No more silence at Second Creek

Published 1:04 am Friday, September 23, 2011

We will never know exactly what happened 150 years ago down on the plantations in the valley of the Second Creek, southeast of Natchez.

The preceding winter and spring, 11 states supporting the expansion of slavery, including Mississippi, had seceded from the United States of America and formed the Confederate States of America.

War began with the April firing on Fort Sumter in the Charleston harbor, and war news began its spread via telegraph, newspaper and grapevine. No one knew how long the war would last, or how devastating it would be, or what the slaves would do.

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Though a majority of Adams County’s wealthy planters had voted against secession, hundreds of their sons and other young white men began enlisting for Confederate service.

Quitman’s Light Artillery, commanded by John Quitman’s son-in-law, William Storrow Lovell, set out for Pensacola, Fla., to oppose the tightening blockade of Gulf Coast ports.

The Natchez Fencibles, the Adams Light Guard (1 & 2 units), and William T. Martin’s cavalry troop headed to Camp Clark at Corinth, Miss., and the railroad connections that would take them on to Virginia battlefields.

Other young slaveowners like Lemuel Conner, Martin’s brother-in-law, remained behind to serve on vigilance committees in the Natchez area to enforce order in the unsettled days when rumors flew about impending Union invasions and potential slave uprisings.

In May 1861, in nearby Jefferson County, reported talk among slaves about Lincoln bringing freedom to them led to an investigation of an insurrection and the hanging of four people.

In the fall, after the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run), talk began to spread in plantations of the Second Creek area about enslaved men rising up to fight the white people and blacks who would not join them, to kill their masters and mistresses and ravish the young ladies in return for past whippings, overworking, and even killings.

Examinations about “The Plan” by the vigilance committee followed.

Lemuel Conner wrote down confessions almost certainly extracted by whippings from enslaved men from several area plantations who surely knew they were going to die. But not all of the men talked.

Some slaves had already run away. Some had guns. White men may also have been involved. Was there a real conspiracy or was it the product of planter paranoia?

On Sept. 24, 1861, Conner recorded the first “testimony” at Cherry Grove and Brighton Woods plantations.

The first 10 hangings followed, with 17 more within a few weeks, another 13 by mid-1862, and perhaps as many as 200 by the time Union troops occupied Natchez in July 1863.

From 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, a free one-day series of lectures examining the theme of slave resistance and the onset of the Civil War will be held in the parish hall at Trinity Episcopal Church.

All are welcome. For more information, call 601-442-7047 or see

Kathleen Jenkins is superintendent of Natchez National Historical Park.