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  1. 1. I have always loved history. I was born in New Orleans and lived there until I was 48 years old. When I was a child only 8 or 9 years old I would lie to my parents about spending a long Saturday afternoon at the movies and go the the French Quarter and just wander around amercing myself in the historic aura of the place. Many years later my wife and I came to Natchez and I was captivated by the place. You could almost feel history coming up out of the ground. I felt surrounded by history more here than I had ever in New Orleans. In 1983 we bought a downtown Victorian and after getting my job moved began to commute from here until I retired in 1992. I became a Tour Guide and started lecturing Natchez History about 10 years ago. I was often asked if I had written a book about Natchez but I have neither the talent or patience to write a book so I decided to put together a synopsis of my lecture and make it available. I hope you enjoy it.
  2. 2. Natchez is a tiny town more than 70 miles from the nearest Interstate and not on a well traveled route yet visitors come by the thousands from most every State and dozens of foreign countries – WHY?
  3. 3. Of course the main attraction is the town's hundreds of antebellum buildings ....
  4. 4. ..... and hundreds of homes built after the Civil War but before 1900. In fact houses built after 1900 are quite rare in downtown – there are only 8 or 9 . More than 90% of Natchez homes have been lovingly restored or maintained. ...But WHY does Natchez have so many wonderful homes? We'll have to take a look at its long history to learn why.
  5. 5. London, Paris, Rome, Natchez. What do these cities have in common? They're on a river, as the only way to move goods back then was by water but because the old boats could only travel downstream they also needed a land bridge back to where people lived.
  6. 6. Our River was always there, but our 150 foot bluff is only 12,000 years old, composed of loess blown in after the last ice age. Loess is so compact and solid even great big houses need no foundation and will endure for ages without cracked ceilings, walls, and doors and windows that get stuck. So folks are not inclined to tear them down and build new ones. (that'll come in very handy later).
  7. 7. About 6,000 years ago large animals began to migrate from the West. They probably crossed here in large numbers because until the 1930's the river was narrower and had a much slower current. On this side of the river we are in a vast hardwood forest and as a result the animals had to graze over long distances. They traveled back and forth between here and a series of salt licks on a river 490 miles to the northeast (the Cumberland). Their constant travels created a series of quite distinct trails over the highest ground and crossing the streams at the best places.
  8. 8. 2-3,000 years ago the first people arrived. They were originally small family groups of 8 or 9 but later coalesced into identifiable nations. Here they were the Choctaw. These nations had clan groups. A major one was the Natchez who unlike most all others were not nomadic. They settled here as early as AD 1,200. WHY were the Natchez permanently settled here? - Remember those game trails? They became major native roads connecting the various groups in the Southeast. They would load their trade goods onto rafts and canoes, come down the streams into the Mississippi River here, do their trading and return up the trails to their homes.
  9. 9. The Natchez were the last mound building culture in America north of Mexico. Because of their permanence and their highly developed agricultural methods (they farmed extensively on the West bank of the river with its fabulously fertile land) they had the free time to express their religion in the building of impressive ceremonial mounds. They were highly civilized with strong moral codes and and a clear understanding of private property in many ways they were more civilized than the Europeans who came to this area in the 15th & 16th centuries. Lasalle and Bienville met and chronicled them.
  10. 10. The La Salle expedition (1670) to the mouth of the River (during which he spent time with the Natchez) led to the realization that the real potential of trade in America lay with control and utilization of the Mississippi River basin (40% of the continent). They needed a place as far South as possible with friendly Indians and a land bridge back to the homes of the traders (remember?) Remembering the Natchez and the trails back up north they established a trading post in the 1690's and .............
  11. 11. In 1716 the French built Ft Rosalie at and established the colony of Natchez (before New Orleans). It was primarily a trade post to gather goods for shipment to Europe. Their relations with the Natchez deteriorated leading to a war in 1729 which led to the destruction of the Natchez people. The French introduced African slaves as early as the 1690's. During this period traffic on the trails developed, Named the Natchez Trace (from the French word “tracier” which means to follow in the footsteps of another, all roads that were originally game trails were so called). Most all traffic on the Trace was South to north as only fools would come overland rather than by water. Even at its height it took 5-9 weeks to cover the 500 miles from Natchez to what became Nashville. The area outside of Natchez remained wilderness.
  12. 12. The French lost the “Seven Years War” in 1763 and lost ALL of their American possessions. The British got all from the Alleghenys to the River. The Spanish got everything west of the River and the “isle of Orleans” (the current State of Louisiana east of the River). King George gave land grants in the only settled area in the old Southwest (Natchez Territory) to OFFICERS who had served well in the war. They came from Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. They were NOT “have nothings” looking for a better life, they were people of wealth, education, and social stature. Gentlemen in the classic sense – the good – the bad, fiercely loyal to the King they were joined by others like them when the Revolution was brewing. They were determined that Natchez would forever be British.
  13. 13. It was the British who brought the “plantation” system to Natchez. Those land grants were usually more than 2,000 acres and with them began the generation of great wealth in the area. The principle crops were tobacco and indigo, cotton was not yet a viable commercial crop as the process of removing the seeds from the boll was uneconomical even with slaves. As with the French most buildings in Natchez were down on the River and out in the “country”. The earliest surviving home in Natchez (Hope Farm) was built before 1775 during the British period.
  14. 14. Slavery existed in Natchez even before the French as the Natchez and other groups kept slaves. Under the French and all through time till 1863 half or more of the people here were slaves. In Natchez however most all of them were house slaves, craftsmen, yardmen, clerks, and other non laboring slaves. As a result the status of Natchez slaves was much higher than found in the rest of the South. While education of slaves was virtually unknown in most places it was common in Natchez probably because the “Gentlemen had a highly developed sense of superiority and security . Most houses and other buildings were built by slaves and the wealth of the area came from the crops on the plantations where the work was done by field slaves who had a much lower status than the town slaves.
  15. 15. In 1779 the Spanish down in New Orleans realized that the British were so involved with the Revolution that they could fulfill a long standing desire and take Natchez virtually unopposed. After the conquest only 8 or 9 Spanish families came. Natchez remained largely an English town. It was the Spanish that laid out the town on the top of bluff. Beyond that established a bureaucratic government with the first comprehensive set of laws and regulations with exhaustively exact records. They also formalized the regulation regarding treatment and management of the slaves. They were quite lax in allowing the British population to continue life much as they had before the Spanish arrival. The Spanish became very entrenched in the business and social life of the town and prospered along with the natives.
  16. 16. In 1793 a machine was invented by Eli Whitney that changed everything. A single slave hand cranking a “Cotton Gin” could produce 60-80 pounds of lint a day. A larger gin connected to a power source could produce a thousand. Almost overnight cotton became king and with the marvelously fertile land across the river wealth grew to unimaginable heights. They could literally produce more cotton than they could move given the still primitive means of moving freight one way by water.
  17. 17. Near the end of the 18th century the United States was swept up in the desire to control the continent from the Atlantic to the Mississippi River. In 1795 they negotiated a treaty with the Spanish to take the old Natchez Territory (comprised of the area of the current states of Mississippi and Alabama). The new Americans (successors of the old “Gentlemen”) were steadfast Whigs who were what the Democrats today think of the Republicans. With cotton Natchez became fabulously wealthy. Wealthy Gentlemen marry Gentlewomen usually chosen by their family up north. A Gentleman wouldn't put his Gentlewoman wife out in the wilderness on the plantation, no he would build her a nice home in town and so began the process of turning this outpost into a beautiful cosmopolitan city.
  18. 18. A Gentleman doesn't make money – he spends money. He NEVER talks about money and would NEVER engage in trade. He had NO respect for a white man who did so. So rose up from the well educated and talented slaves a new kind of person – a “Freeman of Colour”. They became the shopkeepers, the contractors, the blacksmiths, carpenters, the tradesmen. Many owned slaves. Natchez had more than 200. They enjoyed most rights except voting, serving on juries, holding a civil office etc. They became the backbone of what tiny middle class there was in old Natchez. Below is the home built by William Johnson saved by the Garden Club and donated to the Park Service.(Google him you'll find him a fascinating person) When Mississippi seceded the Freemen of Colour went north or to South America.
  19. 19. In 1811 the town was amazed to hear that boat would come down the river and return against the current. But indeed it did. By the 1820s it had developed into a practical means of moving vast amounts of freight. Now they could move all the cotton they could grow and the wealth multiplied. In the 1850 census Natchez had more millionaires than any city except New York, Philadelphia , and Boston. More per capita than anywhere in the world. More houses were built in the 1830's than any other decade. Cotton and the steamboat made it happen. Good times indeed.
  20. 20. Beginning in the 1790s until about 1915 most all of the houses were built of cypress. Cypress was very plentiful in the swampy areas across the river and north and South of the bluff. Later they learned cypress doesn't rot, termites don't eat it, borer bees don't bore it. Paint is purely decorative it isn't needed to preserve it. Now we've got houses whose foundations don't shift built of material that doesn't rot. My house was built in 1886, two rooms and kitchen were added in the 1920's. When I bought it in 1987 those rooms were so dilapidated I tore them down and rebuilt. The original house was as sound as new. My great grandchildren will have to rebuild the “new” rooms. Above is an old log rescued from a swamp probably cut more than a century ago.
  21. 21. Only 40 or so houses in Natchez could be called “mansions” most are like this one. An 1830s cottage, a double door so common here. Until the mid 19th century glass was expensive and difficult to get. Because of the climate they wanted maximum air flow with openings on at least two sides of the room. Where they could they substituted doors for windows. In this house one door goes into the parlor the other into a bedroom.
  22. 22. In the 1840's the slavery question has the country in turmoil. Natchez folks were dead set in favor of slavery and equally opposed to secession. In the 1860 presidential election 62% voted for the pro union candidates (Bell & Douglas). Lincoln got no votes. In the State session vote after Lincoln's election 77% voted NOT to secede. State loyalists that they were 1,444 Natchez men served for the Confederacy. Natchez was of no strategic value and Confederate troops were never stationed here. The town was shelled several times by Union gunboats (the Essex below). The Union Navy landed three times and the Mayor surrendered each time he could get there before the boat left. Natchez was the Paris of the Confederacy.
  23. 23. Natchez was occupied on July 13, 1863 just nine days after Vicksburg fell. Probably because much of the town was descended from people from the North and still had family and business connections in the North we only lost two houses to the Yankee occupation. Natchez was back in the Union but go two miles in any direction you were back in the Confederacy. As a result the Union commander was overwhelmed with 10-15,000 slaves escaping to Natchez to win their freedom. Below is the Federal map of 1864 in the upper left corner to the left of the yellow X they built barracks for freed slaves. Given poor sanitary conditions an poor food they began to die in large numbers. We don't know the actual numbers BUT of the 3,250 Colored Troops (USCTs) enlisted from the freed slaves. They came up every day from their barracks (red X)to work on the fort being built. They were of military age, had healthy work, and better food. We KNOW 830 died of the 3,250 (38%).
  24. 24. After the War the crops were worth more than before. The plantations were broken up into smaller farms and unlike the Gentlemen the farmers spent their money here. Unlike most of the South a smaller number of freed slaves became sharecroppers. Many bought portions of the plantations and became independent farmers. In fact the largest property owner in the County was the Mazique family who owned several entire plantations. Many freed slaves became business owners, contractors, and tradesmen developing a vibrant Black middle class. Large numbers of Jewish folk came (mostly from the Alsace region) and became merchants and businessmen. Good times it seems had come back for good.
  25. 25. Good things come to an end .... again! About 1910 the Boll Weevil arrived and devastated the cotton economy. Unlike other places our hard headed folk kept planting and the weevils kept eating. Old folk in Natchez will tell you that the Depression came in 1929 and nobody noticed. Bad times but good can come from bad.
  26. 26. In the 1920's another plague swept the land and all over the country we lost thousands of old buildings – art deco, the mood was “old is bad – new is good”. There may have been Natchez people who wanted to be stylish but no one could afford it. So the houses endured no paint – no repairs but ,hey, no matter they're cypress.
  27. 27. In the 1920's the Garden Club movement swept the South. The Natchez Garden Club was formed in 1927 and State Convention was held in Natchez. Tradition holds that the host ladies arrange Garden Tours for the visiting ladies. The Natchez garden were deemed by the local ladies as unfit so they decided to give a house tour instead. Grandma's hoop skirt was still in the attics and they decided to “dress out” to “receive”. Was it a hit? The State's ladies voted to hold the next convention in Natchez again so they could bring their friends. The GC ladies said “you know people might be willing to pay money to see the houses” a radical notion indeed. The first “Pilgrimage” was in 1932 and began a tradition which has become one of the major events in the South. Money for preservation was the goal and work it did.
  28. 28. The final preservationists --- During WWII oil was discovered Natchez. By the end of the war “old was good” again and the money rolled in beginning preservation and restoration in earnest.
  29. 29. The River, the Dirt, the Game Trails, the Native People, African Slaves, The Gentlemen and their Wives, Cypress, Cotton, Steamboats, The Boll Weevil, The Ladies, Oil - THAT'S WHY Why Natchez