Pretty Natchez has an interesting history. It was at the centre of the cotton and sugar trade and became very wealthy as a result of it which is why so many beautiful antebellum (pre civil war) houses were built here. The very helpful tourist information visitor centre in town is a good place to orientate yourself. If you are looking for something to do that doesn’t cost anything, opt for the self-guided walking trails – the Tourist Office have all the details.
It also has a downside to it though. A visit to the Forks of the Road – site of the former slave market where thousands were sold into slavery – revealed trail boards that had personal accounts from some of the former slaves and made very depressing reading. It’s hard to believe that these horrors actually happened here and that it was so widely tolerated at the time. It really helped to close the knowledge gap that had been bugging me. So this was the truth.
So many picture postcard perfect antebellum homes (668 in total – 19 open to the public) – so little time to see them. If you visit during the Spring or Autumn Pilgrimage, many of the privately owned homes are opened up too. We opted for Longwood, which made an interesting tour. There are frequent tours throughout the day – no need to book. It was the dream that never came true, but not for want of trying. An entertaining story of romance, tragedy, trauma and grace. The magnificent octagonal house was never finished – the civil war intervened and changed the lives of its occupants – the Nutt family – irretrievably.
There were two exhibits that particularly caught my attention (no photos allowed):
- A beautiful oil painting of one of the slaves hung in one of the reception rooms – the haunting eyes followed you around the room.
- A glass fly catcher which held sugar syrup in the base and had frosted glass at the bottom so you couldn’t see the dead flies while you were eating your dinner!
We also fitted in a visit to the (free) museum of William Johnson’s house – a relatively prosperous free man of colour who ran a barbershop in Natchez. He started life as a slave, but was granted freedom by his master and led a successful life despite the racial inequalities he had to endure. Unbelievably enough, he actually kept slaves himself (?!)I suppose this is further helpful context to understand how people thought back in those days. So much is known about him because he kept a daily diary – it shows just how valuable a simple record can be.
By the afternoon, the sky had turned black and thunderstorms engulfed the town. Sirens began to sound and my ‘phone flashed up an emergency tornado alert. This wasn’t part of the plan either! We sped back to the relative safety of the hotel and sheltered with other guests in the big main room until the storm had passed. This isn’t a frequent occurrence around here – we were glad when the all clear sounded.
We waited out the remainder of the storm at the Magnolia Grill, Silver Street. Great cajun food and a good view of the Mississippi. The American Queen paddle steamer was visiting when we were there which added to the interest. There is a car park right next door (for patrons only).