The History of Belzoni and Humphries County

Mississippi’s change from a foreign controlled province to a territory of the United States occurred in 1798.In 1817 Mississippi became a state. On December 10, 1817, Mississippi was formally admitted to the Union. Every year more counties were added in the state and Washington in 1827.

The present Belzoni area was at that time in the new Washington County and was completely isolated from its county seat, Greenville, and the rest of the county with no roads, no law, no name, no organization of any kind, and very few settlers that we know of. This area was known as the Dark Corner of Washington County, for it was too far away for the county law enforcers to bother about.

After Mississippi became a state, the Indians were removed between 1830 and 1840, and about 7,500,000 acres of land were sold. The wealthy aristocrats of Natchez, Alabama, Virginia and Tennessee were beginning to recognize the fact that this was rich land and began to seek government land grants in this area by 1820 and 1830. The corn was high, the cotton was great, and there was no longer an Indian threat. Wild game was plentiful and this was a land of opportunity for those willing to brave the wild, uncleared and unhealthy territory.

The first large land grant of this area was awarded in 1832 to William Hamer of Warren County and probably from Vicksburg, and Alvarez Fisk, a wealthy Natchez aristocrat. Hamer must have been a land speculator, as his half of the grant was sold immediately to Fisk. The first records refer to his property as Fisk Plantation, and later it is recorded as Fisk or Belzoni Plantation.

Mr. Fisk played a prominent role in educational, philanthropic and religious activities. He founded and donated the property for the library which was once called the Fisk Library or the Natchez Public Library. Mr. Fisk also gave Natchez property upon which to construct the Natchez Institute, a public school.

Mr. Fisk was a shrewd business man and knew a good thing when he saw it. Such an opportunity occurred in 1832 when he obtained a sizable portion of land which now comprised the Belzoni area. Government entry of the Fisk-Hamer land grant is dated May 2, 1832. The consideration on the grant was listed as $217.75.

Three years later we find that Fisk gave a General Warranty Deed to A.T. McMurtray, Stephen Castleman, and Oscar Ross. They were sold only a portion of the land (on the east side of the river) for $80,000 described as a tract lying in Washington County fronting on river, 60 miles above Manchester (the name of Yazoo City then) consisting of 2,120 acres.

The Fisk family retained the land on the west side of the Yazoo River, known as Fisk Landing or Belzoni Landing, a part of Belzoni Plantation, and what is now the City of Belzoni. Alvarez Fisk so admired The Great Belzoni that he named his plantation for this Italian showman, engineer, and explorer of Egyptian antiquities.

The first settlement was at Burtonia Landing, a little south of Fisk Landing, but due to the area burning in 1888, the entire population moved farther up the river and began to rebuild on the present site of the City of Belzoni. First known as “Greasy Row” for the row of saloons along the river front, it was in 1895 that Steve Castleman went to Jackson to see Governor Stone and secured a charter of incorporation from the state naming Belzoni a village. Steve Castleman was appointed the first Mayor.

The first fight for Humphreys County began as far back as 1870 when Col. James R. Powell, owner of Daybreak, conceived the idea of forming a new county from parts of the other counties. With Burtonia as the county seat, the new county was to be named Powell County.

He had a survey and map of the county made and went before the legislature that year. He fought the battle practically alone, and went before every Legislature for something like 12 years. When he died and efforts for the new county seemed to have died with him, nothing more was done about it until ten years later when Col. R. V. Powers of Silver City caught the vision and undertook to renew the fight. He was unsuccessful in his attempts. In 1912 the fight was renewed, but failed. In 1916 a new administration was put in power and state politics again entered the matter. In 1918 the fight was renewed proposing to name the county Humphreys.

The facts and figures published and scattered on the desks of the Senators and Representatives were that the creation of the county would take from Washington County 155 square miles leaving that county 722 square miles. From Sharkey it would take 18 square miles, leaving 2465; from Sunflower some 22 square miles leaving 668; from Yazoo 143 Square miles leaving 895; and from Holmes 74 square miles leaving 760 – thus making Humphreys County 412 square miles. Humphreys County was named for former Governor Benjamin Grubbs Humphreys, 1865-1868.