The Mississippi River has dispensed its largesse to native and colonising Americans through millennia as it snakes almost 4000 km through 10 US states like a giant serpent. Springing to life from Lake Itasca in Minnesota, near the Canadian border, the eulogised Ol’ Man River finally disperses itself across the low-lying lands of Louisiana, the North American continent’s largest drainage system, discharging its waters into the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans.
Mississippi at New Orleans..
It’s not until you experience the sheer size of the Mississippi that the penny drops on why it was so pivotal to the development of the states it traversed, especially the southern states. A sinuous, aqueous super highway it offered fledgling settlements the perfect pre-automobile trans-state thoroughfare for agricultural, manufactured and human cargo, especially the crop which made the south vastly wealthy, cotton. It boosted communication, encouraged exploration and its rich gifts of thick silt deposits supported agriculture. And that’s not to mention the cultural gifts spawned by the lives of those who lived there, either voluntarily or otherwise. After a recent visit to the lands of the Mississippi and to New York I’m full bottle on “blue bayous” and driving “Chevvies to the levy”, nods to its French-inheritance, below-sea-level elevation, location on the Atlantic hurricane corridor (think Katrina).
…and at Baton Rouge…
Such is the size of the Mississippi it promoted a number of significant ports along its banks including at New Orleans, the sixth largest port in the US based on volume of cargo; Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana; Memphis in Tennessee; and at Natchez, in Mississippi State. The cotton trade made possible by the Mississippi – and given a major boost of course by slavery – created fabulously wealthy plantation owners parading their prosperity in Gone With the Wind-style mansions. Many splendid examples of grand antebellum architecture remain adding to the current-day charms of this part of the United States.
..and Memphis and Natchez.
Down on the (Jean Lafitte) Bayou, near New Orleans.
Bayou air boat.
Antebellum splendour, New Orleans….
And historic Stanton Hall at Natchez…
Coincidentally Ol’ Man River was one of the items on the program at a tribute concert to African Americans’ contribution to opera and the classics at Lincoln Centre on the night before my departure. Bravo!