Carter County is a county in the U.S. state of Missouri. As of the 2010 census, the population was 6,265. The county seat is Van Buren. The county was officially organized on March 10, 1859, and is named after Zimri A. Carter, a pioneer settler who came to Missouri from South Carolina in 1812.
When the Missouri legislature created Carter County on March 10, 1859, it named the county after Zimri A. Carter.
Zimri A. Carter (1794–1870), the man for whom Carter County was named, was born in South Carolina. In 1807, at the age of 13, he came to Missouri with his parents. The Carter family initially settled in what is now Warren County. Shortly after his arrival in Missouri Zimri Carter joined up with a party of traders traveling the Missouri and Mississippi rivers in flat boats, and was away for a number of years. In his absence his father Benjamin Carter traded a horse and a cow for a large tract of land in what was then Wayne County, about eight miles southeast of where the town of Van Buren would eventually be established. When Zimri Carter returned from his trading ventures he joined his father in farming their new homestead. (Various sources give dates as early as 1812 and as late as 1820 for Zimri Carter’s arrival in the area.) Zimri Carter became one of the most influential and respected men in southeast Missouri and was instrumental in bringing about the creation of Carter County and served for a time as county judge of Carter County. The Carters were soon followed by other families: the Chilton, Kenard, Snider and Kelly families, who, along with the Carters opened up large tracts of wilderness land.
Carter County was created from portions of Ripley, Shannon and Wayne counties. On the first Monday of April 1859, three men (Adam Lane of Ripley County, John Bulford of Reynolds County and D.C. Reed of Shannon County) met at the home of James Brown to select a seat for the newly created Carter County. They selected Van Buren which, until 1847, had been the county seat of Ripley County. At the time of its creation, Carter County was attached to Ripley County for the purpose of representation in the General Assembly. The old log-cabin courthouse, which had been erected in Van Buren in 1853, continued to be used as the Carter County Courthouse until it was replaced by a wood-frame building in 1867.
William Lawson was the first person elected to the Missouri legislature from Carter County in 1864 and served until 1870, at which time he was succeeded by F.M. Coleman.
Initially Carter County had only one voting precinct, and all voting was done at the county courthouse in Van Buren. In June 1868 the court ordered that Carter County be divided into two precincts, with Precinct #1 consisting of the western half of the county where voting was done in the courthouse, and Precinct #2 in the eastern half with voting taking place at the home of John Carnahan on the head of the middle fork of Brushy Creek. By 1895, at the height of the timber boom, Carter County had as many as ten precincts.
The 1860 U.S. Census showed the newly created Carter County with a population of 1,197 free persons and 20 slaves held by eight slave owners. The 1920 U.S. Census showed a peak population for Carter County of 7,482. The population then declined until it reached a low of 3,878 in the 1970 U.S. Census. The population has since risen steadily. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, the county’s population was 6,265.