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Mississippi State History

History | Symbols | Interesting Facts | Famous People


1540—Spaniard Hernando de Soto enters the Mississippi region

1682—René-Robert Cavelier of France claims the Mississippi region

1699—Pierre le Moyne establishes the first French colony at Old Biloxi

1716—Jean Baptiste Le Moyne founds what becomes Natchez

1719—The French bring the first black slaves into Mississippi

1763—Mississippi becomes English territory

1781—Spain claims Mississippi’s Gulf Coast

1783—Mississippi, except for the Gulf Coast, becomes United States territory

1798—The Mississippi Territory is created

1812—The Gulf Coast becomes part of the Mississippi Territory

1817—Mississippi becomes the 20th state

1840—The Great Natchez Tornado kills more than 300 people

1848—The University of Mississippi opens at Oxford

1858—The swamp drainage program begins in Delta

1861—Mississippi secedes from the Union

1863—Union forces capture Vicksburg in the Civil War

1870—Mississippi is readmitted to the Union

1927—A huge Mississippi flood causes $204 million in damage

1962—James Meredith becomes the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi; two are killed in the rioting that occurred

1963—Medgar Evers of the NAACP is murdered in Jackson

1964—Three civil-rights workers are murdered near Philadelphia, Miss

1969—A federal court orders the desegregation of Mississippi’s public schools; Charles Evers becomes the first black mayor of Mississippi since Reconstruction.  He was elected in Fayette.

1992—Tornadoes hit Brandon and other parts of Mississippi killing fifteen and injuring about 300 others

Three major groups of Native Americans lived in the Mississippi region when European exploration of the area began.  The Chickasaw lived in the north and east, the Choctaw in the central part, and the Natchez in the southwest.

In 1540, Spaniard Hernando De Soto became the first known European to enter the Mississippi Valley.  When gold was not found abundantly, those exploring the region left.  Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, traveled down the Mississippi River in 1682.  He claimed the entire Mississippi Valley, including present-day Mississippi, for France and named it Louisiana in honor of King Louis XIV.

In 1699, Pierre le Moyne founded the first French settlement at Old Biloxi (now Ocean Springs).  Pierre’s brother, Jean Baptiste le Moyne, established Fort Rosalie (now Natchez) in 1716.  Three years later, black slaves arrived to work in the colonist’s tobacco, rice, and indigo fields.  During the early 1700s, thousands of settlers moved to Mississippi.

When the Natchez rose up against the colonists in 1729, France rallied to destroy most of the Indian tribe the following year.  In 1736, the Chickasaw and British soldiers defeated the French in northeast Mississippi.  This led to the French and Indian War (1754-1763).  The Treaty of Paris, signed after the war, gave England all the land east of the Mississippi River.  Mississippi was divided into two main parts; the southern section to a British province called West Florida and the remaining portion to the Georgia colony.

After the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), the United States gained England’s land east of the Mississippi River.  Spain had taken over Mississippi’s Gulf Coast that was located in West Florida.  In 1798, Congress created the Mississippi Territory.  The Louisiana Purchase made the Mississippi River part of the United States in 1803.  This encouraged growth of the newly formed territory, because the river allowed Mississippi trading ships to sail to the Gulf of Mexico.

During the early 1800s, cotton became Mississippi’s major crop.  The industry continued to grow as the Natchez Trace connected Mississippi with Nashville, Tennessee.  By 1810, the Mississippi Territory extended over all present-day Alabama, Mississippi, and parts of Florida.  In 1817, Congress divided the Mississippi Territory into the state of Mississippi and the Alabama Territory.  On Dec. 10, 1817, Mississippi joined the Union and became the 20th state.  Its population had almost reached 60,000 people.

Cotton continued to grow in importance with the invention of the cotton gin in 1793.  The farmers used slave labor to operate the large cotton plantations.  By 1860, Mississippi’s black slaves outnumbered white people 437,000 to 354,000.  Slavery had become an intense debate between the Northern and Southern states.  When Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the U.S. in 1860, many southerners feared he would end slavery in the South.  Mississippi seceded on Jan. 9, 1861, the second of eleven to secede.  These states formed the Confederate States of America.  Mississippian Jefferson Davis became the Confederacy’s first and only president.

Many important battles were fought in or on the borders of Mississippi.  The Battle of Vicksburg became a turning point in the war.  For 47 days, Union forces fought the Confederate Army, both sides suffering many casualties.  Food became scarce.  Finally, the Confederates surrendered the city on July 4, 1863.  This Union victory gave the North control of the Mississippi River.  Two years later the war ended.

All slaves were freed at the end of the war.  Mississippi was placed under military control.  In Dec. 1869, the state passed a new constitution granting black people the right to vote.  On Feb. 23, 1870, Mississippi was allowed to return to the Union.  For a time, blacks in the state voted and some held government positions.  However in 1890, a new state constitution was written that took away voting rights from most black people.  Segregation began within schools, buses, and many public places.  Groups like the Ku Klux Klan were organized to terrorize black people.

Although many suffered from poverty following the war, the early 1900s brought great progress in industry, agriculture, and education in Mississippi.  The construction of railroads allowed access to forests in southeast Mississippi, creating a boom in the lumber industry.  State projects to drain many of the swampy areas in Mississippi provided more suitable land for farming.  An illiteracy commission, established in 1916, started education programs for adults who could not read or write.

During the 1920s, several legislative actions established a state commission of education, a state library commission, and a highway-building program.  In 1927, a huge flood on the Mississippi River totaled over $204 million in damage and left thousands homeless.  Congress then established the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responsible for controlling floods on the Mississippi River.

During the Great Depression (1929-1939), thousands lost their farms in Mississippi.  The price of cotton fell from twenty cents a pound in the 1920s, to five cents by 1931.  State legislature created a program called Balancing Agriculture With Industry (BAWI) in 1936.  These laws freed new businesses from paying certain taxes and provided bond money to build factories for new industries.  The discovery of petroleum at Tinsley in 1939 and Vaughan in 1940 also helped the economy in Mississippi.

During World War II (1939-1945), several war plants opened in Mississippi. As machines replaced farm workers, industrial development was encouraged during the 1960s.  In 1963, a huge oil refinery opened in Pascagoula.  The following year, the Mississippi Research and Development Center was established.  The center encourages new industries to come to the state, and helps those already established to expand.  By 1966, more Mississippians worked in manufacturing than in agriculture.

Like other states, Mississippi had severe racial problems.  But in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregated public schools to be unconstitutional.  James Meredith was the first black student to enroll in the University of Mississippi in 1962.  The fight for civil rights was long and often met with violence.  Two demonstrators were killed in 1962.  Medgar Evers of the NAACP was shot and killed in 1963 and three civil rights workers were murdered near Philadelphia, Miss in 1964.  Other schools, restaurants, and public places throughout the state did not begin integration until 1964.  In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered an immediate end to all segregated public schools.  

Since the 1980s, Mississippians have turned to industries other than agriculture.  Catfish farming has boomed in Delta, one of the country's poorest regions.  Furniture production has become a great Mississippi industry.  In 1990, state lawmakers voted to allow dockside gambling, now found on the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River.  More than 30,000 now work in this new industry.  Money spent in tourism doubled between 1990 and 1994.  However, many high school and college graduates leave Mississippi to find better jobs.  State leaders are still striving to attract industries that require greater skills and pay higher wages.