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Bushwhackers, Bibles, and Boats     

The Natchez Trace was considered in the 19th Century to be the most dangerous highway in America and was referred to as "The Devil's Highway", a notorious haven for thieves and murderers.

Despite its brief lifespan of use by European Americans, the Trace served an essential function for years. It was the only reliable and most expedient link between the goods of the North and the trading ports of Mississippi and Louisiana. This brought all sorts of people down the Trace: itinerant preachers, highwaymen and traders were just a few.

The circuit preachers were some of the most notable of the lot. Unlike its physical development, the "spiritual development" of the Trace started from the Natchez end and moved up. Several Methodist preachers began working a circuit along the Trace as early as 1800. By 1812 they claimed a membership of 1,067 Caucasians and 267 African-Americans.

The Methodists were soon joined in Natchez by other Protestant religions, including the Baptists and Presbyterians. The Presbyterians and their offshoot, the Cumberland Presbyterians, were more active than the Methodists or Baptists in procuring converts along the Trace itself. They claimed converts among Native Americans, too. The Presbyterians started working from the south; the Cumberland Presbyterians worked from the north, as they had migrated into Tennessee from Kentucky.

As with much of the unsettled West, banditry freely occurred along the Trace. Much of it centered around Natchez Under-The-Hill, as compared with the tame sister of Natchez atop the river bluff (the current Natchez). Under-the-Hill, where Mississippi River steamboats docked, was a hotbed for gamblers, prostitutes and drunkenness.

The rowdiest of them all were the Kaintucks, the wild frontiersmen from upriver who came in on the steamboats and flatboats loaded with goods. They left the goods in Natchez in exchange for pockets full of cash, and summarily treated Natchez Under-the-Hill as what could be generously called an early 1800s Las Vegas, Nevada or Amsterdam.

Worse dangers lurked on the Trace itself in the wilderness outside city boundaries. Highwaymen such as John Murrell and Samuel Mason terrorized travelers along the road. They operated large gangs of organized brigands in one of the first examples of land-based American organized crime.

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