Natchez National Historical Park’s Fort Rosalie site open

Published 1:07 am Thursday, August 4, 2016

NATCHEZ — For the past 30 years, the site of Fort Rosalie in Natchez was idle, largely unexplored by the public, waiting for the day visitors would walk its historic ground.

That day came Wednesday as the pinnacle of the City of Natchez’s Tricentennial celebration, when local, state and federal leaders gathered with more than 100 residents for the grand opening of Fort Rosalie as the Natchez National Historical Park’s third national park site in Natchez.

“I want to thank all of you for your patience in waiting 30 years for this day to come,” Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Bond said.

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Fort Rosalie provides an opportunity for new directions of Natchez tourism, Bond said, an opportunity to tell a military history story, to focus on the cultural interactions between local Native American tribes, European colonists and African slaves, as well as a new opportunity to focus on language arts and the different languages that were spoken in Natchez in the early 18th century.

“Natchez is not just a little town with a bunch of old houses, even though I am mighty partial to some of those old houses,” Bond said, smiling. “With strong partners like the National Park Service, the Historic Natchez Foundation and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Natchez is already a 21st-century leader in tourism information. We are already … undertaking reinterpretation of our inherited stories to recognize multiple perspectives and untold aspects … We are already bravely tackling difficult and tragic stories in a way that can bring reconciliation and healing to the community and demonstrate our integrity and respect for all persons to the outside world.”

A key to unearthing and telling the story of Fort Rosalie will be the archaeology work that is ongoing at the site, said David Morgan, director of the National Park Service Southeast Archaeological Center.

Artifacts serve as storytellers of Fort Rosalie and the people who built and occupied it and give a voice to the voiceless, those whose story did not make it into history books, Morgan said.

It can be easy to oversimplify the past, Morgan said, but “one thing our historian colleagues have done very well is to remind us that the past is every bit as complicated as is today.

“So if you visit the Natchez National Historical Park … be mindful that the National Park Service is confronting and bringing back into memory a tale about cultural conflict … It is today’s tale. It is Ferguson; it is Black Lives Matter, immigration politics and economy. Archaeology isn’t just about the past, it’s about us here and now.”

The work of the National Park Service and the people of Natchez was commended at Wednesday’s grand opening by Stephanie Toothman, NPS associate director for cultural resources and partnerships and science, Sen. Thad Cochran, represented by field representative Winn Ellington, Congressman Gregg Harper and Sen. Roger Wicker.

Wicker said he was reminded of a passage from Hebrews that speaks about “a cloud of witnesses,” and related it to those who have witnesses the past 300 years of Natchez’s history.

“I think of all the history that this place on earth has seen over the last 300 years,” he said. “And I think of the people who have been through here … and they are part of that cloud of witnesses. I have to think that someday we will be viewed as a cloud of witnesses for another group of folks, maybe at the 400-year birthday of Natchez. Let’s say that we’ve left this spot on earth a little bit better with a little bit more understanding of our history and our heritage.”