Biography of Don Manuel Gayoso de Lemos

“As the governor of an arbitrary monarch, he was certainly entitled to great merit. It appeared, in an eminent degree, to be his pride to render the situation of those over whom he was appointed to preside as easy and comfortable as possible; and in a particular manner he directed his attention to the improvement of the country by opening roads, which he considered the arteries of commerce. He was educated in Great Britain, and retained to a considerable degree, until his death, the manners and customs of that nation, especially in his style of living. in his conversation he was easy and affable, and his politeness was of that superior cast which showed it to be the effect of early habit, rather than an accomplishment merely intended to render him agreeable. His passions were naturally so strong, and his temper so remarkably quick, that they sometimes hurried him into difficulties from which he was not easily extricated. It was frequently remarked of him, as a singularity, that he was neither concerned in traffic, nor in the habit of accepting douceurs, which was too frequently the case with other officers of His Catholic Majesty in Louisiana. He was fond of show and parade, in which he indulged to the great injury of his fortune, and not a little to his reputation as a good paymaster. . . . He was a tender husband, an affectionate parent, and a good master.” (Ellicott’s Journal.) Gayoso married a Miss Watts, of New Orleans, following the example of Galvez, Miro and Piernas.

In July, 1792, then being lieutenant-colonel of the Louisiana regiment, he was appointed commandant and governor of the Natchez district, a position he held until promoted to Governor-general of the provinces of Louisiana and West Florida, in which office he was installed August 1, 1797. During his administration of Natchez and its dependencies, he was entrusted with the important mission to New Madrid, in 1795, involving negotiations with the Kentuckians supposed to be willing to separate from the United States. He made treaties with the Chickasaws and Choctaws, and in general had extensive powers over the region now known as Mississippi and East Tennessee. While yet governor at Natchez he was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general in the royal armies. He enjoyed the respect and esteem of a large number of the most intelligent inhabitants, says Wailes. “He appears to have been just and upright in his administration and to have 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 were executed or commenced under his orders.” On his plantation, two miles front the fort, he built the famous home known as Concord, much of the material for which was imported front Spain. After his death the place was sold to Stephen Minor. Only a few years ago (1900) the historic mansion was destroyed by fire.

Gayoso died at New Orleans. July 18, 1799, in the forty-eighth year of his age. “Ile died extremely poor, leaving nothing to his heirs but a large amount of debts. He was a spendthrift in the full sense of the word.” (Gayarre.) The same historian of Louisiana intimates that the convivialities of his recent entertainment of Gen. Wilkinson, predisposed him to the fatal disease. which Intendant Morales reported to Madrid was “a malignant fever. of the nature of those which prevail in this country during the summer, and the dangerous character of which was known only a few hours before it terminated fatally.” The Intendant added, “the general had no time to lose in fulfilling the last duties of a Christian, and making his testamentary dispositions, and joining with himself in a reciprocal pardon for their fallings-out.”

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