On any day, thousands of George Countians travel down one of the many roads that crisscross the area. As we travel, little thought is given as to the history that the county roads often contain. The area that would become George County was originally part of the French holdings along the Gulf Coast. As Frenchmen began to settle in the Mobile and Biloxi areas in the early 1700s, many adventurers pushed into this area, mostly in search of riches, and finally in a quest to establish trade with local Native tribes. These early traders would remark on the abundance of huge pine trees in the area and the ease with which paths could be cleared in the wilderness. The "pine barrens" as they called it, would allow a rider on a horse to go at a full gallop through the woods because the huge pines blocked the sunlight and stopped undergrowth that would bar the way.
As these early traders established relations with the Natives, they used early trails and paths that the natives had blazed. One of the earliest true roads that traversed this area originated in the area around the Pascagoula River Delta in what is now Pascagoula. This road traveled the hills to the east of the Pascagoula River, taking advantage of high, dry ground. Early maps show this road passing through the Crossroads area with one branch heading northwest towards the river and another continuing on to the Vernal area. Later another road would be cut on the west bank of the river and pass through what is now Benndale on the way north.
Early settlers in the area would obtain land grants from the French and later the Spanish who would take over the area from the British after the Revolutionary War. These early settlers mainly clustered around the modern Benndale area, taking advantage of river transportation and fertile soil. As the infant United States took over the area to the immediate north of modern Lucedale, they cut a new path through the woods in what would be known as the Old Federal Road. This road connected parts of Georgia with the Mississippi Territory with one branch going to Natchez and another heading towards New Orleans. Our part of this road originated near Mount Vernon on the Alabama River, passed through modern Citronelle, and continued on towards the burgeoning village of Vernal on the Chickasawhay River. As the area opened up to more settlers, other roads were cut including Moffett Road which led out of Mobile to hook up with the Old Federal Road at Vernal. This road includes parts of what we know as the Old Mobile Highway, passing through Rocky Creek and points north. Another road also originated in Mobile and passed through the modern Howell and Agricola areas, heading north toward Vernal as well. This road, known as Howell’s Ferry Road, allowed for the settlement of the southeast portion of the county. Later roads would connect these early roads and allow for more settlement of the future county.
Bits and pieces of these early roads still exist in the form of existing roads that have taken over the ancient roadbeds as well as old, rutted original remains that pass anonymously through the quiet woods. History still speaks to us as we travel down these old roads and remember times and places in the past.
In our next article we will take a look at early settlers and settlements that would eventually come together and form what we know as George County.
Murray Cowart is an editorial writer for the George County Times. He can be reached at