Natchez is the county seat and only city of Adams County, Mississippi, United States. Natchez has a total population of 15,792 (as of the 2010 census). Located on the Mississippi River across from Vidalia in Concordia Parish, Louisiana, Natchez is some 90 miles (140 km) southwest of Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, and 85 miles (137 km) north of Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana. It is the 25th-largest city in the state. It is named for the Natchez tribe of Native Americans who inhabited much of the area through the French colonial period.
- 1 Overview
- 2 History
- 2.1 Pre-European settlement (to 1716)
- 2.2 Colonial history (1716–1783)
- 2.3 Antebellum (1783–1860)
- 2.4 American Civil War (1861–1865)
- 2.5 Postwar period (1865–1900)
- 2.6 Since 1900
- 2.7 Civil Rights Era
- 2.7.1 Prosecution of civil rights cold cases
- 2.8 Natural disasters
- 2.9 Images and memory
- 3 Geography
- 4 Demographics
- 5 Education
- 6 Transportation
- 6.1 Highways
- 6.2 Rail
- 6.3 Air
- 7 Media
- 8 Suburbs
- 9 Notable people
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
Spanish Colonial Natchez historical marker
Established by French colonists in 1716, Natchez is one of the oldest and most important European settlements in the lower Mississippi River Valley. After the French lost the French and Indian War (Seven Years' War), they ceded Natchez and near territory to Spain in the Treaty of Paris of 1763 (which later traded other territory east of the Mississippi River with Great Britain).
After the United States acquired this area following the American Revolutionary War, the city served as the capital of the American Mississippi Territory and then of the state of Mississippi. It predates Jackson by more than a century; the latter replaced Natchez as the capital in 1822, as it was more centrally located in the developing state. The strategic location of Natchez, on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, ensured that it would be a pivotal center of trade, commerce, and the interchange of ethnic Native American, European, and African cultures in the region; it held this position for two centuries after its founding.
In U.S. history, Natchez is recognized particularly for its role in the development of the Old Southwest during the first half of the nineteenth century. It was the southern terminus of the historic Natchez Trace, with the northern terminus being Nashville, Tennessee. After unloading their cargoes in Natchez or New Orleans, many pilots and crew of flatboats and keelboats traveled by the Trace overland to their homes in the Ohio River Valley . (It was not until steamships were developed in the 1820s that travel northward on the Mississippi River could be accomplished by boat.) The Natchez Trace also played an important role during the War of 1812. Today the modern Natchez Trace Parkway, which commemorates this route, still has its southern terminus in Natchez.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, the city attracted wealthy Southern planters as residents, who built mansions to fit their ambitions. Their plantations were vast tracts of land in the surrounding lowlands along the riverfronts of Mississippi and Louisiana, where they grew large commodity crops of cotton and sugar cane using slave labor. Natchez became the principal port from which these crops were exported, both upriver to Northern cities and downriver to New Orleans, where much of the cargo was exported to Europe. Many of the mansions built by planters before 1860 survive and form a major part of the city's architecture and identity. Agriculture remained the primary economic base for the region until well into the twentieth century.
During the twentieth century, the city's economy experienced a downturn, first due to the replacement of steamboat traffic on the Mississippi River by railroads in the early 1900s, some of which bypassed the river cities and drew away their commerce. Later in the 20th century, many local industries closed in a restructuring that sharply reduced the number of jobs in the area. Despite its status as a popular destination for heritage tourism because of well-preserved antebellum architecture, Natchez has had a general decline in population since 1960. It remains the principal city of the Natchez, MS–LA Micropolitan Statistical Area.
Pre-European settlement (to 1716)
Main article: Natchez people
Great Temple on Mound C and the Sun Chiefs cabin, drawn by Alexandre de Batz in the 1730s
According to archaeological excavations, the area has been continuously inhabited by various cultures of indigenous peoples since the 8th century A.D. The original site of Natchez was developed as a major village with ceremonial platform mounds, built by people of the prehistoric Plaquemine culture, part of the influential Mississippian culture and active in this area from about 700CE. Archaeological evidence shows they began construction of the three main earthwork mounds by 1200. Additional work was done in the mid-15th century.
By the late 17th and early 18th century, the Natchez (pronounced "Nochi"), descendants of the Plaquemine culture, occupied the site. They used it as their major ceremonial center, after leaving the area of Emerald Mound. They added to the mounds, including a residence for their chief, the "Great Sun", on Mound B, and a combined temple and charnel house for the elite on Mound C.
Many early European explorers, including Hernando de Soto, La Salle and Bienville, made contact with the Natchez at this site, called the Grand Village of the Natchez. Their accounts provided descriptions of the society and village.
The most thorough account was written by French colonists Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz, who lived near the Natchez for several years, learning their language and befriending leaders. He witnessed the 1725 funeral of the war chief, Tattooed Serpent (Serpent Piqué in French.) The Natchez maintained a hierarchical society, divided into nobles and commoners, with people affiliated according to matrilineal descent. The paramount chief, known as the "Great Sun", owed his position to the rank of his mother. His next eldest brother served as Tattooed Serpent.
The 128-acre (0.52 km2) site of the Grand Village of the Natchez is preserved as a National Historic Landmark; it is maintained by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The site includes a museum with artifacts from the mounds and village. A picnic pavilion and walking trails are also available on the grounds. Nearby Emerald Mound is also a National Historic Landmark of the Natchez and their ancestors.
Colonial history (1716–1783)
In 1716 the French founded Fort Rosalie, to protect the trading post which had been established two years earlier in the Natchez territory. Permanent French settlements and plantations were subsequently developed a dangerous distance from the fort and too near important native locales. The French inhabitants of the "Natchez colony" often came into conflict with the Natchez people over land use and resources. This was one of several Natchez settlements; others lay to the northeast. The Natchez tended to become increasingly split into pro-French and pro-English factions; those who were more distant had more relations with English traders, who came to the area from British colonies to the east.
After several smaller wars, the Natchez (together with the Chickasaw and Yazoo) launched a war to eliminate the French in November 1729. It became known by the Europeans as the "Natchez War" or Natchez Rebellion. The Indians destroyed the French colony at Natchez and other settlements in the area. On November 29, 1729, the Natchez Indians killed a total of 229 French colonists: 138 men, 35 women, and 56 children (the largest death toll by an Indian attack in Mississippi's history). They took most of the women and children as captives, together with African slaves. The French with their Indian allies attacked the Natchez repeatedly over the next two years, resulting in most of the Natchez Indians being killed, enslaved, or forced to flee as refugees. After surrender of the leader and several hundred Natchez in 1731, the French took their prisoners to New Orleans, where they were sold as slaves and shipped as laborers to the Caribbean plantations of Saint-Domingue, as ordered by the French prime minister Maurepas.
Many of the Natchez who escaped enslavement sought refuge with the Creek and Cherokee peoples, ultimately being absorbed into their people. Descendants of the Natchez diaspora have reorganized and survive as the Natchez Nation, a treaty tribe and confederate of the federally recognized Muscogee (Creek) Nation, with a sovereign traditional government.
Following the Seven Years' War, in 1763 Fort Rosalie and the surrounding town, which was renamed after the defeated tribe, came under British rule. Later it was under Spanish colonial rule. After defeat in the American Revolutionary War, the British ceded the territory to the United States under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1783).
Spain was not a party to the treaty, and it was Spanish forces that had taken Natchez from the British. Although the Spanish were loosely allied with the American colonists, they were more interested in advancing their power at the expense of the British. Once the war was over, the Spanish were not inclined to give up that which they had taken by force. The Spanish retained control of Natchez for a time. A census of the Natchez district taken in 1784 counted 1,619 people, including 498 African-American slaves.
"The Parsonage" historic house was built in 1852 in Natchez.
The Parsonage was constructed by Peter Little in honor of his wife, Eliza, a dedicated Methodist.
Another Natchez antebellum home available for tours is Stanton Hall, built c. 1858 and located on a whole city block at 401 High Street.
In the late 18th century, Natchez was the starting point of the Natchez Trace overland route, a Native American trail that followed a path established by migrating animals, most likely buffalo, which ran from Natchez to Nashville through what are now Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. Produce and goods were transported on the Mississippi River by the flatboatmen and keelboatmen, who usually sold their wares at Natchez or New Orleans, including their boats (as lumber). They made the long trek back north to their homes overland on the Natchez Trace. The boatmen were locally called "Kaintucks" because they were usually from Kentucky, although the entire Ohio River Valley was well-represented among their numbers. The Trace was traveled heavily until the production of steamboats in the 1820s allowed northward navigation (against the current) on the River.
On October 27, 1795, the U.S. and Spanish signed the Treaty of San Lorenzo, settling their decade-long boundary dispute. All Spanish claims to Natchez were formally surrendered to the United States. More than two years passed before official orders reached the Spanish garrison there. It surrendered the fort and possession of Natchez to United States forces led by Captain Isaac Guion on March 30, 1798.
A week later, Natchez became the first capital of the new Mississippi Territory, created by the Adams administration. After it served for several years as the territorial capital, the territory built a new capital, named Washington, 6 miles (10 km) to the east, also in Adams County. After roughly 15 years, the legislature transferred the capital back to Natchez at the end of 1817, when the territory was admitted as a state. Later the capital was returned to Washington. As the state's population center shifted to the north and east with more settlers entering the area, the legislature voted to move the capital to the more centrally located city of Jackson in 1822.
Throughout the course of the early nineteenth century, Natchez was the center of economic activity for the young state. Its strategic location on the high bluffs on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River enabled it to develop into a bustling port. At Natchez, many local plantation owners had their cotton loaded onto steamboats at the landing known as Natchez-Under-the-Hill to be transported downriver to New Orleans or, sometimes, upriver to St. Louis or Cincinnati. The cotton was sold and shipped to New England, New York, and European spinning and textile mills.
Commercial Bank in downtown Natchez, established in 1836, is built in the Greek Revival style of architecture. The banker lived in a house to the rear of the structure. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Natchez District, along with the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia, pioneered cotton agriculture in the United States. Until new hybridized breeds of short-staple cotton were created in the early nineteenth century, it was unprofitable to grow cotton in the United States anywhere other than those two areas. Although South Carolina had dominated the cotton plantation culture in the eighteenth century and early in the Antebellum South, it was the Natchez District which first experimented with hybridization, making the cotton boom possible. Historians attribute the major part of the expansion of cotton in the Deep South to Eli Whitney's development of the cotton gin; it lowered processing costs for short-staple cotton, making this profitable for cultivation. It was the kind of cotton that could be grown on uplands and throughout the Black Belt of the Deep South. Development of cotton plantations expanded rapidly, increasing demand for slaves in the South. They were sold in the domestic slave trade chiefly from the Upper South.
The growth of the cotton industry attracted many new white settlers to Mississippi, who competed with the Choctaw for their land. Despite land cessions, the settlers continued to encroach on Choctaw territory, leading to conflict. With the election of President Andrew Jackson in 1828, he pressed for Indian removal, gaining Congressional passage of an act authorizing that in 1830. Starting with the Choctaw, the government began removal of Southeastern Indians in 1831 to lands west of the Mississippi River in Indian Territory. Nearly 15,000 Choctaw left their traditional homeland over the next two years.
On May 7, 1840, an intense tornado struck Natchez, killing 269 people, most of whom were on flatboats in the Mississippi River. The tornado killed 317 persons in all, making it the second-deadliest tornado in United States history. Today the event is called the "Great Natchez Tornado".
The terrain around Natchez on the Mississippi side of the river is hilly. The city sits on a high bluff above the Mississippi River; to reach the riverbank, one must travel down a steep road to the landing called Silver Street, which is in marked contrast to the flat "delta" lowland found across the river surrounding the city of Vidalia, Louisiana. Its early planter elite built numerous antebellum mansions and estates. Many owned plantations in Louisiana but chose to locate their homes on the higher ground in Mississippi. Prior to the Civil War, Natchez had the most millionaires of any city in the United States. It was frequented by notables such as Aaron Burr, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Jefferson Davis, Winfield Scott, and John James Audubon. Today the city boasts that it has more antebellum homes than any other city in the U.S., as during the Civil War Natchez was spared the destruction of many other Southern cities.
The Forks of the Road Market had the highest volume of slave sales in Natchez, and Natchez had the most active slave trading market in Mississippi. This also stimulated the city's wealth. The market, at the intersection of two streets, became especially important after the slave traders Isaac Franklin of Tennessee and John Armfield of Virginia purchased the land in 1823. Tens of thousands of slaves passed through the market, transported from Virginia and the Upper South (many by walking overland), and destined for the plantations in the Deep South. In this forced migration, more than one million enslaved African Americans were taken from their families and moved southward. All trading at the market ceased by the summer of 1863, when Union troops occupied Natchez.
Prior to 1845 and the founding of the Natchez Institute, the city's elite residents were the only ones who could afford a formal education for their children. Although many parents did not have much schooling themselves, they were anxious to provide their children with a quality education. Schools opened in the city as early as 1801, but many of the wealthiest families continued to rely on private tutors or out-of-state institutions, some sending their children as far as England and Scotland. The city founded the Natchez Institute to offer free education to the rest of the white residents. Although children from a variety of economic backgrounds could obtain an education, class differences persisted among students, particularly in terms of school choice and social ties. Although it was considered illegal, black slave children were often taught the alphabet and reading the Bible by their white playmates in private homes.
American Civil War (1861–1865)
William Henry Elder, Bishop of Natchez
Union Army forces under U.S. Grant occupied Rosalie Mansion in Natchez after the Battle of Vicksburg in 1863.
During the Civil War, Natchez remained largely undamaged. The city surrendered to Flag-Officer David G. Farragut after the fall of New Orleans in May 1862. Two civilians, an elderly man and an eight-year-old girl named Rosalie Beekman, were killed when a Union ironclad shelled the town from the River. The man died of a heart attack and Rosalie was killed by a shell fragment. Union troops under Ulysses S. Grant occupied Natchez in 1863; Grant set up his temporary headquarters in the Natchez mansion Rosalie.
Some Natchez residents remained defiant of the Federal authorities. In 1864, William Henry Elder, the Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Natchez, refused to obey a Federal order to compel his parishioners to pray for the President of the United States. U.S. officials arrested Elder, jailed him briefly, and banished him across the river to Confederate-held Vidalia. Elder was eventually allowed to return to Natchez and resume his clerical duties there. He served until 1880, when he was elevated to Archbishop of Cincinnati.
Ellen Shields's memoir reveals a Southern woman's reactions to Yankee military occupation of the city. Shields' memoir portrays the upheaval of Southern society during the war. Because Southern men were absent at war, many elite women had to exercise their class-based femininity and sexual appeal to deal with the Yankees.
In 1860, there were 340 planters in the Natchez region who each owned 250 or more slaves; not all of these were enthusiastic Confederates. The exceptions tended to be fairly recent arrivals to the South, men who opposed secession, and some who held social and economic ties to the North. These planters lacked a strong emotional attachment to the South; but when war came, many of their sons and nephews joined the Confederate army. Charles Dahlgren was among the recent migrants; from Philadelphia, he had made his fortune before the war. He did support the Confederacy and led a brigade, but was criticized for failing to defend the Gulf Coast. When the Yankees came, he moved to Georgia for the duration of the war. He returned in 1865 but never recouped his fortune. He had to declare bankruptcy, and in 1870 he gave up and moved to New York City.
Confederate graves in a portion of the Natchez City Cemetery
White Natchez residents became much more pro-Confederate 'after' the war. The Lost Cause myth arose as a means for coming to terms with the South's defeat. It quickly became a definitive ideology, strengthened by celebratory activities, speeches, clubs, and statues. The major organizations dedicated to creating and maintaining the tradition were the United Daughters of the Confederacy and United Confederate Veterans. In Natchez and other cities, although the local newspapers and war veterans played a role in the maintenance of the Lost Cause, elite white women were particularly important—especially in establishing cemeteries and memorials, such as the Civil War monument dedicated on Memorial Day 1890. The Lost Cause enabled (white) noncombatants to lay a claim to the watershed event in the reshaping of Southern history.
Postwar period (1865–1900)
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