The name Mississippi conjures up images of a mighty river which meanders its way through the heart, the very core, of America to emerge in the Gulf of Mexico through a great delta which spreads the Mississippi’s muddy waters over a great area enriching and nourishing the land.
It may be that I’ve seen too many films, but for me the Mississippi represents the inhumanity of slavery from which was born the root of all modern music, jazz and the blues; I think of paddlewheel steamers and the gamblers who sailed them conning the gullible out of their hard earned cash; there’s the plantations with their mansions which are peopled by folk with impeccable manners. Then there is the horror of the American Civil War with its pointless carnage, mayhem and massacre that was fought to free those who’d been born into slavery.
The town of Natchez, in the state of Mississippi, is representative of all of these images. A truly southern town, in both attitudes and architecture, which has the good fortune to occupy a prime spot on the mighty Mississippi.
Natchez is small in population, as American towns go, but if you want to taste what life was like before the Civil War changed America forever, then it’s a great place to visit.
The word antebellum refers to anything that existed in America before the Civil War, and if you wish to understand something of what that time must have been like, then Natchez is home to more antebellum mansions than anywhere else.
These mansions exist because Natchez once housed the most number of millionaires in the entire United States, admittedly at a time when there were a lot fewer states than there are now.
These good citizens earned their wealth from both cotton and from trade. Natchez is built on the highest Mississippi bluff north of the Gulf, and it is the oldest European settlement on the Mississippi, even pre-dating New Orleans.
Today there are about a dozen magnificent mansions that are open to the public, and whilst life must have been wretched for the slaves, as these opulent homes reveal, the life for their masters was very luxurious indeed.
Typical of these is Stanton Hall, which has a Greek Revival style of architecture, with its soaring white columns adorning its entrance. Go through the front door into an entrance hall that is 70 feet long which leads onto parlours filled with extravagant furnishings and it’s easy to understand that Natchez has glamour that was gained from the hardship of others.