Researchers to Study Natchez’s Role In Underground Railroad
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has enlisted researchers from an Alabama college to conduct a document search to determine what sites in Natchez were linked to the Underground Railroad.
Such sites are likely “because (enslaved) people were coming from as far as northwest Alabama and southwest Tennessee,” says Dr. Robert Cassanello, researcher and a history professor at Miles College in Fairfield, Ala. “Natchez was a place people could meet and know they could escape easily through the port there.”
The Underground Railroad was a network of safe houses, churches and shelters instrumental in helping an estimated 30,000 slaves escape to free states and Canada during the 19th century.
Between 1998 and 2001, the Corps supervised a bluff stabilization project in Natchez, and conducted digs to make sure no historically significant site was disturbed by the stabilization. The current study is a continuation of that “mitigation” work, says Corps spokesman Ken Wojtala.
The previous digs, conducted along the Mississippi River bluff, uncovered a suspected 18th-century French cemetery on the site of Fort Rosalie. It also recovered the remains of the former city waterworks and an old sawmill as well as items used by households on land at the foot of the bluff.
Instead of doing more digging, Wojtala said the Corps hired researchers from Miles College to sift through historical documents in depositories from Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Jackson and Natchez.
The researchers will search for evidence of sites in Natchez that were connected with the Underground Railroad. Miles College is cooperating with the Southwest Mississippi-Central Louisiana Underground Railroad Association on the study.
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