Flatboat commemorating Lincoln to visit Natchez

Published 12:13 am Sunday, September 28, 2008

NATCHEZ — Approaching 200 years after the birth of Abraham Lincoln, a flatboat began a month-long voyage down the Mississippi River in remembrance. And it’s about to make a stop in Natchez.

At 3 p.m. Monday, the flatboat, which is recreating Lincoln’s 1828 voyage down the river, will dock at the bottom of Roth Hill Road.

The boat began its trip in Spencer County, Ind., where Lincoln spent his early years from age 7 to 21.

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Spencer County Visitors Bureau Executive Director Melissa Miller said 50 years ago, a group of Spencer County residents made the same trip.

“Now, with the 200th birthday coming up, we decided to honor both Abraham Lincoln and the people from our county who had done this trip once before,” Miller said.

The main purpose of the trip, though, is education.

“Our goal is really to help make people aware of the years that Abraham Lincoln lived in Indiana,” she said. “The Indiana years are often forgotten by our popular culture.”

With its genesis in Spencer County, the recently constructed 60-foot boat has already made 16 stops.

After its brief visit to Natchez, it will have only four more stops before ending in New Orleans. That makes a total of 21 stops in eight different states.

While some of the stops along the journey do not exactly match Lincoln’s true journey, Natchez National Historical Park Ranger Tim Van Cleave said Lincoln actually did stop in Natchez, where he was almost robbed.

“The river was a pretty rough place to be,” Van Cleave said. “It could be dangerous.”

Lincoln also had some contacts in Natchez, including an acquaintance with John Quitman.

Van Cleave said he’s putting together an exhibit about flatboatmen, Under the Hill and Lincoln’s connection to Natchez.

The group coming on the boat will give a presentation at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Natchez Visitors Reception Center.

Miller said so far the experience has been a good one.

“We really feel like we’re accomplishing our mission,” she said. “We’ve enjoyed the local flavor, meeting with all the people. We’ve had quite a few school groups come and tour the boat.”

Van Cleave encouraged all walks of life to come see the boat’s arrival on Monday and the presentation on Tuesday.

“It’s just another great part of the history of Natchez because these flatboatmen came down here and they docked under the hill,” he said. “It’s an aspect of history that we don’t get to hear a lot about and that’s being a flatboatman.”