Fear, Rumors, Lies

On trying to gain clarity of what it means to gain and keep absolute supremacy to the Slave and Free Black people of Natchez the occupying settlers leaders greatest tool was that that of fear. Lets began with the early colonization efforts of the French when they first established Fort Rosalie and began to establish our Natchez Community. Lets face it they had to have co-operation of the natives to get this done as well as bring in their own labor force which were Slaves of African decent . All was fine and dandy until the abuse of welcome began by the French. Thus came the first political opposition of what freedom means in Natchez and the on going fight to be seen as equal partners in building a city that is the pride of the people.

One of the earliest recorded incidents of a slave uprising in the area was the Natchez Indian Revolt of 1729 against the French colonists. The French traded in slaves and brought the first African slaves to Natchez to cultivate tobacco. The slaves came with a militant spirit. Their aggression initially took the form of resistance on slave ships, as illustrated in the 1997 film Amistad. Their arrival in Natchez did not quell this militancy. If anything, it sparked aggression. The Natchez Indians fanned this spark.

The French soon recognized the inevitable contact and interaction between the slaves and the Natchez Indians and eventually extended their cruelty to the Indians. The Natchez Indians became aware that the French began to whip young Indian boys just as they did their African slaves. This cruelty, along with pro-British leanings of some tribal leaders and the recent land grab by the French commander at Fort Rosalie, moved the proud Natchez nobles to act.

To protest the cruelty of the French, Natchez Indians recruited several slaves, promising them freedom, and staged a revolt against the French in 1729, wherein approximately 230 people were killed. The French retaliated, using their allies from other Indian tribes to punish the Natchez, and recovered many slaves. The Natchez Indians ultimately lost the war. Many were sold into slavery in the Caribbean while others joined other tribes.

The flames of violence were fanned again in 1731. A number of African slaves who had participated in the Natchez Indian Revolt were involved in a conspiracy to kill all the French and take over the colony. The governor of Louisiana heard rumors of the uprising but dismissed them, even after a female slave supposedly hinted of the rebellion to a French soldier. A Swiss citizen who had lived in Natchez, Antoine Le Page du Pratz, investigated the incident and would later describe it in his history of Louisiana. He learned that his trusted first officer and interpreter, a slave named Samba Bambara, was the mastermind. Samba had been involved in a rebellion back in his homeland and was sentenced to a life in bondage for his resistance. He had also tried to instigate a revolt on the slave ship on which he traveled from Africa. As punishment for his role in the would-be mutiny, Samba was placed in irons. Because of Le Page du Pratz’s efforts, French authorities tortured and killed the conspirators, even breaking the female slave on the wheel.

Now keeping in mind even with the Indian population removed from the area the slaves were 75% of all the population in the Natchez area. thus keeping the Settlers in constant fear of another uprising that could end their presence at any moment.

The relative calm of Natchez slaves ended with the American Revolution. Slaves knew that here was an opportunity to seize their freedom. The best example of slave resistance in Natchez during the American Revolution (1776-1783) occurred in July 1776. According to the diary of plantation owner William Dunbar, a slave had approached his master with the stunning revelation that Natchez slaves were plotting a rebellion and that the uprising had been planned at Dunbar’s plantation. To prevent this insurrection from happening, Dunbar and his fellow slave owners rounded up their slaves, questioned and tortured them, forcing them to confess. One of Dunbar's slaves was in a boat when he was questioned by the slave owners and instead of confessing as the other slaves had done, jumped overboard and drowned himself in the river. Other would-be rebels were put on trial, found guilty of conspiracy, and executed.

During the American Revolution, the British surrendered the Natchez District to Spain.

Natchez became part of the United States in 1817 when Mississippi entered the Union as a state. Despite new American rule, slave owners still feared the possibility of slave uprisings. Troubles were sometimes blamed on the slaves even when their involvement was suspect at best.

A series of fires rocked Natchez in 1836, at a time when Mississippi was cracking down on gambling. John A. Murrell, a white man who was a land pirate and kidnapper of slaves, was said to have proposed a slave rebellion the previous summer. On July 4, 1835, whites, thought to be agents of abolition, and slaves, intent on obtaining their freedom, had planned a revolt. There was to be a general uprising of slaves and some whites as far away as Maryland. The insurrectionists hoped to capture towns from Natchez to New Orleans, to kill as many whites as they could, and to burn and pillage plantations.
Slaveholders, however, uncovered the plot when a slave confessed to his master. No revolt occurred, however, but slave owners all over the state were apprehensive. Research today suggests that this entire would-be revolt was exaggerated or even false. Murrell was in jail at the time and was in no position to incite rebellion. Nonetheless, the people of Natchez, who feared even the rumor of a slave uprising, were on alert.

The bulk of Murrell’s supporters were said to be gamblers, which brought them in direct conflict with the citizens of Natchez who were intent on cracking down on gambling. When fires broke out in January 1836, Natchez residents attributed the arsons to Murrell’s gang of gamblers and the rumored rebellion the previous summer. The fires both outraged and horrified the residents, especially since more than thirty houses in Natchez caught fire. Natchez resident Eliza Breeden wrote her mother in 1836 that whites were still edgy from the insurrection scare. Damage was so severe that, at one point, Breeden described the whole town as “in danger of being burnt.”

The people were divided over who they thought had started the fires. Some Natchez citizens believed that gamblers were the arsonists. Some citizens pointed instead to Natchez slaves. Authorities increased area slave patrols and instituted a sundown curfew for slaves. Some slaves were arrested, but were later acquitted and discharged.

The identity of the real arsonists remained a mystery. The community’s reaction to the Natchez fires in 1836, however, showed that even if the slaves were not involved, they were readily put under suspicion when any trouble or disturbance occurred.

The American Civil War period also saw many slave uprisings. The timing was no coincidence. Slaves were aware of events outside of Natchez. The slave underground spread news from plantation to plantation, and the news spread rapidly. Information was spread through other means as well. Slaveholders discussed politics in front of the house slaves, who spread the word to the slave quarters.

Slaveholders uncovered a conspiracy among their slaves to rebel in the Second Creek area south of Natchez shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. Diary entries and letters by Natchez whites reveal that slaves planned to murder all the white males in Natchez and spare the white women, whom the slaves would marry. After the insurrection, the slaves would march to meet President Lincoln. A committee of slaveholders questioned the slaves and hanged as many as forty rebels.

Natchez newspapers remained silent about the slaves conspiracy and printed nothing. Editors feared that news of a planned insurrection in Mississippi would undermine the Confederate war effort and bolster Union morale. If not for private correspondence between whites, there would have been no records of slaves revolting. The silence of Natchez newspapers suggests that news of other slave conspiracies were also suppressed.

Fear ,rumors, and lies has yet to deter the will of he African American in quest for equal partnership in America .

excerpts from MS Now