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Legacies of 1809: four Mississippi counties celebrate 200 years.


"The Body of B. Franklin, Printer, Like the Cover of an Old Book, Its Contents tom out And Stript of its Lettering & Gilding,) Lies here. Food for Worms, But the Work shall not be lost, For it will as he believ'd, appear once more In a new and more elegant Edition Corrected and improved By the Author."

This year marks the bicentennial of four of our state's eighty-two counties: Amite, Franklin, Wayne, and Warren. Each was formed twenty-six years following the end of the American Revolution, and all four predate Mississippi statehood by eight years, thus making them older than thirty-three of the fifty states in the union.

Amite County, which borders the state of Louisiana along the county's southern boundary, was established with a population of 1,500 inhabitants on February 24, 1809. Its name comes from the meandering, swimminghole-filled Amite River. The name "Amite" was given to this stream by representatives of the French government as a compliment to the character of the Native Americans whom they encountered shortly after the year 1699. Although the tribal name of these people has been lost to history, the French paid them tribute by forever naming the river Amite after these "friendly" people, and Amite countians continue to cherish and cultivate this virtuous trait as being uniquely their own.

Franklin County, which borders Amite County's northern boundary, was formed on December 21, 1809, and is named in honor of one of America's most prominent champions of liberty--Benjamin Franklin. Franklin died at the age of eighty-four in 1790, and his body is buried beside that of his wife in his beloved city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Only his name, birth date, and date of death are chiseled into his grave marker. Unfortunately, the epitaph, which a young Franklin wrote, does not appear on the stone.

A Bostonian by birth and the fifteenth of seventeen children, Franklin was somewhat of a child prodigy. At a young age, he could read extraordinarily well, so his father amassed a small library of biblical volumes in the hope that his son would become a minister of the gospel. In his autobiography, Franklin addressed the subject of his father's books, writing that he had "read most of them"; however, by the age of twelve he "resolved I should not be a clergyman." It was then, at his request, that he was apprenticed to his older brother lames to learn the art of printing.


Wayne County, which has the distinction of being the first of the state's eastern counties, dates from December 21, 1809. In addition, it was the first county to be populated by settlers arriving from the East, the first of whom were the Scots who came from the Carolinas and Virginia speaking their native Gaelic language. English-speaking settlers did not reach the new county until well into the 1820s. Despite the fact that English was not spoken when the county was organized, the Scots had no problem with their county name which was chosen by members of the State Legislature in honor of Major General Anthony Wayne. A native of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, Wayne was a professional soldier who earned his rank and the respect of General George Washington in the early years of the Revolution. His daring night assault on July 16, 1779, at the Battle of Stony Point helped him gain his famous nickname of "Mad" Anthony.

Following the surrender of all British forts on the Great Lakes, the fifty-one-year-old warrior waved a final farewell to his army and on November 17, 1796, he boarded a ship for home. With almost twenty years of wartime service behind him, his desire at this point was to hurry back to Waynesboro and marry the love of his life, "Molly Vining with the great soft eyes." Upon his arrival in Erie, he fell ill and lingered in pain for more than two weeks before his passing. On July 4, 1809, his remains were removed from Erie, Pennsylvania, to the little churchyard of St. David's at Radnor, Pennsylvania. In the crowd that day stood a slim, dark-veiled lady, Molly Vining, mourning the loss of her love.


On December 22, 1809, the county of Warren on the Mississippi River was born. It is the only county in the state named for a physician, Dr. Joseph Warren of Roxbury, Massachusetts. In 1774, he wrote to his friend John Adams "... the mistress we court is Liberty, and it is better to die than not to obtain her."

Historian Richard M. Ketchum in his Men of The Revolution wrote of the doctor, "If any one man could be held responsible for triggering the events that led to war, it would have to be affable, charming Joseph Warren." It was Warren who was the dominant figure at the Boston Tea Party, and it was also Warren who dispatched Paul Revere on his famous midnight ride. Serious about his commitment to liberty, he hurried after attending a council of war on June 17, 1775, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, "across Charleston Neck, past Bunker Hill and out onto Breed's Hill, where the provincial troops had erected a crude fort the previous night." Upon his arrival he was offered command of the men as he had been appointed a Major General just four days earlier, but he declined by saying he came simply as a "volunteer." Three hours later, in Ketchum's words, "the desperate battle that marked a point of no return for Britain and her colonies, Joseph Warren was dead."


Mississippians value liberty and the sacrifices that these men made in the early years of our country. For these reasons, two centuries ago they honored Benjamin Franklin, Anthony Wayne, and Joseph Warren. Their patriotic deeds and courageous valor against seemingly insurmountable odds were still fresh in the minds and hearts of our forefathers, resulting in the unifying of their names and the principles for which they stood with the "Hospitality State" forever.

As these four Mississippi counties celebrate their two hundred years of history, they also pay tribute to the people whose names have charged these communities to uphold their legacies of honor.
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Title Annotation:heritage matters: looking back
Author:Cooper, Forrest Lamar
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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