November 29, 1729: The Natchez Revolt

November 29, 2016

As a graduate student at the University of North Carolina, and now Weingarten Assistant Curator in the American Section of the Penn Museum, I have spent over a decade working on prehistoric Native American sites in the area surrounding Natchez, Mississippi. Many of you may have read about our recent work there in these previous posts about the Smith Creek Archaeological Project.

But do you know the fascinating history of Natchez during the colonial period?

The Natchez Indians were among the last American Indian groups to inhabit the area now known as southwestern Mississippi. Like their prehistoric ancestors, the Natchez people constructed and used earthen mounds. The Grand Village of the Natchez Indians was the site of the main ceremonial mound center during the early period of French colonization. Construction of the mounds was done in stages beginning in the 13th century and the mounds were still being utilized when European explorers in the 17th century witnessed and wrote about the elaborate religious and sociopolitical rituals of the Natchez people.

For decades after the French colonization of the Natchez Bluffs, Native and European communities lived in relative harmony. However, increasing confiscation of Indian lands and the death of the primary chief of the Natchez caused a rapid deterioration of the relationship between the Natchez and the French colonists. On this day in 1729, the Natchez attacked the French colonial encampment at Fort Rosalie. Killing most of the garrison (around 230 people), this event became known as the Natchez Revolt, or the Natchez Massacre.

Early the next year, the French organized a retaliatory expedition, occupying the Grand Village and laying siege to the Natchez people, who had fled to the south. Although they did not surrender, the Natchez were forced to abandon their territory. Many Natchez people were eventually captured by the French and sold into slavery, while the remainder fled to neighboring tribes. These people joined other Native communities such as the Creek and Cherokee, with whom their descendants still live today.

Recent work by archaeologists with the National Park Service and the University of North Carolina has used historical, cartographic, and archaeological research to greatly expand our understanding of the events that occurred 287 years ago at Fort Rosalie. This work has also painted a much more complete and vibrant picture of how the landscape in which these events took place looked. In this video created and narrated by Ashley Peles, Ph.D. student at the University of North Carolina, you can fly over a reconstruction of what Natchez, Mississippi, may have looked like just before the Revolt.