The Banks of the Mississippi and Cotton Picking

In mid December we left the Lafayette area and traveled northeast to Riverview Park in Vidalia, Louisiana.  Our circuitous route took us over the Mississippi River on one of the most beautiful bridges of our trip, the Audubon Bridge (above) which opened in 2011.  Not too long after crossing the bridge we entered the state of Mississippi, the first time either of us have traveled in this state.  Of course we stopped at a very nice State Welcome Center for more brochures!   Although not advertised, you can stay overnight in your RV at Mississippi Welcome Centers.  They even had a 24 hour security guard with an office on site at the Center we visited.

When we reached the city of Natchez we crossed the river again back into Louisiana and soon arrived to our new camping spot on the banks of the Mississippi.  I was excited to be staying so close to the Mississippi!  My last time seeing this river was when I took a Road Scholar road and boat tour of the upper Mississippi several years ago.  I was also excited to be camping right across the river from Natchez, a historic city I have been wanting to visit for several years.   From our trailer we could easily access a paved trail that ran 1-1/2 miles along the river.  It was a great place for exercise and to watch the river traffic.

We frequently saw tugs pushing barges with their heavy loads.  There were also smaller craft having fun boating the river.  The path went under the bridge that carried traffic over to the state of Mississippi and Natchez.

While walking along we were able to read signs and learn more about the river and the city of Vidalia.  In 1927 the Great Mississippi River Flood inundated the town turning the streets into waterways with many residents evacuated by ferry to Natchez which is built on a hill. The Great Flood was one of the nation’s worst natural disasters and submerged more than 26,000 miles of land in seven states.  At least two months passed before the floodwater completely subsided.  This flood brought attention to the need for a better system of control with levees and floodways.  Below Mark looks out over the river with a view of Natchez on the opposite bank.

“Vidalia, a City on the Move” is now the slogan here.  In 1938 Vidalia was literally moved one mile inland due to flooding issues.  More than 100 buildings were either relocated or demolished and rebuilt in the new Vidalia.   Where this trail now stands, streets and buildings were once located.

Sunsets are one of my favorite things about RVing and we saw some pretty good ones along the Mississippi River.  This was my favorite sunset as the rosy sky was reflected in the water.

One evening while walking the path I took this picture.  I loved the golden reflection of the bridge in the water.

From our site we often heard the sounds of barges moving up or down the river.  If the sound was particularly loud, it usually meant a very large vessel.  Sometimes in the evenings we would hurry from the trailer to the riverbank to see what kind of barge was passing.   Our favorite sighting though, was when the Mississippi Queen Paddle-wheeler, one of the largest on the river today passed by heading down to New Orleans.   Mark caught a picture but it is difficult photographing a moving boat at night!

The day after we arrived I visited Frogmore, an 1800 acre working cotton plantation in Ferriday Louisiana founded in 1815.  This historic plantation has an antebellum house, general store, slave/sharecropper quarters, a church and an original cotton ginning operation.  Cotton is still grown on the plantation and processed in a modern plant down the road.  This is the only historic cotton plantation still operating in the south.

The tour began with a program in the church.  Dressed in period style, we had two singers performing songs typically sung by slave and sharecropping families in the south. The songs were interspersed with narration from Lynette, one of the owners of the property who gave information on slave history, culture, plantation life and sharecropping.  Our small audience was encouraged to sing along and play tambourines.

After leaving the church we toured the slave and sharecropper quarters.  The great thing about this place is that the buildings are originals and not recreations.  Below is a picture of one of the slave quarters.  They were designed to house two families which is the reason for the two doorways and windows.

There are a number of buildings here, but only a few are set up with period furnishings to view such as the one below which shows a typical sharecropper home.

Slaves were furnished with one or two sets of clothing.  Children wore long shirts with no pants.  Below is a picture of typical dress for women and children.

One of my favorite stories from this tour was about the hoecakes.  During breaks in the cotton fields slaves would make a fire.  Using their hoe, they placed a corn cake on the blade and put it in the ashes to bake.

Cotton is harvested in the fall before the danger of frost, so when I visited in mid December the fields were already cleared.  The plantation keeps one large patch of cotton growing so that visitors can experience picking cotton.

Our guide put on one of the long cotton sacks to show us how it was worn over the shoulder and invited us to try one on if we wished.   A slave was expected to pick about 200 pounds of cotton a day on average.  As their sacks filled they were emptied into baskets.

Picking cotton can be rough on the hands if you touch the cotton boll or protective hard case that surrounds the fluffy fibers.  Children make good cotton pickers because their small hands fit more easily between the bolls and the fibers.  I love touching the soft cotton.  Below is a picture of a boll with sharp pointy edges.

At the end of the day, the cotton picked from each slave is weighed at the overseers cabin to assess productivity.

Below is a picture of an overseers cabin with typical period furnishings.

We toured the historic cotton gin which still stands on the property and houses the original machinery from the 1800’s.

In 1793 Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin which greatly improved the cotton growing industry.  Before the gin, cotton seeds had to be separated from the fiber by hand.  Whitney’s hand cranked model (below) separated the cotton seeds using a wooden cylinder surrounded by rows of slender spikes.

This gin also has steam powered machines used to process larger quantities of cotton from beginning to baling.  Our tour guide Lynette showed us how each were once used.

After the cotton was cleaned it was compressed by a machine into bales.  The cotton bales at Frogmore were taken across the road to a bayou to be transported by boat.

In the 1930’s over 2,200 former slaves were interviewed as part of the Federal Writer’s Project, a division of the Works Progress Administration.  The purpose of the project was to record memories of slaves before they passed on and the opportunities were lost.  Guidelines were issued for interviewing and recording answers.  Books were compiled for each state.  I bought the Louisiana edition which had been edited by Frogmore’s owner at the general store.

This book includes 42 interviews of former slaves in Louisiana.  During interviews, most of the slaves were in their 80’s or 90’s with some over 100.  There were slaves that did not know their exact age as it had never been recorded.  This was a remarkable book to read and the memories that they retained after so many years was pretty incredible.  Their stories differed as slaves had a variety of experiences depending on where they lived, worked and the treatment they received from their masters, mistresses and overseers.

Visiting this plantation was a great prelude to our visits later in Natchez.   At one time, Natchez was one of the wealthiest cities in America boasting large homes and mansions built by plantation owners.

Thanks again for reading!   I will be doing more posts soon about exploring Natchez.  For the next post though I will talk about our travel plans for the coming four months as well as a look back at our first four months.

8 thoughts on “The Banks of the Mississippi and Cotton Picking”

    1. Thanks for your comment Arlene! Yes, it was really interesting to visit a cotton plantation, especially one that is still operating today. I also really enjoyed seeing all the original buildings, a unique place!

  1. Welcome to the land of cotton! Thought about y’all with the cold weather that hit. Hope you are staying warm! I look to reading more about my home town!

    1. Thanks Tammy and Robert! It is great to hear from you! Hope this finds you both well! Yes, the weather has been unexpectedly cold in the South. Right now we are staying in the Gulf Shores area on Mobile Bay and the fierce freezing wind is something else! I never expected to be this cold on the Gulf of Mexico! Some days the weather has been okay, but right now another cold spell has hit and last night temps hit 21 degrees! I bet it is very cold where you are as well! We really enjoyed our visit to Natchez, such an interesting city and so much to see there. I will be posting a blog today about Natchez with two more to come on the city. The South is such a great place to visit!

    1. Thanks Anette! It is great to hear from you and so appreciate your support and kind words. I hope this finds you well and staying warm up your way. We are having a very cold winter down south, not what I expected on the Gulf of Mexico. Temps today are 32 degrees and 21 degrees last night. We are staying right on Mobile Bay and the winds are like a gale and very icy. Good time for me to stay inside and catch up on blog articles!

  2. Would love to visit. It’s amazing how different a persons life can be. Can you buy products made with the cotton there?

    1. They do have a general store at the cotton plantation. I didn’t look at the store very close, just the book area mostly, so not sure if they sell cotton products but I doubt it. I did see some really cute holiday ornaments made with cotton bolls – (the cotton fluff still in the case) and decorated – you could hang them on the tree. I wanted to get a few and send them to people, but got distracted and didn’t buy any. Plus, would have to figure out a way to mail them without getting them crushed. Mailing stuff is such a hassle, LOL.

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