Established by French colonists in 1716 as the site of Fort Rosalie, Natchez is the oldest and perhaps one of the most important European settlements in the lower Mississippi River Valley. Its strategic location on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River ensured Natchez’s role as a pivotal center of trade, commerce, and transportation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Located about 100 miles upriver, the city of Vicksburg, tracing its history back to colonial times, was founded in 1811. In 1719, the French built Fort Saint-Pierre about ten miles north of the modern city on the Yazoo River bluffs. It was destroyed by a band of Natchez warriors in a surprise attack in December 1729. When the Spanish gained possession of the Mississippi following the American Revolution, they quickly decided to plant a new fort in the Vicksburg area. A settlement called Nogales or Walnut Hills was established at Vicksburg in 1790. Vicksburg was founded as a town in 1811 on a strategic bend in the Mississippi River and was incorporated eight years after statehood. Both Natchez and Vicksburg prospered as cotton exporting ports during early statehood, and in the 1820s, Lower River counties had more than three-fourths of the assessed property valuation in the entire state. Prior to the Civil War, Natchez was the home of more millionaires than any other community in the United States. Three-fourths of Mississippi’s largest planters owning more than 250 slaves each lived in Natchez. By 1860, Natchez and Vicksburg had become the two wealthiest and largest cities in Mississippi, with Natchez’s population estimated at 6,600 and Vicksburg’s at around 4,800 and rapidly gaining on Natchez. Chartered in 1811, Port Gibson in Claiborne County was the third town incorporated in Mississippi. It was originally settled in 1788 as Gibson’s Port or Gibson’s Landing, a frontier town on the south fork of the Bayou Pierre. It was the home of the state’s first library and published Mississippi’s second newspaper. Woodville, the county seat of Wilkinson County, was also incorporated in 1811. The Woodville Republican newspaper, founded in 1824 by Andrew K. Marshchalk, is today Mississippi’s oldest newspaper and business institution. In 1837, the town became the headquarters of the first standard-gauge railroad in America, the Woodville-West Feliciana Railroad. The unincorporated community of Washington in Adams County was the site of the Mississippi statehood convention of 1817 and served as the second territorial capital in 1822. It was the home of Fort Dearborn, established in 1802 to protect Natchez which was the capital of the Mississippi Territory at the time. The Lower River counties were unquestionably the political, social, educational, cultural, and economic OLD COURTHOUSE MUSEUM The Warren County Courthouse is located in Vicksburg. Completed in 1860 with slave labor, the Warren County Courthouse is known as one of most outstanding courthouses in the United States. Ionic columns support the entrance, porticos surround the building, and an iron stairway leads between floors inside the building. Iron doors and existing shutters are original to the building. The courthouse survived the Siege of Vicksburg, taking only one direct hit from Union shelling. The courthouse is now a museum managed by the Vicksburg and Warren County Historical Society and contains a wide variety of artifacts from the area. PHOTO BY GREG CAMPBELL THE LOWER RIVER 107 PHOTO COURTESY OF THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS