Spaniard Hernando de Soto explored the area in 1540 during an expedition that resulted in his death in 1542 on the Arkansas/Louisiana bank of the Mississippi River. France established the first settlement when in 1699 a group led by Pierre d'Iberville arrived near present-day Ocean Springs. In 1716, the French founded Fort Rosalie (now Natchez) on the Mississippi River and it soon became the prime trading post in the area. Britain took over in 1763 after the French and Indian War then at the end of the Revolutionary War the north became part of the US and the south Spanish. In 1810 the US annexed Spanish West Florida, including southern Mississippi. In 1817 Mississippi became the 20th US state but at the start of the Civil war it was the second state to secede from the Union. In the first half of the 20th century Mississippi was notorious for its ‘Jim Crow’ laws that imposed racial segregation.
The Mississippi at Natchez
The sheer size of the Mississippi River at Natchez is impressive and it brings home how difficult it was for the pioneers to build the USA. It’s easy to cross the Mississippi nowadays, but imagine how much of a barrier it was in the days before bridges like the one in this picture were built. In front of the bridge is moored the Isle of Capri Casino. In 1991 Mississippi legalised floating casinos, primarily along the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River. This approach permits gambling in the state but avoids the gaming machine overload that you find in Nevada. Following the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in August 2006, the legislature allowed Gulf Coast casinos to be rebuilt on land provided they are within within 244 metres (800 feet) of the shoreline.
Mississippi State Capitol, Jackson
The US created the Mississippi Territory in 1798 and Natchez was chosen as capital because it was the biggest settlement in the territory and had an excellent transport link (the river). After statehood was granted it was decided that the capital needed to be near the centre of the state, even though that area was mainly wilderness. Jackson was chosen and the first State Capitol opened in 1822. This was replaced in 1839 by a more substantial building but by the 1890s the second capitol had become too small and was in a poor state of repair. A third capitol was authorised in 1900. This Beaux Arts style building was designed by St. Louis architect Theodore Link. It opened in 1903 and remains in use to this day.
Claiborne County Court House, Port Gibson
Port Gibson is the third-oldest settlement in Mississippi, dating back to 1729. In Spring 1863 Union forces under Major General Ulysses S. Grant defeated the Confederates near Port Gibson, proving that the Confederates could not defend the Mississippi River line. However, Grant decided that the city too beautiful to be burned, as a result of which it retains many historic buildings. The Greek Revival style Claiborne County Courthouse in Port Gibson was built in 1845 but has been considerably modified and enlarged since it was built.
Biloxi from the beach
Biloxi is a typical modern Gulf Coast resort, brash and home to several casinos. However, the history of Biloxi goes back the early days of French settlement and in 1720 it replaced Mobile as the capital of French Louisiana. After the area became part of the USA, Biloxi started to develop as a resort sweeping away any remains of the old colonial capital. Some Victorian buildings reman, such as Biloxi Lighthouse opened in 1848, which is visible on the left of the picture. Confederate President Jefferson Davis retired to Biloxi from 1877 and his home Beauvoir is open to the public. Like Pass Christian, Biloxi suffered major damage during Hurricane Katrina. Around 90% of its buildings were destroyed and the hurricane threw several of its floating casinos on to land.
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Seafront Mansion at Pass Christian
At the Gulf Coast, the state of Mississippi is barely 120 kilometres (75 miles) wide. We travelled along the Gulf Coast precisely one month before the disastrous Deepwater Horizon explosion that caused so much pollution. Pass Christian is named after nearby a deep water channel (or pass) through the outer islands that had been named after Nicholas Christian L'Adnier, a resident of Cat Island in the 1700s. From before the Civil War the town was a popular place for the wealthy of New Orleans to build their summer mansions. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina virtually destroyed Pass Christian, leaving almost all of the historic mansions damaged and some completely demolished. Fortunately, many of the mansions have since been restored.
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