The Act of Congress of 1 March, 1817, creating the state, fixed its boundaries as follows: "Beginning on the Mississippi River at a point where the southern boundary of the State of Tennessee strikes the same, thence west along the said boundary line to the Tennessee River, thence up the same to the mouth of Bear Creek, thence by a direct line to the north-west corner of the County of Washington, thence due south to the Gulf of Mexico, thence westwardly, include all of the island within six leagues of the shore, to the most eastern junction of Pearl River with Lake Borgne, thence up said River to the thirty-first degree of North latitude, thence west along said degree of latitude to the Mississippi River, thence up the same to the beginning." The state in its extreme length is 330 miles; its greatest width is 188 miles; its area 46,340 square miles. It has a coast-line on the Gulf of Mexico of about 75 miles. By government surveys begun in 1803, the state is divided into sections and townships.
It contains no mountains, but there is a decided difference of levels between the alluvial lands lying between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers and the other sections of the state, which may be generally characterized as the uplands of the state. The latter comprises approximately five-sixths of the entire area of the state, constituting a plateau of an undulating character, the level of which gently descends in a general southerly direction to the coast.
Its general elevation above the level of the Gulf of Mexico near the coast-line is about 150 feet, and the middle northern and north-eastern portions are from about 150 to 500 and 600 feet above the level of the Gulf of Mexico. The drainage on the west is the Mississippi River and its principal tributaries the Yazoo, Tallahatchie, Coldwater, Sunflower, Big Black, and Womochitto Rivers; in the middle part the Pearl, which empties into Lake Borgne, and in the eastern part, the Tombigbee River, the Chicksawha River, and the Escatawpa River, and in the south the Wolf, Pascagoula, Biloxie, Abolochitto, and Catahoula Rivers. The upland sections of the state are undulating, and successive ridges divide the area between the water courses. The north-eastern portion contains a large area of prairie formation which overlies a cretaceous sub-stratum, commonly known as rotten limestone.
The middle comprises a large area of uplands with a sub-stratum of clay formation. The southern portion is generally sandy and loamy. The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta constitutes the cotton-producing region of the state, the finest and most fertile cotton lands in the world, not excepting the valleys of the Nile and the Ganges. It begins at the Tennessee line and follows on its eastern boundary a line of hills or bluffs to Vicksburg, and is bounded on the west by the Mississippi River. It lies low and its general average level is not higher than the high-water level of the Mississippi.
It comprises an estimated area of 4,480,000 acres or 6480 square miles. It is now protected by a scientifically constructed system of levees extended on the Mississippi River from the Tennessee line to the hills at Vicksburg, and up the Yazoo River and its tributaries above the danger points. The levees are maintained by local assessments by the two levee boards in the delta and by appropriations from the Federal Government, made for the improvement of the rivers and for the maintenance of the levees. The cost of maintaining this levee system is great, but is far more than compensated for by the protection secured for this large area of cotton lands. These levees are substantially constructed of earth from 15 to 30 feet high with bases broad in proportion. With the levee system, it is the general opinion of levee engineers that any general overflow of the delta is impossible. In very high water an occasional break in a levee, call a "crevasse", may overflow a small local area, but with the present scientific skill and equipment, these breaks are generally closed promptly, with but little damage to land affected. The water level in the Mississippi and in the rivers of the delta varies very much during the year. The highest water is from January to April, followed often, in the Mississippi, by what is termed the June rise which is caused by the melting of the snow and ice in the upper Mississippi and in its tributaries. There are good landings at various points on the Mississippi River, among them being Greenville, Vicksburg, and Natchez.
The climate is mild and temperate. In the summer, breezes from the Mexican Gulf in the middle and southern portions, and variable winds elsewhere in the state, render the heat moderate and tolerable. In the southern potion the temperature rarely falls as low as +32° Fahr., and generally does not exceed 95° Fahr. In the middle part the maximum is about 98° and the lowest is rarely lower than +20°. In the northern portion the temperature rarely falls to +10°, and for a few days, in an exceptionally cold winter, may go to +5°. There is a fair and moderate rainfall extended through the year, with a greater fall during the winter and spring. Near the coast the fall is about 65 inches per annum, and elsewhere it averages about 50 inches annually. The state is as healthy in all of its climatic and other conditions as any of the adjacent states. In the low-lying portions that are not well drained there are some malarial fevers, but these conditions are being steadily improved. The death rate for the state does not exceed, annually, 1.20 per cent. Yellow fever, that was the scourge of the state for years in recurring epidemics, no longer exists, since the discovery of the mosquito theory, except in rare and sporadic form. The yellow fever experts are unanimous in the opinion that with ordinary precautionary measures there can never be another yellow fever epidemic in the South.
The geology of the state is not complicated and is similar to that of adjacent states. There are four groups of cretaceous strata: (1) The Entaw or Coffee group; (2) The Tombigbee group; (3) The Rotten Limestone group; (4) The Ripley group. Seven groups of the Tertiary strata have been distinguished as follows; (1) The Flat Woods group; (2) The La Grange group; (3) the Buhrstone group; (4) The Claiborne group; (5) The Jackson group; (6) The Vicksburg group; (7) The Grand Gulf group.
In Mississippi we meet with all the different animals that are found in the gulf states. There are about forty different species of mammalia in the state. Among them is the American opossum, which is abundant, and is highly prized as an article of food. The deer and the black bear, that once existed in great numbers, are disappearing owing to the clearing up of the country and the inefficient enforcement of the game laws. About one hundred and fifteen varieties of birds are found, about twenty of which are migratory, coming from the north during the fall and winter months. The mocking bird, exclusively a southern bird, and the most remarkable songster in the world, is found in the state, especially in the middle and southern portions, in great numbers. The wild turkey, a native of this country, is found in nearly all parts of the state. Quail are also very abundant. The game laws are more effective and are more vigorously enforced than heretofore. more than fifty species of reptilia are found here, prominent among them being the alligator (A. Mississippiensis), existing mainly in the middle and southern portions of the state on the rivers and lakes. It attains a maximum length of from 14 to 15 feet. There are at least sixty species of fish, the majority of which are edible. The oysters and crustaceans of the gulf exist in great quantities and are of the finest quality for food. The state, in almost its entire area, was covered originally with a magnificent growth of forest trees. More than one hundred and twenty species exist at present. Among them are fifteen varieties of oak, including live oak and white and red oaks which are the most valuable. Cypress is still abundant in the river bottoms and on the lakes. Besides several species of hickory, the black walnut, chestnut, sweet gum, red cedar, red gum, elms of various varieties, maple, ash, sycamore exist here, among many other valuable varieties, all of large growth and valuable as timber. The long-leaf pine, the most valuable tree for timber for various uses, abounds in the southern portions of the state. The short-leaf pine, not quite so valuable, is widely distributed throughout the middle and northern sections. Next to cotton, timber is the most valuable product of the state. The value of the pine timber in the state was estimated in 1880, approximately, at $250,000,000. Allowing for the cutting since that time and also for the increase in the price of lumber, a conservative approximate estimate of its value should not be less than $300,000,000 at the present time.
This is the principal industry in the state; of the male population 77.7% and of the female 71.8% are engaged in agricultural pursuits. Fully one half of the state is of extraordinary fertility. The only portion that is unproductive is the small strip of territory known geographically as Flat Woods, where only the bottom lands are fertile. Cotton is the principal product, being probably three times greater than the other industries of the state combined. The value of the cotton crop as shown by the census of 1900 was $54,032,341. The crop of 1879-1880 was valued at $46,000,000, showing an increase during that period of over $8,000,000. Among other minor products are Indian corn, oats, hay, peas of every variety, wheat, cane, sorghum, rice, potatoes, and almost every variety of orchard and garden product. In the southern part of the state, sub-tropical and several varieties of tropical fruits are successfully cultivated. The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta is the most remarkable agricultural section of the state. Its area is 6480 square miles, or 4,147,200 acres. With an alluvial soil that is practically inexhaustible, its cotton production exceeds that of any other land in the world. Its land produces from three quarters to a bale and a half an acre, and with careful tillage and in a good cotton year as much as a bale and three quarters to two bales to the acre. The increase in the value of the lands in the Delta, both timber and cultivated, is remarkable. In 1881 the state sold 1,500,000 acres of timber lands, by levee tax titles, which have been held valid, for six and one half cents per acre. These lands are now worth, on an average, $20 per acre. Twenty years ago, cotton lands could be bought for from $15 to $25 an acre that are now worth from $50 to $75 per acre.
The population of the delta is 195,346; of this number 24,137 are white and 171,209 are negroes. The negroes generally cultivate the cotton farms, and the large cotton plantations of the state, while the small farms are cultivated by white labour.
The population of the state, as shown by the census of 1900, is 1,551,270, of which 641,200 are white and 907,630 are negroes, with 2203 Indians and 237 Chinese. A small percentage of the population is foreign born. There are 5345 males and 2536 females foreign born; total, 7981. Of these 7625 are white. The total number of males of voting age is 349,179. Of these 150,530 are whites and 197,936 are negroes. There are 118,0577 illiterate males of voting age, and of these 105,331 are negroes and 12,293 are whites. Illiteracy in the total population amounts to 32%. The illiteracy of the entire white population is 8% and of the total negro population, 49.2%. Under the influence of the extensive school facilities provided at the expense of the state, the percentage of illiteracy is steadily decreasing.
The civil government of the state is structurally similar to that of the other states. There are three departments---executive, legislative, and judicial. The state officers and members of the legislature are elected by the people every four years. There are three supreme court judges, thirteen circuit court judges and eight chancellors, all appointed by the governor with the approval of the senate. The elective franchise contains the following conditions, viz: a voter must be twenty-one years old, he must be able to read or to understand the state Constitution when read to him (that is, a layman's and not an academician's understanding of the Constitution); he must have resided in the state two years and in the precinct one year, and have paid all taxes, including an annual poll tax of $2 for two years preceding the election. Conviction of certain crimes against honesty entails the disfranchisement of a voter. This qualified suffrage has given the state a large white majority in its electoral body. The validity of these suffrage qualifications has been sustained by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Williams vs. The State of Mississippi, decided by a unanimous court in 1896. The state maintains institutions for the insane, the blind, and the deaf and dumb, affording ample facilities for both races. There is also a state hospital at Natchez and one at Vicksburg.
The public educational system of the state consists of a common school system in which each county is a school-district, and in which many of the municipalities constitute separate school-districts. This system is maintained at the public expense, by state, county, and school district; and separate education facilities are extended to all of the educable children of both races in the state. In addition, the state maintains the Industrial Institute and College for girls, at Columbus, and maintains, in large part, the University at Oxford, the Agricultural and Mechanical College at Starkville. For coloured students the state maintains the Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College near Brunisburg and Rodney College near Rodney, both in Claiborne County.
The total number of children enrolled during 1906-1907 was 482,208, and the average attendance for the same period was 285,047. The total average attendance in 1905-1906 was 267,898, showing an increase in 1906-1907 of 17,149. There are 7241 schools in the school districts, and 117 schools in the separate school districts. In the session of 1906-1907, there was a larger attendance of negro pupils than white pupils by 15,335. For the session of 1906-1907, $2,631,790.35 of public money went to the support of schools, as compared with $2,432,426.33 for 1905-1906. There are the following private institutions for white students: Jefferson College, near Natchez ; Rust University, Holly Spring; Millsaps College and Bellehaven College, Jackson; Blue Mountain College, Blue Mountain; Mississippi College, Clinton; East Mississippi College, Meridian; Stanton College, Natchez. There are other private schools of lesser prominence.
During the period of military government in the South, a prison system known as convict leasing was established in this and other southern states, and was continued in Mississippi until 1890, when it was abolished and the present system was adopted of working the prisoners on state lands at agricultural pursuits for the exclusive benefit of the state, and under exclusive official control. The state owns 20,900 acres of cotton and farm lands upon which the entire prison population of about 1200 prisoners are worked. The penitentiary lands cost originally $145,600 and are now worth at least $600,000. The annual cash income to the state from the labour of the prisoners is not less than $150,000. In addition to this, valuable improvements are constantly being made on the property by the prisoners. The present system is a satisfactory solution of the convict problem, in which all conditions, moral and sanitary, are obtained. Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Louisiana have adopted this system.
The railroad mileage in the state amounts to 3759 miles, according to the Report of the State Railroad Commission in 1908. The state is well supplied with water transportation, having the following navigable rivers: Mississippi, Yazoo, Tallahatchie, Sunflower, Pearl, Pascagoula, Big Black, Tombigbee, and some minor streams that are navigable during a portion of the year. There are deep-water harbours on the gulf coast at Horn Island opposite Pascagoula, and Ship Island opposite Gulf Port. There is a depth of water at the pier of the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad at Gulf Port of 23 feet at low tide, and 30 feet in the protected roadstead inside of Ship Island, which is accessible by tugs and lighters through a deep-water channel. There are also harbours at Bay of St. Louis and Biloxi.
In 1540 Hernando De Soto, one of the most adventurous of the Spanish explorers, discovered the Mississippi River, and his expedition reached the present limits of this state, and remained until his death in 1542. The expedition, under the leadership of Moscoes, was withdrawn in 1543, descending the river to the sea and thence along the coast to Mexico. It is difficult to trace the exact route of De Soto. It is known, however, that he passed through Florida and Georgia as high as 35° N. lat., then went to the vicinity of Mobile and then north-west to the Mississippi River. In 1682 La Salle and Fonti descended to the mouth of the Mississippi River and claimed the entire region for the King of France. In 1698 D'Iberville came to Mississippi, authorized by the French king to colonize the lower Mississippi. He went to Ship Island and Cat Island, to the mainland on Biloxi Bay, to Bay of St. Louis, and to Mobile. The colony did not prosper. D'Iberville returned to France, leaving his two brothers, Sauvolle and Bienville, in charge of the country. In 1699 D'Iberville returned and built a fort on the Mississippi about 400 miles below Natchez. He sent Fonti on an expedition to Natchez, who built Fort Rosalie near Natchez. At that time Louisiana belonged to France, and Florida to Spain by claim of discovery. In 1763 Spain ceded Florida to Great Britain. The northern line of Florida was claimed by Spain from the mouth of the Yazoo River east to the Chattahouchie River, a claim that was not conceded north of 31° N. lat. In 1772 Richard and Samuel Swaze of New Jersey formed a permanent settlement on the Homochitto River in Adams County. In 1781 Spain, then at war with England, expelled the English from Florida, and took possession of that country. Florida was conceded to extend to 31° N. lat. and westward to the Perdido River. All south of that parallel and west of the Perdido River belonged to France. All east of the Mississippi River and north of 31° N. lat. was territory of the United States and was claimed by the State of Georgia. In 1798 the Territory of Mississippi, established by Act of Congress, was bounded as follows: On the west by the Mississippi River, on the south by parallel 31° N. lat., on the north by a line running east from the mouth of the Yazoo River to the Chattahouchie River and along the latter river on the east. In 1802 the State of Georgia ceded to the United States its claim to all territory north of 31° N. lat. as far as the Tennessee line, and in 1804 Congress attached all north of 31° N. lat. and south of the Tennessee line to the Territory of Mississippi. In 1803 the Louisiana Purchase was effected. In 1812 Congress added what was then termed the District of Mobile to the Territory of Mississippi, being all that territory extending from the Pearl to the Perdido rivers, bounded on the north by 31° N. lat. and on the south by the Mexican Gulf. By the treaty of Madrid of 27 October, 1795, Spain had conceded that the southern boundary of the United States should extend to the parallel 31° N. lat., thereby waiving all claim north of that line.
By the treaty of 22 February, 1819, Spain ceded all Florida, including the whole territory south of parallel 31° N. lat. and east of the Mississippi River, to the United States. But the United States was then in possession of Florida east of the Perdido River, by conquest; General Jackson, having in 1818 invaded east Florida, conquered the Indians and expelled the Spaniards. Before that time the United States claimed de jure all west of the Perdido under the Louisiana Purchase. The present territory of Mississippi was acquired and claimed as follows: That portion south of 31° N. lat. and west of the Perdido River, and extending to Pearl River, was claimed by original title under the Louisiana Purchase. From parallel 31° N. lat. to the line from the mouth of Pearl River, east to the present Alabama line, by occupancy and proprietary right, and all north of parallel 31° N. lat. to the Tennessee line was territory of Georgia, and was ceded by that state to the United States. This is the de jure derivation of the titles of the United States Government. The State of Mississippi was created by Act of Congress of 1 March, 1817. On 9 January, 1861, Mississippi passed the Ordinance of Secession and joined the Southern Confederacy immediately upon its establishment. The state furnished 80,000 troops to the Confederacy during the war, with a total population of 70,295 white males between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years. There were 545 whites and 79,000 negroes from the state enlisted in the Federal Army. Upon the surrender of the Confederacy the state was placed under military rule. In June, 1865, a provisional government was established by president Johnson, with William L. Sharkey as provisional governor. A civil state government was established by an election of the people in October, 1865, under the auspices of President Johnson's plan of Reconstruction, with Benjamin G. Humphreys as governor. Under the Reconstruction Acts of Congress of March, 1867, the Humphreys government was abolished and a temporary military government established in its place until the Reconstruction government was established, under the Acts of Congress, with James L. Alcorn as governor, who was inaugurated 10 March, 1870. This Reconstruction period, with unlimited negro suffrage, lasted until 1876, when the white man regained control of the state. The ordinary annual expenses of the state government increased from $463,209.71 in 1869, to $1,729,046.34 in 1871, under negro rule. In 1876, under white rule the expenses of the state were reduced to $591,709.00 per annum. During the Reconstruction period taxation had reached the point of confiscation, and one-fifth of all the lands in the state had been forfeited to the state for taxes. From 1876 to 1890, by various extra-legal methods the white men managed to maintain control of the state, and the constitutional convention of 1890 enacted a constitution that placed limitations on the elective franchise. The state suffered severely during the Civil War, being the theatre of extensive military operations. during the Reconstruction period there was an enormous loss in property values. At present the state is in a highly prosperous condition, and each year witnesses its steady improvement and development. The Diocese of Natchez includes the entire state; the Catholic population in 1910 amounted to 25,701, including 2017 coloured and 233 Indian Catholics.
The State Constitution of 1890 provides that no testamentary bequests of any property, real or personal, can be made to any religious or charitable uses. The statutes regulate by limitations the character of property that religious societies or associations, or ecclesiastical bodies, may own and hold, viz.: a church, a residence for a priests or minister, and a school or seminary each for male and female scholars, and also a cemetery ; and a religious denomination may, in addition, own such colleges or seminaries of learning as it may deem proper, and also a place of residence for its superior clergymen. These limitations apply to all religious denominations, societies and ecclesiastical bodies, without discrimination. All divorce and marriage laws and cognate laws apply without discrimination to all citizens of the state irrespective of their religious beliefs and affiliations. All qualifications of the elective franchise and for office are of uniform character. So also are all laws regulating grand and petit jury duty, and road and street duty, and military service, and exempting all ministers of the Gospel from these duties. The State Constitution of 1890 provides that no religious tests as a qualification for office shall be required, and that no preference shall be given by law to any religious denominations or mode of worship. Absolute freedom in all matters of religion, or modes of worship, it is declared by the Constitution, "shall be held sacred". The Bible is not to be excluded from the public schools, meaning the schools maintained by the state. Secular and business pursuits, not of a necessary character, are prohibited on Sunday. Blasphemy and profanity in any public place is prohibited. The Senate and the House, as a matter of custom, are opened with prayer by some minister of the Gospel, on the invitation of the presiding officer of the body. The following legal holidays are designated by the statutes of the state, viz.: 1 January, 22 February (Washington's Birthday), 26 April, Memorial Day, 3 June, Jefferson Davis Day, 4 July, and Christmas Day. The laws of the state do not preserve the inviolability of the confessional as matter of evidence. The only privileged communications are those between a client and his lawyer. There is a general law by which the governor may grant charters of incorporation to religious congregations or societies. All property owned by religious denominations is exempt from taxation. The only Catholic who has held a state office in Mississippi is the Hon. Frank Johnston, who was attorney-general in the years 1893, 1894, 1895 under appointment by the governor to fill an unexpired term. ( See D IOCESE OF N ATCHEZ .)
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