NATCHEZ. The Natchez, existing from circa a.d. 700 until they were dispersed by the French in 1731, stood out among other southeastern tribes for their class-like organization of society and for the power and privileges of their premier lineage, the Suns. French observers left accounts that, rich as they are, did not provide a clear record of Natchez society's many unique features. The Natchez language is a linguistic isolate not clearly related to other languages.
The Natchez population declined rapidly in the first quarter of the 1700s from an initial recorded estimate of about 5,000. Likewise, in precontact times, archaeological evidence reveals that the Natchez's ancestors occupied up to five mound centers, but in the eighteenth century European disease reduced the polity to a single mound center, Natchez proper, and nine smaller communities. Despite this contraction, the Natchez remained militarily powerful, and they resisted French domination in a series of rebellions between 1715 and 1730. However, tribal solidarity became fatefully compromised when they split into a French faction led by the chief of the Grand Village, and a British faction led by the upstart chief of the White Apple village.
The name "Natchez" actually refers to the Grand Village. "Theocloel," the name by which the polity was known to its members, meant "people of Thé," or the descendants of this founding ancestor-deity. The French used the name Natchez to refer to the polity as a whole, not understanding the degree of autonomy that individual villages could exercise. Village chief authority was despotic to those residing nearby, but chiefs of more distant places such as the White Apple village operated independently of each other in postcontact times.
The Natchez had a complex social hierarchy. Membership in one of three social ranks was by birth, with an additional "honored" rank that generally was achieved
through merit. The topmost lineage was the Suns, who were senior descendents of a line of mothers from the tribal deity. Three influential positions were monopolized by the Suns. The eldest male held the chiefship, "Great Sun," and controlled access to the ancestral godhead in the shrine that was erected atop the principal platform mound. The mother of the Great Sun, or the senior female Sun, was called "White Woman," and the younger brother of the Sun was called "Tattooed Serpent," and held the office of war chief. The funeral rites of these privileged individuals captured the attention of the earliest French observers. Junior members of the Sun lineage possessed the same ancestral rights and exercised authority as chiefs in their own villages. In the second rank were the "Nobles," who were children of male Suns. Children of male nobles dropped in rank to that of "Stinkards," or commoners.
Hudson, Charles M. The Southeastern Indians. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1976.
Lorenz, Karl G. "The Natchez of Southwest Mississippi." In Indians of the Greater Southeast. Edited by Bonnie G. McEwan. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000.
See alsoTribes: Southeastern .
Natchez (indigenous people of North America)
Natchez (năch´Ĭz), indigenous North American people who lived along St. Catherine's Creek east of the present-day city of Natchez in Mississippi. At the time of contact with the French in 1682, they numbered about 4,000 and were the most powerful chiefdom on the lower Mississippi. Typical of the Mississippian cultural area, they were sedentary, agricultural people who cultivated corn, beans, and squash and hunted deer, turkey, and buffalo. They worshiped the sun, and had an elaborate form of social ranking governed by rules of marriage and descent. A chief ruled over two classes: commoners, who could marry within their own class, and rulers, who were further divided into
and were required to marry commoners. Since they were matrilineal, the children of a female ruler and a male commoner would keep the rank of the mother; children of a male ruler and a female commoner would have a lesser rank than that of the father. Upon the death of a chief, his wives, guards, and retainers were strangled to death, in the belief that they would accompany him to the afterlife.
The French established a mission among the Natchez in 1700 and a trading post in 1713, and there were initially friendly relations between the two groups. Peace was maintained for a number of years, but skirmishes in 1716, 1723, and 1729—when the Natchez massacred the encroaching French at Fort Rosalie—proved disastrous for the tribe. The French, aided by the Choctaw, retaliated for the Fort Rosalie massacre by attacking Natchez villages and scattering the inhabitants. Some crossed the Mississippi River into Louisiana, where they were again attacked (1731) by the French, who killed many Natchez and sold captives into slavery. About 700 others sought refuge with their Chickasaw allies; they later divided into two groups and settled among the Upper Creeks and among the Cherokee. They eventually moved west of the Mississippi with their hosts, and by the 19th cent. they had all but disappeared as a distinct group. However, some Natchez living in Oklahoma maintained their language into the 20th cent.
Natchez (city, United States)
Natchez, city (1990 pop. 19,460), seat of Adams co., SW Miss., on bluffs above the Mississippi River; settled 1716, inc. 1803. It is the trade, shipping, and processing center for a soybean, corn, cotton, livestock, and timber area. It has lumber and pulpwood mills; manufactures include steel, transportation equipment, and machinery. Natchez was founded in 1716 when Fort Rosalie was established there; in 1729 members of the Natchez tribe killed the garrison troops. The area passed to England (1763), Spain (1779), and the United States (1798). Natchez was capital of the Mississippi Territory from 1798 to 1802. The southern terminus of the Natchez Trace, it became a great river port and the cultural center of the planter aristocracy before the Civil War. It was the state capital from 1817 to 1821. In the Civil War it was taken by Union forces in 1863. The city has preserved its antebellum charm, and many historic homes are visited during the festival period in March and April. Natchez once housed a large, prosperous Jewish community and is home to the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience. Also there are the Natchez Museum of African-American History and Culture, the 1841 William Johnson House (owned by a freed slave who became a slave owner himself), the prehistoric Grand Village of the Natchez tribe, and Jefferson College, Mississippi's first chartered educational institution and now a museum.