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Story Archives: From Spain to Natchez: Gov. Gayoso arrives in 1789
|From Spain to Natchez: Gov. Gayoso arrives in 1789|
Crossing an ocean was a perilous journey more than two centuries ago.
The diseases of the Lower Mississippi Valley were just as dangerous.
Manuel Gayoso -- who served as the last European-born governor of Spanish Natchez from 1789 to 1797 -- could attest to these facts. Not long after he arrived in Natchez country -- having already survived a hurricane -- his wife and daughter were dead. By 1799, he was dead, too.
A well-educated man, Gayoso was 42 years old when he first saw the Natchez bluffs in June 1789. He was born in Portugal in his mother's hometown of Oporto (the port). A bustling city, Oporto was famous for its sweet red wine grown in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. Gayoso's father served as Spain's Consul in Oporto.
When Gayoso arrived in Spanish Louisiana, Esteban Miro was the governor-general of the province. Gayoso had joined the Spanish army in his youth and had served for four years in Miro's Lisbon Regiment. Miro thought Gayoso a talented man and was impressed with his skill in a number of languages and just as importantly, he thought Gayoso displayed strong character, impeccable conduct and diplomacy.
Gayoso also observed a number of Spain's top naval leaders in action. Spanish administrators were also impressed with his successful efforts in overseeing the salvage of a Spanish ship off the coast of Lisbon in 1786. The vessel was loaded with museum specimens and $8 million in gold, silver and copper from Peru when it grounded on Lisbon's rocky coast.
According to his biographer, Jack D.L. Holmes, Gayoso's years of service paid off in 1787 when Spain decided that it would make Natchez a key center for growth in the Louisiana colony. Gayoso was appointed as the governor-general of the small but key post on the Mississippi River.
In the meantime he and new bride, Theresa, had their first child, Manuel, in 1788, the year before Gayoso departed Spain to assume his new position in America. By the time of their departure, Theresa was in her second pregnancy and nearing delivery. The couple left young Manuel with a maternal aunt when they began their long voyage to New Orleans in February 1789. Theresa gave birth to a daughter, Henriqueta, during the ocean passage.
While sailing through the Gulf, the ship was caught in a hurricane and thrown off course for nine days before the vessel docked in the Yucatan. Gayoso, wife and daughter arrived in New Orleans on April 12, 1789, two months after their journey began in Spain.
After spending two months in New Orleans preparing for his administration up the Mississippi River, Gayoso finally arrived in Natchez in June 1789. But within a short time both his wife and daughter were dead, while Gayoso survived the same illness, which included high fever, chills and vomiting. Little Manuel, thousands of miles away in Spain, would never know a single member of his immediate family. We don't know why Manuel was left behind.
Gayoso was described as being "of high stature, and stoutly built." He adopted many American manners, spoke English fluently, as well as French. He loved to entertain at his home, Concord ("Concordia" in Spanish), a mansion he built on a perfect spot about two miles northeast of the Natchez fort in a shady grove of trees sitting on a hilltop. The old home site is bordered today by Gayoso, LaSalle and Fisk streets, and the old tire plant is in sight down the hill. Gayoso's plantation (also named Concord), more than 1,200 acres, stretched from there to the river.
At Concord, Gayoso enjoyed gardening and smoking hand-rolled Havana cigars. Concord became the social heart of town, where the governor entertained often, mixing his European manners with the American frontier spirit. He enjoyed a good drink. An inventory revealed at his death that Gayoso's stock included red and white table wines, beer, hard liquor, sherry, 180 bottles of white Madeira and 75 bottles of port.
But early on in Natchez he was a widower with a daughter in the grave and a son across the world. He would remarry -- first to an American woman (Margaret Watts) -- who also died, and later, he would marry her sister. In time, he gained the respect of the American frontiersmen in Natchez country.
Those colonists included men such as Sam Gibson, who founded Port Gibson, and Peter Bryan Bruin on Bayou Pierre (in what is now Claiborne County) who would become an American territorial judge. The population included the New Jersey Settlers who set up roots north of the Homochitto in what is now known as Kingston in southern Adams County, and men such as Col. Anthony Hutchins of Second Creek who fought in the French and Indian War and his slave, Toney, who came to America on a slave ship when just a young boy and who as a man would watch the Natchez frontier grow during a 20-year period from British to Spanish to American rule.
(Stanley Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 318-757-3646.)
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