Natchez, Mississippi, sits approximately 200 feet above the Mississippi River, and is the highest point north of the Gulf of Mexico, is the oldest civilized settlement on the Mississippi river and is two years older than New Orleans, Louisiana. Natchez was inhabited for centuries by prehistoric Indians, before the white man came and was later settled by the Natchez Indians, then by the French in 1716, later by the British in 1763, the Spanish in 1779, and finally by the American immigrants in 1798.
We learned during our visit that Natchez became the first capital of the Mississippi Territory in 1789, and became the first capital of the new state of Mississippi in 1817. The city blossomed economically in the first half of the 19th century due to the exportation of tons of cotton by steamboat alone the Mississippi River - cotton from Mississippi plantations and from across the river in the rich Louisiana lowlands, where cotton still grows today.
Fortunes were apparently made from the area's natural resources on the rich fertile land and the Mississippi river. Cotton was king, money made men rich and they spent it on beautiful mansions, unique architecture and they furnished these homes with the finest furnishings money could buy, locally in America and from Europe. Natchez is famous for it Under the Hill road along the Mississippi River, lined with the old buildings of the days of steamboats, cargo barges, a hotel, bar and restaurant are still standing.
Today Natchez enjoys international tourism, good industry and a substantial wealth of natural resources. We found Natchez to have hospitality and a flair of the old 18th century still found in today's modern buildings - Natchez is a very desirable small city, and is one of the most desirable in the United States. It is definitely worth the visit and the time to explore the cobble stone streets; the old train station and other downtown buildings as well as the mansions in the surrounding area. You can even get a horse and carriage ride for a reasonable price, around the old city. Plus, you can visit the Old South Winery, which is known for its muscadine wines or visit the old antebellems and mansions built when the first riches began to pour into Natchez.
A little history about the Natchez Indians who were among the last Native American groups to inhabit the area, which is now known as southwestern Mississippi.
Archaeological digs have provided evidence which indicates that the Natchez Indian culture began around A.D. 700 and lasted until the 1730's when the tribe was basically annihilated in a war with the French, when the Natchez attacked what was called Fort Rosalie, killing many of the settlers in 1729. Their language, habits and culture, indicates that the Natchez Indians probably developed from earlier cultures in and around the Lower Mississippi River Valley region. The Natchez Indians were very successful farmers, growing corn, beans, and squash. They also hunted, fished, and gathered wild plant foods readily available in the area and some can still be found today. Their society was organized into what is called a chiefdom, and was divided into two ranks which were: nobility and commoners. A system called matrilineal descent and was also common among the Natchez Indians as well as other Native American groups. Heredity through the female line determined one's membership in one rank or another. The Natchez chief, called Great Sun, inherited his position of leadership from his mother's family was evidenced in brochures and in conversation with museum employees.
The Natchez building habits, we learned that their building of mounds was part of a complex tribal religion. The mounds served as the bases for sacred buildings. All the people of the tribe worked together to construct and maintain the mounds, which were a flat-top type of mound upon which a building was constructed. I remember seeing more of these types of mounds in the upper Mississippi areas along the Mississippi River where Indians once lived.
Only a few high-ranking tribal officials lived at the mound centers on a permanent basis. The people of the tribe, dispersed over a wide area on family farms where they grew the crops for the tribe, gathered at the mound centers periodically for social and religious activities.
The Grand Village of the Natchez Indians in Natchez, Mississippi, is where we visited for a day and we found historically that it was the site of the Natchez tribe's main ceremonial mound center during the early period of French colonization in the Lower Mississippi River Valley around 1716. Construction of the mounds at the Grand Village was done in stages, beginning around the 13th century according to archaeological evidence. While there we learned that the Emerald Mound, near the city of Natchez on the Natchez Trace Parkway, was also built by the Natchez Indians and that from evidence found it may have been the original main ceremonial mound center for the Natchez tribe before being changed to the Grand Village sometime before the French explorers arrived in the late 1600's.
The first documented historical contact between the Natchez Indians and Europeans occurred in March 1682 when the French expedition known as the Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle Expedition descended the Mississippi River. Following Sieur de La Salle's meeting of the Natchez Indians, the French and English explorers, as well as priests, and military personnel made frequent visits to the Natchez area creating a trade and colony environment. The French established Fort Rosalie at Natchez in 1716 as the nucleus of a colony. The French colony at Natchez grew quickly over 13 years. However, disputes and misunderstandings between the French and the Natchez resulted in a series of conflicts causing great harm to the Natchez in the end.
We learned that as the Natchez became caught in the middle of a struggle between France and England in the 18th century, the existence and future of the Natchez were at stake and was a struggle for the control of North America and during the 1720's the English infiltrators were successful in turning a large group of the Natchez people against the French.
We learned that the Natchez Indians rebelled against the French colony in November 1729, resulting in a war between the Natchez and the French. The Natchez Indians lost the war and were the few not killed were forced to abandon their homeland. Following their defeat at the by the French, remaining Natchez refugees joined other tribes, including the Chickasaws, Creeks, and Cherokees. Today, Natchez Indian descendants can be found living in the southern Appalachian Mountains area and in Oklahoma, a far place from the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi river.
Archaeological investigations at the Grand Village have been conducted over the years, according to information at the site, and provided a classic example of historical archaeology, where archaeological findings are compared to written documentation from the French colonization of the Natchez area during the 1700's. It is evident to me that after seeing all of this - there is probably more rich history to be found in the earth, around the bluffs and along the Mississippi River down to New Orleans.
When we visited the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, which is now a National Historic Landmark overseen by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, with an onsite museum accredited by the American Association of Museums, a partially restored mound area, a reconstructed Natchez Indian house, beautiful nature trails, and a picnic pavilion. We found the site to be open seven days a week, except on certain holidays and there are educational programs for school and adult groups on site. Admission is free, which is great for a family outing and picnic. Annual events we discovered are the Natchez Powwow, Summer Film Series, Discovery Week, Student Days, and the 11th Moon Storytelling, which is a great treat for the young people. So, if you ever visit the area of Southern Mississippi, make Natchez a place to stop and visit for a day or two. There are plenty of reasonable accommodations, eating places, shopping for the whole family, there is even a Casino on the Mississippi River that serves the best cappuccino around.
One last comment about our visit. We noticed in the utensils, clothing, pots, and things there was a very real similarity or semblance to the things we have seen in Turkey, Moldova, Romania and elsewhere. In some last minute research we found that Natchez is one of the most beautiful old American cities that still has its culture and building requirements that must meet its past heritage.
The plot made by William Lowenkamp and Natalia Tcacenco, photography by William Lowenkamp