The 16 whom I seek, left their home, their families—literally everything they had ever known—for a distant place that might as well have been the moon. Their knowledge of this place called Louisiana was either nonexistent or tainted by rumors of an unbearable climate, deadly diseases and the promise to never see loved ones again.
I cannot take just any path!
More compelling is the fact that William Taylor’s destination for the 16 was not New Orleans, but rather his own sugar and cotton fields positioned on the Mississippi upriver from that largest hub of human auction houses and a relatively short 60 miles from Natchez, Miss. He had no need to expend the significantly greater funds to send them by boat to the Port of New Orleans.
In Edward Ball’s article, “Retracing Slavery’s Trail of Tears,” (Smithsonian Magazine 2015), he documents a route taken by Armfield and Franklin in 1834 while transporting overland an estimated 300 slaves destined for sale in New Orleans. This route travels the Great Valley Road of Virginia to Knoxville and Nashville, Tenn., then along the Natchez Trace to Natchez, Miss., where they were loaded onto a boat bound for New Orleans. A map of the various Domestic Slave Trade routes accompanied the article and is included here. I draw your attention to the route marked with a broken line, a route that appears to be more direct and cuts through the northwest corner of Alabama near Huntsville to Natchez. The legend explains that the “precise path [is] unknown.”
Cropped version of the map that appeared in Edward Ball’s article in the 2015 Smithsonian Magazine article. The green broken line was the challenge!
I find no benefit in traveling a route that others have well-defined and that today would provide little in the way of period viewscapes. The lesser-known roads were calling; however, a wild goose chase was not the ticket, either. Further research was required.
After what seemed like futile searching, I discovered a digitized booklet “The Traveller’s Directory through the United States…,” published in 1825. In this gem was a route from Washington to New Orleans by way of Huntsville, Ala., via Natchez with this note: “This road is comparatively new but will be a great leading road in a short time.” The route referred to other sections and in each the towns’ distances between them and river crossings were enumerated. I needed to locate a place called Pitchlyns, Miss., and my route would be complete.
Supposedly, Pitchlyns was about three miles from Columbus, Mo. but was showing up nowhere, nada, zilch. A major point on the trail and I was lost. Not quite ready to throw in the towel, I began a search for 1830s maps with roads of Mississippi.
Eureka! On an 1836 map of that cotton- bearing state, Pitchlyns had been noted southwest of Columbus. All the towns listed in the 1825 booklet before it and afterward were recorded on the 1836 map. I had my route and now needed only to map it by Google directions. Stay tuned.
1836 Map of MS and a detail of the route. In the upper right hand corner, see a red dot for Russellville, AL. As you move south east into MS, there is a bit of a hub around Columbus, MS and southeast is another red dot at Pitchlyns,MS that evasive little place! It will be most interesting to see if anything is there now. In the farthest left hand corner at the bottom is another red dot for Natchez, MS actually off the map.
Until next week, be well.
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