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Natchez Trace Research Collection

Identifier: M249

Scope and Contents

The Natchez Trace Research Collection consists of photocopies of research materials collected and prepared by historians of the Natchez Trace Parkway and stored at Parkway headquarters in Tupelo, Mississippi. Materials in the collection were obtained from United States government agencies/departments such as the War Department and Bureau of Indian Affairs; from research collections at Louisiana State University, Tennessee Historical Society Archives, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Tennessee State Archives, Duke University, Ohio State Archives and History Library, and the Library of Congress; and from research reports published in such journals as "Bureau of American Ethnology", "East Tennessee Historical Society Publications", "Bulletin of the U.S. Geological Survey", and "Geological Survey of Alabama".


  • Creation: 1704-1978

Conditions Governing Access

Noncirculating; available for research.

Conditions Governing Use

This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Biographical / Historical

The Natchez Trace, a highway of national significance, was originally a network of animal and Indian trails: its existence in the 18th and 19th centuries resulted in the opening of the Old Southwest to trade and travel. With an original length of 500-550 miles, the main route was used by travelers surveying the new country as well as by farmers and trappers who needed to get their produce to markets on the Mississippi River. The inter-connected trails leading south from Nashville were known by names other than the Natchez Trace: Chickasaw Trace, Path to the Choctaw Nation, Boatman's Trail.

In 1800 Congress established a postal route between Nashville and the capitol of the Mississippi Territory in Natchez. Indian tribes along the road gave territorial permission for the postal route in 1801; many Indian families were allowed to operate the inns and ferries needed by travelers along the route. The mail route became known officially as "Road from Nashville in the State of Tennessee to the Grindstone Ford of the Bayou Pierre in the Mississippi Territory," and postriders were allowed two weeks to make the trip from Nashville to Natchez. Between 1801 and 1803 General James Wilkinson, with the aid of Federal troops, cleared and widened the post road. By 1806 President Jefferson ordered that the road be 12 feet wide and "passable for a wagon."

Although the early use of the Trace was for commercial and private inland travel, it soon became an important military road. Tennessee Volunteers marched over it in 1803-04 to insure that the Louisiana Purchase agreement would not be challenged by Spain. General Coffee led a cavalry corps to New Orleans where he joined General Andrew Jackson in defense of that city during the War of 1812. Early in 1813 Jackson's entire force marched back to Nashville on the Trace, and again in 1814 the Tennessee Volunteers returned to New Orleans to defend against British attack in the Battle of New Orleans.

By the 1820's steamboats had become the most popular method of transportation , and the Trace changed in status. Much of it became part of the rural road system within the estates of Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee.

Interest in the Trace was rekindled in the early 1900's when the Mississippi Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution initiated a program marking the route of the original Trace in 1908. At the invitation of Mrs. Egbert Jones. Mississippi State Regent, DAR chapters in Alabama and Tennessee were invited to participate in marking the route in every county of the three states. By 1934 efforts of Mississippi Daughters and other staunch supporters of the Trace convinced Mississippi Congressman Thomas Jefferson Busby to introduce two bills into the United States House of Representatives, one calling for "a survey of the Old Indian Trail known as the Natchez Trace with a view to constructing a national road on the route to be known as the Natchez Trace Parkway," and the other authorizing construction funds for the Parkway. Mississippi Senator Hubert D. Stephens introduced identical bills in the Senate a few days later, and on May 21, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed enabling legislation for the survey. Funds were assigned for the construction phase late in 1935. On May 18, 1938, the Natchez Trace Parkway was designated by Congress as an official unit in the National Park Service system. The official emblem selected for the Parkway is a silhouette of a mounted postrider, evidence of the important communication link which the Trace originally served.

The Natchez Trace Parkway today is, in the words of former Parkway historian Dawson Phelps, "not a highway, but a long narrow park." Recreational activities exist alongside historical attractions and exhibits, making the Parkway one of the most popular units in the National Park Service system.


7.64 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



Historians, researchers, and administrators whose research notes, reports, and correspondence appear in the collection are Dawson A. Phelps, Robert J. Holden, M. W. Myers, Guy A. Braden, Randle B. Truett, Rogers W. Young, Albert F. Ganier, Olaf T. Hagen, Robert A. Madden, and Malcolm Gardner.

In its original form the collection consisted of card files, notebooks and loose materials collected and compiled by researchers; the original order has been maintained, with categories or subjects indicated on the attached box and folder list by headings in capital letters. Where clarification was needed or information on a subject was located in other parts of the collection, a note has been added in brackets following the folder title.

The collection contains notes from secondary and primary source materials on the Natchez Trace, usually with specific page references, as well as citations to county, state, and territorial records of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama. Material on the following topics is included in the collection: historical sites and structures along the Natchez Trace Parkway in Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi; individuals and groups who traveled the Natchez Trace or lived along it; Indian affairs; Indian tribal customs of the Chickasaws and Choctaws along with smaller amounts of information on the Cherokee, Creek, and Natchez tribes; Natchez, including early history and homes; other towns located near the Trace; geological and archaeological information relating to the area; and activities of the Daughters of the American Revolution and other organizations in supporting and developing the Trace during the 1930's.

Genealogical material is also included in the collection, especially on families which settled in the area of the Trace prior to 1820. In addition to the box and folder list for the collection, a special guide to genealogical materials is available in the Genealogy Collection.

Series I - Historic Sites / Tennessee and Alabama

Series II - Miscellaneous Information

Series III - Natchez Trace Places

Series IV - Natchez Homes

Series V - Natchez (Dr. Phelps' notes for his study of Natchez, completed 1965)

Series VI - Dr. Phelps' Parkway History (handwritten note attached to miscellaneous card groups)

Series VII - Indians

Series VIII - Bibliography

Series IX - St. Catherine's Concession

Series X - Miscellaneous Source Materials

Series XI - Indian Affairs

Series XII - Gordon Information

Series XIII - Natchez History


Photocopied with the approval of the Natchez Trace Parkway Office in Tupelo, Mississippi, during January-March 1989.

Natchez Trace Research Collection
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Repository Details

Part of the Historical Manuscripts and Photographs Repository

118 College Drive - 5148
Hattiesburg MS 39406-0001