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Home / Browse / Monroe County
November 2, 1829
8,149 (2010 Census)
607.12 square miles (2010 Census)
Historical Population as per the U.S. Census:
Population Characteristics as per the 2010 U.S. Census:
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
Some Other Race
Two or More Races
Hispanic Origin (may be of any race)
13.4 people per square mile
Median Household Income (2009)
Per Capita Income (2005–2009)
Percent of Population below Poverty Line (2009)
Monroe County, named for President James Monroe, is located approximately halfway between Little Rock (Pulaski County) and Memphis, Tennessee. There were at one time seven incorporated towns in the county—Brinkley, Clarendon, Holly Grove, Indian Bay, Blackton, Fargo, and Roe. The public schools in the county in 2007 are Brinkley and Clarendon.
Monroe County is adjacent to Arkansas, Prairie, and Woodruff counties. The White River separates Monroe and Arkansas counties, while the Cache River separates Monroe and Prairie counties. The county’s economic base is farming, and the land is among some of the most fertile in the state. About 1,500 acres in the county’s southeast corner is protected by levee, but much of the remainder is subject to flooding. The area is drained by the White and Cache rivers, DeView and Roc Roe bayous, and several sloughs and creeks.
Pre-European ExplorationNear Indian Bay, in the south end of the county, nine Native American mounds have been located, with the largest of these mounds covering about one and a half acres. Several of the mounds measured three to four feet high and thirty feet in circumference. Various archaeologists have attributed these and other mounds found in the county, in addition to collected artifacts, to various Indian groups including the Quapaw, the Plum Bayou Culture, and the Hopewell Culture. Indian artifacts have been located at various points around the county.
European Exploration and SettlementEuropeans had already arrived in what became Monroe County by 1799 when Antoine Tessier and Joseph de Plasse, thought to be hunters and trappers, were living at the mouth of the Cache River, which later became Clarendon. When the first settlers arrived, virgin forest covered most of the area, although there were small cleared patches where Indians grew crops such as corn, beans, and squash. Area trees included beech, black oak, ash, sweet gum, water tupelo, and bald cypress. Turkeys, ruffled grouse, woodpeckers, squirrels, deer, geese, ducks, bears, and muskrats were common. Most early settlers arrived via the White River.
Louisiana Purchase through Early StatehoodBeginning in October 1815, federal surveyors Prospect Robbins and Joseph Brown came to Arkansas to begin the survey of the Louisiana Purchase by establishing the initial survey point or base line. Following their orders, Brown and Robbins established the point in a swamp about eight miles east of Clarendon. In 1824, Congress authorized the construction of an all-weather military road to connect Memphis with Little Rock. When completed in 1828, the road entered Monroe County from the northeast, crossed the White River near the mouth of the Cache River, and exited to the southwest, thus allowing easier overland passage for settlers to come to the county. The road made use of a ferry to cross the White River where Sylvanus Phillips had established the earliest known ferry in 1827. When the county was formed, the house of Ester Maddox in Lawrenceville became the temporary county courthouse. Maddox’s late husband, Thomas Maddox, had offered his home to the legislature for the purpose while they debated formation of the county. Commissioners later placed a permanent county courthouse on the farm of Joseph Jacobs. The first actual courthouse was erected at Lawrenceville in 1846. The county seat was then moved to Clarendon in 1857.
Civil War through ReconstructionIn 1860, there were over 2,220 slaves in Monroe County. Since raising cotton using slave labor and sending it to market down the White River was a major enterprise in the county, residents favored the Confederacy in the Civil War, and at least seven companies of soldiers were raised. Use of the White River was imperative to both sides, since troops and goods could be moved by water to DeValls Bluff (Prairie County) and by railroad to Little Rock. In addition, the Military Road crossed the county. These factors led to many military actions in the county during the war.
One of the most important events began when a flotilla of at least six Union gunboats moved up the White River from June 10, 1862, to July 15, 1862. A group of citizens met the squadron when it reached Clarendon and told the naval leader that the townspeople were not involved in the war. After the commander warned the citizens that the city would be destroyed if they fired on the gunboats, the flotilla moved on upriver. Things went fairly well in Clarendon until the Queen City, a Federal gunboat anchored in the White River there, was attacked and sunk by Confederate forces under General Joseph Shelby on June 24, 1864. The following day, Federal troops arrived from DeValls Bluff. First they attacked Shelby’s forces, driving them away, and then they burned most of Clarendon.
After the war, animosity toward Yankees remained, as was illustrated in the October 24, 1868, Arkansas Gazette reporting that the Honorable James Hinds, a Republican U.S. congressman, and the Reverend Joseph Brooks, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, were murdered by “radicals” near Indian Bay. It was soon learned that Hinds was dead but that Brooks had survived the attack.
Post Reconstruction through the Gilded AgeIn 1884, Simon Hughes, a Clarendon lawyer and former Arkansas attorney general, was elected governor and served two terms. The Consolidated White River Academy was established in 1893 in Brinkley with the goal of providing a good education to African Americans. Students from around Arkansas and the nation attended the boarding school until it closed in 1950.
From about 1870 to about 1930, the timber business became important for much of the county as lumber mills were established around the county. This continued until most of the county’s hardwood timber was decimated.
Early Twentieth CenturyTwo natural disasters between 1900 and 1930 devastated large sections of the county. First was a massive tornado on March 8, 1909, which destroyed everything in its path from about five miles southwest of Brinkley to about ten miles northeast of it. Thirty-five were dead, and around 200 were injured. Nearly every building in the city was destroyed or damaged. Second was the Flood of 1927 along the White River, which soon covered most settlements in the lower section of the county. On April 20, the levee system protecting Clarendon failed; soon, the town stood in twenty feet of water.
During World War I, Monroe County citizens joined others across the country in supporting the war effort by buying war bonds, planting victory gardens, and raising money for the Red Cross. In 1917, Clarendon citizens raised $237.89 for a silver service for the battleship Arkansas. Navy recruitment parties were held in Brinkley and Clarendon in early December 1917 to raise 1,000 men in the shortest time possible.
Conservation movements growing in the 1920s resulted in the formation of the White River National Wildlife Reserve during the 1930s. About 22,100 acres of Monroe County are included in the White River Refuge and the Dagmar Game Management Area.
World War II through the Modern EraDuring World War II, county citizens responded as they had during World War I. For instance, Farrell Locomotive Machine Shop was converted to produce goods for the Department of War. In January 1942, it was learned that county native Pearl McCain, a Methodist missionary to China, was being held hostage by the Japanese. McCain survived the war and continued to serve in China until the communist takeover led her to return to Japan.
From World War II to the present, the county has remained an agricultural area, although farming has become increasingly more mechanized. The main crops are cotton, corn, soybeans, and rice.
County schools began following the “freedom of choice plan” for minority students by the mid-1960s. By the 1970–1971 school year, the schools were desegregated.
There are several points of interest in the county. The Fargo Agricultural Museum commemorates the work of Dr. Floyd Brown, who began the Fargo Agricultural School, an institution for black students patterned after Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The well-kept home place of writer Margaret Moore Jacobs is in Clarendon. Central Delta Depot Museum in Brinkley has a bust of local jazz and blues man Louis Jordan, and off Highway 49, about fifteen miles south of Brinkley, is the Louisiana Purchase Historic State Park.
For additional information:Central Delta Historical Journal. Brinkley, AR: Central Delta Historical Society (1997–).
English, Jo Claire. Pages from the Past Revisited: Historical Notes on Clarendon, Monroe County and Arkansas. Clarendon, AR: J. C. English, 1991.
Maxwell, George R., Cornelius Harris, and Warren A. Gore. Soil Survey of Monroe County, Arkansas. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service, 1978.
Louise MitchellCentral Delta Historical Society
Last Updated 7/7/2016
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