Natchez, Mississippi, (population 18,000) is perched 200 feet above the Mississippi River on the state’s highest promontory north of the Gulf of Mexico. Inhabited for centuries by prehistoric Indians and later by the Natchez Indians, Natchez was settled first by the French in 1716— the settlement is two years older than New Orleans. Natchez was later settled by the British in 1763, the Spanish in 1779, and finally by the Americans in 1798. In 1798, Natchez became the first capital of the Mississippi Territory, and in 1817, the first capital of the new state of Mississippi.
The city boomed in the first half of the 19th century, especially due to the export of tons of cotton by steamboat. Enormous fortunes were made from the area’s natural resources: the land and the river. Cotton was king, and slavery was prevalent, making Natchez the home of more millionaires per capita than any city in America before the Civil War. Many of their dazzling mansions, filled with the finest furnishings, can still be seen.
Natchez is one of the first cities in the nation to successfully utilize its cultural heritage to become a tourist-driven economy. Since the 1920s, Natchez has celebrated its history through a month-long citywide celebration, the Spring Pilgrimage. Fall Pilgrimage, added in the 1970s, dedicated another month to focusing on the community’s heritage, and both events attract more than 10,000 visitors each year. The city’s famous homes and plantations are open for public tours, complemented by historical, architectural, cultural, and preservation-based programs and events. Evening entertainment includes a musical pageant with dancing, historic scenes, and elaborate period costumes.
In addition to the pilgrimages, the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians hosts an annual pow-wow at the historic Emerald burial mounds, drawing Native American participants and spectators from around the country. Another annual event, the Mississippi Bluff Blues Heritage Festival, draws thousands of tourists to hear music.
Both the Natchez National Historical Park and the Natchez Trace Parkway are managed by the National Park Service. The Natchez Trace Parkway commemorates the ancient Natchez Trace trail and runs 444 miles from Nashville to Natchez, terminating at the Mississippi River. It is a National Scenic Byway and an All-American Road.
Designated a Preserve America Community in May 2008.