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A magnolia moment: as Mississippi enters its 200th year, a look at our beginning lays the foundation for our future.

Mississippi, where history abounds from every county and every town and at practically every crossroad, is now entering its 200lh year as America's 20th state. It is a land almost as large as England. It is six times the size of Israel. It is half the size it was before it became a territory in 1798--during that era it included all of what is now the state of Alabama. And with its long heritage of strange paradoxes and contradictions it has and continues to be a haven of superlatives. Over the past 20 decades its citizens have made huge contributions in every field of endeavor. From missionaries to medicine, agriculture to aviation, forestry to furniture, military to mechanization, art to athletics, music to movie stars, plus a whole host of other themes, including writers extraordinaire, the Magnolia State continues to amaze the world.

It all started two full centuries ago when the state's population, somewhat less than 75,000, was centered in and near Natchez. This published figure may or may not have included thousands of American Indians: Choctaws, Chickasaws, and others. Nevertheless, the city of Natchez was incorporated on March 10,1803. According to the book Names and. Their Histories by Isaac Taylor, which was published in London in 1896, the name Natchez is actually "the French plural of the [Indian] tribe name Nache or Naktche, from naksh, 'a warrior,' literally 'a hurrying man,' i.e., a man running to flight."

Conflict, a way of life for centuries for the indigenous Americans, did not stop with the arrival of Europeans and Africans. America in 1817, with only 20 states, was still involved militarily in forging a nation. It is difficult to comprehend that when Mississippi--which is older than Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Maine, and 23 other states--established by an Act of Congress on December 10 that same year, skirmishes were still being fought throughout the republic from Florida to Ohio. The American Revolution was only 45 years in the past. Most of us easily remember the year 1776 and all it means, but we forget that Great Britain did not surrender her forces until November 30, 1782. Even then, hostilities did not stop. Little engagements occurred off and on, and led to a second war, the War of 1812, which did not end until the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815.

It was during this period that the Magnolia State's first digest of laws was prepared. This task was masterfully accomplished by English juris-consult Harry Toulmin. The year was 1807. One decade later, when the Convention assembled at the old Methodist meeting-house in Washington in Adams County to frame our state's first constitution, much of Toulmin's work was adopted. He and the other strong Christian leaders of that time were bold in their faith. Perhaps they were influenced by the great statesman, educator, and author of Webster's Dictionary (and the man for whom Webster County in our state is named), Noah Webster, who said: "Education is useless without the Bible." Article IX, Section 16 of the 1817 Constitution of the State of Mississippi stated: "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government, the preservation of liberty and the happiness of mankind, schools, and the means of education shall be forever encouraged in this state." It further stated, "No person who denies the being of God or a future state of rewards and punishments shall hold any office in the civil department of the State."

There was quite a lot going on when the 20-star American flag was raised at our state capital. Much of the talk still centered around the intrigue which surrounded the arrest and trial of our nation's third Vice President, Aaron Burr, who while serving under President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1805) shot and mortally wounded the ever-popular Alexander Hamilton in a duel on July 11, 1804. Burr, who was arrested by the acting state Governor Cowles Mead of Clinton on January 12, 1807, near the mouth of Bayou Pierre for suspected treason against the United States government, stood trial "under the oaks" at Jefferson College in Washington, just outside of Natchez. Along the Gulf Coast, citizens continued to tell about the heroics of the young Lt. "Tac" Jones who commanded five small gunboats as he engaged the British fleet in what was the last naval battle of the final war with Britain in the Bay of St. Louis near Pass Christian on December 13, 1814.

Elsewhere in 1817, DeWitt Clinton, governor of New York state, broke ground for the building of the Erie Canal. In Ireland excessive rain caused two back-to-back potato crop failures, resulting in near famine conditions that forced thousands of Irish families to immigrate to America and Canada. In England, surgeon James Parkinson gave his name to the nervous disorder more commonly known as "the shaking palsy." Only a few months following the debut of Mississippi's statehood, the "gothic" horror story Frankenstein, written by 18-year-old Mary Shelley, captured the imaginations of London's reading public. Here in the South, readers were captivated by French author Francois Rene de Chateaubriand's new romantic novel, Atala. This popular novel was about a Muscogee Indian chief's beautiful daughter, Atala, who fell in love with the handsome son of their bitter enemy, the Natchez. It is a Romeo & Juliet story that is illustrated with primeval forest scenes. Colonel Gordon D. Boyd, the first state senator from Kosciusko, was so taken by the book that he proposed that his new county be named for it. And, so it was. On December 23,1833, the county of Attala was established.

1817 was our starting point. Now with a population 40 times larger at 3 million, a figure that includes 10,000 Choctaws who live in eight reservation communities scattered over 10 counties in the east central part of the state, we are growing faster than ever.

Caption: Windy Hill Manor was the home of Colonel Benijah Osmun, a personal friend and fellow soldier with Aaron Burr during the American Revolution. While a guest in this home, Burr fled his bond and was later captured in the Alabama territory.

Caption: Mississippi's territorial capitol was moved from Natchez, six miles east to Washington, on February 1, 1802, the same year that Jefferson Military College was chartered. History states that Aaron Burr's preliminary trial for treason took place under these two oaks in 1807.
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Title Annotation:HERITAGE & CULTURE: Looking Back
Author:Cooper, Forrest Lamar
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 2017
Previous Article:Guardians of our past: discovery of a time capsule at Vicksburg National Military Park culminates in a 10-year journey to preservation.
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