Although mainly a biography of a rather remarkable provincial administrator, this study makes some contribution to the subject of Spain’s declining power in North America and even more to state and local history. Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, an experienced diplomat who was conversant in four languages, was governor of the Natchez District from 1789 to 1797 and governor-general of Louisiana during the two remaining years of his life.

Holmes examines almost every aspect of Gayoso’s administrative problems, most of which seem to have involved the westward-expanding United States and the English-speaking residents of Spain’s territory along the Mississippi. The social life of the province, planning of towns, assignment of lands, administration of justice, regulation of trade, alliance with Indian nations, and especially the defense of the realm are all treated in some detail. In almost every instance the policies of Gayoso appear either justifiable or heroic. On his clandestine relations with James Wilkinson and the so-called “Spanish Conspiracy,” however, the author has shed more luster than light.

Although more meritorious as biography than as history, this book is quite imaginatively written and most assiduously researched. Relying principally on the rich Papeles Procedentes de Cuba in the AGI, Holmes has drawn on manuscript records from forty separate depositories in seven different countries.