Moonshine in the morning … who knew it would be that kinda day?
We woke up 60 miles north to bright sun and the promise of unseasonably warm weather. We are not the first to tie up here, of course, French colonist came ashore in 1716 and chose to name the area for the Natchez tribe who, with their ancestors, inhabited much of the area from the 8th century through the French colonial period. We’re here to explore the oldest permanent settlement on the river, once a center for cotton and sugar planters and river trade, now a city of 19,000 proud to share its history while embracing what lies ahead.
We had a bit of a lie in, as they say in Australia, since we were not expected on the bus until 10:00 for our jaunt into what is now the center of town but what used to be fields and plantation homes. The first store we went into offered free hot chocolate, cookies, and moonshine. I partook of all three, bought some socks (happy birthday Matt and Murphy) and headed to the fudge store (Merry Xmas Cyd, Mother, and Deb). It was First Responder Day at the shop which translated into bell ringing followed by a picture of the celebrities-of-the-day. We popped in and out of small mom-and-pop shops and enjoyed the ambience of the quaint, charming old town area of Natchez. It was impossible to miss the huge Christmas tree smack dab in the center of one intersection. It has been there since August when the Hallmark Channel set it up for a movie that just wrapped: Every Time a Bell Rings.
After another sumptuous meal on board our vessel Dan and I waddled to the bus and headed to Longwood, the largest remaining octagonal house in the country. Talk about designed to impress! This eight-sided, six-storied, onion-domed mansion built with three quarters of a million bricks sits on a wooded rise overlooking a small lake. It was the dream of a fellow who followed in his dad’s footsteps and sold cotton seed. Lots and lots of high quality hybrid seed that he and his dad are credited with creating. Timing for this building project was totally off, however, because only the nine rooms in what we would call the basement were finished by the time the Civil War began. The other 23 rooms never got passed the drawing board. For a number of reasons, including the worthlessness of Confederate money after the war, the other floors were never completed. Family members lived in the 10,000 square feet basement until 1939 and owned the property until 1968!
We toured the finished lower level and saw a few firsts: a gout chair, a chamber pot built into an overstuffed chair, and a metal plate warmer, one of two of its kind known to still exist. We saw where the dumbwaiter would have taken food from the basement to two of the floors above. Obviously it was never used. The punkah above the dining room table was beautiful. Of particular interest was the portrait of Fredrick, one of two known slave portraits in Mississippi. We were able to visit the next floor and see how far construction had gotten when it was abruptly called to a halt. We could see all the way to the roof supports on the top floor.
Our guide, who could pass as a stand up comedian like a couple others we have had, took the long way back to the boat, so he could point out varnish trees and other beautiful homes and buildings in what is known affectionately as Natchez Proper. In the 1800s Natchez Improper, home to saloons, gamblers, roughnecks, and ladies of negotiable affections, was on the water in the area where we tied up this morning.
If you’ve started your day with moonshine, why not end it with a butterscotch martini? A hard pass on more moonshine, but the martini was delicious. Dessert in a glass. One lovely dinner and a lively cajun performance later, we headed to the room to get organized for tomorrow.
Fun facts about Natchez…..
It’s known as the Bed and Breakfast Capital of the South …and… the Biscuit Capital of the World.
The Natchez Indians who survived the French colonial period scattered and today most of their
descendants live primarily in Oklahoma among the tribes that willingly absorbed their refugee ancestors.
Sadly some were captured and sent to the West Indies as slaves.
Pre-presidency, Andrew Jackson, a public prosecutor in the region,
built a trading post north of Natchez which trafficked in slaves.
Natchez became the state’s most active slave trading city in the decades before the Civil War.
By 1861 Natchez was home to 19 of the U.S.’s 29 millionaires!
The first African American singer of classical music,
Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, was born in Natchez in 1809.
Mississippi seceded from the Union, but delegates from Natchez and Adams County
attending the state convention voted against secession.
In 1870 Hiram R. Revels of Natchez became the first African American
to be seated in congress as a U.S. Senator.