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Story Archives: Natchez' lofty timber & bluffs; Concordia's fertile soil
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|Natchez' lofty timber & bluffs; Concordia's fertile soil|
Three years after John Hutchins was born in 1774 on the Natchez frontier, the British held a conference at Mobile with the Choctaw to agree to the purchase and boundaries of its Natchez District, which was being colonized on Indian lands.
According to historian B.L.C. Wailes, the district of Natchez, as defined, totaled 2,031,800 acres. Wailes said the southern end of the boundary was at the 31st parallel, which is today the boundary line between Mississippi and Louisiana located just south of Woodville and north of St. Francisville.
With the Mississippi River representing the western border, the eastern border began on the southern end of the district about 50 miles west of the river, said Wailes, "running west of north and approaching the river by a not very direct line, until it reached the Yazoo River, passing only about six miles east of the present city of Vicksburg."
The land inside these borders, wrote historian Dunbar Rowland, "was of very great importance in the history of Mississippi because it was remarkably adapted to the necessities of the pioneer. The difficulties of opening a new country are so enormous that only the most favored spots can be utilized. Such was the region along the river, from Bayou Sara to the Yazoo river. It is a high and breezy upland, close to a great river that elsewhere had no limits put upon its destructive freaks in floodtime...
"The Natchez highland was covered with hardwood forests, with no pine, but occasionally an enormous sassafras, such as was found nowhere else on the continent. There is no stone, and no running water except streams having their rise in the interior, cutting through these hills to the river. The soil yields easily to the erosion of water, and along the streams is cut into immense gullies and ravines, with precipitous heights...Lofty timber covered them from base to summit..."
John Hutchins' father, Anthony, recalled when in 1778 the "survey of the line of Natchez district was made. The surveyors commenced running this line, according to agreement, but arriving at the Stony spring (Rocky spring, in Claiborne county), about twelve miles east of the Grindstone Ford (near Port Gibson) on Bayou Pierre, the Indians perceived that the course they were going would take from them their favorite ball ground on the bank of the Yazous (Yazoo). They refused to proceed any further." (The Choctaws were fierce and talented competitors at a game of stickball from which lacrosse evolved.)
Work came to a complete halt. The surveyors sent a message to the governor of West Florida about the crisis. The governor, said Hutchins, "agreed that the Indians should have their way." The Choctaw "took the surveyors to the Yazous, and made them set their course from the point they selected, about six leagues up the river, to strike the former line at the Stony Spring, where they had left off. The goods to pay for this land arrived and were delivered to agents who, taking advantage of the war that broke out between the English and the Spaniards, gave but a small part to the Indians, who have ever since complained."
A VIEW OF CONCORDIA
As John Hutchins grew older, the Natchez frontier blossomed into a wealthy community of planters who grew rich primarily from cotton, which fueled the slave trade. Many of these Natchez planters in the 19th Century made their money on the fertile bottomland cotton fields of Concordia and Tensas parishes.
W.H. Sparks in his 19th Century book -- "The Memories of Fifty Years" -- stood at the bluff at Natchez one day and described what he saw across the Mississippi in Concordia.
"Beyond the river, in Louisiana, is an alluvial plain extending for fifty miles, through which meander many small streams, or bayous, as they are termed in the language of the country. Upon most of these the surface of the soil is slightly elevated above the plane of the swamp, and is remarkably fertile" and "in a high state of cultivation as cotton plantations" prior to the Civil War.
"As in many other places, the river here has changed its bed by cutting off a large bend immediately opposite the town, creating what is known as Lake Concordia. This lake was formerly the bed of the river, and describes almost a complete circle of some twelve miles in diameter. On both sides of this lake beautiful plantations, with splendid improvements, presented a view from the bluff at Natchez extremely picturesque when covered with luxuriant crops of corn and cotton.
"The fertility of the soil is such that these crops are immensely heavy; and when the cotton-plant has matured its fruit, and the pent-up lint in the large conical balls has burst them open, exposing their white treasure swelling out to meet the sun's warm rays, and the parent stock to the first frost of autumn has thrown off her foliage, and all these broad fields are one sheet of lovely white, as far as the eye can view -- the scene is lovely beyond description..."
One day historian Sparks stood on the very home place where John Hutchins grew up on his father Anthony's plantation 12 miles southeast of the Natchez fort at White Apple Village, a settlement site abandoned by the Natchez Indians many years prior.
Here, Sparks described the beginning and ending of fall and how Natchez became almost a ghost town by late summer as many residents became the guests of wealthy planters at their homes in the country.
"This season," said Sparks, "is the longest and the loveliest of the year in this beautiful country. During the months of September, October, and November, there ordinarily falls very little rain, and the temperature is but slightly different...The days lag lazily; the atmosphere is serene, and the cerulean (sky), without a cloud, is deeply blue. The foliage of the forest-trees, so gorgeous and abundant, gradually loses the intense green of summer, fading and yellowing so slowly as scarcely to be perceptible...
"The fields grow golden; the redly-tinged leaves of the cotton-plant contrast with the chaste pure white of the lint of the bursting pods, now so abundantly yielding their wealth; the red ripe berries all over the woods, and the busy squirrels gathering and hoarding these and the richer forest-nuts; the cawing of the crows as they forage upon the ungathered corn, feeding and watching with consciousness of thieves, and the fat cattle ruminating in the shade, make up a scene of beauty and loveliness not met with in a less fervid (hot) clime.
"The autumn grew old and was threatening a frost -- the great enemy of fever. The falling leaves and the fitful gusts of chill wind presaged the coming of winter. The ear caught the ring of sounds more distant and more distinct now that the languor of summer was gone, and all animal nature seemed more invigorated and more elastic. Health and her inhabitants were returning" to Natchez "and the guests of hospitable planters were thinning from the country. Business was reviving and commotion was everywhere."
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