Natchez Trace

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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.

Stern, Theodore. "The Natchez." In The Native Americans. Edited by Robert F. Spencer et al. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.

James A.Brown

See alsoTribes: Southeastern .

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NATCHEZ TRACE, a road running more than five hundred miles from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi, on the Mississippi River, roughly follows an old Indian trail. After the United States purchased Louisiana in 1803, the economic and military necessity spurred the government to build roads. In 1806, Congress authorized construction to begin on the Natchez Trace. For several decades most of its traffic was northward, since settlers would float their produce down the Mississippi to market on flatboats and return over the Trace by foot or on horseback. Construction of a 450-mile parkway following the trace began in 1934. In 1938 it was designated the Natchez Trace National Parkway.


Adams, Katherine J., and Lewis L. Gould. Inside the Natchez Trace Collection: New Sources for Southern History. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999.

Daniels, Jonathan. The Devil's Backbone: The Story of the Natchez Trace. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1962.

Davis, William C. A Way through the Wilderness: The Natchez Trace and the Civilization of the Southern Frontier. New York: Harper Collins, 1995.

Gerald M.CapersJr./h. s.

See alsoLouisiana Purchase .

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Natchez Trace was an old road, measuring more than 500 miles long (800 kilometers); it ran between Natchez, Mississippi, and Nashville, Tennessee. "Natchez" is derived from an Indian tribe, which lived in Mississippi during colonial times, and "trace" is another word for trail often used in the South. The trace was carved out during the mid-1700s by pioneers who followed old Indian trails from Natchez, situated on the bluffs above the Mississippi River, through present-day Mississippi and northwestern Alabama to Nashville, in north-central Tennessee. Traders would float goods on flatboats (barges) down the Mississippi River, later returning north via the trace. The city of Natchez became an important trade center and between 1798 and 1802, when it was the capital of the Mississippi Territory. In 1806 Congress authorized construction of a road to follow the trace, widening it to accommodate wagons, and making it a post road, which was used to transport mail. During the early 1800s Natchez Trace was of great military and commercial importance. In 1938 it was made into a National Parkway.

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Natchez Trace, road, from Natchez, Miss., to Nashville, Tenn., of great commercial and military importance from the 1780s to the 1830s. It grew from a series of Native American trails used in the 18th cent. by the French, English, and Spanish. At first traveled only N from Natchez to Nashville, because the American frontiersmen could float goods S to New Orleans by flatboat, it came to be used in both directions with U.S. expansion into the Old Southwest. It was made a post road in 1800 and was improved by the army. Andrew Jackson marched over the Trace to New Orleans in the War of 1812. With the coming of steamboat transportation, however, it passed into decline. The Natchez Trace Parkway and Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail memorialize and generally follow the old Natchez Trace. Meriwether Lewis Park and Ackia Battleground (now called Chickasaw Village), both former national monuments, were incorporated into Natchez Trace Parkway in 1961 (see National Parks and Monuments, table).

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Natch·ez / ˈnachiz/ a historic port city on the Mississippi River in southwestern Mississippi; pop. 19,460. The Natchez Trace, which leads from here to Nashville in Tennessee, was a 19th-century route for riverboatmen returning north from trips to New Orleans.

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Natchez Tribe of Muskogean-speaking Native Americans of the s Mississippi region. Today only a handful of Natchez people survive in Oklahoma.