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Iron Maiden

The splendid Natchez home called Elms Court began life in 1837 as a simple two-story frame house with a central portico. Nestled amid 29 forested acres south of town, it was purchased 16 years later by wealthy cotton baron, Frank Surget, who offered it to his daughter Jane and her husband, Ayres Merrill, a Harvard-educated lawyer with money of his own. Once ensconced, the pair set about making their new home more reflective of their lofty social station. Accustomed to the best, the Merrills engaged celebrated architect Thomas Rose and assigned him the task of making Elms Court one of the brightest stars in Natchez’s galaxy of early-19th-century homes. Because the town had more millionaires per capita than any city except New York, men who had peppered the...

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Voyage Into History

In celebration of Black History Month, I salute Robert Smalls (1839-1915), a man of uncommon courage who, with one bold move, altered his destiny and changed American history. Born a slave in Beaufort, SC, Smalls was greatly favored by his white owner, John McKee, who may also have been his father. Concerned that the carefree youth was being shielded from the realities of the slave world, his mother Lydia, a house servant, made certain he saw field hands toiling in the cotton fields.  Smalls was so horrified and outraged that his mother averted trouble by convincing McKee to send the twelve-year-old to work in Charleston. Hired as a lamplighter in the bustling port city, Smalls was fascinated by the waterfront and quickly developed a love for the sea. As an...

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Circling the Facts

The decision of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and his City Council to remove the statue of General Robert E. Lee and rename Lee Circle is troubling on a number of levels. Erasing evidence of New Orleans’s Confederate sympathy in the Civil War is a betrayal of truth, tantamount to saying it never existed. That slavery is heinous and indefensible is irrefutable fact, but is removing proof of its presence a responsible way of addressing it? I certainly support relegating the rebel flag to museums, but this self-aggrandizing political bandwagon is as shameful as it is ill-conceived. The rewriting of history has proven to be dangerous and irresponsible time and again, especially when it sets precedents. Landrieu’s actions have already spawned criticism of the...

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