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|Tattoing among the Indians; a tour of French Natchez, 1723|
(14th in a Series)
French writers described in detail the "fantastic marks" (tattoos) of the Natchez and other Indian tribes they encountered during the early 1700s.
Warriors, according to some writers, received special tattoos as a "merit of distinction" for killing an enemy in battle. But both sexes, warriors or not, were adorned with one or more tattoos.
Soldier, writer and artist Jean-François Benjamin Dumont de Montigny said that warriors, the wives of chiefs and "honored men," have figures of suns, serpents or "other things" pictured "on the face, arms, shoulders, thighs, legs, but principally the belly and stomach." The markings were "accrued after many brave deeds."
Farmer, writer and plantation administrator Antoine-Simone Le Page du Pratz said that from "youth the women have a line tattooed across the highest part of the nose, some in the middle of the chin from above down, others in different places...The youths also have themselves tattooed on the nose, and not elsewhere until they are warriors and have performed some valorous act. But when they have killed some enemy and have brought back his scalp, they have a right to have themselves tattooed and to ornament themselves with figures suitable to the occasion."
Tattoos were so in vogue, he said, that "warriors especially have taken no pains to deprive themselves of them. Those who have signalized themselves by some important feat have a war club tattooed on the right shoulder, and beneath one sees the hieroglyphic sign of the conquered nation. The others have themselves tattooed each according to his taste."
The process, said Du Pratz, involved the attachment of "six needles to a flat piece of wood, well fastened three by three, so that the points do not protrude more than a line (beyond the wood.)" The needles were often made of well sharpened small animal bones.
Wrote Du Pratz: "They trace the outline of the figure with charcoal or cinders. Then they prick the skin and when they have done this over a section about two fingers in length they rub the place with fine charcoal; this powder is pressed so strongly into the punctures that they never become effaced. However simple this operation is, it inflames the body considerably, sometimes gives a fever, and makes the tattooed person extremely sick if he is not very careful." While "the inflammation lasts" the recipients eat "nothing but corn, drink nothing but water, and keep away from women."
Our series on the Natchez fort enters its 14th week today and historian Jack Elliott continues the journey leading up to the Natchez Massacre of November 1729.
1723 NATCHEZ TOUR
ELLIOTT: On September 24, 1722, French engineer Ignace-Francois Broutin was ordered to go to Natchez to map the area and to investigate the condition of the Terre Blanche concession with an eye to purchasing it for Messrs. LeBlanc and company. This Broutin did, probably arriving in early October and beginning his herculean mapping project soon after.
The result is like an aerial photograph of Natchez in late 1722-early 1723 (although not as accurate), a snap shot into one instant in its life. By one instant I emphasize that during the short interval between the founding of Fort Rosalie in 1716 and the 1729 massacre the settlement was in constant change. So a map made a couple years before Broutin's map or a couple years after would be different.
Given the size of this map, you can't begin to take it in in one view. You have to start in a small area and then move about, almost as if you're exploring the terrain on foot. In this light I might describe the map as though touring Natchez in January 1723 only months after the end of the Second Natchez War.
Upon landing where the present-day Isle of Capri is located, one climbed up to the terrace to where the present-day parking lot is located. Several buildings were located there. The first encountered was a cluster of three buildings identified as the house of the commandant, probably Captain Berneval at the time. One then came to the "presbytery," the house of the priest, which was also used as a church. Nearby was the "house of the Terre Blanche concession." Since the concession plantation was several miles away this must have been an office headquarters where an official of the concession could more easily interface with the commandant and with boats coming in and out of the port. Another house was that of Lieutenant Massee, who would remain stationed at Natchez for years, eventually dying in the massacre.
Looking down on the terrace from the highest point of the bluff was the wooden palisade fort, already in bad repair. There were barracks inside and a few cannons. Some of the soldiers probably resided inside while others lived in their own houses outside the fort like the officers Berneval and Massee. A large area around the fort was cleared and occupied by buildings and cultivated fields. This area extended from the river on the west, north to about Orleans Street, south to Junkin Drive, and eastward for a few hundred yards. A few houses were located on the bluff north of the cleared area. The most northerly was that of Cazeneuve, an ensign assigned to the fort. His home was near the old depot, the present-day Cock-of-the-Walk restaurant.
FARMSTEADS, CONCESSIONS, GRAND VILLAGE
ELLIOTT: In the clearing around the fort were small habitant farmsteads. Beyond the clearing though, the farmsteads extended into the woodland where each had its own small clearing with patches of corn, vegetables, and tobacco. Altogether the farmsteads formed a loose cluster that extended about a mile inland. About 30-35 habitants are identified by name on the map, all within the cluster. The northern and eastern periphery of the cluster was formed by several farmsteads that lay along a road that followed present-day Orleans Street-Homochitto Street. They extended as far inland as the farm of Le Page du Pratz, another person who has often been mentioned in this series; he was the author of "The History of Louisiana," a valuable source of information on the Natchez Indians. Du Pratz's home was at the location of present-day Hope Farm at the intersection of Homochitto Street and Duncan Avenue. There were no habitants located further inland than this. On the southern side the cluster of habitants was bounded by a line running parallel to Junkin Drive about 3/4 mile to the south. So the cluster lay primarily to the south of the central part of the city of Natchez.
Further inland the cluster gave way to more sparsely occupied woodland extending for another 1.5 to 2 miles to St. Catherine Creek, along which are depicted the St. Catherine concession to the north near present day Natchez-Adams High School, Terre Blanche concession to the south near the site of the old International Paper plant, and in between was the Grand Village of the Natchez. The map shows both of the concessions in the midst of vast acreages of cleared land, primarily bottom land.
The two concessions were like two large islands, detached from the rest of the colony. Their locations were obviously chosen because of the bottomland soils and the possibility of using the creeks for water and water power. However, being detached as they were meant that the colony consisted of three distinct clusters, miles apart from each other, and therein lay vulnerability.
The headquarters of Terre Blanche was surrounded by a rectangular palisade with two corner bastions, located on opposing corners. About eight buildings were inside the palisade while outside was a cluster of about a dozen buildings. The St. Catherine headquarters didn't seem to have a palisade on the map. It consisted of dozens of buildings laid out in orderly straight lines. Some buildings were quite large, others small. Nearby a water mill was located on Kittering Creek near where it flows into St. Catherine creek The buildings on both plantations served a wide variety of purposes: housing for Europeans and Africans, kitchens, work shops, and storage facilities.
Halfway between St. Catherine and Terre Blanche, on the west side of the creek was the ceremonial center of the Natchez Indians, the Grand Village, located with a moderate-sized clearing. Many roads converged there, suggesting its importance within the Indian community. Despite its importance the Grand Village was quite small in terms of population. On the map there are at least two mounds depicted, each having structures on them, evidently the temple on one and the house of the Great Sun on the other. Overall less than ten buildings are depicted there.
West of Terre Blanche is the Tioux village, one of the Natchez settlement districts. The village had a cluster of eight houses at its nucleus but scattered out around it were individual Tioux houses. The Tioux abandoned this area in 1727 and sold the land to Jean Roussin, "one of the richest settlers in the country," according to Dumont de Montigny. In 1723 Roussin lived on the bluff along present-day Broadway Street. He would die in the massacre.
With the exception of the Tioux, the Natchez Indian settlement districts were largely outside the area mapped by Broutin. He did depict part of the "village of the Canard (Duck)" located across St. Catherine Creek. Although no one is certain, it has been suggested that Duck Village was part of the Flour settlement district. Broutin also indicates that Kittering Creek was called the "river of the Natchez Grie [Grigra]," indicating that this creek drained the Grigra settlement district. The upper extent of St. Catherine Creek is called "the river of the Pomme [Apple]," suggesting that it drained the White Apple settlement district.
FORT & LANDING WERE HUB
ELLIOTT: If we cast a retrospective look at Broutin's map we see the French colony linked together by roads radiating out from a hub: the fort and landing. Closest in was the cluster of habitants, but much further out and disconnected from the rest were the two concessions, situated like two large and distant satellites of the fort.
In 1731 Broutin produced another map that depicted French settlement at Natchez during the late 1720s. Although the map was of very small scale and not very precise, it indicates substantial expansion of the area occupied by the habitants as the colony's population continued to grow. If the continuing growth was a source of tension between French and Indians, the Indians could have taken assurance from the fact that the French remained between the river and St. Catherine Creek, an area where few Indians lived. However, in 1729 Commandant Chepart ordered the White Apple Indians--located well beyond the pale of French settlement -- to abandon their lands so that he might establish a plantation there. In doing so he threatened the ad hoc territorial balance, and in so doing threatened political stability with dire consequences for all.
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