of Newton claims the right to have the court-house. The town of Decatur claims the right to have the court-house remain, and the town of Hickory claims the right to have the court-house go there. Decatur is about three and one-half miles from the center of the county; Newton about six and one-half, and Hickory a little greater distance probably than Newton. The excitement ran high and quite a feeling was evinced by the citizens of the county against Newton particularly. Hickory being a business rival of Newton, her people preferred that Decatur, rather than Newton, should have the court-house, though the latter would be more convenient for them. Newton made a proposition to donate the building lot and to build the court-house. The election came off and resulted in the court house remaining at Decatur.

[page 61, par 3]
The people of Hickory were not to blame for the part they took against Newton. The people north of Decatur felt that the county site ought to remain at Decatur and they acted right. It is said, however, that enough voters remained away from the polls in the beat that the town of Newton is situated to have carried the court-house to Newton. They felt it their privilege to defeat Newton; they had that right and yet it appears strange, if these statements are facts, that they should have acted so. It was a severe blow to Newton's business interests. The people in the northern part of the county were for years estranged to the town and gave their trade to Hickory. It is but of recent years that this animosity has passed off.

[page 62, par 1]
As soon as the result of the election was known, and at the first meeting of the board of supervisors, steps were taken to rebuild the court-house at Decatur. The board was not sparing of the county's money in its appropriations, and their actions appeared to be sustained. They passed an order in the spring of 1877, that the county of Newton was to have a brick court-house, to be built on the old site. Proposals were received and the contract was let to Mr. Scully, of Meridian, for $7,000, who went immediately to work and in a few months had the house ready for occupation.

[page 62, par 2]
This house is a two-story, 60x40 feet, with four rooms on first floor for offices and grand jury; has splendid court-room above, with two rooms in the rear of the judge's seat for consultation of lawyers and their clients, and other purposes of convenience to the court. This house has flat roof covered with tin; has blinds to the windows; has two good fireplaces; and taking it altogether, is in every way convenient and suitable for holding the courts of the county.

[page 62, par 3]
After the building of the new brick court-house, the old jail was found to be inadequate 'and unsafe. A good frame jail house was constructed immediately after the court house; and after the jail was built it was found expedient to have iron cages placed in the jail for a more safe-keeping of prisoners These were placed in the jail by a St. Louis company at the cost of about three thousand dollars for jail and cages. It was thought by the board of supervisors in the year 1893 that the safe in the court-house then, which cost $550.00, was not sufficient to protect the records and important papers of the county. They passed an order to have a brick vault outside at one of the east windows of the chancery clerk's office, immediately connected with and adjoining the chancery clerk's office. This vault to be 8x12 feet. The contract was taken by W. H. Wilson, of Meridian, who burned the brick and with the assistance of C. H. Dabbs, placed the brick vault as an annex to the chancery clerk's office, at the cost of $849.00.

[page 63, par 1]
It will be seen that the county of Newton is now well provided with all the necessary houses for county business; a safe jail out of which no prisoner has ever escaped except at the door; good safes and brick vault to protect the interests of its courts, and records and those of its citizens who have an interest there. This is as it should be, and the boards of supervisors are to be complimented for the manner in which they have provided for the county and with no very great outlay of the people's money.

[page 63, par 2]

[page 63, par 3]
It has been shown that the increase of population from the decade from 1840 to 1850 nearly doubled, and from 1855 to 1860 was a period in which was a greater increase proportionately than at any other period of the county's history. About this time and a little previous, came many Alabama and Georgia people. J. F. N. Huddleston, a prominent lawyer and Congregational Methodist preacher, with large family, came to the county from Georgia; also the McCune family, the Todds, McMullens, Stampers, Quattlebaums, Edmunds, Hoye, Hunters, Abneys, McElhaneys, Freemans, Watsons, Masseys, Flints, Portiss', Barrets, Carletons, Keiths, Nimmocks, Gardners, Daniels', Cleavlands, and others whose names are not recollected.

[page 64, par 1]
As mention has been made cf an influx of Georgia and Alabama immigration to the county, it would here be proper to mention as a large and valuable contingent in the way of citizenship, the Irish settlement in Newton county. So me of them came at a date much anterior to 1855 and 1860-probably as early as 1845 to 1850-and so distinct and separate were they as an Irish community, that it was called New Ireland, in honor of the "old Emerald Isle." The names of these Irishmen were: Vances, of which there is a large family; Blackburns, Frenches, Dowdles, Gaults, Willises, Hogans, Mercers and Davidsons.

[page 64, par 2]
With this addition of population from Georgia and Alabama, and the foreign element, new life seemed to be infused into the county. These people had come from older States, where different methods of living prevailed; hence it was better farming, better stock, and much new land opened, better state of society, more schools, more churches, more preaching. There was more enterprise, more disposition to make better improvements in the county. Especially was this very noticeable in Decatur, the county site. Up to that time only one church was in the town. A new Methodist church was built, and good schools provided Up to, say 1855, there was probably not over $1000 paid out in the county for schooling by private citizens.

[page 64, par 3]
Very soon after the period referred to, Decatur had a high school, and paid a principal as much as $800 a year for teaching. In the year 1890 Newton county had nearly ninety schools, and paid out nearly $14,000. At the laying of the corner-stone of Hickory Institute, November 8, 1889, Col. J. L. Power, who officiated on that occasion, made this statement: "There are few counties in the State that make a better showing in the matter of attendance compared with total enrollment. Of the 5935 educable children enrolled, 4359 were in school during the year, leaving only 576 (white and colored) who were not in school any time during the year."

[page 65, par 1]

[page 65, par 2]
There was a school teacher in the year 1860-61 in the county engaged in teaching, and who had been employed in this profession at a much earlier period, both in Newton and Jasper counties. He was a man of superior education, of strong convictions, and whose political tenets came very near causing him to lose his life. The man referred to was John Bissett. He was an Englishman, and said he had been educated for the ministry. His intemperate habits had caused his ruin, He came to Jasper county as early as 1833, and in that county and Newton taught school alternately until 1861. He usually taught in the neighborhood of the Loper families in Jasper county, and in the Blakely families, in Newton county. He was a man wonderfully gifted in conversational power; discussed any topic that agitated the public mind, or that interested any private individual. His manners were good, his address was gracious and attractive, and his language such as to have no defects, no slang, no common, rough phrases, but rich, fluent and instructive, with a brogue that was attractive, but not objectionable. These were his characteristics when sober, but when drunk, "none so poor as to do him reverence." He then became an object of scorn and reproach. To his intimate friends it had long been known that he was opposed to slavery. Upon a memorable occasion in the town of Decatur, in the spring of 1861, he gave utterance to opinions so much in opposition to the spirit of "those times" and so opposed to the politics of the South, that his life was endangered. It is said a rope was brought with which to hang him. But his old friends and the old people that had known him since he came into the county, and to whom he had been so kind, and many of them his pupils in school, rescued him from the infuriated people, made up money and sent him away to another State.

[page 66, par 1]
Jeremiah Hennessey was another old landmark among the early teachers of this county. Hennessey was an Irishman, a very competent teacher, a faithful worker in the discharge of his duty. He did not teach in Newton county as much as Bissett. Hennessey will be remembered by the older citizens of the county who went to his school. He had his peculiar ways of teaching, which were considered good at that time, and probably one peculiarity of his school government may be more impressed upon his old pupils, and that is the punishment he inflicted. He may well have been called a "threshing machine." But he was one who loved the children he taught, and who gave largely of his salary to the children in presents, and particularly to those who excelled in their studies. He was a very austere man, and yet had much kindness in his nature. His loved his school, his profession, and greatly respected his patrons. He was another victim of intemperance. He lived to a great age and died about the period referred to -- 1860 or 1861.

[page 66, par 2]
There were some other old-time teachers in the county, of less note. Thomas Car, Beale, Young, Wilson, Waterman, Stroud and Welch were among the early teachers recollected by the old settlers.

[page 66, par 3]
Speaking again of the Irish settlement, these people are Protestants, and usually belong to -- when they are attached to any church -- the Cumberland Presbyterian. They are usually men who make good livings at home, and are very independent characters. They are very little' given to an undue use of liquor, but most of them will take a drink and care not who sees them. Upon the whole they are a valuable addition to our population, and Newton county would be proud of a thousand more of such immigrants from the "ould country." There are very few Catholic families in the county; Dr. F. G. Semmes and family at Hickory, and John Kirby and wife, and his son and son-in-law and family, are all that are recollected.

[page 67, par 1]
If the reader should wish a hearty welcome, a good joke, a warm shake of the hand, a plain but plentiful meal, let him go and spend the day with John Kirby and his "old lady." John and his good wife are both old, but they are jolly and well fixed at home by hard work. There are very few foreign-born citizens in the county except those named. One Chinaman at Newton; one Englishman, Uncle Dick Trathan, at Hickory. The Indian population, according to the census of 1890, is 349 in this county.