Ashley County, Arkansas

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Ashley County Lynching of 1857


Bayou Bartholomew




Ashley County—formed out of Chicot, Drew, and Union counties—was established on November 30, 1848, as Arkansas’s fifty-third county and is the sixth-largest county in the state in terms of area. It was named for Chester Ashley, the third Arkansan elected to the U.S. Senate and a prominent figure in territorial and antebellum Arkansas. Its eastern boundary is Chicot County, while the Ouachita River lies to the west. To the north is Drew County, and to the south is north Louisiana’s Morehouse Parish. Ashley County is bisected by the Bayou Bartholomew. Important roads serving Ashley County today are U.S. Highway 425 from north to south and U.S. Highway 82 from east to west.

The area that is now Ashley County contained farming settlements dating back thousands of years. The mound at Lake Enterprise, near Wilmot, is possibly the oldest mound in Arkansas, belonging to the Archaic Period (9500—650 BC). The area continued to be inhabited by various tribes through the Mississippian Period (AD 900—1600). By AD 1700, the area had no permanent villages. For a time, the area was under Quapaw control, but they lived further north in the Arkansas River Valley. In 1818, the Quapaw ceded what would be Ashley County to the United States government.

When U.S. surveyor Nicholas Rightor entered the Arkansas Territory in 1826, he found settlers who had come to a land that they found to be abundantly fertile and in which game and fish were plentiful. The area abounded with timber, especially hardwood. As the hardwood was cleared for cultivation, pine took over.

On December 14, 1854, Hamburg was incorporated and designated the county seat of Ashley County. The town was laid out in October 1849, two months after Ashley County was formed from part of Drew County in the area earlier known as the Great Wilderness. With the town’s designation as the county seat, two of the first public buildings were the courthouse and the county jail, erected in 1850. The site was chosen at least in part because the legislation organizing the county required that the county seat be within five miles of the county’s geographic center.

Hamburg became a merchant center for the prosperous planters operating in the fertile Delta region. Other thriving, agriculture-based communities in the county were Montrose, Parkdale, Portland, and Wilmot. Many other towns, such as the Berea community, formed along the county’s waterways, but the advent of railroads led to their demise. Fountain Hill, located in the upland forest area north of Hamburg, is one of the oldest communities in this county. By 1855, many farms were producing cotton, corn, wheat, potatoes, and livestock. Timber was rafted down the Saline River to other settlements. Both rafting and timber were very profitable, though rafting stopped when railroads arrived.