In 1540, Hernando de Soto led a large expedition
into the area now known as Mississippi. The group camped for the winter along the Pontotoc
River. When spring came, the group made it to the Mississippi River, but found none of the
gold they were searching for. So, these Spanish explorers moved on.
In the late 1670s, a small band of French
Canadians sailed down the Mississippi River and into the Mississippi area. They saw it as
a strategically-located area ripe for settlement and commercial value. In 1699, Pierre le
Moyne d'Iberville led a French expedition that laid France's claim to the lower
Mississippi valley. French settlements then popped up at Biloxi, Fort Maurepas, Fort
Rosalie, and New Orleans.
After the French and Indian War ended in 1763,
France ceded its lower Mississippi Valley possessionsexcept New Orleansto
Great Britain. This gave the Brits a huge presence in the area, because they also obtained
Florida from Spain. To better govern such a large geographic area, the Brits divided the territory into two colonies.
One colony was West Florida, which included the
area between the Apalachicola and Mississippi rivers. The original northern boundary of
West Florida was the 31st parallel, but in 1764 this moved north to the 32.28' parallel.
The Brits renamed Fort Rosalie Fort Panmure. They made the Natchez District a subdivision
of West Florida. After the U.S. War of Independence broke out, Spain regained possession
of Florida and occupied Natchez. In 173, the Treaty of Paris made the 31st parallel as the
northern boundary between Spanish Florida and the United States. Despite this, Spain
continued to occupy Natchez. The two countries settled the occupation dispute in 1798.
In 1798, the U.S. Congress created the Mississippi
Territory. It was a thin strip of land that ran about 100 miles north to south and from
the Mississippi River to the Chattahoochee River on the Georgia border.
In 1804, and then again in 1812, Congress increased the size of the
territory, so it finally reached from Tennessee to the Gulf of Mexico. In 1817 the western
part achieved statehood as Mississippi. In 1819, the eastern part achieved statehood as
What about the capital of Mississippi? Natchez was
the first territorial capital, then 802 by nearby Washington replaced it. But in 1822, the
capital of the new state would turn out to be Jackson.
The United States underwent an enormous political
change in the 1820s and 1830s, as the Jeffersonian Republicans lost both power and
influence. The Jacksonian Democrats rose to power during this time and set the stage for
the Civil War. Also during this time, the Army moved the native Indians out of the area
and resettled those they didnt butcher into reservations in Oklahoma.
As Mark Twain illustrated in his writings, the
nation was characterized also by land speculation, steamboats, and the growth of slavery.
However, slavery grew as large plantations grew. It really wasnt a part of the lives
of small planters. Even though small planters outnumbered large plantation owners, they
had significantly less wealth and political influence. Thus, a natural divide occurred
among the population. This, also, would be felt in the decades to follow.
By the late 1850s, pressure from centralists in
the North was severe. The pressure from northern states that sought to force the southern
states to sell them cotton at below-market prices created extreme ill will. In another
vein, slavery abolitionists, mostly in the north, were calling for an end to slavery in
the south. This meant an end to a way of life for rich southern plantation owners, but it
would have happened anyway because of Eli Whitneys cotton gin.
With political, trade, and economic issues all
converging in such a way, southern leaders decided to take action. In January 1861, a
convention adopted an ordinance of secession. Before the dawn of 1862, Mississippi was
embroiled in a devastating war from which it still has not recovered.
For next 25 years after the Civil War, the former
slaves and their former owners struggled to come to grips with the economic,
political, and social consequences of emancipation. The change was something the white
ruling class simply would not accept. In 1890 the ruling elite adopted a constitution that
established a caste system of racial segregation and an economic order that kept blacks in
a position of dependency. As late as the 1960s, southernersnotably Lyndon B.
Johnsonwere passing legislation to accomplish the same thing.
Today, Mississippilike many other southern
statesis an economic and, to and extent, cultural backwater struggling to remake
itself. In the last quarter of the 20th Century, manufacturing plants located
to small towns in the south to take advantage of cheap labor. Many such companies did so
with a negative attitude toward southerners, and have further hurt the region. The
trailer trash antics of the Clintons (one of whom was from Illinois, not the
south) has further hurt the imageand the economiesof southern states.
Yet, there are bright spots on the horizon.
Southern universities, free of some of the political baggage associated with other
universities, have attracted outstanding researchers. Innovative companies, drawn by the
favorable social and tax climate, have moved to the southnot to pillage it, but to
embrace it and help it grow.
Mississippi has much to offer. A strategic
location, quality of life, modernized cities, and low tax rates are among the factors that
draw people. However, what makes them stay is something more valuable: the people. After
150 years of coping with adversity, strife, and political machinations designed to put
them at a disadvantage, the people have developed a toughness of character combined with a
sweetness of spirit. As they move forward into the 21st Century, this is a
strength that gives them a competitive advantage.