Who do you think should manage Ferriday water?|
Story Archives: Tobacco, indigo and the creation of Natchez politics
|Tobacco, indigo and the creation of Natchez politics|
(Seventh in a Series)
Tobacco, according to 19th Century Mississippi historian Benjamin L.C. Wailes, became "the first marketable staple production of Mississippi." Yet that production resulted in the creation of two warring factions in Natchez country in the 1790s.
On one side were town merchants; on the other were planters. Though this split between the two groups was originally economic, the result was political, and these differences dominated Natchez politics for years.
When the American government was established in Natchez in 1798, these two factions had clearly drawn a line in the sand. The merchants became members of the Federalist Party, believers in a strong central government and follower of the party's leader, Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and economist. The planters became Democrat-Republicans, followers of Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father and the third president, who believed in the common man and detested big government.
When American surveyor Andrew Ellicott arrived in Natchez in 1797, he observed that the "staple commodity of the settlement of Natchez is cotton, which the country produces in great abundance, and of a good quality. The making of indigo, and raising tobacco, were carried on with spirit some years ago; but they have both given way to the cultivation of cotton."
Charged with marking a boundary line separating America's new Mississippi Territory from Spanish West Florida, Ellicott also observed the political split in Natchez. And at the root of this split was tobacco.
In the late 1780s, the Spanish government encouraged tobacco production in Natchez by offering subsidies to encourage settlement, guaranteeing 10 cents a pound and promising to buy two million pounds of tobacco per year. Natchez land, with favorable growing conditions, was capable of producing a ton of tobacco leaf per acre. In 1729, the French had grown a bumper crop of tobacco which stood shoulder high.
To grow tobacco, Natchez planters had to make a sizable investment in tools and supplies, and they had to build sheds to dry the tobacco plants. This also fueled the demand for slave labor.
In 1786, Natchez planters produced 589,920 pounds of the crop and production grew every year after. Prosperity was in sight. Many planters went into debt to buy more land and slaves.
They joined together to get their tobacco crop to market in New Orleans. The planters transported their cured product to landings on the Mississippi, build flatboats and headed south. At New Orleans, their product was inspected, they collected their money and returned home.
In 1790, however, the Spanish pulled the rug out from under the planters' feet. The government announced that it was reducing its purchases from two million to 40,000 pounds a year. An economic glut in the European market reduced the tobacco demand, plus Gen. James Wilkinson cut a deal with the Spanish to deliver to New Orleans prime Kentucky tobacco -- superior to Natchez tobacco -- at a reduced rate.
For the full story, subscribe to the The Concordia Sentinel's NEW E-Edition!
|Frank Morris Murder Series|