Natchez is the county seat of, and the largest and only incorporated city within, Adams County, Mississippi, United States. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 18,464. One of Mississippi's oldest cities, it was founded by French colonists in 1716, predating the current capital city — Jackson — by more than a century. Located along the Mississippi River, Natchez is the southern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway. The city is famous in American history for its role in the development of the Old Southwest, particularly with respect to its location on the Mississippi River.
Natchez is the principal city of the Natchez, MS–LA Micropolitan Statistical Area.
The original site of Natchez was the main ceremonial village of the Natchez (pronounced "Nochi") Indian tribe, who occupied the area for countless generations (and whose culture was unbroken since the 8th-century, according to archaeological findings). Many early explorers, including De Soto, La Salle and Bienville made contact with the Natchez, some of whom left detailed records of their encounters. The Natchez's society was divided into nobles and commoners according to matrilineal descent. The supreme Natchez chief, the "Great Sun" owed his position to the rank of his mother.
The flat-topped ceremonial mounds built by the Natchez show the influence of moundbuilding cultures to the north in the Middle Mississippi River Valley (see Mississippian culture). At Natchez, the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians is preserved as a National Historic Landmark (NHL) and maintained by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Nearby Emerald Mound, an earlier NHL ceremonial center also in Adams County, may be visited just off the Natchez Trace Parkway at mile marker 10.2.
In 1716 the French founded Fort Rosalie to protect their trading post established in the Natchez territory in 1714. Permanent French settlements and plantations were subsequently established. The French inhabitants of the "Natchez colony" often found themselves in conflict with the Natchez, who were increasingly split into pro-French and pro-English factions.
After several smaller wars, the Natchez (together with Chickasaws and Yasous) launched a final war in November 1729, which came to be known as the "Natchez War" or Natchez Massacre. They wiped out the French colony at Natchez. On November 28, 1729, the Natchez Indians killed a total of 229 French colonists: 138 men, 35 women, and 56 children (the largest death toll by an Indian attack in Mississippi's history). Counterattacks by the French and their Indian allies over the next two years resulted in most of the Natchez Indians being killed, enslaved, or forced to flee as refugees. After surrender in 1731, the leader and several hundred prisoners were taken to New Orleans to be sold as slaves and shipped to Saint-Domingue, as ordered by the French prime minister Maurepas.
Many of the refugees who escaped enslavement ultimately became part of the Creek and Cherokee nations. Descendants of the Natchez diaspora survive as the Natchez Nation, a treaty tribe and confederate of the federally recognized Muscogee (Creek) Nation with a sovereign traditional government.  Subsequently, Fort Rosalie and the surrounding town, which was renamed after the extinguished tribe, spent periods under British and then Spanish colonial rule before finally being ceded by Great Britain to the United States under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1783).
Spain was not a party to the treaty, and it was Spanish forces that had taken Natchez from the British. Although the Spanish were loosely allied with the American colonists, it was more an alliance of convenience for them, as an opportunity to advance their interests at the expense of the British. Once the war was over, the Spanish were not particularly inclined to give up that which they had taken by force. For a time, possession was, indeed, "nine-tenths of the law" as far as Natchez was concerned, and the Spanish retained control. A census of the Natchez district taken after the war in 1784 counted 1,619 people, including 498 African-American slaves.
In the late 18th-century Natchez was the starting point of the Natchez Trace overland route, which ran from Natchez to Nashville, Tennessee through what is now Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. Produce and goods were transported by the flatboatmen and keelboatmen, who usually sold their wares at Natchez or New Orleans, including their boats (as lumber). They then made the long trek back north overland to their homes. The boatmen were locally called "Kaintucks" because they were usually from Kentucky, although the entire Ohio River Valley was well-represented among their numbers.
On October 27, 1795, the U.S. and Spanish signed the Treaty of San Lorenzo, finally settling their decade-long boundary dispute, by which all Spanish claims to Natchez were formally surrendered to the United States. However, it took another three years for the official orders to reach the Spanish garrison there, which then surrendered the fort and possession of Natchez to the American forces under Captain Isaac Guion on March 30, 1798. A week later, when the Mississippi Territory was created by the Adams administration, Natchez became its first capital. After several years as the territorial capital, a new capital was built six miles to the east and named "Washington" (also located in Adams County). After roughly fifteen years in this role, on 10 December 1817, the capital reverted back to Natchez, which became the first capital of the new State of Mississippi, before being transferred yet again to Washington sometime later. Finally, as the state's population shifted north and eastward, the capital was moved to the more centrally located city of Jackson in 1822.
However, throughout the course of the early 19th-century, Natchez remained the center of economic activity for the young state, due to its strategic location on the high bluffs on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, which had allowed it to develop into a bustling port. At Natchez, many local plantation owners loaded their cotton onto steamboats at the landing known as Natchez-Under-the-Hill and transported their wares downriver to New Orleans or, sometimes, upriver to St. Louis, Missouri or Cincinnati, Ohio, where the cotton would be sold and transported to northern and European spinning mills.
The Natchez region, along with the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia, pioneered cotton agriculture in the United States. Until new hybridized breeds of cotton were created in the early 19th-century, it was uneconomical to grow cotton in the United States anywhere other than those latter two areas. Although South Carolina came to dominate the cotton plantation culture of much of the Antebellum South, it was the Natchez District that first experimented with hybridization, making the cotton boom possible.
On May 7, 1840, an intense tornado struck Natchez. This tornado killed 269 persons, most of whom were on flatboats in the Mississippi River. The tornado killed 317 persons in all, making it the second deadliest tornado in United States history. This tornado is today known as the "Great Natchez Tornado."
The terrain around Natchez on the Mississippi side of the river is rather hilly. The city sits on a high bluff above the Mississippi River; to reach the riverbank, one must travel down a steep road to the landing called Silver Street. This is in marked contrast to the flat "delta" lowland found across the river surrounding the city of Vidalia, Louisiana. Today, Natchez is well-known for the numerous antebellum mansions and estates built by its early 19th-century planter society, many of whom owned plantations in Louisiana but chose to locate their homes on the higher ground in Mississippi. Prior to the American Civil War, Natchez had the most millionaires per capita of any city in the United States, making it arguably the wealthiest city in the nation at the time. It was frequented by notables such as Aaron Burr, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor and Jefferson Davis. Today the city boasts that it has more antebellum homes than anywhere else in the United States, partly due to the fact that during the War Natchez was spared the destruction of many other Southern cities, such as Vicksburg to the north.
During the Civil War, Natchez remained largely undisturbed, but not entirely. Natchez surrendered to Flag-Officer David G. Farragut after the fall of New Orleans in May 1862. In September, 1863, the Union ironclad USS Essex, under Capt. William D. Porter shelled the town but caused only minor damage, although a seven year-old Jewish girl named Rosalie Beekman was tragically killed. Union troops under Ulysses S. Grant occupied Natchez in 1863; Grant set up his temporary headquarters in the Natchez mansion Rosalie. Confederate army forces attempted to recapture Natchez in December 1863 but did not attack the town itself because the C.S.A. forces were outnumbered.
Like almost everywhere else in the United States, numerous Natchez residents did in fact fight or otherwise participate in the war and many families lost their antebellum fortunes. The fact that the town was largely spared the horrors of the war is illustrated by the legend of the Battle of Natchez. According to this story, while Union troops were being housed in Natchez, civilians and regular bar owners gathered at the river landing to watch Union gunboats travel the Mississippi River from Vicksburg down to New Orleans. In one passing, a Union gunboat fired a blank from a canon to rile up the Union troops at Fort Rosalie. This caused an elderly man to have a heart attack at Under the Hill–the one casualty in the Battle of Natchez.
Despite the city's relatively peaceful atmosphere under Union occupation, Natchez residents remained somewhat defiant of the Federal authorities. In 1864, the Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Natchez, William Henry Elder, refused to obey a Federal order to compel his parishioners to pray for the President of the United States. In response, the Federals arrested Elder, jailed him briefly and then banished him across the river to Confederate held Vidalia, Louisiana. Eventually Elder was allowed to come back to Natchez and resumed his clerical duties there until 1880, when he was elevated to archbishop of Cincinnati.
Natchez was able to make a rapid economic comeback in the postwar years, as much of the commercial traffic on the Mississippi River resumed. In addition to cotton, the development of local industries like logging added to the exports through the city's wharf. In return, Natchez saw an influx of manufactured goods from Northern markets like Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis.
The city's prominent place in Mississippi River commerce over the nineteenth century has been illustrated by the nine different steamboats plying the lower river between 1823 and 1918 that were named Natchez, many of which were built for and commanded by the famous Captain Thomas P. Leathers, whom Jefferson Davis had wanted to head the Confederate defense fleet on the Mississippi River, though this appointment never was concluded. In 1885, the Anchor Line, known for its luxury steamboats operating between St. Louis and New Orleans, launched its "brag boat", the City of Natchez. This ship survived only a year before succumbing to a fire at Cairo, Illinois, on 28 December 1886. Since 1975, an excursion steamboat at New Orleans has also borne the name Natchez.
Such river commerce sustained the city's economic growth until just after the turn of the twentieth century, when steamboat traffic began to be replaced by the railroads. The city's economy declined over the course of the century, as in many Mississippi river towns, although tourism has helped compensate for the decline.
In 1940, 209 people died in a fire at the Rhythm Night Club. This fire has been noted as the fourth deadliest fire in U.S. history.