Natchez is the only city and county seat of Adams County, Mississippi, United States. Natchez has a total population of 15,792 (as of the 2010 census). Located on the Mississippi River some 90 miles (140 km) southwest of Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, and 85 miles (137 km) north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, it is the 25th-largest city in the state. It is named for the Natchez tribe of Native Americans who inhabited the area.
Established by French colonists in 1716, Natchez is one of the oldest and most important European settlements in the lower Mississippi River Valley; it later served as the capital of the American Mississippi Territory and then of the state of Mississippi. It predates Jackson, which replaced Natchez as the capital in 1822, by more than a century. The strategic location of Natchez, on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, ensured that it would become a pivotal center of trade, commerce, and the interchange of ethnic Native American, European, and African cultures in the region, for the first two centuries of its existence.
In U.S. history, it is recognized particularly for its role in the development of the Old Southwest during the first half of the nineteenth century. It was the southern terminus of the historic Natchez Trace, with the northern terminus being Nashville, Tennessee. This was used by many pilots of flatboats and keelboats, to return overland to their homes in the Ohio River Valley after unloading their cargo in Natchez or New Orleans. (It was not until the implementation of steam power that travel northward on the Mississippi River could be accomplished by boat.) The Natchez Trace also played an important role during the War of 1812. Today the modern Natchez Trace Parkway, which commemorates this route, still has its southern terminus in Natchez.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, the city attracted wealthy Southern planters as residents, who built mansions to fit their ambitions; their plantations were vast tracts of land in the surrounding lowlands of Mississippi and Louisiana, where they grew large crops of cotton and sugar cane using slave labor. Natchez became the principal port from which these crops were exported, both upriver to Northern cities and downriver to New Orleans, where much of the cargo was exported to Europe. Many of the mansions built by planters before 1860 survive and form a major part of the city's architecture and identity. Agriculture remained the primary economic base for the region until well into the twentieth century.
During the twentieth century, the city's economy experienced a downturn, first due to the replacement of steamboat traffic on the Mississippi River by railroads in the early 1900s, some of which bypassed the river cities and drew away their commerce. Later there was an exodus of many local industries that had provided a large number of jobs in the area. Despite its status as a popular destination for heritage tourism, because of its well-preserved antebellum architecture, Natchez has had a general decline in population since 1960. It remains the principal city of the Natchez, MS–LA Micropolitan Statistical Area.