While Natchez has found a way to commemorate its tricentennial almost every day this year, Wednesday is the big day. Celebrants return to where it all began — the site of Fort Rosalie — for an opening ceremony with Principal Chief and Great Sun of the Natchez nation Hutke Fields. The party continues around town throughout the day.
In honor of the city that boasts of being the birthplace of Mississippi, we offer 10 famous facts about Natchez.
1. Natchez Indians built Fort Rosalie for the French and took it back
The story of Natchez began on Aug. 3, 1716, when French settlers established Fort Rosalie on the Mississippi River in an area occupied by an American Indian tribe known as the Natchez. The original fort was built with Natchez Indian labor, according to Kathleen Bond, superintendent of the Natchez National Historical Park. In 1729, Natchez Indians attacked French settlers at Fort Rosalie, killing between 200 and 300 people and capturing a large number of women, children and enslaved Africans. This spurred the retreat of French colonists from North America, says Lance Harris, director of the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.
2. The human cost of commerce
In 1789, Andrew Jackson, who was a public prosecutor in the region long before he became president of the United States, built a trading post north of Natchez which trafficked in slaves. Natchez became the state’s most active slave trading city in the decades before the Civil War, according to the Mississippi Historical Society.
3. A capital with no capitol
Since it already was a substantial settlement on the Mississippi River, Natchez was chosen by the United States Congress as the first capital when they created the Mississippi Territory in 1798, though no official capitol was built.
4. Living the high life
Before the Civil War, Natchez had the most millionaires per capita of any city in the United States, making it arguably the wealthiest city in the nation at the time, boasts the Mississippi Historical Society.
5. Home to free people of color
Natchez had the largest community of free people of color in Mississippi before the Civil War, Bond says. Many were the children of white plantation owners and enslaved African American women. William Johnson, who gained his freedom at age 11, bought a downtown Natchez barber shop in 1830 and kept a diary from 1835 until his death in 1851. His diary is cited by the National Park Service as an important resource for the study of free blacks and African American history.
6. The classic Southern antebellum facade emerges
The Auburn mansion was built in Natchez in 1812. Its front porch with classical two-story columns, the first of its kind built in Mississippi, became synonymous with antebellum architecture.
7. Southerners but not secessionists
On Jan. 9, 1861, Mississippi seceded from the Union, but delegates from Natchez and Adams County attending the state convention voted against secession. Many planters in Adams County had moved there from northern states and retained financial and familial connections to the north.
8. Rev. Revels claims a first for Natchez and his race
Once the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed protecting the right of African Americans to vote, Hiram R. Revels of Natchez became the first African American to be seated in Congress as a U.S. senator in 1870. Mississippi was readmitted to the Union on Feb. 23, 1870.
9. The history of historic preservation
In 1925, Miss Charlie Compton, one of the earliest preservationists of Natchez, protested the demolition of Natchez’s historic city hall and columned open-air market to make way for construction of the city’s current city hall. But she failed to save them. In 1974, Ron and Mimi Miller founded the private, nonprofit Historic Natchez Foundation, which helps preserve local structures by seeking their designation as national historic landmarks or as listings on the National Register of Historic Places.
10. Natchez shows off its finery
Natchez may be most famous today for its annual pilgrimage. In 1932, the tour of grand antebellum homes and their gardens became an annual event.
Thousands of visitors tour Rosalie Mansion, Longwood, Stanton Hall, Melrose and other former estates in spring and fall