Monmouth Historic Inn

1823 Natchez: Yellow Fever, Parties & More

August 21 2015 | News

Most interesting to read in today's posting is the idylic lifestyle Quitman describes in August of 1823 - from late summer to late fall. While I would not trade today's medicine for that of the time - the lifestyle sounds most inviting and I wouldn't mind living like that for a few months - or would we get bored? It might be nice to find out . . . . Until next time, happy travels and may they bring you to us where you can pretend you're living the life of one of those lucky Southerners in Natchez from the 19th century - play croquet, fish, laze around, enjoy mint juleps and sumptuous meals . . . . Just saying.

1823 Natchez: A season of fever, parties, waltzes, death


By Stanley Nelson

Concordia Sentinel

October 27, 2010


A new lawyer in Natchez, John Quitman kept his father, brothers, sisters and friends apprised of his life with periodic letters. In late August 1823 he wrote a friend that he had found sanctuary at the home of well-respected widow at her plantation home, Soldier's Retreat:

"I have been a refugee from Natchez, where the yellow fever is raging...The awful pestilence in the city brings out, in strong relief, the peculiar virtues of this people. The mansions of the planters are thrown open to all comers and goers free of charge. Whole families have free quarters during the epidemic, and country wagons are sent daily to the verge of the smitten city with fowls, vegetables, etc., for gratuitous distribution to the poor."

In Natchez was born one of the most peculiar habits during the seasons of sickness and death, which usually ran from late summer until late fall when the fevers, chills and intestinal pains disappeared. As in all crises such as this, the poor suffered the worse although the rich offered aid. In the fine estates in the country, the mansions swelled with guests who indulged on wine, food and sport while in the midst of the fatal scourge some of the population took part in strange rituals.

Quitman, at age 25, lived among the rich in the country, enjoying the hospitality of Dr. William Dunbar at Forest plantation, Mrs. Ferdinand Claiborne at Soldier's Retreat and Judge Edward Turner at his home.

At Soldier's Retreat, Quitman enjoyed a degree of hospitality that amazed him. Mrs. Claiborne was the widow of the Natchez general whose brother, W.C.C. Claiborne, had been the second governor of the Mississippi territory, the first governor of Louisiana and a U.S. senator. Mrs. Claiborne, the daughter of English parents, had settled in Natchez with her family during the days of Spanish rule prior to 1798.

Quitman wrote in late August 1823: "I am now writing from one of those old mansions, and I can give you no better notion of life in the South than by describing the routine of the day....The whole aim of this excellent lady seems to be to make others happy. I do not believe she ever thinks of herself. She is growing old, but her parlor is constantly thronged with the young and gay, attracted by her cheerful and never-failing kindness. There are two large families from the city staying here, and every day some ten or a dozen transient guests.

"Mint-juleps in the morning are sent to our rooms, and then follows a delightful breakfast in the open verandah. We hunt, ride, fish, pay visits, play chess, read or lounge until dinner, which is served at two p.m. in great variety, and most delicately cooked in what is here called the Creole style -- very rich, and many made or mixed dishes. In two hours afterward everybody -- white and black -- had disappeared. The whole household is asleep -- the siesta of the Italians. The ladies retire to their apartments, and the gentlemen on sofas, settees, benches, hammocks, and often, gypsy fashion, on the green grass under the spreading oaks. Here, too, in fine weather, the tea-table is always set before sunset, and then, until bedtime, we stroll, sing, play whist or croquet. It is an indolent, yet charming life, and one quits thinking and takes to dreaming."