Vidalia, LA - Events of Monday, June 11, 2012
Rosalie Mansion is yet another of the homes in Natchez belonging to a wealthy planter. It was built by Peter Little, who was born in our old home town of Pittsburgh and came to Natchez in 1798 at age 17.
Peter Little was an entrepreneur. He found an old boat in the river, and from it built a steam-powered circular saw and opened the first sawmill in the area. He gathered enough wealth to purchase thousands of acres of land in Louisiana which he used to grow cotton.
Peter Little bought an entire block of land in the city of Natchez that included part of the site on the bluff above the Mississippi River where Fort Rosalie once stood. Fort Rosalie, from which Little took the name for his new home, was built by the French in 1716. The Fort was captured by the Natchez Indians in 1729, and the fort was left in ruins when the French finally ousted the Indians in 1731.
Construction of Rosalie Mansion was started in 1820. Like Melrose that we saw a couple of days prior, it is built in the Greek-revival style.
When Rosalie was completed in 1823, Peter Little and his wife, Eliza, moved in. Peter and Eliza never had any children of their own, but they did have foster children. They also raised Peter's niece after his sister died. Eliza died in 1853 of yellow fever. When Peter died two years later, he would have left Rosalie to his niece, but he died without a proper will forcing an auction of the estate.
Andrew Wilson and his wife acquired the house in 1857. All the furniture belonging to Peter and Eliza Little was dispersed at the time of the sale, so Rosalie is displayed with the furnishings that belonged to the Wilsons. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, photography is not permitted inside the home. However, there are good photos of the interior on the Rosalie web site. Click here to see those photos.
The primary "claim to fame" of Rosalie is that it has what is considered by many to be the largest and best collection of Belter furniture under one roof. John Henry Belter was a German immigrant who settled in New York City and became a furniture maker in the mid 1800s. Belter developed a process of laminating wood to make furniture, and his furniture is highly sought after today. There are 20 pieces of Belter furniture at Rosalie.
Shortly after Natchez surrendered to the Union forces, General Grant set up headquarters in Rosalie under the command of General Walter Gresham. General Gresham took the Belter furniture and other fragile pieces to the attic for protection, and he allowed the Wilsons to remain in the house in two of the upstairs bedrooms.
Like the Littles, the Wilsons never had children; but also like the Littles, the Wilsons had numerous foster children. They were especially close to one of the girls by the name of Fannie whom they considered to be their true daughter.
Fannie married, inherited Rosalie, and lived there with her husband and their 6 children. In the 1930s, two of Fannie's unmarried daughters were still living in Rosalie, but they were struggling to make ends meet. They were forced to sell some furniture and a couple of the chandeliers from the house to pay their taxes. In 1938, the sisters sold Rosalie to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) with the provision they would be allowed to live in the house until their deaths. Miss Annie, the second of the sisters, died in 1958 at age 101.
As was the case with most homes of the period, Rosalie had a separate kitchen to help prevent fires. The kitchen was located in the two-story brick building behind the house. Servants quarters were on the second floor. Meals prepared in the kitchen were carried through the lattice-covered walkway and handed through the dining room window to servants inside.
Also behind the house are gardens that combine flowers and vegetables.
The lawn to the west of the house overlooks the Mississippi River. There are also views of the river from the second floor of the home.
After touring Rosalie, we headed to the William Johnson House, which is a few blocks away. William Johnson was born a slave, but was freed by his owner in 1820 at age 11. Upon gaining his freedom, he took the name of his former owner, who was also probably his father. Today, the house Johnson built in downtown Natchez is owned and operated by the National Park service. Admission is free.
Downstairs, there are information panels detailing Johnson's life. Johnson kept a diary from about 1835 until his death in 1851, so much is known about him and about how he prospered as a free black man in the pre-Civil War South.
The young Johnson learned the barber trade from his brother-in-law and opened his own business in Port Gibson, MS north of Natchez. In 1830, he returned to Natchez and bought his brother-in-law's business for $300. In 1840, Johnson built a brick structure in downtown Natchez using bricks salvaged from buildings destroyed by a tornado in Natchez that same year. He lived on the upper story.
William Johnson became a very successful business man. He became a prominent member of the black community and was even well respected by whites. He owned several buildings in Natchez, 2,000 acres of land south of town, and 16 slaves.
William Johnson was shot to death in 1851 by a neighbor in a land dispute.
The largest slave market in the South was in New Orleans, and the second largest was in Natchez. The Natchez market, which was called Forks of the Road, was located at the intersection of Washington and Liberty Roads about a mile east of town. After leaving the Johnson House, we drove out to Forks of the Road to have a look around.
There is a grassy strip with several plaques describing the slave trade.
Washington Road linked Natchez with the town of Washington and with Natchez Trace. We'll have more about Washington and about Natchez Trace in our next post. Slave traders used to march groups of slaves all the way from Virginia. They traveled down Natchez Trace to the city of Natchez. There was a great demand for slaves in the South, especially around Natchez with its proliferation of cotton plantations.
The life of slaves was hard to say the least. They were worked from sunrise to sunset 6 days a week. If they didn't perform up to expectations (which were usually set very high), they were often beaten. Family members could be sold or hired out ripping families apart. Margery just read the book, Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northrup. An educated free man living in New York, he was tricked, drugged, and abducted only to be sold as a slave and transported to the Red River area of Louisiana. His first-person narrative gives unique and articulate insight into the life of slaves during the antebellum era. It's a worthy read.
When Natchez fell to Union forces in 1863, slaves ran away and congregated at Forks of the Road looking to the Union for protection. Many able-bodied males were forced to join the Union Army.
After the war, the slaves were free; but they had no education, no money, and no jobs. As we learned when we visited Frogmore Plantation, many former slaves turned to sharecropping.
From Forks of the Road, we headed back toward town where we stopped for a late lunch a second time at Pig Out Inn. This time, we split a pulled pork and a beef brisket combo dinner. The brisket was as smokey and as juicy as the pork, but we liked the pork just slightly better. Paul tried the corn and black bean salad for one of his sides. It was excellent.
With our bellies full, we headed back to the motor home to relax. In other words, we both took a nap. There is still more in the Vidalia and Natchez area, so stay tuned.