110 A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI PORT GIBSON Port Gibson, nicknamed “the city too pretty to burn,” is one of the oldest settlements by non-Native Americans in Mississippi. First occupied by French settlers in 1729, the town was incorporated in 1803. Port Gibson was involved in battles in the Civil War, including those surrounding the Siege of Vicksburg. Union General Ulysses S. Grant was the one who decided Port Gibson should not be burned because of its beauty after he had captured it in 1863. “Hand Pointing to Heaven,” pictured above, is atop the First Presbyterian Church steeple. The hand imitates the first pastor of the church, Dr. Zebulon Butler, pointing up. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MISSISSIPPI SECRETARY OF STATE’S OFFICE Economy The Lower River region prospered and diversified during the early days of statehood. Natchez was the banking center of Mississippi as the home of the Bank of Mississippi, later renamed the Agricultural Bank of Natchez. The Bank of Mississippi held a monopoly of state banking until 1830 when its charter was stripped by the state legislature. A new bank, the Planters’Bank of Natchez, was founded in 1830 and quickly surpassed its predecessor as the largest bank in the state. A new industry, lumber, began to grow. By 1819, Hartwell and James H. Center operated a sawmill in the unincorporated river town of Vicksburg. Shortly afterward, Scottish immigrant Andrew Brown purchased an already existing sawmill in Natchez. In the following decades, he built it into the biggest in the state of Mississippi. Of course, the economic health of the Lower River counties needed transportation to move its cotton to market. In 1831, a new form of transportation debuted: the railroad. First, Wilkinson County planters led by Edward McGehee chartered the West Feliciana Railroad to run from Woodville to Bayou Sara in Louisiana, and from Bayou Sara down the Mississippi River to market in New Orleans. The longer and more expensive route by road to Natchez was thus bypassed. Later that same year, a charter was issued for a line from Vicksburg to Clinton that by 1840 had been extended to Jackson. This line, along with its favorable position on the Mississippi River and at the mouth of the Yazoo River, made Vicksburg the new economic center of the Lower River counties. In 1835, construction began on a railroad from New Orleans to Nashville but stopped two years later when the company building it failed. In 1858, the project of a north- south line through Mississippi was resumed by a new line: the New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroad. After the Civil War, as part of the Illinois Central line between New Orleans and Chicago, this line would help move the economic center of Mississippi away from the Lower River counties to the Delta and Jackson. In 1837, the growth of the cotton economy in the Lower River counties came to a halt as a financial panic brought on by the bursting of a credit-driven speculative bubble in new lands in the recently-opened Chickasaw and Choctaw sessions in northern and central Mississippi. As a result, banks became so distrusted in the region no new ones were established until after the Civil War. Cotton brokers stepped in to fill the void and began making loans to planters and to the public at large. The panic and the lean times afterward did spur a number of cotton planters to experiment with diversification of crops by raising corn, potatoes, livestock, and orchard