Slavery talk to be held today

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 4, 2003

NATCHEZ &045;&045; The Forks of the Road former slave site has made headlines in recent years, thanks to renewed efforts to recognize the site and its history.

Now is the public’s chance to put the history of that site in context, said historian Thom Rosenblum of Natchez National Historical Park.

At 7 p.m. today at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center, Rosenblum will present on the &uot;Natchez Uprising&uot; and the slave trade in the area in the 1830s &045;&045; including the Forks of the Road.

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With a local society formed to push recognition of the Forks of the Road &045;&045; and with the city getting $130,000 in state money to buy the site and erect signs there &045;&045; the time was right for such a program, Rosenblum said.

&uot;We were asked (by the National Park Service) to get involved in researching this because of recent interest in the site,&uot; said Rosenblum, referring to the site at the intersection of St. Catherine Street and Liberty Road.

Although records regarding the slave trade during that time are sketchy, Rosenblum managed to compile information over the last two years from records as far away as New Jersey for his report.

Among records Rosenblum found most interesting were those detailing the Natchez Uprising &045;&045; when, in the early 1830s, citizens of Natchez drove slave traders out of town.

&uot;The reason was that people called it (slave trading) a public nuisance, and because they were afraid of disease,&uot; Rosenblum said.

Many slaves were brought to Natchez from New Orleans, where a cholera epidemic had recently killed thousands of people &045;&045; and Natchez didn’t want to be next, he explained.

Such fears came to a head when the bodies of dead slaves were found en masse on property owned by slave trader Isaac Franklin on property near the present site of Holy Family Catholic Church.

A town selectman named Felix Houston led the charge to drive the slave traders from town &045;&045; although not far, since the new trading site, the Forks of the Road, sat just at the edge of what was then the city limits.

Rosenblum researched what can be found of the biographies of slave traders who were active in the Natchez area at that time including, he said, some pretty colorful personal tales.

But what really hit home with Rosenblum was seeing, in the rare slave trade records that can be found, chilling accounts of people being appraised and sold as property.

&uot;It’s one thing to hear about it, but it’s another thing to read it,&uot; Rosenblum said. For example, a letter from one slave trader to another detailed the high death rates among area slaves.

The recipient, in return, answered that the high death rate was a good thing, in his opinion &045;&045; because it made the demand for new slaves that much greater.

&uot;Somehow, when you read it, you’re not prepared for it,&uot; Rosenblum said.