Natchez 300th Anniversary Special | Mississippi Roads | MPB


(upbeat instrumental music) – [Walt] In this episode
of Mississippi Roads, we’ll celebrate the 300th
anniversary of Natchez. We’ll start by
visiting Emerald Mound, one of the largest Native
American mounds in the nation, and then we’ll take a look
at how the Mississippi River helped the city prosper
as well as how the city has thrived from its tourism. ♪ Down Mississippi Roads ♪ ♪ Mississippi Roads ♪ Well, hi, I’m Walt Grayson and welcome back to
Mississippi Roads. Now, we have a special
program this week. I don’t think we’ve ever
done one like this before. Well, as a matter of fact, I’m sure we’ve not done
one like this before because Natchez has never
turned 300 years old before, and that’s the occasion. We’re in the city of
Natchez, the oldest city on the Mississippi River,
commemorating the tricentennial. And we’re starting off
on top of Ellicott Hill, and the reason we’re at Ellicott
Hill is because in 1797, Andrew Ellicott first
raised the American flag over Natchez on
top of this hill. The only thing was, in 1797
when he raised that flag, Natchez had already
been here for 80 years. We’d gone through three owners
before then, the Spanish, prior to the
Spanish, the English, prior to the
English, the French, prior to the French,
the Natchez Indians. The Natchez Indians had a
culture so well-developed, they had time to build places
like this, Emerald Mound. It’s over eight
acres at the top, second largest
mound in the nation. Plus, it has even higher
mounds on either end, one taller than the other. I came up with one
of my three second archaeological theories here
at Emerald Mounds one time. I was out here doing a story, and had a couple
archaeologists with me. One says the small mound,
back over here behind me, was used by the chief. That was where he had his house. And then, the other
mound, the large mound, was where the priests lived. And then, the other
archaeologist says, “No, no, no, I think
they had the temple “on the large mound, and then
the small mound over here “is where the chief lived.” I told ’em, “Fellas, no
you got it all wrong. “The small mound is
where the visitors sat. “The large mound is
where the home team sat, “and then they played
out here in the middle.” And they looked at me
for about three seconds, and then they said,
“No, we really think “that they had a temple
on the small mound.” Now, there was a time
that my half-baked theory would have been about as good
as any of the other theories about Emerald Mound because
there were no written records or instructions or anything
about what went on here left by the people who used it. Obviously, it must have
been the ceremonial, specific and religious
rituals were held here. I’ve heard stories from
people who talked to people who say they’ve heard
handed down oral histories. Some of them are
pretty far-fetched, but by the time the
Europeans got here and started writing things down, the Natchez had already
abandoned Emerald Mound. As well as every other
tribe had abandoned every other mound site in
the nation, except one, and it’s just right
down the road from here. The Grand Village of
the Natchez Indians. – So Emerald Mound
would have been created by the ancestors of
the Natchez people. There’s a variety of
different mound sites located in Adams County and
in southwest Mississippi. – [Walt] So Emerald Mound had
been abandoned by the time the Europeans began to wander
down the Mississippi River from Canada in the mid-1600s, but the Grand Village
of the Natchez Indians on the banks of
St. Catherine’s Creek inside present day
Natchez was still in use. Matter of fact, the
major significance
of the Grand Village is that it was the only
mound center still being used when the European explorers
got here, and that’s important because the explorers
wrote down what they saw. The buildings, rituals,
the day-to-day activity, the way the village worked, and
from what was recorded here, it’s been extrapolated
that, pretty much those same kinds of things must
have been going on at all the other mound centers all
over the Mississippi Valley. But of direct importance to
present day city of Natchez, French explorers who had landed on the Mississippi
Gulf Coast in 1699 and then over the
next 15 or so years, had wandered out and
established trade connections with Native Americans
all over the place, including here at
the Grand Village, liked this area so
much, they came here and established a fort, Fort
Rosalie, in August of 1716, and it’s from the
establishment of Fort Rosalie that Natchez dates its origin. (whimsical instrumental music) – The collection is
called Gandy Collection. Dr. Gandy and his
wife, Joan Gandy, they are the ones that found
the original prints, the plates and had them restored
to what you see here. Incredible value, just to have
them preserved as they are. The snippets of history
that just go forgotten. I like the children in
that room over there. Just the expressions and the
diversity of the children, and they’re African American
and Asian and Caucasian. – [Walt] Natchez is a
different kind of place. Maybe it’s the isolation, like the remote Galapagos
Islands and their unique animal life evolving so
isolated on their own. It actually started
out very isolated, and it’s not that
easy to get to now. There are now Interstate
highways nearby, but early on, there was one
primary way to get to Natchez, the Mississippi River,
and when you left, you pretty much had to walk
back home on the Natchez Trace. Natchez writer
Greg Iles says that was the beginning of the
uniqueness of Natchez. – First, it comes
from the river. We’re up on the high
ground, the highest ground until you get up to
Missouri, I think. The Indians settled here. Everybody knew this
was an ideal place. It was above the yellow fever, just a lot of positive
things about it. But what really makes
it different is that it has always been an island
of license and liberality in a state otherwise known for its blue laws
and conservatism. And that comes
from the fact that it was settled by the English
and the French early on, and there was a
lot of wealth here, before there was ever
wealth in the Delta or anywhere else in the state, and that created
a situation where because it was an
Anglo-philic city, people sent their children
to the best universities in the land, they sent them
to the courts of Europe, so you tended to have more
educated population here, right on through, I
think till World War II, when we had a pretty
big influx of labor to work in the paper
mill and the tire plants and the things that were put up, so that defined the
character of Natchez. – [Walt] So you had
the river bringing all sorts of people to
Natchez, some staying, some passing through,
like flatboatsmen selling what they brought, then
selling their boats for use as wood for buildings. And then they walked back
home on the Natchez Trace. Others fleeing the
eastern seaboard and the gathering
Revolutionary War, loyal to the crown,
walked here on the Trace, and there were outlaws
making their own Natchez down below the bluff
on the riverfront, Natchez Under the Hill,
with the rest of Natchez all simmering in the same
pot with African slaves, south Louisiana trappers
and freed men of color, until 1811, when
the world changed. The steamboat was invented. Not only then could
the river bring people to Natchez from upstream. With steam, it could take
them back home upstream, and not only people, but cotton. (acoustic guitar music) – What I would like for
people to understand is how complicated history is. That this was an era when if
you had certain attributes, you can make a
whole lot of money, and if you had the
unfortunate circumstance to be born and sold
into slavery in Africa, your life could
be a living hell, or you could lose your life
very easily; it wasn’t yours. It seems so
capricious to us now. – Roughly one million
enslaved people were either purchased, ill-gotten,
bought, stolen, or had from the eastern seaboard and the upper mid-west
states such as Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri,
and one of the places where they were intended
to come are the destination was the Forks of The Road. – [Walt] The Forks of The
Road was a huge slave market on the outskirts of Natchez. Raising cotton is a
labor-intensive undertaking. We have machinery. They had slaves on the
antebellum plantations. Ser Boxley’s dedicated
much of his life preserving the Forks of The Road so we can understand the
contribution of the slave. Only, he would take offense to
that catch-all term, “slave.” You lose sight that
these were people, individuals, just like us. – There would be no
Mississippi for white folks. There would be no Natchez for
white folks and other folk, black folks, for that
matter, and anybody who is benefiting today,
if it wasn’t for slavery, chattle slavery and such,
and so that point has gotta be taken
away from here. Bottom line, it’s
the stolen humanity of African descendants,
our folk’s parents and our ancestors, that
this site speaks to as such. – [Walt] Cotton brought
wealth to Natchez, but it came
at a price: slavery. But southern cotton brought
wealth to the nation, not just southern
plantation owners. The dark side of
Natchez that’s beginning to be given its rightful place
in the history of the city is the role slavery played. – The planters who
lived in Natchez in the 1840s and
early 1850s were the wealthiest people
in the United States, and so they could
buy the finest things that money could buy,
and because we have the Mississippi
River right here, it could all be shipped
right to their doorsteps. People are astonished by
the scales of these mansions, where the ceilings
can be 15 feet high and the rooms can
be 30 feet across. And when you drill down and
look at the details of that, it becomes more and more
amazing that those rooms that are 30 feet across
have cypress floors that are one board
the entire length, just the size and the grandeur
of those things is amazing, and then inside, they
had the finest things money could buy; they had
very fine American furniture with French silk on it and
beautiful French gilded mirrors and beautiful European china. I mean, there is
an opulence here that we would expect to see
in Newport or at Biltmore or some of the other finest
mansions in the United States. – Not many southern planters
that owned a mansion ever laid a brick, and his
brother-in-law didn’t come down for the summer and winter
to help him, but trust me. Every one of these
mansions were built on the back of so-called slaves; most of them, by that
time, though, were free or had freedom in their
pockets, so to speak, but they built and
they were artisans. They made their bricks,
they made their moldings. They made what
they put together, and now, we’re showing it
off like it’s all ours. It belongs to them just as
much as it does to the owners. (upbeat instrumental music) – [Walt] You know, the shorthand
understanding of society of the old south as it’s
been sifted down to us today, 150 years later is, if you were white,
you were free. If you were black,
you were a slave. But that’s not
entirely true. There was a colony of free
people of color in Natchez. One branch of the Natchez
National Park illustrates that at the William Johnson
House downtown. – William Johnson was
a mixed-race person who was born into slavery. We assume that his father
was the plantation owner named William Johnson, though
that’s nowhere written down. And the plantation
owner granted freedom to William Johnson’s mother,
to his sister Adelia, and to young William when
he was about nine years old. And these people
joined a community of about 200 free people
of color here in Natchez, and it was the largest community
of free people of color in the state of Mississippi,
and they sort of occupied a middle class status, and
so they valued learning. William Johnson
was very literate. We don’t know how he
learned to read and write, but what he is primarily known
for is his work as a diarist, that between 1835 and 1851,
he kept daily journals of what was going on in
Natchez, and you know, he was a barber, and if
you think about the gossip that goes through a barber
shop, it’s fascinating reading. You find out not only who’s
running around with who, who’s losing money
at the racetrack, which politicians are having
fistfights in the street. It’s quite fascinating. (acoustic guitar music) – [Walt] Slavery ultimately
led to the Civil War. The right to own slaves is
primarily the state right that’s often referred
to in history books as the sanitized
reason for the war, fighting over states’ rights, but even in the Civil War,
Natchez ended up being unique. One Natchez historian
put it this way. Natchez surrendered
early and often. – When I was in 11th
grade, I was a delegate to Boys State in Jackson,
Hinds Junior College, and I sensed a sort of prejudice against me and the
other boys from Natchez, particularly the boys
from Vicksburg, and
I finally realized it was because we had
surrendered early and well, and they had suffered
through the siege. – [Walt] Actually, there
was a battle casualty in Natchez in the
Civil War, just one. A Union gunboat shelled the
city in a dispute over ice, and twelve year old
Rosalie Beekman was caught by a piece of shrapnel
and bled to death. She is the only person
who died at Natchez in the Civil War in battle. She’s buried here in
Natchez City Cemetery. Well, not only is little
Rosalie Beekman buried here, but there’s a hundred acres
of other folks who are here, nobles, ignobles,
aristocratic folks. There’s governors here,
governors of Mississippi, governors of the Spanish
territory over across the river. Generals of all kinds,
Civil War soldiers. Every other kind of soldier. There’s tombstones
with epitaphs that are continued on the back,
some of them are so long. And then there’s some
whose story’s short, but says a lot, like this one. Louise, period, the unfortunate. Volumes spoken in just
these three words. – Natchez has its
own familiarity. It’s structured
around community. Natchez is, in one word, family. The structure of
Natchez has always been surrounded around
a historic venue, but the true history of Natchez are the people that
tell the story, the people that are
involved in the story, from all genres, generations,
ethnicities, religion. We’ve always found a way
to make Natchez happen. – There’s wildness, there’s
incredible sophistication. There’s music, there’s
art, there’s culture. And yet it has maintained
a sense of small town and a sense of something that
you don’t see everywhere else. – [Walt] After the Civil War,
and on into Reconstruction, the old cotton money
was gone, by and large. The mansions still stood, but the families were
on their own to survive, and the lively happy island
of wealth and sustainability that was antebellum
Natchez was gone. The spirit of the town was
just a shadow of itself, until the Great
Depression years, when something entirely
new came to town: tourists. (whimsical upbeat music) Perhaps it was interest
in the Old South generated by romanticized stories
being produced by Hollywood in the 1930s that generated
interest in places like Natchez. Between that and good
all weather roads beginning to connect
all parts of the nation, pilgrims flocked to Natchez, at first to see the gardens
in bloom for spring, but one year, there
came a late freeze and the town was already
full of tourists, so the gardens were abandoned, and the doors to the old
homes thrown wide open, and the pilgrims have toured
the interiors since then. It was the coming of the
pilgrimage in the 1930s that helped save many
of these old homes. – During that 50
years after the ’30s, the world was populated
with a lot of ladies, blue-haired ladies
whose greatest fantasy was Gone With The Wind, and
they came here by the thousands to see the pilgrimage, and
the pilgrimage was pretty much an unapologetic celebration
of the antebellum South, and that leaves out 50%
of Natchez’s population, so it’s always been a sort
of schizophrenic thing here, and only in the last few years have we really started
to rectify that. – [Walt] The biggest criticism
of the pilgrimage in Natchez was that it didn’t
tell the whole story about antebellum days,
particularly about slavery. But initially, the
pilgrimage wasn’t designed to tell a story at all. – Because Natchez,
unlike Vicksburg, was not defended
by the Confederacy
during the Civil War, it was not shelled and
destroyed by the Union Army during the Civil
War, so we still walk among the physical
remnants of that culture. It’s still very much with us. The houses are still here,
the churches are still here, and in Natchez, when
you hear the whistle of a steamboat
leaving or you hear the sound of the horse hooves
on the horse-drawn carriages, it’s very evocative of a time
period that’s still with us. When the ladies of Natchez
first opened their homes to visiting guests, it was
very much about hospitality. It was very much an
ethos of welcoming people into your homes and it would’ve
been the height of rudeness to discuss difficult
things like that. And a parallel
track has developed the real kind of
historic interpretation, where we no longer,
in this track, over here, we no longer
have to sell a fantasy. We no longer have
to make people feel like you’re good enough folks that you can come in the
front door of this house. Right now, it’s that
you are an American. This is a national park;
you own this place. So let’s come in and really talk about some things that matter. – Fortunate side is Natchez
is uniquely situated to take advantage of the
growing segment of tourism, which is heritage tourism. That’s a great thing, but in
order to take advantage of that and not out of reasons of greed, but in order to be fair
to our own citizens and to sort of un-distort
our history, as it were, we’re gonna have to
change completely the face that we present to the world. – [Walt] And that is
part of the reasoning behind making a deal out of
the 300th anniversary year of the city of Natchez. To take this year to have
events and do projects, not so much to change the face of Natchez that the world sees, but to make sure the world sees
all of the faces of Natchez. Jennifer Ogden Combs came
home this year from Hollywood as a movie producer to head up
the tricentennial commission for her hometown,
because she believes this is the time to
make this happen, and the 300th anniversary
is the vehicle to use to get all of Natchez on board. – Natchez is an
interesting place. It’s a very unique
place, it’s a very… I mean, aside from the history, it’s a very unusual small town that’s got a lot
of sophistication and much bigger feel
than a normal small town, and I thought, what
would be something that could bring
everybody together that would really serve
and be about everybody? This is a year that not
many places can claim this kind of 300th birthday,
and we could use that to bring our community together to celebrate and to commemorate. This is not my story or the
city’s story, the county’s story or the Garden Club’s story,
or the Grand Village story. It’s all of our story. It’s the slavery story,
it’s the civil rights story. It is about all of us. It’s about telling
all of our story and celebrating our stories, and certainly
commemorating them as well, because some of
the history is… Our history isn’t necessarily
something you celebrate, but you learn from it by
commemorating it and sharing it and then using that to create
a better, more united future for Natchez and Adams County. – Natchez is a
national treasure, and it is my mission to
make this treasure shine. There is a wealth of history. There’s a wealth
of architecture. There is a wealth of aesthetics
that we have here in Natchez and it’s my plan
to make the people who are topped in
this community, appreciate this community,
enhance this community, and bring people here like a
Savannah, like a Charleston, show the world the beauty
and the aesthetics, and not only just Natchez, but
our contiguous communities. We have great counties
that surround us and we just need to take
advantage of all of the things that we have to offer
here in Natchez. – [Walt] Natchez,
Mississippi’s had 300 years of relative isolation
in modern day terms to come up with some
unique architecture and some unique places and
some unique history and lore to go along with those places. – We do have St. Mary’s,
which is beautiful, beautiful Catholic
church, and was the seat of the Catholic faith for
many years in Mississippi before the diocese
moved to Jackson. – Natchez is so
filled with landmarks. It’s hard to even cover them. What I would advise is I
like the smaller things, like the Turning Angel that I
named one of my books after. The cemetery at Natchez is
just one of the greatest in the whole country to see. – [Walt] I like the
cemetery, myself. I like it so much I’ve
been locked in there twice. – Wait a second, you’ve been
locked in the city cemetery? – [Walt] Well, I never thought it was something to
brag about before. – Longwood, of course,
completely unique. This house here,
completely unique. But I think people should
just come for the feel. Savannah has its own feel,
Charleston has a feel. Natchez has a similar feel, New Orleans, and those are rare. We live, Walt, you know this, you’ve traveled around,
that’s your job. We’ve reached a point,
this is what I tell people on book tour if I’m
in California or Maine or anywhere, I say, anywhere
I get off the plane, I almost can’t even
tell where I am cause everywhere looks the same. Everywhere feels the same. Same franchise restaurants, same outdoor mall,
same whatever. When you get off the
plane in Mississippi, you know you’re
somewhere, right? And when you come to
Natchez, even in Mississippi, you know you’re
somewhere special. – This is the new Bridge
of Sighs in Natchez. It’s part of the riverwalk, and this bridge is one of the
300th anniversary projects. And speaking of
300th anniversary, it’s amazing how
little bit of 300 years you can cram down into 30
minutes’ worth of television, but that’s all the time
we have for the show. But if you’d like information
about anything you’ve seen, not only on this Mississippi
Road show but on any of them, you can contact us at
mpbonline.org/mississippiroads, and while you’re at your
computer, go ahead and hit like on our Mississippi Public
Broadcasting Facebook page. I think while I’m here, I’m gonna look around
Natchez a little bit more, but until next time,
I’m Walt Grayson. I’ll be seeing you on
Mississippi Roads. (upbeat country music) – [Female Narrator]
Mississippi Roads
is made possible in part by the generous
support of viewers like you. Thank you.

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Comments

  1. Our first visit to Natchez was just recent. found it just fascinating didn't get to see all and will make sure to go back.  people were just great places were wonderful, and the history that is there is necessary today as ever.  thanks for posting this

  2. Lest we not forget the devil's punchbowl that they've conveniently OMITTED from this historical account. Interestingly enough, not one bit surprised. 🤔😐

  3. the Natchez Indians are the Black Americans of that area the so called "african slaves"..only a very small amount of Africans were brought to United States as slaves. Love my homestate,Mississippi. Some of the sweetest people in the world💛Great Video! Thank you.💚🌳🐊

  4. How can u say they abandoned? What did the French the Spanish and English say when they drove the natives out.

  5. Hello. Do you think that many media stories about the state of Mississippi are myths, such as education and health issues ? If so, I hope that Mississippi be a better state soon. Have fun and faith in God.

  6. You people always try and hide what you do, every year we hear about the so-called "Holocaust" it didnt bappen in this nation but hear about it every year ,you wont let anyone forget The "DEVIL'S PUNCH BOWL" happen here not "one" of it mention here, the bodies are atill there you skip over that because you want to hide what you have done.

  7. Those slaves that built the elaborate homes had to be taught those skills. They were not born with this ability. It was the same all over the country where slavery was instituted.

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