Letters, Diaries, and Correspondence

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"Our Visit to Natchez", written by Thomas Bangs Thorpe (1815-1878) -Submitted by Jeanne Truly Davis... thanks!
Stanton Hall - Gone With The Years.  Letter from Ethel Rawl Martin to her sister Cecil Rawl Postlewaite, 1939.  Excerpts.  Scanned images.
Many thanks to Jeanne Truly Davis for this submission!

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Thomas Bangs Thorpe (1815 - 1878)

We were always encouraged to believe that Natchez and its vicinity possessed great natural and artificial beauties, but we had very little conception of the country; or the improvements it possessed until we made personal observation. The bold bluff on which reposes in so much quiet the most beautiful city of the South, is one of the most striking peculiarities that meets the eye of the traveler on the Mississippi. It rises up with singular and startling effect from among the low lands with which it is surrounded, and is exaggerated by the contrast. Persons travelling upon our Northern waters, are struck with the picturesque appearance of the towns and villages that line their banks; rising from the water’s edge, the houses ascend the sides of the hills like steps, and seem to be almost the creation of fairy hands. These beautiful places, upon near inspection, prove that “distance lends enchantment to the view”, and that they possess little merit save that of accidental and beautiful location. The opposite of this is the case with Natchez; its “landing” is, like all such places, full of boats, small houses and great ones; placed together with an eye to trade alone, and crowded with drays, dust, boxes, barrels and business. But ascend the steep road that leads from it, and place yourself firmly on top of the “bluff,” and where will you find a more singularly beautiful city or landscape? Before you stretches out like a panorama, the Mississippi and the productive lands of Concordia, marked by the divisions of plantations and work of the plough; the small houses of the Negroes nestle among groves of the quick growing China tree, or are hid from view by the remains of the primitive forest. Far up and down the majestic river are exhibitions of life and industry; the powerful steamer passes swiftly by; the richly loaded flatboat, quietly and mysteriously disappears; huge trees, that shaded, perhaps, the wild savage of the Upper Missouri, or formed the protection for a children’s party on the lovely banks of the Ohio, tumble about in the current of the river, and pass on, to be caught is some swift eddy of the Louisiana shore, there to be used in the hot fires of the sugar house, or, escaping all obstructions, find a grave in the depths of the Mexican Gulf. Inland, opens the city of Natchez, composed of beautiful streets and rural residences. In this respect this city has few equals; and we would pay a tribute to the master spirits that originally “settled on the bluff” and started their improvements in so much better taste, and inspired those who followed them with the same spirit, than can be found in any other city or village in the south and West. Everywhere the stranger is met with elegant and tasteful display. The mansions of the rich, hid wild foliage, festooned and trimmed, and variegated, full of graveled walks and choice flowers, finds a fit companion in every little cottage, however poor, that has, too, its flowers and modest trees, and little vines; showing that the prevailing taste is elegant, and appreciates those ornaments that are Nature’s most beautiful, and yet within the reach of the poor and the rich alike. 

The country around Natchez is brake, and the soil, like all lands of the kind in the South, very rich, and covered with the finest forest trees. We have traveled through some of these beautiful specimens of Nature’s handy-work, before the axe made a single waste, and we were struck with the great beauty of the groves of trees which met our eye everywhere, and we could not help expecting the palace of some wealthy landholder would suddenly peep out among the trees of the distant landscape. Around Natchez, though one of the oldest settled countries in the Union, these beautiful natural groves have been spared, and every road leading from the city is lined with elegant mansion, the abodes of luxury and taste, hid partially from view by the rich magnolia and oak, the frowning gum and delicate beech. In the immediate vicinity of these mansions are all the delicate shrubbery and flowers that grow with such profusion in the South - a perfect fairy land; and yet, for want of time, what we saw was said to be the least remarkable of all the improvements in the vicinity of Natchez.

An hour brought us to the quiet village of Washington, which seemed, upon our entrance, to be in enjoyment of the slumbers of a gentle siesta - so quiet was the air of repose which rested over her unpeopled street, and hovered around the sweet cottage homes, peeping through clustered verdure upon the deserted thoroughfare, like a coy maiden, stealing from her retiracy an anxious glance upon the “great world” told of, but all unknown to her, and of all things most pined for. We arrived at sunset at the house of a friend - one of those we delight in esteeming - the architect of his own fortune, and glorying in the knowledge that it was won by the sweat of his own brow, stern integrity, justice in all things, and by the uniform practice of that self dependence, which ever gives evidence of its possessor’s determination to succeed in his undertakings, and assurance that success must and will be his. He has a warm heart and opened hand - a friendly thought and kindly word for all - and is, in all things, worthy the tribute we here give to his worth. We met here several of the best practical planters of Adams and Jefferson counties, and until a late hour of the night, feasted on the converse of experience, upon things Agricultural, receiving many important hints, some new truths, and much general information, upon this most important subject. 

The morning if the 19th was chill and lowering, but as the day advanced it grew pleasanter, and finally became Spring-like and cheering. About 10 o’clock we reached Fayette, the County seat of Jefferson. The village was already crowded, while from various quarters others were constantly arriving. We strolled over to the Academy, just in the suburbs of the village, and occupying a beautiful location, shaded densely by a grove of pines. A bower of considerable size was arranged for the convenience and comfort of the ladies, while outside the enclosure, in various directions, stood the different kinds of stock, arranged in proper order.

It was a glorious day for “old Jefferson”; her sons and daughters were here congregated, to show by their kindly words, and kinder smiles, the efforts intended for the advancement of their community, in that knowledge which is the truest wealth. We passed an hour pleasantly, in strolling at will over the grounds making a hurried examination of the stock, implements, manufactures, &c., exhibited, which, although not extensive, gave high evidence of the pride, enterprise and ingenuity of the citizens. At 11 o’clock, an admirable address was delivered by Professor K. Montgomery, Esq., one of the Vice Presidents of the Society. An address better adapted to the occasion, could not, we think, well be conceived; for, while it contained many home truths, and hints of importance, and words of cheer, for those engaged in the good work, a vein of quaint humor and quiet satire, gave it that zest, too frequently lacked by addresses concocted for such occasions. It was received with gratification by all.

The exhibition then commenced of the stock, manufactures, &c. Of the former, we have never seen a finer exhibition in the South, and doubt greatly whether, as to quality, it could be much exceeded elsewhere. The principally manufactured articles were presented by Mr. John Robertson, who is now engaged in erecting a factory, some ten miles east of this village. a pair of blankets, shown by him, and made from the wool of sheep raised in this immediate vicinity, exceeded anything we had previously met with of American manufacture, and we are somewhat familiar with such things, as our Jefferson friends can testify. Samples of Canton Flannel, and Webbing, of fine quality, were also shown; a Hearth Rug, beautifully and richly dyed, of tasteful pattern; and last, a piece of Cotton Bagging made from an inferior article of Cotton; this was an admirable article, and must take, with all who acknowledge the necessity of advancing the consumption, by all possible means. Its width was about 35 inches, and weighing about 17 ounces to the yard, of double an twisted warp, and can be manufactured, provided the planter furnishes his inferior cotton, which answers as well as the best, at the moderate rate of 8 cents per yard. This experiment should by all means be pushed to the perfection of which it is susceptible, by the enterprising citizens of Jefferson. She has led the way in this matter, as also in that of using hoop iron for baling, and we doubt not slight effort will keep her ahead in the good work, for which she deserves high praise.

We have not space to detail our observations in relation to the entire exhibition, and shall close by adding a few remarks in relation to the distinguishing features of the occasion, and appending a list of the premiums awarded, so far as ascertained before our departure. At one o’clock a bountiful dinner was served in the shady corner of the enclosure; it were needless to observe that full justice was done this part of the exhibition of Old Jefferson’s fatness. An hour after, an exciting scene occurred upon the trial of several splendid saddle horses.............

We close by observing that the exercises of the occasion closed by a brilliant party at Truly’s-- and, as may be supposed, it was ‘truly’ interesting, for the fairest of old Jefferson’s daughters were there gathered. We shall forward you the regular reports of the Committees so soon as received.

Your friend, P.

The old Cameron House, a tavern on the Natchez and Port Gibson Post Road, was kept by James Bennett Truly until his death in 1845.

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