The City of Natchez – Part Two

In the past the city of Natchez was an important point for trade and consequently played a major role in the development of the Old Southwest, an informal name given to the south western frontier territories in the early 19th Century. This was mainly due to its connection to the historic Natchez Trace, of which it was the southern terminus.

The Natchez Trace is a forest trail initially used by the Native Americans that stretches approximately 440 miles that links the city to Nashville, Tennessee. The path largely follows a geologic ridge line that prehistoric animals followed in order to reach distant grazing grounds. Much later European and American settlers, explorers and traders used the path with help from Native guides and it continued to be an important trade route. Before the invention of the steamboat it simply wasn’t possible to northwards up the Mississippi River, this meant that after transporting their cargo many pilots or crew members of these trade vessels would travel via the Trace in order to return home.

Before the arrival of the great railroads the best way to trade and transport would be by the rivers. In the early 19th Century the Old Southwest was much like the Wild West. There was money to be made here and as trade rose the towns grew bigger and Natchez was no exception. During these times laws were often flouted and rarely enforced, though the introduction of Protestant Evangelism saw great changes throughout the area.

Further change would arrive in the mid 19th Century as the city began to attract the countries wealthy elite. Wealthy Southern planters began moving the Natchez in order to build the antebellum mansions that still make up much of the cities architecture today. They also naturally built their plantations here, based on huge tracts of land throughout the surrounding lowlands along the river fronts. Most specialised in crops of cotton and sugarcane, using a vast number of African slaves to work the land. After slaver was abolished in the United States of America man of the freedmen remained here where African Americans now make up roughly 54% of the population.

Unlike much of the South Natchez didn’t see much of the destruction of the American Civil War, which is why much of its iconic scenery and architecture remain the same today. Thanks to the efforts of the Norman Studio, a series of photos of Natchez that document the cities development in the early 20th Century show us pictures of the past, you can see how little has changed in these historic buildings. The photographs are preserved in special collections at the library of the Louisiana State University where you can see them for yourself.

Natchez has come a long way and seen many different cultures along the way. Its past is something of a dark one in many ways though it is undoubtedly an important one. Though it may no longer be the capital of Mississippi it is home of the state’s history, much of which can still be seen today.

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