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Join first Civil War tour of Natchez

“The Federal Occupation of Natchez, 1863” is the title of the first Civil War tour of Natchez. It will take place with transportation, guides and refreshments on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 24. The tour is the climax of the 24th annual Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration’s four-day conference, “Fiction, Fact, and Film: The Civil War’s Imprint on Southern Culture.”

The tour departs from and returns to the Natchez Visitors Center, 640 South Canal St. Tickets are $25, and space on the buses is limited. In varying order, the tour buses will visit The Burn, a Greek Revival mansion that became part of Fort McPherson; the Forks of the Road, the site of one of the South’s largest slave markets; the Natchez City Cemetery, where numerous people are buried who have direct connections to the Civil War; and the Natchez National Cemetery, where notable persons associated with the Civil War lie buried, including Medal of Honor recipient Landsman Wilson Brown, U. S. Navy, who died onboard the USS Hartford in Mobile Bay in August 1864.

At each stop, historians will discuss the relationship of the site and the Civil War. At the City Cemetery, a guide will lead a walking tour, stopping to relate stories at a dozen grave sites. At The Burn, refreshments will be served.

My role in the Civil War tour is to meet buses at the Forks of the Road slave market site and talk about the history of this important place at the corner of Liberty and St. Catherine streets. During the decades before the Civil War, several slave markets clustered there, straddling what was then the city’s eastern corporation line. Market activity increased significantly at this location when Natchez city officials, fearing the introduction of diseases, prohibited the sale of out-of-state slaves within the city limits.

The manner in which sales were transacted was a distinctive characteristic of the Forks of the Road slave markets. Instead of holding auctions, buyers inspected the slaves and made private deals with sellers. Classified advertisements placed by Forks of the Road slave traders in Natchez newspapers simply announced the availability of slaves for purchase, indicating a casual, first-come-first-served approach to marketing. Lacking the competitive, public spectacle atmosphere of an auction, individual buyers and sellers were free to quietly strike a bargain.

Initially, traders brought their slaves to the Forks of the Road via overland marches from Virginia and other eastern states. By the 1830s, with the burgeoning Cotton Boom, steamships were transporting thousands of enslaved people from ports like Norfolk, Va., around the Florida peninsula to New Orleans. From there, steamboats brought the enslaved cargo upriver to Natchez. Shipments of slaves also arrived in Natchez by steamboat from upriver states like Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, the interstate slave trade began to collapse. The last newspaper advertisements for slave sales at the Forks of the Road appeared in the Natchez Daily Courier during the early months of 1863. All slave sales had ceased in Natchez by the summer of 1863 when Union troops occupied the town. Today, the historic intersection, with its familiar “Y” configuration, remains to mark the location of the once-flourishing slave markets at the Forks of the Road.

Tickets for this unique tour are available by calling Beth Richard, 601-446-1103, or e-mailing her at Beth.Richard@colin.edu. The deadline to buy tickets is Feb. 20. The award-winning NLCC was founded by Co-Lin Natchez and Carolyn Vance Smith in 1990. Sponsors are Co-Lin, Natchez National Historical Park and Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

 

Jim Barnett is the director of the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians

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