The Forks of the Road was a bustling depot trading in human flesh when Mississippi, in 1837, enforced its ban on the out-of-state slaves, curtailing the markets for a period. When the law was repealed in 1846, the markets at the Forks re-opened. By 1856, the numerous traders at the Forks spilled over adjoining St. Catherine Street.
The last sales at the Forks happened in early 1863, just months before the U.S. Army occupied Natchez, bringing the Emancipation Proclamation and ending slavery in the area. Freedmen (freed slaves) flocked to town from the surrounding countryside, many settling here at the Forks near an encampment of black, Union soldiers who may have used the buildings as barracks.
[Caption beneath images of freedmen: a photo of settlers in Natchez(?), engravings of a Black Union soldier and encamped women and children, and a sketch of freed families on the move (courtesy of Historic New Orleans Collection).]
In 1863 the Forks were occupied by the 58th Regiment of U.S. Colored Infantry, one of several black regiments recruited in Natchez. Ironically, it is conceivable that some of the soldiers here had been held here as slaves for sale.
[Title page of: The Confessions of Nat Turner, ... as fully and voluntarily made to Thomas R. Gray ... 1832.]
In 1831, about forty slaves in rural Virginia under the leadership of Nat Turner killed fifty-five whites during a three-day rebellion. In the emotional aftermath, nearly every southern state restricted or banned the importation of out-of-state slaves, fearing introduction of violence-prone slaves onto local plantations. Mississippi’s restrictions, written into the 1832 state constitution, had no enforcement until 1837. Ten years later, under pressure for more labor in an expanding economy, the restrictions were lifted.