Before Mark Twain: A Sampler of Old, Old Times on the Mississippi

By John Francis McDermott | Go to book overview

REMINISCENCE
OF NATCHEZ "UNDER-THE-HILL"

"My Grandmother's Trick."

WILLIAM C. HALL

[The brief sketch of Natchez-under-the-hill in its notorious days by William C. Hall first appeared in the New York Spirit of the Times, December 11, 1843 (XIII, 523) over the signature "Yazoo."]

Landing at Natchez in the winter of 1824-5, about ten o'clock in the evening, I thought I would stop for a few minutes Under-the‐ hill, with the view of ascertaining, if possible, what peculiarity it was, that had made "Natchez under-the-hill," so celebrated throughout the Union. I walked up the street, and entered the first door I saw open. The room into which I entered, was a brilliantly lighted saloon, around which, two gaily dressed, sylph-like forms were whirling in the waltz. A few spectators had, at this early hour, collected to witness the extraordinary scenes that were nightly enacted at these places. They appeared to be principally Kentucky boatmen, and were wedged in the corners, or stuck around the room flat against the wall, affording as large a space in the centre as possible, for the dancers. On an elevated platform, serving as an orchestra, sat some four or five musicians; two violins, a clarionet, and bass drum, I noticed particularly; and in front of these as a kind of figure-head, stood a black boy of some 12 or 13 years of age, dressed à la Turk, who flourished and beat a tamboureen in the most fantastic manner, producing sounds that would in all probability, have slept until the Day of Judgment, but for the skill and genius of this performer. On my entrance the waltz was stopped, and an exciting reel struck up by the band, while the imp of the tamboureen redoubled his exer

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