Paddlewheels, cotton, and large antebellum estates put Natchez, Mississippi on the map and brought affluence to some but despair for others. While visiting this southern gem I found much more to Natchez’s history other than the pageantry of the tableaux and historic house tours. For example, the opulent houses created by the cotton kingdom were made possible by the lash and enslavement of African slaves. Natchez National Historical Park is a window into this legacy.
|Slave Cabins at Melrose|
Owned by the National Park Service, Melrose Estate is one of many great houses found in Natchez. The original furnishings and decorative arts within the house provide insights into the lives and opulence of the planter class during the antebellum South. But, unlike other great houses in Natchez many of the outbuildings at Melrose are still standing and open to visitors. The slave quarters behind the house give a voice to the enslaved, ensuring that their history and lives are not forgotten.
|William Johnson House|
Another notable site at Natchez National Historical Park is the William Johnson House. At this site one can learn about the life and time of William Johnson, the barber of Natchez. William Johnson was a freeman of color and successful businessman, who kept a detailed diary of his life and business in Mississippi. This historic site gives us a unique perspective into life in Natchez and the South during a time when slavery was an accepted way of life.
|Forks of the Road|
Although not part of the National Park, the Forks of theRoad site should be part of any visit to Natchez. This site was once the second largest slave market in the United States. Not much on this site remains other than interpretive signs, but the Forks of the Road was recognized by the ICOMOS committee on cultural routes as part of the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Route.
Natchez National Historical Park is more than another series of house museums. The Park is a glimpse into the legacy of the antebellum cotton economy and the many lives it impacted.
|Shackles at the Memorial for the Forks of the Road|