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|British period at Natchez laid foundation for Mississippi|
(First in a series)
In 1798 when the Mississippi Territory was established, the new territory was primarily based on the Natchez District, a triangle of settled land that centered on the fort and town of Natchez.
Other than that there were the Tombigbee settlements with only 1/10 the population of the Natchez District and a vast amount of Indian Territory that was in real sense not part of the political organization of the Mississippi Territory. So although Mississippi was a vast area in 1798, in a real sense the Natchez District was the territory. However, if the Natchez District was the beginning and basis of the Mississippi Territory when did the Natchez District begin?
The beginning of the Natchez District dates to the brief period of British control (1763-1779). This was a time of considerable turmoil in which following French abandonment of the fort in 1763 the Natchez settlement was revived in fits and starts, at times appearing that the settlement project might collapse all together. Yet it was also a period in which foundations were laid that would have long term implications for the founding of the Mississippi Territory and the state of Mississippi.
The fort was regarrisoned, then abandoned, then regarrisoned again. Civilian settlement was restored for the first time since the French agricultural colony was wiped out in 1729, yet was threatened by Indian attack and during the American Revolution from a raid led by James Willing, an American "patriot" turned freebooter. The beginnings of a town appeared on the batture adjacent to the river, the area now known as Natchez-under-the-hill.
Colonial Natchez and the fort have largely been remembered because of their role during the French period, especially with the Natchez massacre of 1729. The image of the massacre has so dominated remembrance of the fort that its role as a continuous thread of continuity in the emergence of civilization on the Mississippi River has often been overlooked. It is often forgotten that the fort was occupied by four successive states: France, Great Britain, Spain, and the United States, and that through the decades of occupation it saw a transition from wilderness to colony and city and ultimately to the state of Mississippi.
The 1762 Treaty of Fountainebleau and the 1763 Treaty of Paris formalized the end of the French and Indian War (aka the Seven Years War) and resulted in the loss of French ownership of Louisiana. The vast tract of land was divided in two with the British acquiring the east bank of the river (including Natchez) while the Spanish received the west bank and New Orleans (on the east bank).
British troops began arriving along the Gulf coast in 1763 to take charge of the new territory allotted to them which they would call West Florida and run it from their capital, Pensacola, which was formerly Spanish controlled. As the British moved the last French governor, Louis Billouard de Kerlérac advised them on where they might most profitably place their troops. In an October 1763 letter the governor informed the British officer Major Robert Farmar that orders had been transmitted to several French forts for the garrisons to evacuate. One was Natchez. In a letter to Farmar, Kerlérec suggested that if the British manned Fort Natchez they should staff it with 50 troops and two officers and they would need to rebuild a barrack that was terribly deteriorated. Although Farmar regarded Natchez as an important location for maintaining British control of the river and access to the interior, yet the realities were there were inadequate numbers of troops to spare a garrison for Natchez. Great Britain had just gained control of a substantial part of North America and had only a few hundred troops, most of which were more needed along the Gulf Coast at Mobile and Pensacola for protection against invasion by sea.
We do not know exactly when the French troops evacuated the Natchez fort. One can imagine them loading their possessions onto boats, then after the last man boarded, pushing off and heading downriver for New Orleans and eventually France. The Offogoula Indians who had resided there for decades also departed. It was the end of an era for Natchez and all of Louisiana.
In August 1765 a British regiment was sent upriver to the Illinois country. En route they stopped briefly at Natchez. The engineer with the expedition, Captain Philip Pittman, left a vivid description of the place, deserted for two years:
"The road to [the fort] is very bad, on account of a steep high ground which is at a small distance from the landing-place, very difficult to ascend, and almost impracticable for carriages; a small distance from this high land is a hill, on the summit of which stands the fort, and the road becomes much better, ascending with a gradual slope. The trouble of going up is recompensed by the sight of a most delightful country of great extent, the prospect of which is beautifully varied by a number of little hills and fine meadows, separated by small copses, the trees of which are mostly walnut and oak. The fences of many of the gardens made by the French still remain, and several fruit-trees, mostly figs, peaches, and wild cherries."
During his brief stay at Natchez Captain Pittman produced a remarkable map of the land from the river to the fort.
In 1766 things began to look up for Natchez. In that year the British government authorized the first land grants there and regarrisoned the fort. We could perhaps say that that year marks the beginning of the Natchez District.
It is certainly no coincidence that the fort was regarrisoned at the same time that the grants of land were begun. In the summer of 1766, Colonel William Tayler, acting brigadier general of the military forces in West Florida, ordered a portion of the 21st Regiment to garrison the fort at Natchez. On September 29, 1766, a detachment of the Scots Fusiliers consisting of four officers and forty-four men arrived at Natchez. They found the fort to be in "a repairable State," following its three years of abandonment. It was renamed at that time "Fort Panmure," probably in honor of William Maule, First Earl of Panmure of Forth (1699-1782), who was successively the commanding officer of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Scots Greys. The Spanish responded quickly to the garrisoning of Fort Natchez by establishing their own fort in spring 1767, San Luis de Natchez, on the west bank of the river opposite Natchez and somewhat below present day Vidalia.
Things were beginning to happen again.
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