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Antebellum Natchez

by D. Clayton James

344 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations

Southern History

  Paperback / 9780807118603 / May 1993

Antebellum Natchez is most often associated with the grand and romantic aspects of the Old South and its landed gentry. Yet there was, as this book so amply illustrates, another Natchez—the Natchez of ordinary citizens, small businessmen, and free Negroes, and the Natchez under-the-Hill of brawling boatmen, professional gamblers, and bold-faced strumpets.

Antebellum Natchez not only takes a critical look at the town’s aristocracy but also examines the depth of its commercial activities and the life of its middle- and lower-class elements. Author D. Clayton James brings the political, economic, and social aspects of antebellum Natchez into perspective and debunks a number of myths and illusions, including the notion that the town was a stronghold of Federalism and Whiggery.

Starting with the Natchez Indians and their “Sun God” culture, James traces the development of the town from the native village through the plotting and intrigue of the changing regimes of the French, Spanish, British, and Americans.

James makes a perceptive analysis of the aristocrats’ role in restricting the growth of the town, which in 1800 appeared likely to become the largest city in the transmontane region. “The attitudes and behavior of the aristocrats of Natchez during the final three decades of the antebellum period were characterized by escapism and exclusiveness,” says James. “With the aristocrats sullenly withdrawing into their world...Natchez lost forever the opportunity to become a major metropolis, and Mississippi was led to ruin.”

Quoting generously from diaries, journals, and other records, the author gives the reader a valuable insight into what life in a Southern town was like before the Civil War.

Antebellum Natchez is an important account of the role of Natchez and its colorful figures—John Quitman, Robert Walker, Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, William C. C. Claiborne, and a host of others—in the colonial affairs of the Lower Mississippi Valley and the growth of the Old Southwest. 

D. Clayton James teaches history at Mississippi State University. He has published numerous articles and reviews in historical journals.

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