The Mississippi Miser

Natchez has always been a world apart from the rest of Mississippi. As Harnett Kane duly observed in his book Natchez on the Mississippi (1941), “The situation bred idiosyncrasies- the dreamers out of touch with any reality. Years earlier, newcomers noticed that the Natchez plantation people were a small, tight group which grew smaller, tighter with the generations. Intermarriage had begun early; the same names still merged. Now oddities developed.” Intrigued by this menagerie of Southern eccentrics, I profiled Katherine Lintot Minor, the flamboyant Yellow Duchess (Yellow Fever, January, 2014), and now it’s time for Duncan Minor (1862-1939), a k. a. the Mississippi Miser. Related to most of Natchez’s oldest, most prominent families, Duncan was born into...

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The Siren Call

Natchez’s celebrated treasure trove of antebellum architecture, unlike that of most historic Southern cities, was largely built by a society seeking to be, as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it, “rich together.” Imitating the English gentry who maintained townhouses as well as country homes, the region’s phenomenally wealthy cotton barons escaped the ennui of rural plantation life via city homes where they could socialize with their peers. Sometimes modest, usually grandiose, these houses bloomed in the heart of Natchez and in park-like settings, some as large as eighty acres, on the outskirts of town. Arguably the oldest surviving “suburban villa,” as the style came to be known, is Gloucester. Its most famous occupant–and a highly unlikely candidate for the...

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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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