Natchez-Under-the-Hill, the neighborhood at the bottom of the bluff where the American Queen landed, was notorious during steamboat days. Violence and vice attracted the rough adventurers from the boats on the river, but the location kept the behavior isolated from the town’s more prominent citizens.
Those “prominent” citizens were wealthy, thanks to cotton—and their slaves who harvested it. In 1860, it was the richest city in the U.S., and there were many antebellum mansions that were spared during the Civil War when the town surrendered to Farragut’s fleet.
We toured the restored Rosalie Mansion, after getting a hop on-hop-off bus tour of the town. Hurricane Harvey was passing through, so it was nice to get out of the high winds and pouring rain, bag up our dripping plastic ponchos, and have a look at how the one-precent’rs lived back in the 1860’s.
Like all of the other mansions, Rosalie was owned by a wealthy white cotton plantation owner and owner of slaves who was part of a small group that dominated the antebellum South. (Acquiring land and slaves provided the surest route for a person to achieve elite status in the South.)
Ronald L. Davis, author of The Black Experience in Natchez, describes what life was like for those blacks in Natchez who were not owned as slaves: “Freedom for Natchez blacks was not the opposite of slavery. Each ‘free person of color’ was expected to function as an essentially marginal person. The extent of one’s freedom depended upon one’s deportment as well as one’s conformity to a role in life accommodating the white community… the free blacks of Natchez lived, in other words, somewhere between slavery and freedom.”
Another mansion we toured was Magnolia Hall, where we learned that during the Civil War, a cannon ball had been fired by the Union that blasted through the kitchen wall and landed in a soup terrine. How’s that for a soup garnish?
Hurricane Harvey had blown through town by the evening, so we went for a stroll to enjoy the beautiful sky that Harvey left behind:
Coming up next: SCAMPERING AROUND ST. FRANCISVILLE