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On December 26, 1817, the Ohio government authorized the creation of Perry County. Residents named the county after Oliver Perry, a hero of the War of 1812. Many of the county’s earliest white residents were German migrants from Pennsylvania. Perry County is located in eastern Ohio. It is predominantly rural, with less 1.5 percent of the county’s 410 square miles consisting of urban areas. With a population of 4,689 people, New Lexington, the county seat, was the county’s largest community in 2000. Perry County experienced a sizable increase in population—roughly eight percent—between 1990 and 2000, raising the total number of residents to 34,078 people. Many residents of Ohio’s rural communities are seeking better lives and more opportunities in the state’s cities, but Perry County is growing in population. The county averages eighty-three people per square miles.
The largest employer in Perry County is the government, with manufacturing businesses a close second. During the late nineteenth century, coal mining was a major business in the county. In 1884, miners, who were unhappy with their poor wages and working conditions, went on strike. Some of these men set fire to a mine at New Straitsville, in the southern part of Perry County. This fire is still raging today. It caused the coal mining industry in Perry County to flounder. In 1999, the per capita income in the county was 16,313 dollars. Over fifteen percent of the people lived in poverty.
Most voters in Perry County claim to be independents, yet in recent years, they have supported Republican Party candidates by small margins at the national level.
Philip Sheridan, a Northern general during the American Civil War, ranks among Perry County’s more prominent residents. He grew up in the town of Somerset. The county was also home to Father Edward Fenwick, the first Roman Catholic bishop in Ohio.