Mount Locust Inn & Plantation | Claiborne Co., MS | c.1780
Natchez Trace is a historic forest trail within the United States which extends roughly 440 miles (710 km) from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi, linking the Cumberland, Tennessee, and Mississippi rivers.
Constructed circa, 1780, Mount Locust is one of the oldest structures in Mississippi. It functioned as both a working plantation and as an inn (or stand), where travelers on the Natchez Trace could rest for the night. Mount Locust was one of 50 such stands that existed during the period of greatest use of the Old Natchez Trace and is the only surviving inn of the more than 50.
Mt. Locust Inn and Plantation is a special historic site in that it helps us to interpret and envision this region of this young country was embroiled in the American Revolution and when Mississippi was still the frontier. One of Mississippi’s earliest buildings, Mt. Locust was one of about 50 ‘stands’ that literally stood along the Natchez Trace. Often called the nation’s first ‘superhighway,’ the Natchez Trace was an important route to the Chickasaw and Chocktaw Indians, and later by which European settlers moved into the region.
The American Revolution was still underway when construction began here. Steamboat travel had not yet begun and its builder sought to profit by providing shelter for the men who were walking or riding horses on their way home to the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland River valleys. Legal travel in the region had just opened up and by 1785, an increasing number of boatmen known as “Kaintucks” were walking north on the Natchez Trace to make their way home, because their boats could not go upstream. A day’s walk from Natchez brought the Kaintucks and their gold to Mount Locust which was, at that time, basically a self-supporting farm and hospitality center in the wilderness. Mount Locust quickly became a fixture along the historic roadway.
The American Revolution caused several thousand British sympathizers to move into the Natchez District and in 1779, Spain moved against Britain, seizing Natchez. It did not take long after Spain’s reclaiming of the Mississippi Valley from England for schemers to begin laying plans to take the territory from European control.
One of these revolutionaries was John Blommart, a retired British naval officer who had started construction of Mount Locust in 1780. Following a failed rebellion against the Spain, he was jailed, forfeiting his fortune and Mount Locust.
William Ferguson, a former business associate of Blommart’s, purchased Mount Locust with his wife Paulina in 1784 and operated the farm until William’s death in 1801. Already a mother of 7, Paulina would marry again in 1806, this time to James Chamberlain, an overseer at Mount Locust and they continued to build the growing farm. She would have another 4 children by him. By 1810, James was gone, leaving her and the children to raise the family and run the farm and inn. Despite losing two husbands and raising 11 children, she kept Mount Locust bustling. which provided a comfortable living for the family. In an era when women were typically shunned from business, Paulina proved to be extraordinary.
A staple corn crop enabled the family to offer a meal of corn mush and milk with sleeping arrangements on the porches and grounds. As business prospered, a four-room, two-story annex was erected behind the house and became known as Sleepy Hollow. The simple structure was a luxury not readily found on the Old Natchez Trace. What could a weary traveler expect to pay for the much needed food and accommodations? The price was 25 cents.
When steamboats came to the Mississippi, travel on the Trace declined. After 1825 the inn no longer catered to travelers but instead to Natchez residents who sought the rural solitude of Mount Locust.
At Mount Locust, Paulina’s small corn farm became a thriving cotton plantation.
Enslaved People at Mount Locust
The 1820 census lists 26 enslaved people at Mount Locust, and by the middle of the century, the number had reached 51. In 1834 the average prices for enslaved men and women who worked in the cotton fields were $800 and $600 respectively. Archeologists believe 12 to 16 slave cabins once stood on the property, with four to five people occupying each dwelling. On the west side of Mount Locust, a cemetery holds the remains of 43 enslaved workers.
A marker lists the names of some who may be buried there, and a single headstone marks the area.
Ciclious Washington | Marcus Perryman | John White | Gabriel Tyler Johnson Turner | Tommy Turner | William Turner | Abraham Allen | Esther Johnson
Pauline Chamberlain died in 1849 at the age of 80. The Civil War (1861-1865) brought an end to the plantation system and Mount Locust began a slow decline. Mount Locust was home to five generations of Chamberlains, with the last leaving in 1944.
National Park Service
In 1938 Congress passed legislation creating the Natchez Trace Parkway as a unit of the National Park Service. The 444-mile Parkway commemorates the Natchez Trace by preserving portions of the old path, adjoining structures, and landmarks. There are signs and literature along the way that enable visitors to understand and appreciate thousands of years of history on this historic travel route.
The National Park Service began restoration in 1954, returning the historic home to its 1820 appearance. It was dedicated in 1957, and today it is still operated by the National Park Service. Historical interpretation includes life on the Natchez Trace as well as the life of African American enslaved laborers. Walking trails lead to sites throughout the grounds.