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, which commemorates this route, still has its southern terminus in Natchez.