Population, 1940, 32,770.
Named for Edward Hempstead.
This is one of the five counties created by the Legislature of Missouri Territory before Arkansas Territory was organized. The act creating it was approved on December 15, 1818, and the boundaries were described as follows: "Beginning on the Ouachitas River, at the mouth of the Little Missouri, then up the Little Missouri to the three forks, then up the north fork to its head, then due west to the Indian boundary line, then with said line or lines to the great Red River, then with the Indian boundary line or lines to the boundary line of the State of Louisiana, then with the said line or lines of the said state to the Ouachitas River aforesaid, then up said river to the beginning."
By the erection of new counties Hempstead has been reduced to an area of 727 square miles. It is bounded on the north by Howard and Pike counties; on the east by Nevada County; on the south by Lafayette County, and on the west by the counties of Howard, Little River and Miller. The surface is rolling, the soils sandy loam, limestone and aluvial, and some of the finest farms in Southwest Arkansas are in this county.
The territory comprising the county was taken from Arkansas County. It was named for Edward Hempstead, the first delegate in Congress from the Territory of Missouri. Early in 1819 the governor of Missouri Territory appointed James M. Stewart, Clerk; Alexander S. Walker, Sheriff, and Benjamin Clark, Coroner. These were the first county officers. Sheriff Walker was a Virginian by birth. In July, 1808, he enlisted in the First United States Rifles, which was sent to Fort Adams, Mississippi Territory, in anticipation of trouble with France or Spain over the Louisiana question. The camp of the regiment was pitched in an unhealthy location, and because Captain Walker said a few "cuss words" about it he was court-martialed and dishonorably discharged from the army. Soon afterward he came to Arkansas (then part of Missouri) and in 1816 he represented Lawrence County in the Missouri Legislature. He was one of the candidates for delegate in Congress from Arkansas in 1819. He died near Fort Gibson in 1837 or 1838.
The settlement of the county dates from 1812, when John Campbell came from Tennessee, Benjamin Clark from Kentucky, William and George Yates from Missouri and built their log cabins. In 1814 Matthew Moss settled about eight miles northeast of Washington. He is said to have been the first man to bring a keelboat through the Great Raft of the Red River. John Bard, Hewitt Burt, Samuel McDaniel and John Stephenson came from Missouri in 1815, and the next year Robert Irvin came from Missouri. Elijah Stuart was the first to settle where the Town of Washington now stands. James Henry, a minister, located in the county in 1817, and the following year three more members of the Moss family came up the Red River. Abram Stuart and a man named Langford settled on Mound Prairie about 1817 or 1818.
In the spring of 1819, the first court of record was held in the county by Judges John English, Charles Wheaten and William Woodward. This was known as the Court of Common Pleas, which was abolished soon after Arkansas Territory was organized. The court was held at the house of John English, about eight miles northeast of the present Town of Washington. There the temporary county seat remained until 1824, when it was removed to the house of Elijah Stuart. At the same time Hewitt Burt, Samuel E. Davis, Meredith W. Edwards, James Moss and Elijah Stuart were appointed Commissioners to locate a permanent county seat. They selected the site of Washington, and the records of the March term of the court in 1825 show that it "was begun and held in the Town of Washington, at the courthouse in and for the County of Hempstead," etc. Among the lawyers who practiced in this county were several who rose to prominence in Arkansas affairs, viz.: Edward Cross, Daniel Ringo, John R. Eakin, Daniel W. Jones, Augustus H. Garland, Grandison D. Royston, James K. Jones and B. B. Battle.
Hempstead County is divided into the following townships: Bodcaw, Bois d'Arc, De Roane, Garland, Mine Creek, Nowland, Ozan, Redland, Saline, Spring Hill, Wallaceburg and Water Creek. Hope is the only city in the county. Washington, county seat, dates its existence from 1824. John Johnson opened the first store there in 1826. William H. Etter began the publication of the first newspaper in February, 1840. The town was incorporated on October 8, 1836. A large part of its business district was burned on July 4, 1875. It has a bank, a weekly newspaper, electric light plant, several general stores, sawmills, etc., and in 1920 reported a population of 556. Fulton, on the main line of the Missouri Pacific near the Red River; McNab, on the St. Louis & San Francisco fifteen miles west of Hope; and Ozan, on the Hope & Nashville division of the Missouri Pacific fifteen miles from Hope, are incorporated towns. Bingen, on the Memphis, Dallas & Gulf in the northwest corner; Columbus, ten miles west of Washington; Patmos, on the Louisiana & Arkansas Railroad in the southeastern part; Spring Hill, near Hope; and Tokio, at the junction of the Prescott & Northwestern and the Memphis, Dallas & Gulf railroads near the northern boundary, are important villages. [Source: "Annals of Arkansas" by Dallas T. Herndon, Volume 2, published 1947; transcribed by Genealogy Trails Transcription Team]
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