NATCHEZ — A developer wants to construct townhomes on land located next to the Forks of the Road historic site.
The Natchez Democrat reports the Planning Commission voted 5-2 in January to approve a site plan for the 26-unit affordable townhouse development.
Charter Companies of Oxford is the developer.
Alderman Ernest “Tony” Fields says he is working with developers to preserve any artifacts found at the development site.
Forks of the Road was once one of the largest slave markets in the South.
The Forks of the Road market, by one historian’s account, probably looked like “a sprawling prison camp” where slaves would be haggled over and sold to cotton plantation owners who came from across the South.
The Mississippi River made for easy transport of slaves from the declining tobacco plantations near the Chesapeake Bay.
At its peak from about 1830 to 1863, up to 500 slaves could be found at the market on any given day. It’s thought to be the second largest slave market in the South, the biggest one in New Orleans. Trade at the Forks of the Road ended only with the Civil War.
The Forks of the Road was unique because slaves weren’t auctioned, but bargained over by buyers and sellers, historians said. The site was already a traditional market that straddled the city limits when it was bought to move slaves.
A kiosk with historical information and a sign marking the site are the only evidence of what the land once was.
Ser Seshs Ab Heter-C.M. Boxley, who has worked to restore the site since then 1990s., said he is not interested in stopping the development from being built, only ensuring any artifacts found at the site during construction are preserved.
David Kelly of Charter Consulting said the company will be looking for any artifacts and do its best to preserve anything found.
“But we will have some heavy equipment there,” he said. “This will be a construction site, not an archaeological dig, but we will try to be sensitive.”
Boxley said the entire community has a responsibility to ensure the Forks of the Road history is preserved, and he said he believes a long-term plan to ensure preservation of the site needs to be in place.
“It speaks not just to the African-American history in this area, but to the history of all the people here, the antebellum estates and the Old South.
“The issue is the gobbling up of the remaining few acres of open land that exists at the Forks that could be utilized for interpretation at the Forks of the Road,” Boxley said.