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Today is January 27, 2022

Mississippi Seen

Jackson’s bicentennial is here

By Walt Grayson

Jackson’s bicentennial is here

The most unlikely city in the state is celebrating its 200th birthday in 2022, starting right now, during the holiday season of 2021.

Jackson is the “unlikely city” because the capital city was not supposed to be there. And if members of the early state Legislature had had their way, Jackson wouldn’t be the capital today.

The very first capital of the Mississippi Territory was Natchez. But there was an element in government that thought there was too much “river” influence in Natchez, so they moved the capital to Washington, about six miles away. I guess six miles was a lot farther then than it is now.

When Mississippi became a state, Natchez once again became the seat of government. But the capital needed to be more centrally located. So, in 1821, Columbia became the capital. That’s where the Legislature appointed a three-member commission to find a site in the dead center of the state for the permanent capital.

Well, turns out, the dead center of Mississippi was a swamp. So, the commission started inching southwest along the Pearl River until they came to the bluff where Louis LeFleur had a trading post. It wasn’t the center of the state, but it met the other requirements — high ground near a navigable river, good drinking water, and soil rich for growing.

Lawmakers planted their stake at LeFleur’s Bluff and created the new capital city and named it named Jackson, in honor of Andrew Jackson, war hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. He had not been elected president yet.

A new state house was built in Jackson, and the Legislature met there for the first time in December 1822. And people flocked to the new “Emerald City” with hopes and dreams and stars in their eyes! Well, actually not. There wasn’t even a decent road connecting Jackson to the outside world for four years, and the railroad didn’t come through until the 1840s.

The new location was so remote and isolated that for the first 10 years of Jackson’s existence, every time the Legislature met, they proposed moving the capital elsewhere. In 1832, the constitutional convention declared Jackson would remain the capital city until at least 1850. Following that time, lawmakers would take another look at the situation.

The thing is, by 1850, people were more or less used to the idea of Jackson as the state capital. But it wasn’t until the 1920s that Jackson finally had more people living in it than in Meridian.

When Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman occupied Jackson during the Civil War, the government moved to Columbus and Macon. The original furniture from the Governor’s Mansion was lost at Macon. But after the war, everything gravitated back to Jackson — except the Governor’s furniture.

So, Jackson, it has been for 200 years. And the city celebrates its existence over the next year for both being the capital in the first place and managing to stay the capital.

 

Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television and the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” Walt is also a reporter and 4 p.m. news anchor at WJTV in Jackson. He lives in Brandon and is a Central Electric member. Contact him at walt@waltgrayson.com.

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