W hen Mississippi became a state in 1817, the older river counties that held the territory’s economic and political power faced serious competition from areas east of the Pearl River. In the midst of the state’s constitutional convention, divisions between the landed elite from Natchez and the newer counties in the eastern part of the state surfaced most clearly in debates about location of the state capital. Just three years later, a “backwoods boom” in the central part of the state gave new strength to these eastern areas when significant cessions from the Choctaws nearly doubled the amount of land available for settlement in Mississippi. The people who were to populate what would become Copiah, Hinds, Madison, Rankin, Simpson, and Yazoo counties were a growing constituency of frontier communities at the periphery of American settlement. Their passion for property ownership, individualism, and local sovereignty put them at odds with the aristocrats in areas like Natchez, where the concept of democracy was more feared than loved among the ruling class. But Jacksonian Democracy was on the rise, and demands were growing in the central area of the state for closer access to the seat of government. In 1821, this growing backwoods voice was heard and the legislature voted to move the seat of government to a site near the center of the state. They named this new capital city in honor of Andrew Jackson, the political hero of the common man. Though surrounded by flourishing growth in frontier nearby communities, Jackson remained devoid of settlement until 1830. Today, Hinds County leads the state in population. Its sister counties in the Capital Area, Rankin and Madison, rank fourth and sixth, respectively. Jackson has grown into its role as the SEAT OF GOVERNMENT Mississippi became the 29th state to enter the Union in 1817. At that time, the capital was located in Washington, Mississippi, though government leaders occasionally met in Natchez. The capital city moved to Jackson in 1822. The state legislature met in a building now known as the “Old Capitol” until the “New Capitol” was built in 1903. The state legislature continues to use this “New Capitol” building, now a National Historic Landmark, as the seat of statewide government in Mississippi. PHOTO COURTESY OF MISSISSIPPI ARTS COMMISSION, MALCOLM WHITE capital city, serving not only as the seat of government but as a cultural, economic, and educational center for Mississippi. Suburban developments in Rankin and Madison counties sit alongside more rural settlements in Copiah, Simpson, and Yazoo counties. The coexistence of rural and urban landscapes today echoes the diversity of influences that have shaped the Capital Area. Native and migrant, free and enslaved, farmer and wage worker have shaped the area, each in profound ways, making its six counties a reflection of the state’s past and a measure of its promise. THE CAPITAL AREA 201