As I began writing A Matter of Chance, I looked for an area of the United States I could describe with ease, but I wanted to have some equivalent to the estate homes in England. While there are modern homes that are named in the United States, it’s not as common as it was in the past, and a part of the country kept coming to mind where many of the old stately homes had names–Natchez, Mississippi.
When I was in my early teens, John Jakes’ North and South aired on television. My mother was a fan of period mini-series, and we enjoyed the pre-Civil War drama as it was aired. I think both of us loved the old houses and the scenery as much as the movie itself. As a result, I became interested in facets of that time period, mainly the homes, and we planned a trip to Natchez to tour many of the sites and to simply have a look around.
In A Matter of Chance, Meryton itself is fashioned partially after Natchez, but it’s also a sampling of many older small towns in the south. I lived within an hour of New Orleans for most of my life, so it was easy to have little bits of other places slip in. For example, a restaurant where Lizzy eats with two of her University friends is a place in Hammond, LA. When I was in University there, they really did have the best chicken strips ever!
Longbourn was mostly modelled after an antebellum home in Natchez called Monmouth. I hate to say that I think I’ve been there, but while I remember certain homes very well, others are a blur. My description of the front of the house, I think, is pretty close to the real thing; although, I changed a great deal of the surrounding property and the backyard. I also wanted the home somewhat larger than the real one appeared, so I added to it by having the additions to the back for Lizzy’s painting studio and her modern walk-in closet and master bath upstairs.
Just to give you a small history of the home. It is, indeed, an antebellum home–antebellum referring to the fact that it was built prior to the American Civil War. Monmouth was built in 1818 by John Hankinson, a lawyer and steamboat entrepreneur. Due to financial difficulties, Hankinson was unable to retain the property and it changed hands several times before its purchase by John Anthony Quitman, a famous general and military hero and the future governor of Mississippi.
After Quitman’s death in 1858 and his wife’s in 1859, the plantation didn’t fare well through the war and fell into disrepair until it was purchased in 1978 and restored to the style of the 1830’s. The family undertaking the restoration decorated with a few Quitman pieces which remained with the home and others that they were able to locate and purchase, taking great pains for the sake of authenticity
Monmouth was made a National Historic Landmark in 1988. Now, aside from being a source of inspiration, the home is an inn and gardens where tourists can stay as they visit Natchez and the many beautiful homes in the area.
Next…The Houses of A Matter of Chance — Netherfield
http://www.monmouthhistoricinn.com/historical-overview.html (facts and photos)