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Photograph of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History Historical Marker for Fort Nogales. This marker is located on old Highway 61 near the Vicksburg National Military Park. Courtesy of Brother Rogers, Mississippi Historical Markers, https://www.mississippimarkers.com.

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Plan of Nogales by George Henri Collot. Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Map Collection, call no. MA/81.0002(a).

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Color lithograph created by George Catlin in 1844 depicting Native American men and boys playing a game similar to lacrosse, near Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division, LC-USZC4-4810 (color film copy transparency) and LC-USZCN4-371 (color film copy neg.).

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Photograph of Concordia in Natchez, home of Spanish governor Manuel Gayoso de Lemos (photograph date unknown).

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Rattlesnake, Very Dangerous, Each Rattle on the Tail Marking One Year of Life. Drawing by Dumont de Montigny, Jean-Françoise-Benjamin. Vault oversize Ayer MS 257, figure no. 9. Courtesy The Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois.

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Feature Story

A Choctaw Chief and a Spanish Governor: Franchimastabé and Manuel Gayoso de Lemos

In early 1791, a significant dispute brought together the leaders of two very different cultures, both of whom were seeking a peaceful settlement. The dispute centered on a place that the Spanish called “Nogales” --- a name derived from the Spanish word nogal (walnut tree). Before the Spanish, the British named the area “Walnut Hills” because of the many walnut trees they found growing there. Today, we know the site principally by the name of the city --- Vicksburg, which is located on the Mississippi River immediately south of the point where another river, the Yazoo, flows into it.

In 1791, the Spanish governor of the Natchez District, with the approval of his superior in New Orleans, the governor general of the province of Louisiana and West Florida, made a decision to establish a military post (Fort Nogales) near the mouth of the Yazoo. The Spanish officials believed the land to be Spanish territory according to the terms of the peace settlement that concluded the American Revolution. Their objective was to prevent a projected settlement sponsored by the South Carolina Yazoo Company that also claimed the land in question.

Fort Nogales

After the post’s newly appointed commandant, Elías Beauregard, and the recently appointed governor, Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, visited the Nogales site, they received a letter from two Choctaw chiefs, Franchimastabé and Taboca, protesting the establishment of the fort. The letter was written in English, most likely by trader Turner Brashears from Maryland who migrated to the region sometime during the American Revolution and who, along with other traders, was concerned that Nogales might become another trading post for the expanding operations of another trader, William Panton, whose company had acquired exclusive rights from the Spanish to trade with both the Choctaws and the Chickasaws. Earlier, Brashears created kinship ties and further trading opportunities with the Choctaw leaders by marrying a daughter of Taboca, who may have also been Franchimastabé’s niece. Referring to Gayoso in the letter as “my father,” Franchimastabé and Taboca asked why he had taken “our land,” meaning the land of the Choctaws and the Chickasaws, and stated that they had always regarded Gayoso as their friend.

More than a year of talks and negotiations followed, led by Gayoso for the Spanish and a number of Choctaw and Chickasaw chiefs, including Franchimastabé. A major congress attended by over three hundred Native Americans, mainly Choctaws, assembled in Natchez in the spring of 1792. The meetings lasted for more than a week and concluded with the signing of a treaty allowing the Spanish to establish the proposed post, the distribution of gifts by the Spanish to the Native Americans, and an native ball game that Gayoso described “as one of the most splendid that has ever been seen.” Another major congress met the following year at Nogales and was attended by Choctaws, Chickasaws, and a number of Creeks. The Nogales assembly produced another treaty which created, at least on paper, a confederation of these major Native American groups and the Spanish for the purpose of deterring American expansion into the region.

A Choctaw chief and a Spanish governor

The remainder of this article will focus on two major participants in these meetings, Choctaw chief Franchimastabé and the Spanish governor Gayoso. Franchimastabé emerged in the late eighteenth century as a major chief in the western division of Choctaws. The record of his life as a peace chief provides insight into the political and economic changes in the Gulf South and lower Mississippi River valley brought about by sustained contact among Native American, European, and African cultures in the last half of the eighteenth century. Franchimastabé developed considerable political skill in exploiting rival French, British, Spanish, and American interests in the area in order to advance his own. Other Choctaw chiefs also took advantage of the presence of multiple European and American interests in the region. A French official described the Choctaws in the early 1730s as “many little republics” in which each, with at least one chief, “does as it likes.” As the events of the 1780s and 1790s reveal, Franchimastabé often found himself in competition with and sometimes isolated from other important Choctaw chiefs, who desired European and American goods that they could distribute as a way to enhance their authority as chiefs.

Franchimastabé

The earliest written evidence of Franchimastabé emerged in the 1760s toward the end a conflict between the British and the French known as the Seven-Years War or the French and Indian War, its North American phase. His title, “Franchimastabé,” suggests that he established himself as a model, Choctaw male by committing violence in war, the hunt, or even a ball game. His name, or title, has sometimes been translated as “he who killed a French man.” During the French and Indian War, Franchimastabé became an important ally for the British. John Stuart, the British superintendent of Indian affairs in the region, sent a letter to Franchimastabé, addressing him as a “friend and brother” and expressing continued dependence on his friendship. Two years later, Franchimastabé led a party of Choctaws up the Mississippi River to assist the British in the establishment of a post at the mouth of the Missouri River. Continuing the French practice of creating hierarchy among Native American chiefs, the British awarded Franchimastabé with the title of small medal chief.

The American Revolution afforded Franchimastabé more opportunities to sustain British confidence and to secure trade goods for distribution among his people, thereby fulfilling a major expectation of all chiefs. By the end of that conflict, he defined himself in the minds of some as “the English chief.” In 1777, he attended a major congress in Mobile called by Stuart to secure Choctaw approval of boundaries for a Natchez District. The next year, he recruited about 150 Choctaw warriors to help the British defend Natchez from American attacks following a raid led by former Natchez resident, James Willing. After Spain entered the American Revolution in 1779 on the side of the Americans, Franchimastabé led a force two years later to help the British resist a Spanish expedition against Pensacola.

In the years that followed, Franchimastabé continued to play the role of peace chief. He used trade and diplomacy as a means to secure the goods he needed to meet the expectations and needs of his people. As noted earlier, his kinship ties with Brashears proved important. Following the American Revolution, Spain emerged as the only major European group in the area. This dynamic, within the context of British withdrawal, provided both challenges and opportunities to Franchimastabé and other chiefs as they attempted to play the Spanish against the Americans to secure favorable trade arrangements, a regular supply of gifts, and support to resist encroachment onto their lands by the newly formed United States. In 1784, Franchimastabé, along with over two thousand other Choctaws and Chickasaws, attended a congress held by the Spanish in Mobile where they signed a treaty of friendship and commerce. In 1787, he hosted a meeting in his village of West Yazoo where he and other chiefs complained that the Spanish breached the terms of the trade agreement reached in Mobile. He received assurances from representatives of the Spanish governor that the problems would be remedied. After that meeting, Franchimastabé agreed to exchange his English medals for medals from the Spanish government. In the meantime, Taboca and other Choctaws broke ranks by agreeing to a treaty with the United States to secure American goods.

Manuel Gayoso de Lemos

In 1787, Manuel Gayoso de Lemos was appointed both military commandant and civil governor for the Natchez District. Although populated mainly by people of Anglo-American and African origin, the Natchez area attained, in the view of historian Jay Gitlin, something of a cosmopolitan and Creole character with its population originating from many, varied cultures. Given his background and education, Gayoso proved to be an excellent choice for this position. Born in Oporto, Portugal, where his father served as the Spanish consul, he spent time in England learning classical languages, such as Latin and possibly Greek. Gayoso was fluent in both English and French, a valuable asset for living and working in Natchez, and later New Orleans, another city with a diverse population.

Gayoso’s American biographer, Jack D. L. Holmes, related the following story concerning Gayoso’s linguistic versatility. In 1796, a young Philip Dodridge, the well-educated son of an early Virginia settler, walked up the road from Natchez-under-the Hill toward the town itself without a permit to do so. The Spanish government, according to one report, prohibited strangers or boatmen from entering the town without written permission from the commandant or governor. That prohibition, however, did not extend to substantial, respectable, and desirable visitors such as Dodridge. When he reached the halfway point on the bluff, Dodridge was met by a well-dressed gentleman who addressed him in Spanish. Dodridge did not understand all that was said, but finding Spanish similar to Latin (which he knew well), replied in that language. To his surprise, the Spaniard answered in perfect Latin and introduced himself as the governor, Manuel Gayoso de Lemos.

Before his Natchez assignment, Gayoso served an extensive tour of duty in the Spanish military, impressing Estevan Miró who reported that Gayoso stood out for his conduct and impressive knowledge of languages. Miró later served as governor of Louisiana and West Florida, which contained the Natchez District. In 1787, Gayoso received the dual appointment of military commandant and civil governor of the Natchez District, but he did not arrive in the city until 1789.

Shortly after Gayoso assumed his post, Miró left and was replaced by François Louis Héctor, Baron de Carondelet as governor. Gayoso travelled to New Orleans in January of 1791 to brief Carondelet about the ongoing Nogales dispute and the events of the previous year. Gayoso later prepared a lengthy written essay on Louisiana and the challenges presented by the United States. These efforts helped convince Carondelet of the need for good relations among the native groups and their chiefs and, more specifically, the creation of some sort of confederation of these groups with the Spanish.

Much of Gayoso’s time was spent entertaining visiting native delegations, including some Cherokees, who opted not to attend the Nogales meeting due to perceived American threats. Keeping the royal warehouse well-stocked with goods to distribute to the visiting native dignitaries was a priority for Gayoso. Between 1790 and 1797, a house on the bluff was constructed by Gayoso’s adjutant, Stephen Minor, who came to Natchez from Pennsylvania. Named “Concordia,” this structure served as the Government House.

Treaty of San Lorenzo

The last two years of Gayoso’s time in Natchez (1795-1797) were occupied by securing another Spanish post on the “Chickasaw Bluffs” north of Nogales. The Spanish named that post San Fernando de las Barrancas in honor of the patron saint of Fernando, heir to the Spanish throne at the time. Today, the city of Memphis occupies this site. As a Choctaw, Franchimastabé was not involved in this endeavor. A Chickasaw chief known as Ugulayacabé emerged as a friend of the Spanish among the Chickasaws and worked hard to secure limited Chickasaw approval for the new post. Neither Nogales nor the Chickasaw Bluffs post remained in Spanish hands long. In late 1795, officials in Spain agreed to a treaty with the United States by which Spain accepted the thirty-first parallel as the southern boundary of the United States.

Between 1795 and 1798, posts such as Nogales, Chickasaw Bluffs, Natchez, and others had to be abandoned by the Spanish. The transfer of territory to the United States distressed local chiefs such as Ugulayacabé, who came to San Fernando and delivered a harangue arguing that the Spanish had abandoned the Chickasaws to the Americans like “small animals to the claws of tigers and the jaws of wolves.” Ugulayacabé also compared the behavior of Americans to a rattlesnake that “caresses the squirrel in order to devour it.”

Gayoso’s last major enterprise in Natchez before leaving to replace Carondelet in New Orleans in 1798 consisted of managing the peaceful delivery of Natchez to the Americans. Early that year, Andrew Ellicott and other American representatives arrived to begin a survey of the border. Ellicott soon angered many locals by raising an American flag in Natchez prior to the formal transfer. Choctaws were among those angered by that action and, like many Chickasaws, by the decision of the Spanish to abandon them. Gayoso’s diplomatic and political skills were frequently tested within the climate of this exchange of governmental authority. He moved to his new post in New Orleans where he contracted yellow fever and died in 1799.

Like Gayoso, Franchimastabé suffered a serious challenge to his position and indeed, his life following Spain’s agreement to the 1795 Treaty of San Lorenzo (also known as Pinckney’s Treaty) and withdrawal south of the thirty-first parallel. As expressed by Ugulayacabé, the Chickasaws and Choctaws rightfully felt betrayed and threatened by the transfer of the Natchez District to the United States. That feeling, combined with Franchimastabé’s age, envy of his ability to attract goods from Europeans, and perhaps the need felt by younger male warriors to assert themselves, led to a plot to assassinate him. The plot failed, and Franchimastabé lived until early 1801. In an expression of regret at his death, Winthrop Sargent, the governor of the newly created Mississippi Territory, described Franchimastabé as a “universal friend.”

Charles A. Weeks is an adjunct professor of history at Mississippi College. He received his Ph.D. with specialty in Latin American history from Indiana University, and he is the author of Paths to a Middle Ground: The Diplomacy of Natchez, Boukfouka, Nogales, and San Fernando de las Barrancas, 1791-1795, and The Juárez Myth in Mexico. He is also the co-author of a forthcoming book on the colonial history of Mississippi which is part of the Heritage of Mississippi Series.

Posted April 2018

Sources and suggested readings:

Barnett, James F., Jr. Mississippi’s American Indians. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012.

Carson, James Taylor. Searching for the Bright Path: The Mississippi Choctaws from Prehistory to Removal. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

Dumont de Montigny, Jean-Françoise-Benjamin. The Memoir of Lieutenant Dumont, 1715-1747. Translated by Gordon M. Sayre. Edited by Gordon M. Sayre and Carla Zecher. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.

Galloway, Patricia K., ed. Native, European, and African Cultures in Mississippi, 1500-1800. Jackson: Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 1991.

Gitlin, Jay. “Crossroads on the Chinaberry Coast: Natchez and the Creole World of the Mississippi Valley.” Journal of Mississippi History 54 (November 1992): 365-84.

Holmes, Jack D. L. Gayoso: The Life of a Spanish Governor in the Mississippi Valley 1789-1799. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1965.

O’Brien, Greg. Choctaws in a Revolutionary Age, 1750-1830. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.

Weeks, Charles A. Paths to a Middle Ground: Natchez, Boukfouca, Nogales, and San Fernando de las Barrancas. Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 2005

Weeks, Charles A. “Of Rattlesnakes, Wolves, and Tigers: A Harangue at the Chickasaw Bluffs 1796.” William and Mary Quarterly 57 (June 2010): 487-518.

Other Mississippi History Now articles:

Manuel Gayoso and Spanish Natchez

Free People of Color in Colonial Natchez (1700-1798)

Mississippi Under British Rule – British West Florida

Chickasaws: The Unconquerable People

Mississippi’s Territorial Years: A Momentous and Contentious Affair (1798-1817)

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