Planters Hotel remains a little piece of heaven

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 30, 2001

The Planters Hotel has a history second to none in the Old Natchez District, according to a news clipping dropped off to me by friend Ralph Redd. Perhaps Mr. Redd had particular interest in one of the stories because of a connection to the fine old inn by a Mrs. Sarah Redd, who lived in Virginia in the 1820s and received letters from a brother who was visiting the bustling river ports around Natchez.

There were many of them then, ports, that is. With the meandering of the river, some once famous port names, including the mostly deserted town of Rodney, have vanished from modern maps and recent memories.

Capt. Edmond Winston, Mrs. Redd’s brother, was in the area because of a military obligation. In fact, he was the military escort for the Marquis de Lafayette during his famous visit to the Natchez District.

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Being engaged with his celebrated companion, Winston had little time to sight-see in 1825. But he did have time to like what he saw. He vowed to return to see more of the beautiful towns of Port Gibson and Natchez.

In 1828 he fulfilled that promise to himself, traveling down the old Natchez Trace and stopping at Port Gibson at the Planters Hotel.

Winston found Port Gibson remarkably changed in the three-year period since his last visit. He described his reaction to the city by writing to his sister, &uot;The town has improved wonderfully in the last few years … The Court House is not a giant building, but so clean and the officials are of the wised and most polished kind.&uot;

Winston played the part of the guest, writing nothing that would indicate his intentions of remaining in the area but certainly confirming his pleasure in some of the hospitality he received.

&uot;I resided at the Tavern my entire time, though I was invited by many to partake of their hospitality, and so sincere.&uot;

Perhaps his decision to remain at the Planters Hotel centered on the menu there. One would guess that was true based on the detailed description of foods he savored there. &uot;The menu at the Tavern is something rare,&uot; he wrote to Sarah. &uot;I am sending it.&uot;

Winston also was delighted by the steward and his presentation. &uot;The steward at the dining hour comes to the parlor door. His name is McMakin, his face glowing with smiles, and with carving fork and knife, crossed before his breast, clad in a snowy, stiffly starched apron, says, ‘Good evening, Ladies fair.’&uot;

Winston goes on to describe the showy greeting to dinner. The steward would continue, he said:

&uot;Generals and Captains, walk in and partake of barbecued venison, pork, beef, roasted turkeys, stuffed ducks, geese, fish from the biggest river on earth. Chicken salad, shrimp and crabs killed in duels for approval of the ladies appetites, cakes and jellies for the married, cold potato custard for those in love. Gin from Holland, wines from France and Spain. Come one, come all. Eat, drink all you can contain.&uot;

Winston said his chosen inn at Port Gibson therefore made him feel as though he had reached heaven.

&uot;I felt as I saw the merriment that this speech created, and enjoyed the feast, that I was in the Land of Promise.&uot;

Well, he was. Many hundreds of thousands have come to the area and thought so, from then until now. And many of the best of those came and stayed, swayed by warmth and hospitality.

Joan Gandy, special projects director, can be reached at 445-3549 or via e-mail,