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Story Archives: Gayoso, Minor & Concord: Final days of Spanish Natchez
|Gayoso, Minor & Concord: Final days of Spanish Natchez|
(Third in a series)
At Natchez in 1790, members of the Ezekial Forman family from Pennsylvania were greeted by the two highest ranking representatives of the Spanish government -- Gov. Manuel Gayoso and American-born Stephen Minor, who also hailed from Pennsylvania and served as Gayoso's right hand man.
"At Natchez we made many agreeable acquaintances," wrote Major David Forman in his account of the Forman family's journey by flatboat to Natchez, a destination they reached in 1790. "Governor Gayoso...was very affable and pleasant, and had an English education. The fort-major, Stephen Minor married the eldest daughter of the planter, Mr. (John) Ellis (Ellis Cliffs). Our family was much visited by the Spanish officers, who were very genteel men; and Major Minor was very intimate and seemed to take much interest in us."
The two representatives of the Spanish government described by Forman, like many who lived on the frontier, were physically strong men who survived hardships and walked away from close encounters with death.
In 1798, Spain relinquished Natchez country to the American government, but not before many disputes. The 1790s ended as one of the most remarkable periods in the history of Natchez, which included the formation of the Mississippi Territory comprising the present day states of Mississippi and Alabama. In 1798, this new U.S. territory was positioned on the southwestern border of the nation.
Gayoso was the Spanish governor of Natchez from 1789 to 1797. Born in 1747 in Portugal, he was educated in Great Britain, joined the Spanish army in 1771 at the age of 24 and rose quickly through the ranks, holding various government positions.
In 1789, Gayoso and his pregnant wife sailed the Atlantic for New Orleans after he had been named the governor of the Natchez District. En route, his daughter was born before a hurricane swept their ship off course in the gulf. At times all on board feared they would die. But they were spared and arrived in New Orleans weary and ill.
A short time later, both Gayoso's wife and daughter died from what was described as "infectious fevers," possibly malaria or yellow fever. Gayoso remarried, but his second wife also died of a deadly fever. He and his third wife had one son, born in Natchez in 1797.
Despite his personal tragedies, Gayoso took on his new duties at Natchez with great enthusiasm. The Natchez District stretched from Pointe Coupee in the south, northward to the mouth of the Yazoo River at present day Vicksburg. The Mississippi was the western boundary and the eastern boundary extended inland to a distance based on the location of Indian villages.
As governor/commander of the district, Gayoso headed the military, issued passports, served as judge and jury over military and civilian matters (there was an appeal process), administered Indian affairs and provided land grants to families such as the Formans from Pennsylvania as he encouraged settlement in the district. He was also credited for opening roads.
Gayoso was described as being "of high stature, and stoutly built." He adopted many American manners, spoke English and French fluently. He loved to entertain at his home "Concord," and enjoyed wine, smoked Havana cigars, and promoted horse racing in the district, often racing his own animals.
In 1795, the U.S. and Spain signed the Treaty of San Lorenzo which defined the American boundaries between the two countries, guaranteed U.S. navigation rights on the Mississippi and signaled the Spanish withdrawal at Natchez. American surveyor Andrew Ellicott, who marked the new boundary, was at odds with Gayoso during much of the time he spent in Natchez.
Yet Ellicott liked Gayoso as a man. He described him as having an "easy and comfortable" manner, and a sincere "politeness" that came from good upbringing. Ellicott also found Gayoso to be "a tender husband, an affectionate parent, and a good master." He said Gayoso was an ethical man, too.
But frugality was not one of his assets, Ellicott noted in his journal, explaining that the governor "was fond of show and parade, in which he indulged to the great injury of his fortune..." In fact, Gayoso's biographer, Jack D.L. Holmes, reported that the governor died in New Orleans in 1799 with assets of $12,121,44 and debts exceeding $16,574. One reason for money woes was the frugality of the Spanish government: Gayoso often had to wine and dine official government and Indian guests at Concord with his personal money.
Nineteenth Century history Benjamin L.C. Wailes of Natchez said Gayoso was "just and upright in his administration" and "advanced as far as in his power the interests of the district. The city of Natchez, on the hill, was founded by him, the land being purchased and the town laid off under his direction, and various public improvements...executed or commenced under his orders."
When Gayoso was appointed governor of Spanish Louisiana in 1797, he moved to New Orleans. His right hand man, Stephen Minor, a native of Pennsylvania born in 1760, was named as the last Spanish governor of Natchez. He served from the late summer of 1797 until the spring of 1798.
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