Introduced into the Lower Mississippi Valley by Spanish and French colonists, African slavery took root in the fertile soil bordering the numerous rivers and streams flowing into the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico. But it was not until Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin in the late 18th century that large scale cotton cultivation became profitable in the interior of the United States. The new method of ginning large volumes of cotton, combined with Mississippi's abundance of rich bottomland, created such a demand for enslaved Africans that the Forks of the Road slave market in Natchez grew to the point that it became the second largest of its kind in the nation, only topped by the slave blocks in New Orleans. The massive wealth derived from cotton cultivated by enslaved people was such that a new term was coined to describe the ostentatiously rich slave owners who inhabited Natchez. The Natchez Nabobs, as the stereotype portrayed them, spent a great deal of time at leisure, gambling on horse races and reveling in conspicuous consumption. Though cotton was not the only product produced by slaves—they cut wood, made pottery, served aboard steamboats, etc—the southern economy rested on a foundation of cotton. Similarly, slavery served as the underpinning of southern society, where even the poorest of whites could brag that at least they were not a slave. By the time of the Civil War many whites in the south felt that their peculiar institution, and thus their way of life, could not survive a Republican presidency, and upon Abraham Lincoln's election, the calls for secession overwhelmed the voices of reason, and Mississippi on January 9, 1861, seceded from the Union in order to protect the institution of slavery.
The following links contain information on many aspects of slavery:
- Forks of the Road (Mississippi History Now article on the Forks of the Road Slave Market in Natchez)
- Forks of the Road Slave Market Website
- Brief description of the Forks of the Road
- Slavery in America - Mississippi Slave Census
- Underground Railroad - Mississippi Delta
- National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
- African-American Heritage in Mississippi
- National Museum of African-American History and Culture
- William Johnson House, "The Barber of Natchez"
- United States Colored Troops, "The Slave Becomes a Man: United States Colored Troops in the American Civil War"
- Corinth Contraband Camp