Perry County, formed February 3, 1820is located in the south-eastern portion of Mississippi and was once part of the large Greene County. Perry County was formed on February 3, 1820. The Legislative Act creating the Perry County defined its bounderies as:
“Beginning on the line of demarcation where the line that divides the thirteenth and fourteenth ranges intersects the said line of demarcation; thence with said range line to where the fifth parallel township line crosses the same; thence east with the said township line, to where the line that divides the eighth and ninth ranges crosses the same; thence with the line of demarcation; thence west to the beginning.”
Additional lands were added to Perry County over the years until it encompassed all of the area that is present day Perry and Forrest Counties. The county was named in honor of Commodore Oliver H. Perry (photo), a naval hero in the War of 1812. The original county seat, Augusta, was situated on the east bank of the Leaf River.
In 1900 the citizens of Lumberton, one of Perry County's main towns, voted to become part of Lamar County. This setback to the county was soon offset by the addition of territory from Hancock, including the town of Picayune, which would become the largest town in the county. This additional land gave the county a total of 828 square miles, making it the fourth largest county in the state of Mississippi.
The original civil officers during the first year of Perry County's existence were Jacob H. Morris, Chief Justice of the Quorum, and John Jenkins, John Green, Jacob Carter, Craven P. Moffitt, Associate Justices; Alex. McKenzie, Eli Moffitt, Benj. H.G. Hartfield, William Hudson, John Moffitt, Seth Granberry, Lewis W. Ball, Henry Easterling, Wm. Reynolds, Justices of the Peace; John McDonald, Assessor and Collector; Geo. Harrison, Ranger; Joel Lewis, Surveyor; John Barlow, Constable; Wm. Tisdale, Coroner; J.J.H. Morris, Notary Public; Martin Chadwick, Sheriff. Some of the other county officers, 1821-1827, were Griffin Hollomon, J.J.H. Morris, John F. Mapp, Abner Carter, Judges of Probate; Lewis Rhodes, Sheriff; Anthony Pitts, Adam Ulmer, Jonathan Taylor, Geo. B. Dameron, Sterling Brinson, John Deace, Daniel Miley, James Simmons, Sherod Byrd, Isham H. Clayton, James Overstreet, Uriah Millsapp, Justices of the Peace; Hugh McDonald, Treasurer; Farr Proctor, Geo. Harrison, Lewis Rhodes, Assessors and Collectors.
The nineteenth century outlaw, James Copeland, was executed by hanging in Augusta on October 30, 1857.
James Copeland and his gang was hired to kill Perry County resident James Harvey. On July 15, 1848, the Copeland gang rode to James Harvey’s home on Red Creek (now in Forrest County), Mississippi. Here, the Copeland clan fought a blazing gun battle, which resulted in the death of Harvey several days later and his buried in the nearby Dale Cemetery.
Although Copeland escaped the gun battle, he was eventually captured near Mobile in 1849, tried for his Alabama crimes, and sentenced to a four-year prison term. Upon completion of the prison term, Copeland was transferred to Perry County to stand trial for the Harvey killing, for which he was convicted and sentenced to hang. Before his death on the gallows in 1857, Copeland made a full confession to Sheriff J.R.S. Pitts, naming each member of the gang. Many gang members were prominent citizens of Mobile, south Mississippi, and the surrounding area.
Copeland's body was buried on the banks of the Leaf River near Augusta, Mississippi. But after 2 or 3 days, the body disappeared, and a skeleton was purportedly made of his remains. The skeleton was exhibited at McInnis & Dozier Drugstore in Hattiesburg in the late 19th Century. In the early 1900s, the skeleton vanished and has not been seen since.
Copeland detailed how his clan had buried some $30,000 in gold in a swamp near Mobile and later reburied the treasure in the Catahoula Swamp in Hancock County. Rumors have circulated for decades of Copeland gold caches, still unclaimed, hidden around the MS and AL Gulf Coasts. The James Copeland legend lives today, as treasure hunters search for burial sites of the Copeland gang's riches.
The county seat was moved two miles south in 1906 and was renamed New Augusta. This occured when the Mobile, Jackson & Kansas City Railroad was built through the area. The relocation of towns to be closer to railroads was common in Mississippi in the early 1900's, due to the importance of this means of transportation to communities and their economies. Old Augusta remains a small village today.
In 1908 Perry County was divided roughly in half and the western portion was formed into Forrest County.
The county seat is New Augusta. Other Perry County communities include: Beaumont, Richton, Hintonville, Old Augusta, and Runnelstown. In it's first census in 1820 there were 2,037 residents listed. In the last federal census in 2000 the population was 12,138.
The county has a total area of 650.20 square miles, of which 647.18 square miles is land and 3.02 square mile (0.46%) is water. The population recorded in the 1820 Federal Census was 2,037. The 2010 census recorded 12,250 residents in the county.
Neigboring counties are Wayne County (northeast), Greene County (east), George County (southeast), Stone County (south), Forrest County (west), and Jones County (northwest). Communities in the county include Beaumont, New Augusta, Richton, Hintonville, Janice, and Runnelstown.