Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Slavery and Frontier Mississippi, 1720-1835

Slavery and Frontier Mississippi, 1720-1835

David J. Libby
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 184
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Slavery and Frontier Mississippi, 1720-1835
    Book Description:

    In the popular imagination the picture of slavery, frozen in time, is one of huge cotton plantations and opulent mansions. However, in over a hundred years of history detailed in this book, the hard reality of slavery in Mississippi's antebellum world is strikingly different from the one of popular myth. It shows that Mississippi's past was never frozen, but always fluid. It shows too that slavery took a number of shapes before its form in the late antebellum mold became crystalized for popular culture.

    The colonial French introduced African slaves into this borderlands region situated on the periphery of French, Spanish, and English empires. In this frontier, planter society made unsuccessful attempts to produce tobacco, lumber, and indigo. Slavery outlasted each failed harvest. Through each era plantation culture rode the back of a system far removed from the romantic stereotype.

    Almost simultaneously as Mississippi became a United States territory in the 1790s, cotton became the cash crop. The booming King Cotton economy changed Mississippi and adapted the slave system that was its foundation.

    Some Mississippi slaves resisted this grim oppression and rebelled by flight, work slowdowns, arson, and conspiracies. In 1835 a slave conspiracy in Madison County provoked such draconian response among local slave holders that planters throughout the state redoubled the iron locks on the system. Race relations in the state remained radicalized for many generations to follow.

    Beginning with the arrival of the first African slaves in the colony and extending over 115 years, this book is the first such history since Charles Sydnor'sSlavery in Mississippi(1933).

    David J. Libby, an independent scholar, lives in San Antonio, Texas. His work has been published inCrossRoads: A Journal of Southern Culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-050-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-2)

    Visitors approaching Natchez, Mississippi, on a paddle-wheeled tourist steamboat today first approach a section of town called “Under-the-Hill.” A gambling boat namedLady Luckis moored there permanently, near establishments providing food and drink. Climbing Silver Street, the visitors would in minutes be on the city bluff, near an urban grid platted in 1790 by Spanish planners. Within a few blocks are the historic Adams County courthouse, antebellum bank buildings, offices, churches, and most memorably, the planter mansions from an age of great affluence.

    Many of these buildings stood atop the hill in 1835, when proslavery author Joseph Holt Ingraham...

  5. Chapter One French Slavery in Colonial Natchez
    (pp. 3-16)

    In precolonial times, Natchez was the name of a people. Among all of the local inhabitants of the lower Mississippi valley, the Natchez were the most highly centralized and stratified. The Natchez believed their aristocracy to be descended from the sun and thus called them the Suns. Highest in this class was the Great Sun, the all-powerful ruler and high priest, who lived in the main Natchez village. The Great Sun’s incantations ensured both the rising and the setting of the sun. He also tended the sacred fire in the temple that housed the remains of his ancestors, and one...

  6. Chapter Two Resettlement of the Natchez Region
    (pp. 17-36)

    Natchez stood as little more than an outpost defending the European settlements to its south in the remaining decades of the French dominion of the lower Mississippi valley. The French concluded that despite its productive soil, the Natchez region was too distant and isolated for settlement. The Natchez themselves were destroyed, and the region remained exposed to possible attack. All that remained was a complement of fifty French soldiers at Fort Rosalie, along with eight slaves.¹ While the slaves’ assignment was to keep the fort in good repair, their duties surely extended beyond the maintenance of the fort, most likely...

  7. Chapter Three The Cotton Frontier of Territorial Mississippi
    (pp. 37-59)

    The Natchez District presented an attractive destination for enterprising planters from the new United States. In 1794, the first commercial cotton crops began to turn a profit owing to the cotton gin. The cotton gin mechanized the process of removing seeds from cotton, making the crop profitable when cultivated by slaves on southern plantations. United States designs on the region would soon be realized when Spain relinquished the territory in 1795. Following the formal exchange of power in 1798, the United States established a government for the Mississippi Territory.

    Overlooking the political formalities, southeastern planters on the make had begun...

  8. Chapter Four Slaves in the Western Migration
    (pp. 60-78)

    The domestic slave trade of the United States never closed before emancipation. It met the growing demand for slaves in the southwest that blossomed in the years following the War of 1812. As it grew, forced separation from family and community became a certainty for many slaves. Those who could interfered to ensure an outcome they could live with. Not long after moving to Natchez, Vermont native Isaac Farnsworth observed “Negroes going round to sell themselves. There is one right now whilst I am writing making a bargain” with Farnsworth’s employer, “selling himself, wife, and six children.”¹

    The slave who...

  9. Chapter Five Defining the Boundaries of Enslavement
    (pp. 79-100)

    When an overseer named Staunton discovered a runaway slave, the slave appeared nearly starved. Absent for several weeks, he remained in hiding nonetheless. Staunton “took him hom[e] and gave victuals which he eat upon the steps” by the door of his cabin. The overseer prepared to saddle up his horse for a trip to Natchez where he would turn the slave in. As he did so, “the Negro asked Mr. S.’ wife to give him som[e] more food. While getting it the Negro took Staunton’s gun & Pistols and made off. Mrs. S. called her husband who advanced towards the fellow...

  10. Chapter Six The Transformation of Mississippi
    (pp. 101-118)

    The twenty-six organized counties in Mississippi’s southern half had been relatively densely settled by the late 1820s. While some stretches of wilderness remained, they had become fewer and more distant from one another. The 1822 relocation of the state capital to Jackson, near the geographical center of the state, underscored the state’s expansion eastward from the Natchez district. By 1830, Adams County, long the economic and once the political locus of the state, no longer led in cotton production. Mississippi had ceased being merely the Natchez District.

    The only limitation on white settlement to the north was the Choctaw and...

  11. Conclusion: Mississippi, the Closed Society
    (pp. 119-120)

    The politicians who enunciated the first defense of a new racial code set the pattern for a new society in Mississippi. Over time Mississippi has been referred to as the “lynching state,” the “Magnolia jungle,” and the “Closed Society.” John Quitman’s declaration that Mississippi’s internal issues are “questions, which belong exclusively to ourselves,” was of course the kind of rhetoric that made him a fire-eater.¹ But the legislature’s acceptance of his call to reassess—and ultimately dismiss—the moral consequences of slavery marked a transformation in race relations, the effects of which would be felt for over a century.


  12. Appendix A: Slaves Purchased by John Randolph, Charleston, South Carolina, February–March 1830
    (pp. 121-122)
  13. Appendix B: Locust Grove Plantation, ca. 1833
    (pp. 123-126)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 127-158)
  15. Index
    (pp. 159-163)