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Separate Natchez from slave market

I have a mantle over my fireplace that has a documented history of being a keel from a slave barge that came to Natchez just prior to the Civil War. It was originally approximately 4-feet-by-4-feet and perhaps 10 feet long.

It had been hewn from a massive cypress log with adzes wielded by slaves. I had to cut the piece down considerably, but I purposely left the adze scars and mortise.

The northern states and some western territories had many slaves being held in captivity for factories, fields, homes, etc., by northern slave owners. Prior to the Civil War there had been many rumblings and much discussion about emancipating the slaves.

Barges at this time were loaded with slaves from the North and being sent to the slave markets along the Mississippi River. Just prior to 1860, it seemed a sure-thing that all slaves would soon be freed, and many northern slave owners as well as southern slave owners opted to sell their slaves at bargain prices.

The Natchez and New Orleans slave markets burgeoned with amazing growth. The slaves were sold in the markets and the boatmen sold the lumber from their barges and bought passage back to their homes up north. Hence, the keel from one of them, which I later constructed into a mantle, was left in Natchez.

Having said all this, I am in no way proud that Americans from all areas of the country were slave owners. However, this was the way of the world at the time. For every single slave in America, six were purchased in Brazil, for example. They were brutally treated there, and very few lived long enough or well enough to have children.

When I lived in Germany, I visited the German Concentration Camp in Dachau, Germany. Dachau is a beautiful little Bavarian town with a proud and bountiful history of arts, music and literature. However, when Dachau is mentioned, nobody thinks about the beautiful town, they will usually say things like, “That’s where that awful concentration camp was in WWII.”

I fear that we are attempting to portray Natchez in a negative light much like Dachau by peddling a skeleton from our closet called the Natchez slave market.

If everyone is continually reminded of the agony of slavery here, who will remember the ecstasy of antebellum Natchez? Taking the lyrics from the song “Dixie,” I would say, “Look away Dixieland.”

I don’t believe it will be beneficial for us that when Natchez is mentioned, many may say, “That’s where that awful slave market was.”

 

Ed Field

Natchez

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