Frontier Port on the Mississippi: a History of the Legend of Natchez Under-The-Hill, 1800-1900
Date of Award
Natchez Under-the-Hill, from 1800 to 1840 the second leading river port on the Mississippi, played a central role in the economic life of the Old Southwestern frontier. Despite this, it was chiefly known to contemporaries in both America and abroad as a center of intemperance, prostitution, gambling, and violence.
During the antebellum years this image of the Natchez waterfront was a symbol of the Myth of the Wild and Savage West, which assumed Westerners were violent, immoral, and uncivilized. The lawlessness and vice of the port, widely touted in travel journals and newspapers, provided evidence to non-westerners that their perceptions were correct.
From 1800 to c.1835 the major contributors of such "evidence" were traveler-journalists. While most focused upon the port’s social vices, few provided details sufficient to prove lawlessness was actually a significant attribute of its society. However, their primary effect was to fix the image of the Natchez landing in the national mind. Beginning c. 1830, under the influence of the frontier tradition, this image evolved into a legend emphasizing gambling and violence due largely to its long association with the gamblers of the Mississippi Valley. The identification of the port and the gamblers in this tradition was assured by two events: the violent expulsion of the gamblers from Vicksburg and Natchez in 1835 and the tornado of 1840 which destroyed the landing town.
Between 1865 and c.1900 the legend was virtually forgotten as a result of the influence of the genteel tradition and the Old South myth which required the suppression of all traditions that countered its own rosy view of the Southern past. This study concludes that what was written about Natchez Under-the-Hill in that period has less to do with the facts than with the myths by which Americans and others interpreted the experience of the young nation.
Beard, Michael Francis, "Frontier Port on the Mississippi: a History of the Legend of Natchez Under-The-Hill, 1800-1900" (1981). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 8293.