CRITICAL PLACES: SECOND CREEK, MISSISSIPPI

(2021)



The Second Creek Conspiracy of 1861


On an envelope containing some documents someone had written:


    There were ten Slaves hung in Brighton Woods and Cherry Grove.
    Documents about an Uprising of Slaves about 1860-1861
    Your Grandfather L. P. Connor's (Senior) own handwriting the testimony
    of negro slaves.


Winthrop Jordan, then a professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley, was handed this previously unexamined envelop in 1971. Inside was a handwritten four page record of testimony gathered by a self appointed committee of planters investigating a slave rebellion. So began a twenty year quest by Jordan to uncover the details of this previously unknown rebellion, one that had deliberately been kept secret by the enslavers.

The testimonies are searing. One can almost feel the pain through the words of the enslaved, transcribed as these men were interrogated by their enslavers.

It seems that it all started when a child, fishing down by the creek with a couple of his father's plantation slaves, overhearing talk of rebellion. Coming home, he mentioned this to his parents. The slaves were quickly rounded up. Interrogated, they revealed names. The interrogations continued, the names propagated. Examination Committees were established, men were tortured, they confessed, and then they were hanged.

Meanwhile The Plan, as they referred to it, was kept secret. The enslavers did not want this alleged rebellion to inspire further rebellion, nor did they want Northerners to hear that their slaves were anything but content with their lot. So no one talked about it and nothing was reported in the local papers.










That is how those in power control information. As a result, for 110 years, until Winthrop Jordan came across that envelop, no one knew of what happened in the plantations along Second Creek in Adams County, Mississippi, during the summer of 1861.

At the Historical Society in Natchez I was told that the story is even more tragic than that. The most recent research, say said, indicates that there never was a conspiracy of any sort. Perhaps idle chatter of what one would do if one were free, nothing more.

Winthrop's book, Tumult and Silence at Second Creek, was published in 1993. The deep silence he speaks of still seems to hang over the deep woods that envelope what is now but a small, garbage strewn creek meandering through the countryside. Lining the roads are trailer homes in various states of decay. One former plantation, Beau Pre, is now a sprawling, eponymous gulf course surrounded by elegant mansionettes. Elsewhere along the back roads are gates leading to some of the other plantations, which can or cannot be glimpsed further back in the woods.

One of those was Cherry Grove. That is where most of the interrogations, and hangings, took place. According to Wikipedia the Cherry Grove plantation is today one of best preserved and the most complete plantation complexes in the Natchez area. It is still owned by the same family. The caretaker told me of how its founder made his fortune as a pirate. He did not like all the talk of the Second Creek Conspiracy. He told me that every year there are people who come to the gates to chant and offer a whisky libation to honor their ancestors buried somewhere on the grounds. He said I was welcome to walk around and take some pictures but to watch out, as there are prowlers who lurk about. He also said to watch out for snakes in the high grass of the now abandoned fields.


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