New Madrid County, Missouri

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New Madrid County is a county in southeastern Missouri. Its population was 18,956 at the 2010 census. It is one of the five original counties in Missouri, having been created in 1812 upon the organization of the Missouri Territory. It was named for the Mississippi River town of New Madrid, which is also the county seat and largest city.

The New Madrid region is best-known as the epicenter of the powerful New Madrid earthquakes which shook the Mississippi Valley in 1811-12. It remains one of the more geologically active areas in the United States.

History

The Southeast Missouri area, including what eventually became New Madrid County, was at first populated by various Indian tribes. The Osages held a loose hegemony through the 18th century, with members of the Delaware and Shawnee tribes, among others, moving westward into the region at that point.

It is supposed that Spanish explorers under Hernando de Soto first explored this portion of the Mississippi Valley in 1540-41; due to the vast swamps which covered the area, though, no permanent European presence was established until late in the colonial era. In 1783, two French Canadian trappers, Francois and Joseph LeSieur, came down the Mississippi to trade with the Indians and established a trading post on a northward bend of the river, which they called "L'Anse a la Graise." A few years later, Colonel George Morgan, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War, obtained a territorial grant from the Spanish colonial government to help settle the area, and established a new community on the site of the LeSieur trading post, which he renamed "New Madrid" and came to designate the entire district.

The population in the area grew slowly, hindered by illnesses, clashes with the Spanish and then with the new American government, and above all by the earthquakes of 1811 and 1812. While the early quakes occurred further south, in present-day Arkansas, the last major event, on February 7, 1812, all but destroyed the town of New Madrid, caused extensive damage as far away as St. Louis, and led to many inhabitants temporarily fleeing the area. They soon returned, though, and the district continued to grow, bolstered by trade on the river and by the fertility of the land once cleared.

After the Missouri Territory was organized in 1812, the new legislature divided the region into five counties, including New Madrid, which at first included most of the region south of Cape Girardeau. Its area shrank over time as new counties were carved from its territory; after the creation of Pemiscot County in 1851, New Madrid County had roughly assumed its current size and shape.[1]

The county flourished during the late antebellum era, with many fine plantation homes being built, but was severely disrupted during the Civil War. A sizable Confederate force occupied the New Madrid area in the first months of conflict, but after their defeat and surrender in April 1862 following the Battle of Island Number Ten, the county and most of the general area passed into Union control, though low-level conflict continued until the end of the war.

New Madrid County rebuilt and again prospered after the war. The remaining swamplands were drained and cleared, railroads penetrated the area, and the economy boomed from cash crops like cotton and light industries like lumber mills. The population reached a peak of almost 40,000 in 1940; since that time, due to the mechanization of agriculture and the reduced need for a labor force, it has steadily declined and has now dropped roughly 50% from that high mark.

Portions of the county were damaged during the flood of 2011, after the U.S. Corps of Engineers released water from the Mississippi River through the New Madrid Floodway, which passes through its far eastern regions. No earthquakes on the level of the 1811-12 tremors have since occurred in the area, though the possibility of a future major quake remains a major concern.

Geography

New Madrid County lies in the far southeastern part of Missouri, and is generally considered a part of the "Bootheel." Owing to the way in which newer counties were carved out of its original area over time, and to the twists of the Mississippi River to the southeast, it has an oddly angular shape compared to most Missouri counties; it consists of a northern and a southwestern portion, with a central "hinge" west of New Madrid connecting them. The county is bordered to the north by Scott County, to the east by Mississippi County, to the southeast by the Mississippi River and the states of Kentucky and Tennessee, to the south by Pemiscot County, and to the west by Dunklin and Stoddard counties.

The county has a total area of 696.57 square miles, including 674.84 square miles of land and 21.73 of water.[2] It lies entirely within the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, and is characterized (apart from a few very low sand ridges) by virtually flat terrain. It is among the lowest-lying counties in the state, with a peak elevation of about 330 feet just southeast of Sikeston, falling to around 275 feet near the Mississippi River.[3]

Several major highways cross through the county. Interstate 55 runs generally north to south between Sikeston and Portageville, paralleled along almost its entire course by U.S. Route 61. U.S. Route 60 briefly skirts the northern edge of the county, while U.S. Route 62 enters the county from the west, near the Malden area, and joins U.S. 61 near Howardville, continuing north to Sikeston.

Demographics

At the 2010 census, New Madrid County had a total population of 18,956, with 7,742 households and 5,180 families. The population density was 27.2 per square mile. There were 8,531 housing units, or about 2.2 per square mile. The racial makeup of the county was about 81.72% White, 15.82% African-American, 0.24% Native American, 0.42% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.31% from some other race, and 1.46% from two or more races. Hispanics of any race were 1.13% of the population.

The median age in the county was 40.4 years. 23.81% of the population was under the age of 18, 8.03% was between the ages of 18 and 24, 23.82% was between the ages of 25 and 44, 28.27% was between the ages of 45 and 64, and 16.06% was 65 years old or older. The sex ratio was 48.0% male, 52.0% female.[4]

According to the 2017 American Community Survey, the median income in the county was $33,846 for a household, and $41,932 for a family. Males had a median income of $41,569 versus $30,576 for females. The unemployment rate was 9.4%. The per capita income was $20,261. 24.1% of the population was below the poverty line, including 36.2% of those under the age of 18 and 14.6% of those 65 years old or older.[5]

Communities

New Madrid County is home to fifteen incorporated communities, including fourteen cities and one village.

Cities

Villages

Government

Local government in New Madrid County is provided by the elected officials. Traditionally, these have been dominated by the Democratic Party, which currently holds every position in the county.

Elected official Name Party
Assessor Jacob Johnson Democratic
Circuit Clerk Marsha Holiman Democratic
County Clerk Clement Cravens Democratic
Collector Dewayne Nowlin Democratic
Commissioner (presiding) Mark Baker Democratic
Commissioner (District 1) Bobby Aycock Jr. Democratic
Commissioner (District 2) Don Day Democratic
Coroner George DeLisle Democratic
Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Lawson Democratic
Public Administrator Paula Scobey Democratic
Recorder Kim St. Mary Hall Democratic
Sheriff Terry Stevens Democratic
Surveyor Vacant NA
Treasurer Steve Riley Democratic

At the state level, all of New Madrid County is part of the 149th District in the Missouri House of Representatives, which also includes parts of Mississippi, Pemiscot, and Scott Counties. It is currently represented by Don Rone (R-Portageville), who was re-elected in November 2018, defeating Democrat Bill Burlison.

Candidate Party Votes Vote Percentage
Don Rone Republican 6,633 65.537%
Bill Burlison Democratic 2,938 29.029%
Jackie McGee Independent 550 5.434%

Rone decisively defeated Burlison within New Madrid County itself, with 71.57% of the vote.

In the Missouri State Senate, New Madrid County is part of the 25th District, which also includes Butler, Carter, Dunklin, Mississippi, Pemiscot, Shannon, and Stoddard Counties. It is currently represented by Doug Libla (R-Poplar Bluff), who was re-elected in November 2016, defeating Democrat Bill Burlison.

Candidate Party Votes Vote Percentage
Doug Libla Republican 44,373 69.35%
Bill Burlison Democratic 19,607 30.65%

Libla somewhat underperformed his average margin in New Madrid County, winning 58.65% of the vote.

At the federal level, New Madrid County is part of Missouri's 8th Congressional District, which includes most of southeast and south-central Missouri. It is represented by Jason Smith (R-Salem), who won re-election in November 2018, defeating Democrat Kathy Ellis.

Candidate Party Votes Vote Percentage
Jason Smith Republican 194,042 73.39%
Kathy Ellis Democratic 66,151 25.019%
Jonathan Shell Libertarian 4,206 1.591%

Smith slightly underperformed his average margin in New Madrid County, winning 72.09% of the vote.[6]

Political Culture

As the above numbers indicate, despite its tendency to vote Democratic at the local level, New Madrid County is solidly Republican at the state and federal level. It tends to follow the pattern seen in much of the rural South, with the white population voting heavily Republican and the black population voting overwhelmingly Democratic. In the 2016 general election, the county strongly supported Donald Trump, who won 71.63% of the vote.[7]

Like much of southern Missouri, New Madrid County can be included within the Bible Belt, with a majority of churchgoers identifying as Southern Baptists, and tends to combine social conservatism with economic populism. In 2004, it voted overwhelmingly in favor of Constitutional Amendment 2, which recognized marriage as between a man and a woman only—the measure passed in New Madrid County with 83.82% support. In 2006, while the state overall narrowly passed an amendment to fund embryonic stem-cell research, the county defeated the measure with 56.09% voting against. At the same time, in the November 2018 election, the county approved an increase in the state minimum wage, with 61.42% voting yes. These results generally align with the rest of Southeast Missouri.

References