September 30-October 2, 2021
Natchez Grand Hotel and the Natchez Convention Center
Annual Conference Chair: Carter Burns, Historic Natchez Foundation
SESAH’s 39th annual conference will be held in Natchez, Mississippi. It will include two days of paper sessions and a Saturday study tour.
As the oldest permanent European settlement on the Mississippi River, founded in 1716, Natchez and its dramatic setting high atop a bluff have attracted travelers for three centuries. The city was among the richest per capita as the capital of the Deep South’s antebellum Cotton Kingdom, and scores of extravagant suburban villas still ringing the city testify to the wealth of cotton planters in the Old Southwest.
Conference attendees can stay at the conference hotel, the Natchez Grand Hotel, located downtown and right across the street from the Natchez Convention Center, where paper sessions will be held. Numerous bed and breakfast establishments can also be found both downtown and at a few of the suburban estates. Major airports nearby include Baton Rouge, LA (85 miles), Jackson, MS (125 miles), Alexandria, LA (80 miles) and New Orleans, LA (165 miles).
Early arrivers on Wednesday, September 30, can familiarize themselves with downtown on a free, self-guided walking tour that includes sites such as the William Johnson House, a Natchez National Historical Park site built in 1841 for a free African American barber whose published diary chronicles his extraordinary rise from bondage to freedom and to a position as a respected businessman. Participants can also tour historic downtown churches and a synagogue: Trinity Episcopal Church (1822), First Presbyterian Church (1828), St. Mary Basilica (begun 1842), and the Temple B’nai Israel (1904).
Thursday’s paper session day will conclude with barbeque and cocktails at Bonture, an 1851 Greek Revival side-hall townhouse built for free African Americans Ann and Robert Smith. Bontura’s setting provides a magnificent view of the sunset over the Mississippi River. The house features a double-tiered cast-iron gallery, rear carriage house, and a two-story brick privy.
Friday’s awards luncheon will be held at Stanton Hall, an 1857 National Historic Landmark and the most palatial of the city’s mansions. An evening reception will close out the paper sessions at Elms Court, one of the finest suburban villas in Natchez, built in 1837 and featuring a fabulous 1850s ironwork gallery.
The optional Saturday study tour will focus on the suburban villas of Natchez, built by wealthy planters as semi-rural retreats for their families. The tour will not only showcase the evolution of antebellum architecture from the earliest house in the state with classical orders (Auburn, 1812) to the onion-domed Longwood (1861, architect Samuel Sloan), but will also highlight the outbuildings for the enslaved people who operated these estates, including a number of two-story brick quarters with kitchens, dairies, and privies that form rear courtyards behind the big houses.