When Colonel Ridgley C. Powers was discharged from the United States Army in December 1865, he decided to remain in Mississippi rather than return to his native state of Ohio. He purchased some land in Noxubee County near Shuqualak and soon became a successful planter. In 1868, he was appointed sheriff of Noxubee County by the military governor of Mississippi.
Powers was born at Mecca in Trumbull County, Ohio, on December 24, 1836. He graduated from the University of Michigan and took additional work at Union College in Schenectady, New York. Powers joined the Union Army in 1862 and, like many other northerners and Mid-westerners, he settled in the South after the war was over.
Powers joined Mississippi’s newly established Republican Party in 1868 and was elected lieutenant governor in 1869. Although most Republican officials were very unpopular during the Reconstruction period, Powers retained the confidence and respect of the people during his term as lieutenant governor and later as governor.
On November 30, 1871, Governor James L. Alcorn resigned to accept a seat in the U. S. Senate and Powers succeeded him as Mississippi’s twenty-ninth governor. Governor Powers favored economic expansion and urged Mississippians to take full advantage of the state's “slumbering resources” through industrial development and agricultural diversification. He especially promoted the increased production of wheat, barley, corn, and other grains to reduce the South’s dependence on imported grain. However, a series of bad crops during the early 1870s discouraged Mississippi farmers from experimenting with new crops and this left the state with little capital to finance any industrial expansion.
In his first annual message to the Mississippi Legislature in 1872, Governor Powers reported that a relative tranquility existed throughout the state and that a “new era of good feeling has sprung up.” Mississippi should be recognized, he said, as “an example of reconstruction based upon reconciliation.” But that era of good feeling did not last very long. In 1873, a bitter factional split within the Republican Party caused the nomination of two competing Republican tickets. One faction nominated Adelbert Ames and the other nominated James L. Alcorn. Ames won the election. Governor Powers considered the 1873 governor’s election illegal but the state supreme court validated the election and Ames was subsequently inaugurated.
When Governor Powers’s term expired in 1874, he retired from public life. Shortly after leaving office, Powers married Louisa Born. A few years later he and his family moved west, stopping first in Prescott, Arizona, before finally settling in Los Angeles, California. Governor Powers operated a successful ranch near Los Angeles and died there suddenly on November 11, 1912, at age seventy-six.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912), 76.
Rowland, Dunbar. Mississippi Comprising Sketches in Cyclopedic Form II. 459-462.