Thursday, October 16, 2008

Natchez, Day 4

We started Day 4 off with a program by Natchez historian Tom Scarborough in the Melrose carriage house. All of the speakers on the tour were excellent.

Melrose Plantation

The fortunes of Pennsylvania born John McMurran began rising soon after his arrival in Natchez in the mid-1820's. Mr. McMurran established a profitable law practice, won election to the state legislature, married into a respected local family, and acquired the first of five plantations. In 1841, McMurran purchased 133 acres of land just outside of Natchez. Over the next eight years, a combination of free and slave labor constructed the estate's mansion and outbuildings.

Back of Main Building

The grounds behind the main house contained the outbuildings housing a kitchen, livestock, carriages, tools and the estate's slaves. The Melrose slaves tended vegetable gardens and fruit trees planted behind each of the large brick dependency buildings.

Outbuilding at Melrose

Melrose was acquired by the National Park Service in 1990. It represents one of the most completely preserved antebellum estates in Natchez with many original furnishings and outbuildings.

After Melrose, it was off to the Natchez City Cemetery and a guided tour by Don Estes, author of The Natchez City Cemetery and Legends of the Natchez City Cemetery. For almost two centuries people of all nations, races, and creeds have been interred in the 100 acre cemetery. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the cemetery, established in 1822 when remains were moved from the burial ground in Memorial Park to the present site, has evolved as an archive of Natchez lore. Tombstone inscriptions embellished by romantic and mysterious tales draw portraits of engaging characters.

This angel may look familiar to you. She is the "Turning Angel" and gave her name to the bestseller by Greg Iles of the same name.

Originally verdant fields and hills overlooking the mighty Mississippi River, the cemetery has been shaped by man into a garden-like park of grassy plots against backdrops of towering oaks and cypress trees draped in Spanish moss; stands of dogwoods, magnolias, hollies, and camellias; rows of azaleas; scatterings of antique roses and crap myrtle-lined lanes. An outdoor museum for many unique art forms - marble statuary, ornamental iron fences and gates, magnificent monuments.

Lunch was on our own and we walked some more in the historic downtown area. Dinner was at the High Cotton Cooking School.

One of the chefs at High Cotton

Dinner was inspired by William Johnson's Diary entry of November 11, 1836. Johnson was a free man of color and owned several barber shops in the Natchez area. Not unlike a beauty salon, the barber shop was a place of gossip. He was one of more than 200 "free people of color" in the town of Natchez during the antebellum era. Johnson was a prolific diarist and kept journals covering sixteen years of his life.

The menu for the evening included: Mint juleps and Grillades Gritmales. Salad was Baby Blue Salad with spiced pecans, goat cheese, tsatumas and champagne vinaigrette on greens. Second course was seared flatiron steak (stake), with black coffee red-eye gravy, crawfish and andouille spoon bread, greens with braised bacon served with cast iron sourdough biscuits with stickerberry butter. Third course sweet potato donuts with vanilla sugar. Everything was delicious.

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