WHAT’S IN A NAME? In the case of ‘Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus,’ a whole bunch of lettersBy KEITH BALL,
Many places in the Pine Belt have unique names. The origins of these names offer a glimpse into our local history and culture.
The first time I learned about the origins of a local place was in my third grade class at W.L. Smith Elementary when Ulmer Byrd visited as a guest speaker.
Mr. Byrd served as the first mayor of Petal. He told our class the story of Petal’s name.
In the early 1900s a small community was developing on the east side of the Leaf River.
A new post office was opened to serve the community and Irving Polk was appointed to serve as the post- master.
The new community was in need of a name. It was decided that the community be named after Irving Polk’s daughter, Gladis “Petal” Polk, who died of diphtheria on February 21, 1904, at the age of two.
I am not certain how long Irving Polk served as postmaster because according to the 1910 census, he had become storekeeper of a general store.
Much of the Polk family, including Gladis “Petal” Polk, is buried in the historic Oaklawn Cemetery next to the Hattiesburg library.
Forrest County, which was created in 1908 out of the old Second Judicial District of Perry County, was named after Confederate Lt. General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Forrest was a native of western Tennessee. Before the Civil War, Forrest was a prominent Mid-South businessman and plantation owner.
He owned plantations in three states: Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas. When the Civil War broke out, Forrest enlisted in the Confederate army as a private.
Senior officials were shocked that somebody of Forrest’s wealth and social class had enlisted as a private and he was quickly promoted, ultimately to the rank of Lt. General. He commanded cavalry forced into numerous battles including Shiloh, Chickamauga, Tupelo, and Nashville.
Lamar County, which was carved out of Marion County in 1904, was named after Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus (L.Q.C.) Lamar.
When I was in law school a massive painting of Lamar hung outside the door of the law library with a plaque below detailing his long and illustrious legal and political career.
He was an Oxford attorney and Ole Miss professor.
Lamar was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving before and after the Civil War (1857-1860, 1873-77).
During the Civil War he served as Confederate envoy to Russia.
Lamar was elected to the U.S. Senate (1877-85) and President Grover Cleveland appointed Lamar as U.S. Secretary of Interior (1885-1888.)
In 1888, Cleveland appointed Lamar to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he served until his death in 1893.
Lamar is the only Mississippian to ever serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hattiesburg was named after the wife of founder William Harris Hardy.
During the Civil War, Hardy served as captain of an all-volunteer Company from Smith County.
After the war, Hardy became heavily involved in the railroad business. In 1880, he selected a spot near the Leaf River and Gordon’s Creek where a New Orleans to Meridian railroad line would cross a Gulf Coast to Jackson railroad line.
He named the new city after his wife, Hattie Lott of Mobile.
He named the major street, Hardy Street, after his last name.
After founding Hattiesburg, Hardy went on to found the city of Gulfport. Hardy practiced law on the Gulf Coast and served as circuit court judge.
Outside of Petal are the Macedonia and Mars Hill communities. Both names have biblical origins.
Macedonia was named after the Macedonia region in southeastern Europe that is referenced many times in the New Testament.
The nearby Mars Hill community is named after Acts 17:22, as translated by the King James Version of the Bible, which reads in part: “Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ Hill…” It is translated in different versions of the Bible as the “hill of Ares” or as “Areopagus.” The hill itself was an important place in Athens, Greece where philosophy, religion, and law were often discussed.
I have found conflicting accounts about the origins of the name of the Bouie River. Some say it was named after John Bouie, an early setter in Perry County; however, others believe it was named after Jim Bowie, the pioneer and inventor of the Bowie knife.
For years, maps and highway signs conflicted about on whether the correct spelling was “Bouie” or “Bowie.” Eventually over time the spelling “Bouie” won out.
Purvis is named for its founder, Thomas Meville Purves.
He and his wife, Dorothy “Dolly” Susan Purves, and their five children, moved to present day Purvis. Purves received a land patent for 160 acres of land in December 1884 and worked as local blacksmith and farmer.
The New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad soon built a railroad across his property. A sign was erected at train depot that read: “Purvis.”
The misspelling stuck and the town become known as Purvis. On April 24, 1908, the town was hit by a tragic tornado that claimed the lives of 47 people and destroyed more than half the houses.
Thomas Meville Purves died on May 9, 1911 and is buried in Fillingame Cemetery.
Sumrall started as a small community along the banks of Mill Creek.
Its founder, Daniel Sumrall, was the owner and operator of a grist mill on the creek. In 1890, a post office was established for the community and named for Sumrall.
During the Civil War, Sumrall volunteered for the Union army after the city of New Orleans fell to Union forces. He served in the Union’s 1st Regiment, New Orleans Louisiana Infantry.
As a result of his service in the Union Army decades before, many residents objected to naming the town Sumrall.
Angry residents petitioned the U.S. Postmaster General to change the name, but the request was denied and the name Sumrall stayed.
Finally, something about the most unique area place name: Dragon.
Dragon was nothing more than a train stop on the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad north of Petal and south of Eastabuchie.
Although it still appears on some maps, the name was likely only used for railroad purposes. I have never heard someone claim Dragon as their hometown, but the name comes from railroad workers who described the “hard drag” trains had due to the railroad grade.
Keith Ball is a graduate of Petal High School, USM, and Ole Miss Law. He is an attorney and lifelong resident of Petal.