Mississippi: A Documentary History

Mississippi: A Documentary History

Mississippi: A Documentary History

Mississippi: A Documentary History

Synopsis

In America's collective imagination, Mississippi, a state that aptly may be described as the most southern place in America, is often deemed a sinister, forbidding landscape. While popular conceptions of other states are evoked by rosy likenesses chosen by promoters of tourism, the mere word Mississippi too often conjures thoughts of brutality, repression, and backwardness. To many outsiders, Mississippi's controversial history continues to resonate in the present. By allowing divergent historical voices to describe their understanding of events as they were unfolding, this new book of narrative history supports, emends, and even complicates such a vision of Mississippi's past and present. The only book ever to present Mississippi's story in a chronological documentary fashion, it includes a wide variety of public records, newspaper articles, academic papers, correspondence, ordinances, constitutional amendments, journal entries, and other documents. Collected and placed together, they compose a narrative that reveals the state in all its great diversity of peoples and terrains--free and slave; rich, poor, and middling; coastal, hill country, Delta; black, white, and Native American. Several chapters, particularly those on antebellum Mississippi and Reconstruction, represent recent scholarly views and correct lingering misconceptions of those years. The editor and compiler has written an introduction to each section and has placed the documents in an appropriate historical context that makes them accessible to students, scholars, archivists, librarians, and lay readers alike. Although many of these documents are well known, many also have never been seen since their inception. Injuxtaposition they offer a striking portrait. The parts and the whole alike show that Mississippi remains ever controversial, ever puzzling, ever fascinating.

Excerpt

In the sixteenth century, the Lower Mississippi Valley captured the attention of Spain. With colonies scattered throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, the Spanish crown and Spanish adventurers looked to the northern shore of the Gulf of Mexico for new empires to conquer. Early Spanish explorers of the region reported Native American rumors that a fountain of youth and cities of gold might be found in the southeast. They also reported that a great river emptied into the Gulf of Mexico, igniting among Spaniards a lust to locate the river that they hoped would provide a shortcut to Asia. In 1537, King Charles V of Spain named Hernando de Soto governor of Florida. Soto was a conquistador and slave trader, who had achieved extraordinary wealth through his exploits in Central and South America. Upon his appointment, Soto made a reconnaissance of his dominion, hoping to find, as he had further south, an abundance of gold, silver, and other riches. Soto expected that accomplishing his mission would require a long time and necessitate the subjugation of Native Americans. Consequently, he traveled with 650 men (mostly soldiers but also priests and skilled craftsmen), more than 200 horses, hundreds of pigs, and dogs specially trained for warfare. Between 1539 and 1542, Soto carved a circuitous route through the southeastern part of the United States, leaving in his wake a legacy of death, disease, and distrust.

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