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December 6, 2013
There is a joke that I use sometimes when I speak about a fellow who stood up to give a talk, cleared his throat and said, “Well, I don’t really know where to start.” And someone in the back shouts, “Start toward the end!”
Well, on the subject of Prospect Hill Plantation, I have to start toward the end to fit the story in this issue of Today in Mississippi. It would take a book to tell the whole story. And besides, Alan Huffman has already written it in his book, “Mississippi in Africa.”
So I’ll start where I came in. The first time I saw Prospect Hill Plantation was while I was flying to Natchez in the WLBT helicopter back in 1997. Pilot Coyte Bailey made a wide circle east of Lorman and told me he wanted to show me this old house he had spotted from the air many times. Rising up from the forest was an expansive roof in poor repair over a house that looked as if it were coming and going at the same time. Some of it looked to be fixed up while other parts of it looked to be falling in. It appeared to have been deserted for maybe a hundred years, except for a tall television antenna.
But what attracted my attention more than the house was a huge monument in the side yard in a cemetery. It even looked impressive from 1,500 feet up in the air with its marble columns rising from a solid block base, supporting a circular marble roof. It really seemed out of place just sitting out in the yard of a fast-fading relic in the deep woods somewhere east of Lorman. I really wanted to find out about the house and whose grave that was.
After a few years of describing what I had seen from the air, Al Hollingsworth and Doug Lum of Port Gibson told me the house was Prospect Hill Plantation and the monument marked the grave of Isaac Ross. Ross stipulated in his will that his slaves be freed and Prospect Hill be sold to pay their passage to Liberia in West Africa (specifically, to a place called “Mississippi in Africa” I recently discovered from Huffman’s book).
Ross’ grandson, Isaac Ross Wade, protested the will all the way to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which upheld it. However, Mr. Wade somehow managed to hang onto the land and the house. But 300 slaves went to Africa, this after a slave revolt and the burning of the original house and a 6-year-old niece being killed in the fire—and a lot more that I can’t fit in.
That fancy monument I had seen was commissioned in honor of Isaac Ross by the Mississippi Branch of The American Colonization Society, pushing for the freedom of slaves and their deportation to Africa.
Now, to come in at the end of the story, just in the past few weeks I finally got to see Prospect Hill Plantation up close thanks to Jessica Crawford, Southeast regional director of the Archeological Conservancy. The group recently acquired the house and some of the property with the hope of stabilizing the deterioration until a buyer willing to restore the house can be found.
Cosmetically, Prospect Hill is in sad shape. But it has good “bones.” But time is really short for it to be saved.
The next year will tell if we actually did come in at the end of the story, or if this is just the beginning of the next chapter.
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