Natchez, Then and Now

February 19, 2019

We left Grand Gulf Military Park the morning of February 15th. Port Gibson isn’t far away and we haven’t been in town since 2011. Nothing has changed except the industrial plant at the edge of town is more dilapidated and overgrown with vines. Downtown doesn’t look like its full of life either. But the town is lining Main Street with Old Glory flags in honor of Presidents Day.

Port Gibson, Mississippi

We headed back to the Natchez Trace. Not the most direct route but definitely the most relaxing. Almost zippo traffic and most of that is heading the opposite way. One disappointment was not being able to access Emerald Mound and Mount Locust- roadwork on the access road to Mt. Locust and a possible road to hell leading to Emerald Mound, at least from an RV’ers point of view. We’re not sure if we can get turned around so we chicken out.

How Things Have Changed- Easy Rollers RV Club, a Predominantly Black Organization
Mississippi River Barge Traffic

Our home for several days is the River View RV Park in Vidalia. LA (3990 souls). It’s the best park near Natchez (14,800 souls). While here we talk to some folks who are enjoying each other’s company- The Easy Rollers RV Club. It just tickles us that a club composed of mostly black folk are enjoying the RV life. They average an outing once a month. This one includes good food, lots of laughter and dancing to some tunes. What a great bunch of folks!

One thing we’ve noticed while here in the South is everyone is extremely friendly and courteous, and I mean everyone. Doesn’t matter what color, size, sex- everybody is friendly and courteous. Did I mention slow? The folks running the cash registers are in no hurry, preferring to gab while performing their tasks. So don’t be in a hurry- it won’t do any good. Besides, gabbing can be enjoyable, y’all.

Under The Hill Section of Natchez- Shops Now, Slave Traders in 1800’s

The Forks of the Road was a slave trading location in Natchez. Natchez and Baltimore, MD were the two slave trading capitals of the U.S. at the time. The South’s cotton plantations could not have existed without the use of slaves. Owning a hundred slaves was common for plantation owners. Many owners saw themselves as kindly to their slaves. That was true for some but for as many the opposite was true. Many were tortured by whipping if they tried to escape the bonds of slavery. Many families were separated during the slave trade.

Chain, Irons, Leg and Neck Irons Recovered From the Forks of The Road Slave Trade Center

The Civil War brought profound changes to the lives of the enslaved persons in and near Natchez. The Union forces who occupied the city after the fall of Vicksburg in 1863 were overwhelmed by the sea of slave refugees. This unforeseen mass departure found the Union Army ill prepared. A hastily prepared plan called for leasing plantations to the government where former slaves would work for wages, some able bodied would be conscripted into the army to defend the city and refugee camps were established to care for the sick, the displaced and those unable to work. Despite efforts to emancipate the slaves, a goodly amount of them would die from disease and pestilence. It was a sad time in our history.

Natchez is just brimming with historical buildings. The town surrendered, was not destroyed by military action, so many buildings still stand that date back to the 1700’s.

The Stanton Mansion
Glen Auburn Mansion
Circa 1796
Circa 1791
William Johnson House
King’s Tavern (Bledsoe House) Circa 1789- Oldest Building in Natchez

We enjoyed walking around the downtown area. Eye candy is everywhere. Beautiful old homes, a few mansions, awesome churches, all dating from the 1800’s, all of historical significance.

The Rosalie Mansion

OK, Maybe not as Old as Some Establishments, But the Best Tamales in Town!

Mardi Gras is Here!

St. Mary Basilica, Natchez

Our last day in Natchez included the Natchez National Historical Park. Melrose, the 1800’s Greek revival style mansion represents the height of Southern prosperity and the “Cotton Kingdom”.

The 15,000 Square Foot Melrose Mansion

Guided tours of the home give visitors a glimpse into the lifestyle of the pre-Civil War American South and help them understand the roles that slaves played in an estate setting. Sitting today on 80 lush acres maintained by the National Park Service, the home stands as a well-preserved piece of America’s history.

Dairy Products Produced by Slaves in This Building

A young lady ranger told us that the original owners, the McMurrans, sold Melrose as the civil war had ruined them financially. They left the house in 1865 essentially intact, taking no furniture with them.

Slave Quarters Serve as a Slavery Museum

The next owner essentially left the mansion unoccupied for most of next of the four decades. The house was passed from father to daughter to grandson and it is the grandson who returned and restored the home after its extended time of closure sometime in the early 1900’s. The Kelly’s lived in Melrose until 1975.

Huge Oak Tree. See the Bench Near Its Trunk?

The Callons purchased the property in 1976 as their personal home. They retained the integrity of the house and ground and took preservation issues as part of their restoration process. Material samples were saved and hundreds of photos were taken of the property that have become valuable sources of information to curators today.

As Melrose was one of the most intact antebellum estates in the South, due to the fact that the McMurrans had sold their furniture with the house and subsequent owners did the same, the National Park Service purchased the estate in 1990. Melrose along with Fort Rosalie and the William Johnson House form the Natchez National Historical Park.

We’ve been to Natchez in 2011 but we are so glad to have returned. This town is a fabulous place to visit.

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