Persac 11" x 14" Map
Centuries have passed, new routes created, economic activity persists, and the “mighty river” keeps rolling. Affectionately dubbed “America’s River,” the Mississippi River is the largest river of North America and the second longest in the United States. It flows from Lake Itasca in northwestern Minnesota due south for 2,320 miles (3730 km) to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its major tributaries, the Missouri River and the Ohio River, along with other minor tributaries, all or a part of thirty one U.S. states and two Canadian Provinces are drained by the Mississippi watershed. Furthermore, the river borders and or passes through ten U.S. states - Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
The Mississippi River and its tributaries have long played a significant role in the history of those who interact with the land within its borders. Beginning with Native American tribes who lived along the banks of the Mississippi River such as the Choctaw, Osage, Sioux, Pottawatomie, and Tunica, among others, the river was a vital source of drinking water, transportation via dugouts and canoes, food(fish, mussels), and water for farming. For 16th Century French and Spanish explorers and later colonists, the Mississippi River was a place of discovery, prospect, new beginnings, and violence. Overtime, borders were created separating New France, New Spain, and Colonial America. Conflicts persisted, borders changed hands, and ultimately the United States became the dominant force on the Mississippi River. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803, not only increased U.S. territories to include fifteen current U.S. states, but it also bolstered transportation and communication links to expand westward via the Mississippi River.
In the early 19th Century, transportation facilitated the growth of trade routes and commerce on the Mississippi River. Innovations in transportation in the early 1800s, notably the expansion of the steamboat, signaled a period of greater river traffic and rapid economic growth and prosperity along the banks of the Mississippi. People and goods were carried to market, plantations thrived, and planters emerged prosperous and displayed their wealth through the lavish mansions that decorated the river’s path. French-born Louisiana surveyor Marie Adrien Persac’s map, “Plantations on the Mississippi River from Natchez to New Orleans, 1858,” illustrates and bears evidence of the heavy reliability of the plantation economy on the Mississippi waterways.
The map identifies properties, including plantations, on both sides of the Mississippi, stretching from Natchez to Baton Rouge (on the left) and from Baton Rouge to New Orleans (on the right). Persac identifies the names of large planters along with cotton and sugar plantations marshaled up and down the river. The detailed map also shows the course of the river and was a vital tool used by riverboat pilots to locate plantation and riverboat landings. Persac’s map opens the mind to visualize not only what a vibrant commercial river market was like in 1858, but to also think of plantation society and how it impacted the economy of the region.
Although “America’s River” is largely under human control today, and plantation society has vanished, one thing that is going strong is the economic benefits the river continues to provide. The river commerce is still vibrant and is the backbone of the nation’s economy. Undoubtedly, the Mississippi River is still rolling.