Natchez working on Forks of Road plans

Published 7:05 pm Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A McLean, Va., company will conduct a feasibility study on what Natchez government and historical preservation officials might do with a former slave market site.

Congress provided $147,916 for the study and the bid from Mangi Environmental Group was the lowest for the study, said Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins.

Mangi will conduct a historical and archaeological investigation, Jenkins said, to determine if the site qualifies to become part of the national park system or stay in the city’s hands.

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Jenkins said Mangi will hold at least three meetings to get public input, present preliminary findings and announce the final results.

“The whole study will take one to two years,” Jenkins said. “I hope we have a lot of public involvement and enthusiasm.”

The Forks of the Road market, by one historian’s account, probably looked like “a sprawling prison camp” where slaves would be haggled over and sold to cotton plantation owners who came from across the South.

The Mississippi River made for easy transport of slaves from the declining tobacco plantations near the Chesapeake Bay.

At its peak, up to 500 slaves could be found at the market on any given day. It’s thought to be the second largest slave market in the South, the biggest one in New Orleans. Trade at the Forks of the Road ended only with the Civil War.

The Forks of the Road was unique because slaves weren’t auctioned, but bargained over by buyers and sellers. The site was already a traditional market that straddled the city limits when it was bought to move slaves.

Today, a shuttered bar and a parking lot sit on the site. A kiosk with historical information and a sign marking the site are the only evidence of what the land once was.