Tuesday, December 28, 2010

King's Tavern Timeline


1794     July 20: Prosper King on July 20th petitions to the Spanish governor for permission to build a house on lot 3 of square 33 - the site where the Tavern now stands.

1796     July 21: Petition granted to Prosper King by Gayoso on July 21st of this year.

1798     January 18: Prosper King sells the property for $50.00 to his brother, Richard King on January 18th. Whether there was a building on the site at this time is unknown.

1799     August 5: The earliest association of a King with a tavern is found on August 5, 1799 in the Minutes of the Court of General Quarter Sessions of the Peace (Adams County Courthouse, Adams County Mississippi, p.78) where Richard King was licensed to operate a public house.

1799     August 21: Micajah Harpe (Big Harpe) murders Major William Love for snoring in his sleep, as well as Mrs. Stegall and her child by tomahawking them to death, on Wednesday, August 21, 1799.  This occurs about 5 miles north of Dixon, Kentucky in Hopkins County.  A few days later, he is hunted down and beheaded by Moses Stegall, the husband.  Little Harp (Wiley) flees to Natchez and joins Sam Mason and his gang robbing and murdering people along the Natchez Trace.  The story about Big Harpe killing an infant at King’s Tavern is totally unfounded, and evidence is very strong that Micajah never stepped foot in Mississippi.  However, it is very likely that Wiley (Little Harpe) was in the Tavern often.

1804     February 8: Wiley Harpe (Little Harpe) is captured and executed by hanging on February 8, 1804, just outside of Natchez.  His head is then cut off and stuck on a pole on the Trace.  The actual place of execution is Gallows Field, in the community of Greenville (at the time said to be about 300 people living there), but no longer exists.

1817     Richard King dies. His son Samuel inherits the Tavern, which he sells this same year to Charles B. Green, the son-in-law of Juan Girault. Green runs into financial difficulty and is forced to mortgage the Tavern to the First Bank of Mississippi. See next entry for more details.

1817     An 1817 map of the division of Richard King's estate depicts 2 buildings on lot 3, square 33, the larger of which sits directly on the present site of King's Tavern. That one of the two buildings was operated as a public house is supported by Richard King's inventory which lists 4 waiters and one set of dining tables (Probate Box 22) and the subsequent purchase of the property by Charles B. Green, who was also a tavern keeper (1807 city tavern license, Mayor's Court Minute Book 1085-1808, Natchez City Records, Mississippi Dept of Archives and History). Green then mortgaged the property to the Bank of Mississippi and lost it a short time later to the bank which was owned by Henry Postlethwaite and Dr. Stephen Duncan.

1823     August 27: Henry Postlethwaite dies of yellow fever on August 27th of this year, his widow (Elizabeth Morgan Postlethwaite) and her 8 children move into the Tavern. 

1827     February 2: King’s Tavern property deeded to Stephan Duncan by the Bank of Mississippi to help settle Henry Postlethwaite’s affairs which were tied up in the bank’s assets on February 2, 1827. Mr. Duncan then conveyed the property to Emily Postlethwaite and her sister Mary Ann Bledsoe in 1861.

1860      July 27: Elizabeth Morgan Postlethwaite passes away on July 27th at the residence.

1861     Property deeded to Emily Postlethwaite and her sister Mary Ann Bledsoe as part of their inheritance.

1874     George Wiley dies.  Wiley, who came to Natchez in 1788 and died in 1874, wrote "Probably the oldest house now existing in Natchez is the one occupied by Mrs. Postlethwaite on Jefferson Street between Union and Rankin. It was at one time kept as a tavern by a man named King..."(Claiborne: Mississippi as a Province, Territory and State, page 529).

1932      Remains of 3 skeletons (1 female & 2 male) & a Spanish dagger supposedly found during remodeling of the building. The bones were reported to been buried in Potters Field of the Natchez City Cemetery. We do know that the dagger does exist, because of photographic evidence & that we have located the owner of it. As for the bones, we still have found no proof they were ever found, but we are still researching their existence at this time.

1959     December 3: Mrs. Annabel Young Maxie, a descendant of the Postlethwaite family, inherits the Tavern (see article entitled “Garden Club To Restore Historic ‘Kings Tavern,’” dated 12/3/1970 in The Natchez Democrat. She states in this article “I am pleased the Pilgrimage Garden Club plans to restore King’s Tavern to the 1823 period when the first of my family’s six-generation occupancy commenced. It was in that year, 1823, that the house was deeded to Mrs. Henry (Elizabeth) Postlethwaite, my great, great, great grandmother, a widow with eight children by Doctor Stephen Duncan, then president of the Bank of Mississippi. Mrs. Postlethwaite died at the family residence, (King’s Tavern) on Friday, July 27, 1860.”

1966     October 18: Natchez Democrat article states that a “Mrs. Jean Modessit, owner of King’s Tavern, historic old home on Jefferson street here, yesterday reported that someone has stolen a very valuable antique Dagger from the living room of the home. Mrs. Modessitt stated that she knows who took the dagger and is withholding reporting the theft to the police in the hope that it will be returned during the next few days.”

1970     December 2: Mrs. Annabel Young Maxie, a descendant of the Postlethwaite family, sells King’s Tavern to the Pilgrimage Garden Club on the 2nd of December of this year. 

1971     Garden Club starts restoration of King’s Tavern.

1973     September 14: In an article in the Natchez Democrat entitled, King’s Tavern Restoration Complex, Henry W. Krotzer Jr, architect with Koch and Wilson of New Orleans describes           his firm’s work and the progress at King’s Tavern at a Pilgrimage Garden Club luncheon “on Thursday.” He advised the Club that, “It has been a most complicated project.” Determinations from his firm’s study are:
1) The original building had no original paint – it was unpainted, which was unusual for Natchez.
2) Archeologists found some brick gutters under some cellar windows, indicating the original ground level of the yard (which was not indicated in this article).
3) Gallery (porches) were enclosed around 1830. The biggest decision was to NOT restore the Tavern to open porches as it was originally, but to retain the enclosed Galleries.
4) According to Krotzer, the second biggest decision concerned the chimney. After a portion of the building had been taken apart for renovations, hints pointing to a chimney in the cellar did appear. Nothing sensational has come to light to affect the progress of the work. “Unfortunately the brick floor was not saved. It broke and crumbled as it was removed.”

1974   Opens for pilgrimage tours & restaurant for a short time.

1974   February 23; in a Natchez Democrat article of this date entitled, Thomas Young recalls King’s Tavern, written by Thomas E. Young, he states: “My mother Hilda died when I was two years old and my grandmother has told me many times of the misty figure of a veiled woman in a cloak with head bowed and hands folded which stood at the foot of her bed at night after my mother’s death.”  This is the first written and recorded mention of any ghost at King’s Tavern.  His mother was Hilda Register Young. Young also states in the article, “at no time in my memory or to my knowledge from conversations, was there a brick floor in any part of the cellar.” Also, “the fire-place in the ‘big cellar’ was being closed up and some work being done on the chimney when the old Spanish dagger was found embedded in the mortar.”

1975     November 16: A Century Turns Back For King’s Tavern, is the title of an article in the Natchez Democrat on this date. In the article, the Tavern is now being called The Bledsoe House, and describes how the Tavern has been turned back into a working Tavern. The kitchen was built on the side connecting the Tavern to the annex located on the corner of Jefferson and Rankin Streets. So, the kitchen was added between 1973 and 1975.

1977     March 13: Democrat article with photo of Annabel Maxie holding the dagger that was allegedly found in 1932.

1977     November 15: In a special executive board meeting on this date, the Pilgrimage Garden Club closes the Tavern, apparently due to financial problems. Source is Democrat article of 1/25/1978.

1978     January 25: Garden Club leases the Tavern to Mrs. Bobby Porter and Mrs. Florence Turpin. It is a 5 year lease, with an option for an additional 5 years. In an article on this date entitled, “King’s Tavern to Reopen: Individuals Lease Historic Building,” Florence Turpin and Bobbye (spelling as article spells her name) are named as partners. The plans are to open the Tavern in February under the name The Post House Restaurant. They also have leased the building on the corner, known as the annex, and will decorate it from a gift shop to operate as a lounge. The article also mentions “at least two ghosts, Madeline and the Indian Chief, are said to roam the building…” Also, the article states, “The reference to buildings in the deed indicates that the tavern antedates the King ownership. At the time of the deed to King, the Tavern was situated on the Natchez Trace and provided a resting place for the early settlers of the Mississippi Territory.”

1987     Garden Club sells property to Mrs. Yvonne Scott.

1988     Reopens as King’s Tavern.

2005   Mrs. Yvonne Scott sells property to Tom Drinkwater and Shawyn Mars who are the current owners of King’s Tavern.

2010   October 22nd, N.A.P.S. launches an extensive, full-blown paranormal investigation into King’s Tavern – the crown jewel of Natchez’ haunted sites – with interview & historical research phases initiated.

2010   December 28nd, N.A.P.S. officially closes its first investigation into KT, with a finding of Positive: Class B (significant paranormal activity present); with reservations about some experiences claimed being possibly due to high EMF and some likely due to matrixing from the high expectations created by advertising of the haunting.  However, none of that is sufficient in our minds to explain all that is happening, and our own investigation revealed plenty of data and evidence on its own (including tactile, olfactory; Class A EVP; Photo and Video; as well as EMF and motion/temperature detection data – many of it cross substantiated).  Furthermore, the investigation uncovered significant errors and misinformation into the history of the Tavern, including dates, and this correction of historical data may be the greatest contribution of this particular investigation.  Lastly, the investigation concludes its finding, but does recommend that the Tavern be investigated further, in the future, to answer specific questions and issues that this investigation raised – see Case File “Recommended Follow-Up Investigations.”

Natchez Historic Foundation: Land Records, Deed & Titles
Mississippi Department of Archives & History
            Cindy Gardner, Director of Collections, Museum Division
            David Abbott, Archaeologist
A Way Through the Wilderness: The Natchez Trace and the Civilization of the Southern Frontier, by Davis
A History of Muhlenberg County (Kentucky), by Rothert
The Outlaws of Cave-in-Rock, by Rothert
Natchez Under-the-Hill, by Moore
Natchez: The History and Mystery of the City on the Bluff, by Whitington
The Devil’s Backbone: The Story of the Natchez Trace, by Daniels
Natchez On the Mississippi, by Kane
Archives: Natchez Democrat
The Judge Armstrong Library

©  Copyright 2010, Natchez Area Paranormal Society. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Harpes & King's Tavern: Micajah (Big) Harpe Was Never There

by Michael Chapman

Photo at Left: The old Natchez Trace

When N.A.P.S. conducted its full investigation into King's Tavern in the fall of 2010, we started by researching the history of the Tavern. In compiling the history that is regularly given for the Tavern as well as the stories behind it, we uncovered much that is simply not true. This did not surprise us. As is often the case, southern "history" contains much that is myth and folklore, and the history that is so often given for the Tavern is certainly no exception. One of the stories surrounding King's Tavern and the haunting of it, centers around the Harpe "brothers." In fact, during my research of the Harpes, I uncovered that it is not known for certain whether the Harpes were actually brothers. There are some historians in Kentucky, where the Harpes originated, that state that Micajah (Big Harpe) and Wiley (Little Harpe) were possibly cousins.

With regards to the haunting of King's Tavern, it is often stated as fact that Big Harpe slaughtered an infant there. This is given as the explanation of a phenomena whereby some have reported to have heard the crying of a baby. During my research of this psuedo-history, I came across website after website where this story is repeated. One example, given below, is from the website "ghostinmysuitcase.com." It is typical of the incorrect reporting of Micajah Harpe, and reads as follows:

Workers report hearing a baby crying in the restaurant - specifically, from rooms that were supposedly empty. The story behind the infant's cry goes back to the 1700s when the building was not only an inn, but also the post office and one of the centers of the city's commerce. A young mother was trying to comfort her fussy infant, when a man named Big Harpe - one of the notorious Harpe brothers - walked over from the bar. She thought that he was going to assist her, but instead, he grabbed the baby by its feet and slammed the infant against the wall. As the distraught mother crumpled to the floor to gather the child's lifeless body, Big Harpe strolled back to the bar and ordered another drink.

A factual look into the recorded history of Micajah Harpe reveals that while he certainly did kill children and in one instance a baby, the infant was most likely that of his own brother Wiley, a nine-month old daughter born to Wiley and Sally Roberts.  Furthermore, this happened far, far away from Natchez and King's Tavern, and actually occurred near Russellville, Kentucky. I explain the details of that story elsewhere, but I want to take a minute to speak about why such stories and folktales abound, where the truth is abandoned and lies are so easily spoken. In a cogent essay regarding the curious phenomena of folklore so often being accepted as truth, Henry Glassie states:

FOLKLORE and history make a pair, a contrastive pair. In the common language, folklore and history align in opposition to provide one of the antinomies we use to bring a little order into the mess. History is true. Folklore, an elder historian once told me with a smile, is "a pack of damned lies.' Folklore is a polite synonym for malarkey as in the phrase, "that's just a lot of folklore." Folklore is made of lies but not important ones. History is important; momentous events are "historic," while folklore is marginal, fetching but trivial. History is also gone. "One more out," the announcer intones in the bottom of the ninth, "and this game is history." By contrast, folklore is false, insignificant, and oddly vital. Folk history is an oxymoron: a false truth. Legend, the genre through which folk history claims life, was once defined as a falsehood believed to be true.'

There is much in southern culture that is folklore, and it is as pervasive as the Spanish moss that dangles from our live oaks. However, when one is doing historical research, it becomes quite a chore to separate historical fact from folklore and myth. I am personally amazed at how much we southerners accept our folklore as fact, without doubt...without question. It cuts against the grain, like trying to swim upstream against the flow of the mighty Mississippi itself, to try and convince some southerners that their long held belief and precious story is simply not true. As I stated earlier, the story of Big Harpe killing the baby has long been associated with the Natchez Trace and with King's Tavern. Another story that is sometimes given regarding the Tavern and Big Harpe is that he killed a man for snoring.  That story is also true, but also happened in Kentucky, near Dixon.

Using Kentucky's historical resources from four counties there that I identified as relevant to the Harpe boys (Muhlenberg, Henderson, Lincoln and Hopkins Counties), I was successful in discovering the amazing documentation of the very end of Micajah (Big) Harpe's life, as well as information on Wiley (Little) Harpe. I discovered that Micajah did most all of his killing in that State - Kentucky - and likely never even set foot in the territory (now State) of Mississippi. The Harpes are believed to be from Virginia or North Carolina, from the region near the border of Kentucky.  The stories have simply been "transported" to the Tavern, because it makes for a much more interesting story for the locals. The fact is, we know intimate details about Big Harpe's killing of a man for snoring, as well as the story of the infant, and can find them in recorded history far to the north - indeed in western Kentucky in Muhlenberg County. These factual accounts are not disputed and are very well documented.

It may be disappointing to some to read the truth - that Micajah's murders and infamous exploits occurred far from Natchez and King's Tavern.  However, it should be noted that his brother (or cousin), Wiley "Little" Harpe, did flee to Natchez via the Natchez Trace after Micajah's death and very likely was in the Tavern often.  There is a solid historical record of that.  However, it would be a mistake to then conclude that it was he (Wiley) that did the murdering at the Tavern.  Any historian will tell you that the stories surrounding Micajah, the slaughter of the infant, and the murder of the man for snoring did indeed happen, just not at the Tavern.  There is no evidence, not one shred of historical record, that any murder or violence happened at the Tavern itself.  

King's Tavern is an interesting place, and it has much interesting history, just not what is regularly presented as fact.  Any "haunted crying" that is reported to occur there is likely to be matrixing (thinking it is happening when it actually is not).  Auto suggestion is very powerful when expectations are combined with belief in folklore.  Natural explanations are also a distinct possibility, such as the whirring motors of a blender from the restaurant's kitchen or bar, and the crying or meowing of a feline.

Mississippi Department of Archives & History
A History of Muhlenberg County (Kentucky), by Otto A. Rothert
The Outlaws of Cave-in-Rock, by Otto A. Rothert
A Way Through the Wilderness: The Natchez Trace and the Civilization of the Southern Frontier, by Davis
Natchez Under-the-Hill, by Moore
Natchez: The History and Mystery of the City on the Bluff, by Whitington
The Devil’s Backbone: The Story of the Natchez Trace, by Daniels
Natchez On the Mississippi, by Kane
Archives: Natchez Democrat
The Judge Armstrong Library

©  Copyright 2010, Natchez Area Paranormal Society.  All or parts may be used with permission, just cite your source.