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A blast from the past at Jefferson College

When you visit the grounds of Historic Jefferson College, founded in 1802, you are instantly transported back in time, to a period before Mississippi was even a state, and Washington, the little community north of Natchez, was the capitol of the Mississippi Territory.

This feeling of escaping into the past will be especially evident the weekend of April 12-14, when Jefferson College will be transformed into a trading town and military barracks for the American soldiers who fought in the War of 1812.

On the south side of the site, more than 50 craftsmen, traders, sutlers (pioneer merchants) and Native Americans will all gather under the live oaks and Spanish moss to camp out and demonstrate crafts and abilities, show off their survival skills, and do a bit of visiting and trading. Visitors to the site will be able to see men and women engaged in pottery, blacksmithing, knife and gun-making, weaving and knitting, engraving and cooking over an open fire. They can also try their luck at archery and throwing a tomahawk or knife. Sutlers will have their tents open, ready to sell or trade for all of the necessities, and a few luxuries, of life on the frontier — hats, rope, cups, toys, furs, jewelry and more.

Another special treat for history lovers on Saturday will be the appearance of Will Hayden and Shawn Webster, of Red Jacket Firearms, who are featured on the History Channel’s program about a Baton Rouge gun manufacturer.

The north end of the site will host the infantry — Andrew Jackson’s men who were recruited to fight the British during the War of 1812. In 1813, these volunteers marched all the way from Tennessee, along the Natchez Trace, armed and ready to provide their services once they reached the rendezvous point at Natchez.  But it was not to be. Once they reached their destination, Jackson was directed to march them home again, without any provisions. The grueling 450-mile trek back was led by one man, who shared in the hardships with his troop, and along the way, earned the nickname “Old Hickory’ — a man destined to be the seventh President of the United States, General Andrew Jackson. Here, among a sea of white tents and fancy uniforms, the soldiers will march and drill, and listen to a stirring speech by Jackson.

On Friday, more than a hundred camps will be going up, while the main activities will take place on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Following a church service on Sunday, camps will start breaking down. In addition to the military drills, marches, and craft demonstrations on Saturday, there will be lectures on the history of the War of 1812, hourly, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A food vendor will also be on site.

There is a $5 admission charge for adults older than 12 on Saturday only.

Historic Jefferson College was the first institute of higher learning in the Mississippi Territory, which included both the current states of Mississippi and Alabama. Classes officially began in 1811 — six years before Mississippi even became a state.  A monument on the Jefferson College grounds marks the exact site where Mississippi’s state constitution was signed, in a church that has long since disappeared.  It is now a state-owned historic site, operated by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. It is located off U.S. 61 — 4 miles northeast of Natchez.

For more information, call 601-442-2901 or contact info@historicjefferson.com.


Robin Person is the branch director at Historic Jefferson College.