Why does beanfield’s history matter?

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 4, 2001

Recent articles in The Natchez Democrat about the &uot;beanfield&uot; property next to Natchez High school have mentioned the former presence of a French colonial plantation in the vicinity. The plantation, known as the &uot;St. Catherine Concession,&uot; was one of two major farming developments in the Natchez area during the French colonial period.

The other plantation, known as the &uot;White Earth Concession,&uot; later renamed &uot;Belle-Isle,&uot; is believed to have been in the vicinity of International Paper Company’s Natchez mill.

Antoine Simone Le Page du Pratz and Marc-Antoine-Cesar-Anne Hubert, employees of the Company of the Indies, a trading company based in Paris, France, established the plantation in 1720.

The construction of Fort Rosalie, just four years earlier, had provided France with a foothold in the Natchez country.

DuPratz is recognized today for his landmark book, &uot;The History of Louisiana,&uot; published in both French and English, and widely read by Europeans in the 18th century. Today, Du Pratz’s book is the most important reference on the Natchez Indians and the founding of Natchez.

In 1722, the Paris-based St. Catherine Company purchased the plantation and concentrated on tobacco farming. The plantation workers also raised cattle and grew food crops.

In 1726, 25 black slaves and 12 indentured servants were working on the St. Catherine Concession under the supervision of a foreman. The plantation was sending shipments of tobacco to France by 1728.

The promising development of the St. Catherine Concession was cut short by the Natchez Indian rebellion of November 1729. Like all of the French plantations in the Natchez area, the Indians burned the St. Catherine Concession and killed or captured those living there.

Ironically, the manager of the plantation, Jean-Daniel Kolly, foresaw the Indian uprising and warned the commandant of the Natchez post. Unfortunately for the French, his warning went unheeded.

The Natchez Indians’ devastating surprise attack on the colony forced the French into a war with the tribe. In February 1730 the French retaliatory force from New Orleans camped at the site of the St. Catherine Concession prior to attacking the Natchez Indians.

The war between the French and Natchez Indians eventually led to the breakup of the tribe. Other tribes, including the Chickasaws, Cherokees and Creeks, adopted many Natchez Indian refugees from the war.

Archaeologists from Harvard University’s Peabody Museum identified the site of the St. Catherine Concession in the early 1970s. The &uot;beanfield&uot; may contain the only surviving archaeological remains of a French plantation site in the Southeastern United States.

Other contemporary French settlements in the region included Arkansas Post, Yazoo Post (Vicksburg), Point Coupee, New Orleans, Biloxi, Natchitoches and Mobile.

Jim Barnett is an archaeologist and director of Historic Properties Division for Mississippi Department of Archives and History.