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|Natchez Fort, Part 2 --Almost 1,000 Indians celebrated Fort Rosalie construction|
(Second in a Series)
While the French built the first fort in Natchez in 1716 with Indian labor, the soldiers occupying that fortification and many of the settlers living nearby were massacred in 1729 during an uprising by the Natchez. A second fort was later constructed on the same site.
No one knows more about the origins of the fort and the history of the fort site than Jack Elliott, a native Mississippian who grew up in Clay County in the northeastern part of the state, where his family has lived since 1846.
There, Elliott's growing awareness of history became a fascination as he began to understand that "the land on which I walked was more than what I saw, but was part of a continuum that linked me to all of God's creation. I intuited that the mystery of history was like the mystery of an iceberg where what we perceive is part of a greater whole -- most of which is not seen by ourselves."
As an example of what he means, he quotes the philosopher of history, Eric Voegelin: "The mystery of the historical process is inseparable from the mystery of a reality which brings forth the universe and the earth, plant and animal life on earth, and ultimately man and his consciousness."
Elliott is a historical archaeologist, a geographer and a writer whose research and writings led him to propose that the site of the fort of Natchez be purchased for a preservation park. This proposal became a movement that led to the establishment of the Natchez National Historical Park two decades ago.
All but one landowner have sold their property to the National Park Service for the fort preservation project.
"Growing up in Mississippi I also took Mississippi history in the public schools -- twice as I recall -- and in college," says Elliott. "Throughout these courses Natchez stood out as a place of early beginnings, where European powers and Indians contended, where Western Civilization was established on the Mississippi River, and where my home state began. I especially recall the fort of Natchez that was known as Fort Rosalie during the French administration. Our textbooks had a copy of a romanticized painting of the 1729 massacre that loomed large in my memory and imagination."
This week, Elliott answers more of our questions about the fort.
NATCHEZ INDIANS, WHITE SETTLERS?
ELLIOTT: The Natchez Indians during the early 1700s lived in fairly dispersed settlements -- farmsteads and small villages -- unlike in earlier times when their ancestors lived in fairly large villages or towns. The Grand Village of the Natchez, although the "capital," had only a small population.
The settlements formed what Jim Barnett has called "settlement districts," large, loose clusters of settlements that went by such names as Grand Village located around St. Catherine Creek, and further out in various directions there was Tioux, Flour, White Apple, Jenzenaque, Grigra, and a district around Fairchild's Creek and Coles Creek. The Natchez population in the early 1700s was estimated to be about 3,500.
Before the arrival of Bienville's troops, the only whites living in the area that I know of were the two La Loire brothers who had resided in the Natchez villages and operated the trading post there. Of course after the founding of the fort there was an influx of civilian settlers who moved there to take advantage of the fertile loess soil. These settlers established farmsteads and, in two cases, large plantations between the bluffs and St. Catherine Creek.
The plantations were corporately owned and had headquarters that were village complexes in their own right. One known as the St. Catherine Concession was located on St. Catherine Creek near the Natchez High School. This plantation, of course, gave its name to St. Catherine Creek. I suspect that few people today know that St. Catherine Creek was named after a plantation from the 1720s.
The other plantation, the Terre Blanche (White Earth) Concession, was located further downstream on St. Catherine Creek near the old International Paper plant. A wonderful and accurate depiction of French and Indian settlement at Natchez can be found in Broutin's large and detailed map of 1723 which covers from the river to St. Catherine Creek, depicting topography, buildings, cleared areas, and trails.
HOW WAS FORT CONSTRUCTED?
ELLIOTT: The fort that was constructed in 1716 was of palisade construction, that is, its walls were built with tall posts in the ground. It was roughly square in plan and about 75 to 100 feet across.
On each corner were bastions, or diamond shaped (in plan) projections. The purpose of bastions was to allow the fort's defenders to enfilade -- or provide a cross fire -- against forces assaulting the fort's walls.
Inside the fort's walls were barracks and houses for troops and officers along with a magazine for munitions. Outside the fort there were also several related buildings.
On the terrace below the fort (the site of the Isle of Capri parking lot today) was located the commandant's house, the church, and the house of the clerk of the Company of the Indies. On the grounds of Rosalie mansion and overlooking the terrace was a tobacco warehouse and trading post. Consequently the fort was the nucleus of a small cluster of related buildings.
The fort was constructed by French troops and Natchez Indians taking approximately two months beginning in early June and ending on August 3, 1716. The number of French involved was probably less than the number of Indians -- for the first few weeks there appear to have been four troops then possibly 10. I don't know how many Indians were involved. The troops acted largely in supervisory roles instructing the Indians in how to construct the fort. The number of Natchez employed is unknown, but there work was required by the terms of the peace they signed with Bienville.
DESCRIPTION OF FORT CELEBRATION?
Following the fort's construction, there was a major celebration, which briefly swelled the fort site's population.
ELLIOTT: There were about 900 Natchez Indians represented along with about 30 men from the small Yazoo and Offagoula tribes. Representatives of these groups went into the fort with Bienville where they smoked the calumet with him, so to a large degree the gathering was a mixture of peace treaty and festive occasion, festive by virtue of the fact that people, particularly if they live in semi-isolation, always enjoy social gatherings.
Richebourg wrote that the chiefs informed Bienville that the people had gathered "to dance at his gate [i.e. the gate of the fort] in order to show him their joy at having Frenchmen established among them." I suspect that the chiefs might have been exaggerating the joy felt by the Indians.
WHY THE NAME ROSALIE?
ELLIOTT: Many names that the French assigned to settlements were derived from the French royal family and the nobility. For example Louisiana was named after King Louis XIV, while New Orleans was named after Phillippe II, Duke of Orleans and regent of France. Similarly, Rosalie was named after the wife of Jerome Phelypeaux, Comte de Pontchartrain.
In 1714 the French government ordered that two forts be constructed, one at Natchez to be named "Rosalie" and the other on the Wabash River to be named "St. Jerome" in honor of Rosalie's husband. These orders never arrived because the ship carrying them was wrecked near Cuba. Orders were again reissued the following year, but Governor Cadillac didn't act on them. It took the 1716 Natchez Indian uprising and Bienville's intervention to actually bring the orders to fruition with the construction of Fort Rosalie at Natchez.
Despite the fact that the fort was officially named Rosalie, it was always more commonly referred to as the Fort of Natchez. Under the British administration the fort's name was changed officially to Fort Panmure, a name that the Spanish continued to use after they took over the fort in 1779. The Americans changed the official name to Fort Sargent, after the first governor of the Mississippi Territory, Winthrop Sargent. However throughout the British, Spanish, and American years the fort was more usually called the Fort of Natchez, or Fort Natchez.
In many ways the name Natchez is more appropriate than Rosalie, Panmure, or Sargent, because it was not only more commonly used, but it provides a greater sense of continuity between all the periods of occupation of the fort and with the town of Natchez that superseded it.
Last week, this columnist erred when I wrote that "Natchez country's little community of nearby Washington served as Mississippi's first territorial and first state capital."
In fact, Natchez was the first territorial and first state capital.
According to Jack Elliott, Natchez was territorial capital from 1798 to 1802, and Washington from 1802-1817.
The Constitutional Convention met in Washington July-August 1817.
Natchez was state capital from 1817-1821 although the Legislature met the first few days in Washington before moving to Natchez.
Columbia was capital from 1821-1822 and Jackson from 1822-present "excepting movements of the state government during the Civil War," noted Elliott.
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