Tant center of settlement in the old southwest once

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tant center of settlement in the Old Southwest. Once again, this abundant land of rich, black soil became thickly peopled, but this time with cotton planters and their African American slaves. Under-the-Hill gained renown as the last stop for boatmen before New Orleans. Minstrel performers sang of their exploits: Den dance de boatmen dance, O dance de boatmen dance, O dance all night till broad daylight, An go home wid de gals in de morning. According to one traveler, “They feel the same inclination to dissipation as sailors who have long been out of port.” There were often as many as 150 boats drawn up at the wharves. The crowds along the riverfront, noted John James Audubon, who visited in the 1820s, “formed a medley which it is beyond my power to describe.”Mingling among American rivermen of all descriptions were trappers and hunters in fur caps, Spanish shopkeepers in bright smocks, French gentlemen from New Orleans in velvet coats, Indians wrapped in their trade blankets, African Americans both free and slave—a pageant of nations and races. Clapboard shacks and flatboats dragged on shore and converted into store- fronts served as grog shops, card rooms, dance halls, and hotels. Brothels with women of every age and color abounded. On the bluffs, meanwhile, the town of Natchez had become the winter home to the southwestern planter elite. They built their mansions with commanding views of the river. A visitor attend- ing a ball at one of these homes was dazzled by the display: “Myriads of wax candles burning in wall sconces, sparkling chandeliers, entrancing music, the scent of jasmine, rose and sweet olive, the sparkle of wine mellowed by age, the flow of wit and brilliant repartee, all were there.”Sustaining this American aristocracy was the labor of thousands of enslaved men and women, who lived in the squalid quarters behind the great house and worked the endless fields of cotton.
The Natchez planters, their wealth and confidence growing with cotton’s growing dominance of the local economy, found Under-the-Hill an increasing irritant. “A gentleman may game with a gambler by the hour,” one resident remembered, “and yet despise him and refuse to recognize him afterward.” The Under- the-Hill elite, however—gamblers, saloon keepers, and pimps— disturbed this social boundary when they began staying at hotels and even building town houses in Natchez town. And in the wake of the slave revolt led by Nat Turner in Virginia in 1831, in which fifty-five white people were killed, the planters began to feel increasingly threatened by the racial mingling of the riverfront. In the late 1830s, rumors that their slaves were conspiring to murder them during Fourth of July celebrations while Under-the- Hill desperadoes looted their mansions reinforced the Natchez elite’s growing conviction that they could no longer tolerate the polyglot community of the riverfront. The measures that ultimately provoked the flatboatmen’s threats in November 1837 soon followed.

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