When Paris imitated Natchez
by Stanley Nelson - posted Wednesday, November 21st, 2012 @ 9:09 am
European explorers and Mississippi River voyagers often wrote of Natchez as a paradise on earth. No wonder the Natchez Indians chose this land as home so many generations ago.
Survey the hedgerows and bramble thickets of Natchez country today -- on both sides of the Mississippi -- and watch the beautiful cardinal flit and flutter. This songbird's brilliant red color and black mask intrigued Europeans. When the explorers began to ship the native North American cardinals to Europe, the Old World inhabitants fell in love. For quite a while the cardinal was the number one caged bird in Europe, its chirpy whistles heard from open windows in London and Vienna and Rome.
Europeans loved the native North American wild turkey, too. Artists sold many images of the bird in Europe. French explorers in the early 1700s were amazed at the huge numbers of roosting wild turkeys illuminated in the moonlight in treetops above their campsites in Natchez country. Many explorers wrote about the bird, which became the symbol of the New World, and expressed amazement at the bounty of wildlife and fish in the forests and streams. The explorers made note, too, of the giant oaks on both sides of the river and the all-purpose cypress which touched the sky of the Louisiana swamps.
The Natchez Indians had long recognized the special beauty of nature here and relished the fragrance of the magnolia and the spring awakening of the dogwood. While the English shipped the magnolia to London from eastern North America, the French gathered and bundled shipments from along the Mississippi at Natchez. In time, the magnolia and the dogwood were adorning the gardens of European estates.
In Natchez in 1729, tobacco grew shoulder high. It may have been the best crop the French had grown since establishing a colony here about a decade earlier. Along with deerskins, tobacco fueled the French economy at Natchez just as the crop would fuel the economies of the English colony at Natchez in the 1770s and the Spanish colony at Natchez in the 1780s.
In Europe, writers touted tobacco as a medicinal wonder. Much of the praise was hype, but some was true. Writers claimed it would cure head and stomach aches, would heal snake bites and destroy tumors, and relieve the pain of burns. It could be smoked, chewed, massaged on the body and even added to a sugary drink.
Remarkable wildlife. Vast forests. Clear streams. Rich soil. Fragrant plants and trees. Wonderful tobacco. Opportunity. My, how God favored Natchez, thought the Europeans.
In his 2008 book on the Atlantic Ocean, author Martin W. Sandler wrote that the "discovery of the Americas coincided with the emergence of botany as a scholarly discipline. The relation of a vast new array of extraordinary trees, flowers, and other flora revolutionized the new science. Botanists throughout the Old World eagerly awaited the arrival of imported specimens and studied artists' drawings intently...most New World plants could be successfully grown there. Eventually, the plants of the New World would transform the appearance of Europe."
It was a time when Paris wanted to look like Natchez.