Welcome to Perry County Perry County is a county located in the U.S. state of Tennessee. As of the 2010 census, the population was 7,915. Its county seat is Linden. The county was named after the War of 1812 naval hero Oliver Hazard Perry. Perry County is served by Perry County Airport near Linden.
Perry County is a county located in the U.S. state of Tennessee. As of the 2020 census, the population was 8,366, with an average population density of 20.2 persons per square mile (7.8 persons/km2) it is the least densely populated county in Tennessee. Its county seat and largest town is Linden. It is named after American naval commander and War of 1812 hero Oliver Hazard Perry.
In 1806, the Cherokee ceded to the United States the land that would later become Perry County in the Treaty of Washington. The county was established by the Tennessee General Assembly in 1819 from parts of Wayne County, Hickman County, and Humphreys County. In 1846, the portions of Perry County located west of the Tennessee River were split off to form Decatur County.
Agriculture and forestry are the largest components of the local economy, supplemented by light industry and tourism. Perry County is one of the most economically disadvantaged counties in the state. It was severely impacted by the Great Recession of 2008, at one point having the second highest unemployment rate in the United States, and as of 2020 continues to lag behind the rest of the state in various economic indicators, including income inequality and poverty rates. Transportation infrastructure in the county is limited, with no access to railroads, commercial airports or riverports, or freeways.
Over 80% of the county is forested. The county’s terrain is largely defined by its two major rivers, the Buffalo and the Tennessee, and features ridges and valleys that form tributaries to the rivers. Agriculture and outdoor recreation benefit from plentiful fresh water sources, fertile crop land, and abundant wildlife. Mousetail Landing State Park is the largest protected area in the county and a significant driver of nature tourism in the area.
Prehistory and early settlement
There is paleontological evidence of the presence of prehistoric megafauna in the county. In September 1820, the skeletal remains of a large animal, possibly a giant ground sloth (Megalonyx), were excavated in an unidentified cave in the county. The remains were reportedly recovered by a Nashville museum operator and collector, but have since been lost. Archaeological evidence suggests a significant population of mound building Native Americans in the county, with a number of mounds located near the Tennessee River at Lady’s Bluff. Archaeological surveys conducted in the 1970s and 1980s discovered evidence of early Archaic through late Woodland settlement concentrated in bottomland (low-lying alluvial land) in the Tennessee River basin near Mousetail Landing, with evidence of Paleoindian occupation in one site. Arrowheads and spear tips associated the Mississippian, Woodland, and Copena cultures have been found along the Tennessee River tributaries in the western half of the county.
On January 7, 1806, with the signing of the Treaty of Washington, the Cherokee ceded to the United States a large tract of territory in the south-central portion of Tennessee that included the area that would become Perry County. Permanent settlement by people of European descent along with enslaved people of African descent began shortly after this treaty was ratified. The area was found to have very productive bottomland with an abundance of water, timber, and wild game. The earliest settlers likely arrived from nearby counties in Middle Tennessee, although some did immigrate to the area from North Carolina, Alabama, and Kentucky.
Between 1810 and 1812, the first gristmill in the area was established on Cane Creek.: 58 The first known birth of a person of European descent in the area occurred in 1818 along Toms Creek. Some of the early settlers were veterans of the War of 1812, and some had probably received land grants in the area from the state of North Carolina for service in the American Revolution. It is likely the first settlers arrived via the Tennessee River based on the location of the first settlements being located near natural river landings.
Formation and early history
1836 map depicting Perry County
In 1819, the Tennessee General Assembly passed an act providing “that a new county be established north of Wayne, west of Hickman, and south of Humphreys, by the name of Perry County, beginning at the southeast corner of Humphreys, running west, thence south, thence east, thence north to place of beginning, and to include all the territory lying between Humphreys, Hardin, Wayne and Hickman Counties.” The county, named in honor of Oliver Hazard Perry, was officially organized that same year in the home of James Dixon near Lick Creek, which still stands today.
In 1820, the first court in the county was held in the same house under a Judge Humphreys, and the first school was established by Ferney Stanley on Toms Creek. In 1821, the county seat was established in Perryville, a river port located on the west bank of the Tennessee River. A log courthouse was constructed in Perryville, but was later replaced with a brick structure. Early in its history, Perryville was relatively important river port and settlement, with some sources noting David Crockett, Andrew Jackson, Sam Houston, and James K. Polk all having visited the town at some point. By 1837, however, the town was reportedly in a ruinous state and described as a “miserable looking settlement” by one traveler, even though it remained the county seat and an active river landing. In 1830, the settlement of Beardstown was established on a high bluff overlooking the Buffalo River.
Cedar Grove Iron Furnace
By the early 1830s, significant deposits of iron ore had been discovered in the county. Sufficient quantities were being extracted to justify the construction of a large iron ore furnace on Cedar Creek near the Tennessee River between 1832 and 1834. At its peak, it processed 1,400 tons of pig iron annually, using both free and enslaved labor, and taking advantage of the most advanced “hot blast” smelting techniques available at the time. By 1838, a community had grown around the furnace, including mills, barracks for free and enslaved workers, a storehouse, blacksmith shops, and other workshops and outbuildings. The furnace shut down in 1862, during the Civil War, and was never brought back in to service. The Cedar Grove Iron Furnace is the only twin-stack iron furnace remaining in Tennessee. In addition to iron ore, some marble mining was conducted in the county in the middle of the 19th century.
Advertisement for a runaway slave from the iron works
1842 map of Perry County
In 1846, Decatur County was formed from the portions of Perry County west of the Tennessee River. The seat of government and courts were then temporarily relocated to a small town known as Harrisburg, located near the geographic center of the county. Around 1844, the community of Flatwoods, originally known as Whitaker’s Bluff, was established along the Buffalo River in the southern part of the county by a group of settlers from Halifax, North Carolina. 50 In 1847, forty acres located approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) north of Harrisburg on the west bank of the Buffalo River were donated to the county by David B. Harris for the building of a new county seat. The town was initially named Milton, in honor of Milton Brown, but when it was discovered that there was already a town of the same name in the state, it was re-named Linden after a Thomas Campbell poem. 35 The land was divided into plots and a public square, and the plots were sold off to provide funds for the construction of public buildings. Linden was established as the county seat in 1848, where it remains today, and is the largest municipality in the county. A temporary structure to house the court was built in 1848, and was replaced by a wooden frame building in 1849. Harrisburg no longer exists as an organized entity or recognized location.
In 1850, it was reported that there were 10 grist mills, a saw mill, a furnace, and two tanneries in operation within the county. Additionally, 21 churches were organized, as well as 23 schools enrolling 685 students. Corn was the primary agricultural product at the time, though oats, sweet potatoes, and tobacco were also grown in smaller quantities. In 1854, Lobelville was established as a trading-post village on the west bank of the Buffalo River about 5 miles (8.0 km) north of Beardstown by a French trader named Henri de Lobel.
By the late 1850s, allegations and rumors of an impending slave insurrection began to spread throughout the southern United States. In 1856, the panic reached Perry County, when multiple enslaved persons were murdered over rumors of the plotting of a revolt. The total number of people killed by so-called vigilance committees is unclear, with contemporary reports citing as many as 15 being hanged, and later historical research noting between 10 and 12.
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