Having spent a month in Orleans and the neighbouring plantations, I took my leave and departed for Louisville. The steam-boat in which I ascended the river was of the largest description, and had then on board between fifty and sixty cabin passengers, and nearly four hundred deck passengers. The former paid thirty dollars, and the latter I believe six, on this occasion. The deckers were provided only with an unfurnished berth. The steam-boats, on their passage up and down the rivers, stop at nearly all the towns of importance, both for the purpose of landing and receiving freight, which enabled me to visit most of the settlements along the banks.
For several hundred miles from New Orleans, the trees, particularly those in the cypress swamps, are covered with tellandsea, or Spanish moss, which hangs down from the branches so thickly, as to give a most gloomy aspect to the forest. It is found to be a good substitute for horse hair, and is universally used by upholsterers for stuffing mattresses, cushions, &c. The process of preparing it is very simple: being taken from the trees, it is placed in water for a few days, until the outer pellicle has rotted; it is then dried, when a long fibre resembling horse hair is obtained.
Natchez, in the state of Mississippi, is about 300 miles above Orleans, and is the largest and wealthiest town on the river, from that city up to St. Louis. It stands on bluffs, perhaps 300 feet above the water at ordinary periods. It contains nearly 4000 inhabitants, and is decidedly the prettiest town for its dimensions in the United States. Natchez, although upwards of 400 miles from the sea, is considered a port; and a grant of 1500 dollars was made by congress for the purpose of erecting a light-house; the building has been raised, and stands there, a monument of useless expenditure. There are a number of “groggeries,” stores, and other habitations, at the base of the bluffs, for the accommodation of flat-boatmen, which form a distinct town, and the place is called, in contradistinction to the city above, Natchez-under-the-hill. Swarms of unfortunate females, of every shade of colour, may be seen here sporting with the river navigators, and this little spot presents one continued scene of gaming, swearing, and rioting, from morning till night.
The ravages of the yellow fever in this town are always greater in proportion to the population than at New Orleans; and it is a remarkable fact, that frequently when the fever is raging with violence in the city on the hill, the inhabitants below are entirely free from it. In addition to the exhalations from the exposed part of the river’s bed, there are others of a still more pestilential character, which arise from stagnant pools at the foot of the hill. The miasmata appear to ascend until they reach the level of the town above, where the atmosphere being less dense, and perhaps precisely of their own specific gravity, they float, and commingle with it.