Monday, May 05, 2008

Our trip to Natchez . . .

. . . wasn't just a vacation. It was a bit of a trip back in time to my roots.

My 5th great-grandfather, Richard Swayze, Jr., (yes, it's THOSE Swayzes) and his brother Samuel were among the original English settlers in the area. They purchased land known as the Ogden Mandamus in 1773, and moved to Mississippi in 1773. The primary reason for the move seems to be rooted in the looming dust-up with the Brits. The Swayzes were loyalists (they are now forgiven) and decided that New Jersey might not be the best place to hang out for the next few years.

They moved to Adams County, MS, near Natchez and formed a new town called Kingston. They also founded the first Protestant church in the territory. This was not considered friendly, since the territory was controlled by the Spanish at the time.

Every year since 1940, there has been an annual reunion of the "Descendants of the Jersey Settlers" held in Natchez and Kingston. Mrs. B. and I had attended three of these reunions, but hadn't been back since 2002. So, we combined a bit of vacation with a chance to see some of (very) distant cousins, and to reacquaint ourselves with some fine southern cooking.

For those not familiar with the American south, there are some things you need to know. First, they are very proud of their rebel ancestors, as evidenced by numerous statues commemorating those who fought for the South in the "War of Northern Aggression." This statue is in Port Gibson, MS. I have no problem with the statues, since I had approximately equal numbers of relatives on both sides.

Confederate Memorial, Port Gibson, MS

Natchez suffeed little harm during the Civil War. The city was captured by Federal forces under ADM David (Damn the torpedoes) Farragut in 1862. This is evidenced by the large number of antebellum homes remaining in and near the city. Stanton Hall is probably the queen of the lot, although Rosalie and Dunleith are near the top.

Mrs. B and I had dinner in Stanton Hall's carriage house, which is now an excellent restaurant, specializing in Southern fried chicken and the most delicious little biscuits imaginable. I ate there the first time in 1958, while travelling to Baton Rouge, LA with my parents. Coincidentally, my first date with Mrs. B was in 1958.

Stanton Hall, Natchez, MS

When they arrived in Mississippi, my ancestors navigated up the Homochitto river and stopped near this spot to set up their new lives. They had a streak of good fortune, since a recent fire had cleared the land, and abundent rains that year gave them good crops to make it through the winter.

Presumed Landing Point on the Homochitto River Bank

They began church services in individual homes while posting a lookout, since the Spanish were not tolerant of Protestant folks. Legend says that they hid the scriptures in a hollow tree so that no one would be caught by The Spanish Inquisiton, although no one really expects that. The church below is not the original, but dates back to the early 1800s. It is now a Methodist congregation.

The Kingston Church

One of the Cousins Lecturing as
Rev. Samuel Swayze

The widow of one of our dear cousins still owns Oakwood Plantation, which was built in 1836. It was restored in 1986.

Oakwood Plantation

Mrs B. and I chilling out on Oakwoods' front porch