Newton County, Arkansas

Newton County, Arkansas

  • Formed: December 14, 1842
  • County Population 1860: 3,369
  • Slave Population 1860: 25
  • Civil War Engagements
    -Burning of Jasper, March 1863
Johnson’s New Illustrated Family Atlas, 1865
Image courtesy of the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

Newton County, Arkansas, originally Osage and Choctaw territory, was officially formed on December 14, 1842. It was named after Arkansas Congressman Thomas Willoughby Newton. The home of John Bellah was the county seat until the seat was permanently established in Jasper. The population grew slowly because of Newton County’s relative isolation, but by 1850 it had reached 1,758 people, and by 1860, 3,393 people.

The county contains abundant fresh water and fishing resources through the Buffalo River. There are natural saltpeter and limestone deposits, used for gunpowder manufacture and building respectively. The soil is conducive for growing corn, rye, wheat, tobacco, oats, and potatoes.

When the Civil War began in 1861, most residents sympathized with the Confederate cause. Unlike surrounding counties, Newton County population increased during the war: many residents of surrounding counties fled to Newton County because it was so isolated. Many residents also lived in the numerous local caves until the war was over. The Confederate army occupied the county for part of the war and formed a saltpeter mine at Baxley to manufacture their ammunition. The only notable troop action in the war occurred in 1863, when Union troops burned most of Jasper to the ground looking for Confederate officer John Cecil. The town was not rebuilt until the 1880s-1890s, but eventually became prosperous again.

To aid in reconstruction, residents opened up commercial lead, zinc, and saltpeter mines after the war. They also grew apples, peaches, and cotton for profit.

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