In 1701 Sieur de Sauvole sent an expedition of four men to explore the high bluffs 150 miles upriver from New Orleans. They found the area “perfectly good and agreeable,” but the French experience there later proved otherwise. The land was named the Natchez District after the powerful tribe whose members preferred that the French stay far from the bluffs.
Violence marred the first attempt to colonize the Natchez District in 1715. Irritated by the construction of a trading house, a band of natives murdered several frontier traders and looted the outpost, commandeering goods, horses, and slaves. Hearing news of the atrocities, Gov. Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac ordered Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, to lead thirty-five soldiers to punish the tribe. Bienville somehow cowed tribal leaders into executing the guilty, returning the stolen merchandise, and constructing a fort for the future protection of the French.
After the erection of Fort Rosalie in 1716, the Natchez District experienced incredible growth. Its population topped 300 settlers and slaves by 1723 and 750 by 1729. Many of the new arrivals began clearing land for the cultivation of tobacco, wheat, and indigo. The steady encroachment on tribal lands angered native inhabitants, and their hostility prompted Bienville, now governor of Louisiana, to send 500 troops on a 1722 “peace offensive” that destroyed two tribal villages.
Relations worsened after Sieur de Chepart received the commission to govern the Natchez District in 1728. A notorious drunk, Chepart mistreated natives and settlers alike. His bad behavior led to his dismissal from office after the Superior Council found him guilty of abusing power. Gov. Étienne Boucher de Périer, however, pardoned Chepart and restored his commission. The commandant returned to Fort Rosalie and banished the Natchez Indians from the village of White Apple. The enraged tribal sovereign, Chief Sun, immediately began plotting an attack on the garrison and the surrounding settlements.
On 28 November 1729 Chief Sun led what the French called the Massacre at Fort Rosalie. Disguised as peaceful visitors on a hunting expedition, the war party borrowed guns from the armory and then fired on surprised soldiers and settlers. Once the massacre commenced, Chief Sun watched the carnage from a perch near the tobacco storehouse, where he received Chepart’s severed head. The Natchez inflicted more than two hundred casualties and captured more than three hundred women, children, and slaves.
The Natchez won the first battle but decisively lost the war. The French-Natchez War (1729–30) ultimately led to the annihilation of the Natchez as a nation, which some tribal elders had considered a French objective all along. Most died as warriors in battle; some died as slaves in Saint-Domingue, and others continued their struggle as adopted members of the Chickasaw or Yazoo.
The Natchez inspired other native uprisings. The Yazoo killed eighteen soldiers in March 1730, and the Chickasaw launched a guerrilla war in 1731. Despite two decades of military campaigns, the French never managed to suppress the rebellious tribes.
- Jean-Bernard Bossu, Travels in the Interior of North America, 1751–1762, ed. Seymour Feiler (1962)
- Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century (1992)
- D. Clayton James, Antebellum Natchez (1968)
- Richard Aubrey McLemore, ed., A History of Mississippi, vol. 1 (1973)
- Julie Sass, in Natchez before 1830, ed. Noel Polk (1989)
- Garland Taylor, Mississippi Valley Historical Review (September 1935)
- Daniel H. Usner Jr., Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy: The Lower Mississippi Valley before 1783 (1992)