New park service walking tour begins Saturday

Published 11:05 am Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A new walking tour conducted by the National Park Service will begin Saturday at 2 p.m. at the William Johnson House, 210 State St.

The free tour, guided by ranger Ayne McKay, is titled “Hearth and Homeland: The Civil War in Natchez.”

“This tour will concentrate on families,” said McKay, a former Texas municipal judge who moved to Natchez to volunteer at the Natchez National Historical Park and then became a seasonal ranger.

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She will lead the tour from the Johnson House to the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, where her talk will focus on the story of the Civil War era in Natchez.

“I’ll talk about the shelling of Natchez and the death of Rosalie Beekman,” she said. “And while we’re at the bluff I will tell the story of the mansion Clifton, the only Natchez mansion demolished by the Union during the Civil War.”

The tour will continue to historic Rosalie at the end of Broadway Street. “I’ll talk about Gen. Ransom when he came to occupy Natchez and we’ll continue to Rosalie, his headquarters,” she said.

The story will continue with information about the Wilson family living at Rosalie at the time and about Gen. Grissom and his wife, who moved into the mansion with Mrs. Wilson.

“Mrs. Grissom and Mrs. Wilson became very dear friends,” McKay said. “She returned after the war to visit them. She was a very gracious person.”

From Rosalie, the walk will continue to the corner of Washington and Wall streets for stories about Holly Hedges and Texada, McKay said.

At that spot, she will bring in the McMurran family, famous residents of the Melrose mansion, also a part of the Natchez National Historical Park. John McMurran Jr. was born at Holly Hedges.

“Then we’ll go up to Magnolia Hall and talk about Thomas Henderson and the shelling of Magnolia Hall by the (U.S.S.) Essex,” she said. “And I’ll give some general information about Magnolia Hall.

At the Adams County Courthouse, the next stop, she will tell about the black troops of Natchez during the Civil War and will describe the plight of the freedmen.

“They were free, but they didn’t know what they were free to do,” she said. “They were free to go where they wanted to go, but they didn’t know where to go.”

One of the generals said of the freedmen, “How do I clothe them and feed them,” McKay said.

“We’ll talk about the corral and the plight of the people there,” she said, referring to an area along the Mississippi River north of Natchez Under-the-Hill, where many African Americans died of various diseases due to poor sanitation in the camp.

“About 50 percent of the people died there, as many as 75 a day,” McKay said. “Two thousand died the first year.”

The tour then will return to the Johnson House and McKay will make a few remarks about how the war changed the lives of the Johnsons.

“They enjoyed a certain societal echelon by being free blacks, but then they became a part of the masses,” she said. “Like the planters, they lost their assets.”

The tour takes about an hour, she said. This is the only time the tour will be given during the season.

The Johnson House is open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Melrose is open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The last tour at Melrose is at 4 p.m. Tours are on the hour throughout the day. Johnson House tours are self guided.

More information is available by calling 601-446-5790.