Hickman County was named for Edwin Hickman, an explorer and surveyor who was killed in an Indian attack at Defeated Creek in 1791. The county was established in 1807, and named for Hickman at the suggestion of Robert Weakley, a legislator who had been a member of Hickman's surveying party.
Throughout the 19th century, the county's industry revolved around iron furnaces, which made use of the county's natural supply of high-quality iron ore. Early furnaces included Napier's furnace near Aetna, which was destroyed by Union soldiers during the Civil War, and furnaces built by the Standard Coal Company in the 1880s.
Hickman natives include songwriter Beth Slater Whitson and Grand Ole Opry personality Minnie Pearl.