THE DELTA 305 encountered a dangerous region full of bears, panthers, alligators, mosquitoes, and plenty of disease. Will Percy wrote the Delta of that time was “a land of unbroken forests.” Travelers to the Delta vividly captured descriptions of its treacherous environs in their journals and diaries. One French visitor from the early eighteenth century found the area to be a “lush, seething hell.” With its persistent flooding, its rugged and swampy landscape, and its wild animals and stifling humidity, the Delta did not seem to be meant for human settlement. One traveler in the early nineteenth century assessed this waterlogged expanse of land to be of “no value.” “Barren and wholly worthless” were the words a North Carolinian used when discussing the Delta. But such observations to the contrary, the treacherous Delta land held the potential to yield great agricultural riches. Those with the means to brave the Mississippi frontier came to realize that the very things making the Delta a land of harsh uncertainty could also be cultivated to amass great fortunes. At the time Mississippi achieved statehood in 1817, the State had a population of approximately 75,000. The vast majority of land within the boundaries of this new state remained in the hands of Native Americans, namely the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes. A series of treaties in the 1820s and 1830s officially ceded these Native American lands to Mississippi, and this opened the floodgates to white settlement over the next several decades. In particular, the 1820 Treaty of Doak’s Stand ceded much of the southern portion of the Mississippi Delta to the young Mississippi government, and the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek (1832) put most of the northern Delta under Mississippi’s control. Mississippi’s native peoples for the most part were moved to the Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. With the subsequent settlement of Delta lands by white settlers, the Mississippi legislature began chartering new counties. In 1827, the state formed Washington County, named after President George Washington, out of Yazoo and Warren counties. In 1833, Tallahatchie County was formed, followed by Bolivar, Coahoma, and Tunica counties in 1836. During the 1840s, the legislature created Issaquena County out of Washington County. Sunflower, once part of Bolivar, became a separate county as well. These Delta counties experienced continuous—and sometimes dramatic—population growth from 1830 to 1860. In 1830, the population of Washington County was recorded at 1,976. By 1860, it had ballooned to 15,679. The overwhelming majority of Washington’s population resided along the Mississippi River. The port towns of New Mexico and Princeton were the first county seats of Washington. By the 1840s, Greenville became the county seat and major town in Washington County. With just more than 1,000 people in the 1840 census, Bolivar County’s population skyrocketed to over 10,000 in 1860 on the cusp of the Civil War. Similarly, Tunica County grew from 821 people in 1840 to 4,366 in 1860. Other Delta counties experienced similar increases. Cotton Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin in 1794, and almost immediately lands in Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana became prime targets for cotton cultivation. The Eastern Seaboard states of South Carolina and Georgia grew only small amounts of cotton prior to the nineteenth century, but when Whitney devised a way to separate the seeds from the fibers of short-staple cotton, cotton production began to expand beyond the coastal Atlantic areas. The combination of ginning technology, access to cheap land, a long growing season, and rich, fertile soil made the Delta a land full of endless possibilities for cotton, despite the region’s perilous landscape. With cotton production slowing in older states east of Mississippi, whites moved into Mississippi to cultivate short-staple cotton and brought slaves to the region in large numbers. Will Percy put it best when he said that the Delta’s “pioneers were slave-owners and slaves.” Before the Civil War, African American slaves vastly outnumbered whites across the Delta. In Washington County, for example, slaves made up 60 percent of the population in 1830. The same census showed that slaves were 48 percent of the entire state population. In 1860, the slave population had soared to an astounding 92 percent of all residents. In Bolivar County, slaves were 87 percent of the population in 1860. Coahoma County’s slave population stood at 77 percent in 1860, With its persistent flooding, its rugged and swampy landscape, and its wild animals and stifling humidity, the Delta did not seem to be meant for human settlement.