From Port Gibson on Rodney Road, we traveled about ten miles to the site of Windsor Ruins. Several hundred yards before Windsor on the East side of the road, there’s a historical marker.
The cemetery is back in heavy woods on an Indian mound, the top of which is surrounded by a brick fence. There’s the remains of an iron gate to the West.
This is my father’s family cemetery, where members of the Freeland family and close relatives were buried from roughly 1800 until the 1930s. Frisby Freeland, who came from Maryland to Mississippi in the 1790s, and his sons Thomas and Augustin (my direct ancestor) are also buried there. There’s a Thomas Freeland who died at Amherst (a death the gravestone records in a heart-rending way), and the grave for the builder of Windsor, who married one of Thomas Freeland’s daughter’s.
Family papers state that there is a “stranger” buried there in an unmarked grave; family legend has it that Peter Brian Bruin‘s family would not provide for his burial or a marker, and that he was allowed to be buried here. The historical marker corroborates this, although I’ve never been sure on what evidence.
The graveyard is built on a flat-topped Indian mound, one of four in the area of varying sizes. Anthropologists believe that the Natchez Indians occupied the area, and had structures on them, before moving south at some point. I’ve seen two of them, this one and another across the road. All are located in woods on private property.
The picture below is the obelisk for Thomas Freeland’s grave. He came with his father Frisby from Maryland (the stone notes that he was “removed from Maryland circa 1800”), through the Cumberland Gap and down the Natchez Trace. He made a success in Westside– he was a banker at Rodney (I’ve seen banknotes with his signature), a legislator, and a delegate to the Whig national conventions. I’ve seen banknotes from the Bank of Rodney with his signature on them.
Here’s a panorama of the main part of the graveyard.
As I said, Windsor Ruin is a few hundred yards up the road from the marker for the Freeland cemetery. Windsor was built in the 1850s by Smith Coffee Daniel, who had married Elizabeth Freeland. The house had an observatory on top visible from the Mississippi River.
In the mid-1960s, I met a woman who, when she was a young girl, had been at the party in the early 1890s when Windsor burned. She described how the fire occurred, and said that she had carried out the punch bowl. This was my deepest reach into memories of the past, like my father meeting a Confederate veteran, or when I introduced my daughter to Taylor McElroy, who had been the chief Master Sergeant at General Pershings headquarters during World War I.
Alcorn A&M is about five miles down Rodney Road from Windsor Ruins. About half-way down that road is the Bethel Church.
This church was built by Thomas and Augustin Freeland. There was a steeple that was blown off in a tornado in the 1940s and not replaced.
There’s a road beside the Bethel Church that goes back into the area where the Battle of Port Gibson occurred. The first group of Grant’s troops to cross the river on their big trip around Vicksburg crossed at Bruinsburg, almost due West of Windsor. They marched up from there, past Windsor and the Bethel Church, and on the road toward Port Gibson. There’s a house back in there owned by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the Schaeffer House, that was part of the battle site. There’s also an 1917 bridge that those interested in such structures found worthy of note, over Widows Creek.
About half-way between Bethel Church and Alcorn A&M, there’s the last remaining example of the plantation houses in Westside, Canemount. It’s an Italianate house from the 1850s, and was years back a bed and breakfast for a time.
The next stop on the trip was on the campus of Alcorn A&M. Alcorn was originally the campus of Oakland College, a Presbyterian college founded in 1830. It barely survived the Civil War, closing by the 1870s, after which it was sold to the state to establish Alcorn, the first land grant college for blacks in the United States.
The chapel is the oldest building on the campus. It was built between 1838 and 1850. The wrought iron stairs on the front of the chapel were an addition from the front of Windsor after it had burned.
After the Chapel, stay on Alcorn Road until it becomes Rodney Road. On Rodney Road, there is one major intersection in which all three sides are called Rodney Road. You will want to turn right there and head toward the hill down to the river. It’s about five miles from Alcorn to Rodney. I think you are going to want to give a good hard look at a map if you’re going to drive in and out of Rodney.
Rodney was a river town, and a major trading port in the period cotton was king. There was a Bank of Rodney that traded directly with Liverpool (the only other port in Mississippi that could say that was Vicksburg). Now, it’s a ghost town on the river with a couple of interesting churches.
One, the Baptist church, took on about 4-5 feet of water in the floods last Spring. There are serious reasons to worry about that beautiful wooden structure. The other just missed the water, the Presbyterian Church.
I was slightly alarmed that one of the panels had fallen into the cupola (and also wondered why that front door was open).
That church was famously shelled during the war, at a time when the river came right up to Rodney. And, no, the cannonball in the belfry wasn’t there, then*– it was added by an over-enthusiastic Civil War buff in the 1960s. But the open front door allowed me to go inside the church, and reminded me how beautiful this one is inside. I’m pretty sure I’ve not been in there since the 70s.
There is other fine church still in Rodney, the Baptist Church, is immediately visible as you come down the road from Alcorn (you have to turn right to get to the Presbyterian Church). On the Baptist Church and elsewhere in the town, the flood damage from last Spring is clearly visible– there is a water line four or five feet up on the Baptist Church, and a number of buildings have been pulled down since the flood. There’s still a big levee built around the building next door and a little lower than the Presbyterian Church.
In the 60s and 70s, there was a third interesting church in the town, a Catholic Church that has since been removed to the state park at Grand Gulf. Here’s Eudora Welty’s picture of that church.
I miss seeing that church when I am in Rodney, but know that it would have gone to the elements by now if it had not been moved and rescued.
From Rodney, I take Rodney Road to Firetower Road (you’ll see the firetower) to Fellowship Road to Highway 552 (which runs more-or-less from Lormana to Alcorn), a drive that is all told about thirteen miles. When you get back out to Lorman, you turn right on Highway 61 and drive the 29 miles back into Natchez. At Lorman is the historic Country Store building. Once a classic country store, it is now reputed to be a great place for fried chicken. Its reputation is large enough that I’d consider rearranging this route a bit (say, come off the Trace at Lorman rather than driving on up to just South of Port Gibson) to hit it for lunch if that possibility was out there.
North of Fayette on Highway 61, I somehow missed the turn to Poplar Hill School, and thus missed the chance to see that building. Of the 120 miles travelled on this outing, only the last 11 or so of Highway 61 into Natchez is traveled twice.
I have planned another post from the Natchez trip about a visit to Melrose, and a final post about a walking tour past four of the buildings on the Mississippi Historic Preservation list. That would make eleven of the items on the list in those two days, although it left a half-dozen places in Natchez, plus Poplar Hill near Fayette, all within short distances of where I’d been. Perhaps seeing those, St. Mary’s Chapel, and the one in Woodville would make another good weekend in Natchez.
*This cannonball was the subject of a long and contentious post on this blog a few years ago. The post is one of many that were lost when I transferred web hosts and GoDaddy (a force of evil on the internet) purposefully refused to allow me access to the last three months of posts. Suffice it to say here that, while the cannonball is certainly in the church now, it was not there when Eudora Welty took a famous photograph of the church about 1939. In the comment thread that is lost to the internet, someone gave the approximate date the cannonball appeared (during the 1960s) and it was noted that the ball was not the sort used in naval ordinance during the Civil War.