The Retirees in the South East USA – Onboard the PSS American Queen

When fronting at the Pursers desk to book our spot on the Hop on Hop off bus, all spots were gone. We were not beaten yet. So we left the boat after it had landed found a cab and for USD $8 we got a trip into up town Natchez with a guided tour by our cab driver.

Once we arrived up town we were dropped off at one of the hop on hop off bus stops and joined the tour. We decided not to await the bus but start our own tour by visiting the major church in town (catholic so nicely dressed up) then we walked to Magnolia Hall – see the feature photo above. Magnolia Hall was built by Thomas Henderson, a wealthy merchant, planter and cotton broker. The home is one of the finest examples in Natchez of the Greek Revival style. It is an antebellum home and during a bombardment of Natchez by the Union gunboat Essex, a shell hit the soup tureen in Magnolia Hall’s kitchen.

The Natchez Garden Club has restored Magnolia Hall. Rooms on the main floor are filled with mid-nineteenth century antiques, while rooms on the upper floors contain a costume collection.

Note the picture of the plate warmer.

After the Hall we move onto the home of William Johnson. William T. Johnson (1809 – June 17, 1851) was a free African American barber of biracial parentage, who lived in Natchez, Mississippi. He was born into slavery but his owner, also named William Johnson and thought to be his father, emancipated him in 1820. His mother, Amy, had been freed in 1814 and his sister Adelia in 1818. Johnson trained with his brother-in-law James Miller as a barber, and began working in Port Gibson, Mississippi. He returned to Natchez, becoming a successful entrepreneur with a barbershop, bath house, bookstore, and land holdings. Though a former slave, William Johnson went on to own sixteen slaves himself. He began a diary in 1835, which he continued through the remainder of his life. In 1835, he married Ann Battle, a free woman of colour with a similar background to his, and they had eleven children. Johnson loaned money to many people, including the governor of Mississippi who had signed his emancipation papers.

Johnson was murdered in 1851 after an adjudicated boundary dispute, by a mixed-race neighbour named Baylor Winn, in front of his son, a free black apprentice, and a slave. Winn was held in prison for two years and brought to trial twice; Johnson was such a well-respected businessman that the outrage over his murder caused the trial to be held in a neighbouring town. In that town no one knew Winn, so they didn’t know that he was half-black. Since Mississippi law forbade blacks from testifying against whites in criminal cases, Winn’s defence was that he was half-white and half-Native American, making him white by law. The defence worked, none of the (black) witnesses could testify, and Winn escaped conviction. Johnson’s diary was rediscovered in 1938 and published in 1951. It reveals much of the daily life of a 19th-century Mississippi businessman, including the fact that he was himself later a slaveholder. His papers are archived at Louisiana State University.

Through an act of Congress, the home of William Johnson became a part of the Natchez National Historical Park in 1990.

Here is a photo of the Johnson house and next door the Adams County Jail (Goal to us).

Natchez grew up in two parts Natchez below the Hill which provided for the boatmen and the handling of cargo and Natchez above the Hill which was built by the Spanish on the high ground for a fort and township not affected by the river. Our next stop was to visit the few remaining buildings forming Lower Natchez then return to the boat for lunch. Parked nearby was the American Duchess a sister boat of the American Queen.

In the afternoon we had booked to see a historic plantation with original slave quarters church cookhouse gin etc. Frogmore Plantation and Gin contrasts a working cotton plantation of the early 1800’s with a modern cotton plantation and gin of today. Our tour started with a drive through the present-day gin -1800 acre cotton plantation with a computerized 900 bales-per-day cotton gin, then through the fields to the church where we heard songs from the fields from locals who had experienced this life. We listened to the slave customs, secret music, and their surprising relationships with the master, mistress, and overseer. We then walked through authentically furnished slave quarters, a relic of a rare steam gin, and other plantation dependencies.

Our day ended with a bus ride back to the American Queen a grand dinner in the dining room then the show. Tough life.

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Retired Australian Lawyer having worked representing the innocent and the not so innocent in Australia and some of the remote parts of the world and having travelled widely through Europe, Western Russia, Canada, USA, New Zealand, Thailand Malaysia Solomon Islands northern China, Hong Kong and the UAE So now that I have the time I am writing about my travels present and past. Hope you enjoy exploring off the beaten track.