By Angela L MSSPI
Constructed of rough brick, hand hewn cypress and ship timbers, the 3 story structure known as King's Tavern was built before 1789 during the time of the Spaniard occupation in the Natchez territory. It is thought that the buildings were origianally part of a Spanish military outpost, but I was unable to confirm this for sure. The Tavern is considered to be the oldest building in Natchez if not the state of Mississippi that remains standing. The first US Mail to Natchez was reportedly delivered to the King's Tavern by an Indian carrier in the early 1800's
The first known owner of The King's Tavern was Ricardo King of Long Island New York, who's family gave the name to the Kingston settlement outside of Natchez.
Crude taverns were erected sporadically along the Traceway, where one might find a greasy meal, a soggy cot or a lukewarm bath. Many preferred to rest in the open for fear of being robbed while they slept. Burying their money and belongings in the dirt, sleeping with their guns under their arms and lighting fires to ward off wild animals, hundreds of people died on the Traceway from exposure. Modern view of the Trace at right.
Bad weather and frequent flooding of small creeks and rivers turned into torrents and flooded the trails, turning open passages into soggy bog land. Frequently stalling horses and wagons in the muck.
But the greatest danger on the Traceway walked on two feet. The lonely roadway was a favorite for bandits and thieves. Bands of renigade Indians and Whites alike set up ambush along the Traceway looking to loot and plunder possessions, valuables and horses. Month after month, people disappeared on the Traceway, never to be seen or heard from again. It was not uncommon when a well known individual disappeared, that it was assumed or taken for granted that they had become a victim on the Traceway.
At the King's Tavern, travelers told tales of ambush and horror on their journeys of the Trace. With drink in hand, new arrivals to the Tavern told stories of outrage and savagery , like stories of The Harpe Brothers, Mason and Murrell.
The name Harpe aquired fame all along the Trace from the Tennessee Valley to the Natchez Bluffs. In the 1790's the Harpes also had a reputation as far north as Kentucky and were rumored to have used the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky as a hide out. They traveled with their women in tow, frequently enterchanged partners with each other when the mood struck. They joined with bands of Indian outlaws from time to time to burn farms, loot, murder and steal horses. The Harpes took lives for the sheer fun of it, sometimes killing their victims, gutting them and loading the abdomens with rocks in order to sink them in rivers and bogs. They moved from one state to the other, killing and robbing as they went. They not only killed for fun , but took great delight in torture and mutilation of their victims by cutting off fingers, poking out eyes with sticks and gutting their victims. They once tied a naked man to a horse and sent him reeling off a cliff to his death, for the fun of it.
The Harpes also were no strangers to child killings. In my research I read accounts of the Harpes having killed a small child by cutting them into one inch pieces, On one occassion Big M. Harpe, exasperated at the crying of his own child, grabbed the child by the ankles and proceeded to bash the childs head into a tree until it shattered. Big Harpe claimed it was the only murder he ever committed that he actually regretted.
Little Harpe eventually returned to Natchez and joined forces with another criminal by the name of Sam Mason. A Virginian of higher breeding and class, but also a notorious theif and murderer. He was organized and planned his crimes, unlike the spontanious , hot headed Harpes. He had served in the Continental Army and some claimed he was a descendant of a signer of the Declaration of Independance. Sam Mason was also a frequent patron of the King's Tavern, frequently meeting with his accomplices and discussing his plans over a drink at the Tavern. Cutthroats and criminals of all kinds were patrons of the The King's Tavern, from horse theives and pick pockets, to slave runners, to murderers and rapest, and con artists. The King's Tavern was known for it's wild and rowdy patrons.
It has been reported that Little Harpe was eventually captured and hung for his crimes on the Traceway.
The King Family sold the tavern in 1817 to The Postlewaite family, who owned the tavern for another 125 years.
The King's Tavern is open to the public for dinner dining.
The MSSPI Founders had the pleasure of dining at the King's Tavern on our trip to Natchez on November 21, 2009. I have to say , it was the best prime rib I ever ate and well worth the trip. The staff was very hospitable and eager to share their paranormal experiences. We were given a brief tour of the Tavern and while we were in the upstairs bedroom quarters it was pointed out that there were wet footprints on the floor in the guest suite bathroom. Now the management claims that these footsteps appear frequently and that this is a paranormal event. Since we did not have a controlled enviroment in which to investigate these claims at the time, we cannot say one way or the other if this was a paranormal event, but we had a wonderful time hearing all the stories and eating at the fantastic King's Tavern. We encourage you to visit if you get the chance.
Natchez On The Mississippi by Harnett T. Kane
The Devil's Backbone- The Story of The Natchez Trace by Jonathan Daniels
Ghost's Personal Accounts of Modern Mississippi Hauntings by Sylvia Booth Hubbard
Photo by Dale Woolsley, Natchez Ms. 1997
Personal Interviews with the staff of King's Tavern