More to Explore

Pedro de Peralta

In late January 1610, Don Pedro de Peralta reached New Mexico’s first capital city, La Villa de San Gabriel, located on the west bank of the Rio Grande, opposite San Juan Pueblo. Peralta’s origins remain obscure but he was appointed by the viceroy to succeed Juan de Oñate, New Mexico’s first governor and founder. Peralta carried instruction from Mexico City to move the provincial capital to a better location. Spanish officials considered Oñates’ capital of San Gabriel too far north, where it remained removed from the center of the Pueblo villages scattered south along the Rio Grande. Oñate had already considered moving the capital, and in 1608 he wrote to Mexico City indicating that he planned to relocate settlers to the Santa Fe River valley. The formal and legal founding of Santa Fe was finally carried out during the governorship of Peralta.

Peralta and his surveyor laid out a plan for the new capital, which included several districts, and a public square for the casas reales (government buildings). Peralta had been instructed specifically by the viceroy for the new villa to elect a cabildo (town council); demarcate municipal boundaries; assign house and garden plots to citizens; and select a site for the plaza and casas reales which would contain offices for royal officials, a jail, arsenal storage, a chapel, and the headquarters for Governor Peralta. The new site lay close to a regular source of water, had ample land for cultivation, offered a more defensible vantage, and had no Pueblo Indians living in its immediate vicinity. At the old capital, settlers had to deal with a scarcity of farmlands due to preexisting land claims by the villagers of San Juan.

Under Spanish law, any male citizen who founded a new community had the right to give it an official name. But when Peralta arrived in New Mexico, he noticed that a small settlement called Santa Fe existed, possibly named for the town of the same name in southern Spain. ”Nueva Granada” was an alternate name for New Mexico during its first century of existence as a Spanish colony. So naming New Mexico’s capital Santa Fe (Holy Faith) in honor of the Spanish city located in Granada may have seemed perfectly logical to Spanish officials.

Spanish officials also assigned Peralta with defending New Mexico, restoring respect for Spanish rule, consolidating Natives groups where possible, and constructing a more permanent settlement. The new capital of Santa Fe offered several advantages for Spanish settlers.

Governor Peralta remained in office until 1613. His administration was highlighted by several disputes with the Franciscan Fray Isidro Ordóñez. The friar accused Peralta of malfeasance concerning his duties as governor and in his dealings with the Native population. For these alleged wrongdoings Ordóñez excommunicated the governor, and posted notice of Peralta’s removal on the doors of the church in Santa Fe. This war of wills between the two continued when Ordóñez and his followers had Peralta arrested, chained, and thrown into a cell. Ordóñez was left to rule New Mexico unfettered. When the new governor arrived in New Mexico in 1614, ex-governor Peralta was forbidden from leaving the colony for some time, and allowed to only after Ordóñez and the new governor confiscated most of Peralta’s possessions. Peralta left New Mexico, returning to Mexico City where he told his side of the Ordóñez saga. After a lengthy investigation, the Mexican Inquisition ordered Ordóñez to Mexico City where he was reprimanded and Peralta was finally vindicated.


Sources Used:

Bennett, Charles. “The Establishment of New Mexico’s Capital at Santa Fe.” The Santa Fe Magazine, June 1991, 35–37.

Bloom, Lansing B. “When was Santa Fe Founded?” New Mexico Historical Review IV, no. 2 (1929): 188–194.

Kessel, John L. Kiva, Cross and Crown: The Pecos Indians and New Mexico, 1540-1840. Washington D.C.: Department of Interior, National Park Service, 1979, 93-99.

Scholes, France B. “Civil Government and Society in New Mexico in the Seventeenth Century.” New Mexico Historical Review X, no. 2 (1935): 71–111.

Simmons, Marc. New Mexico: An Interpretive History. New York: Norton, 1977, 44.

Simmons, Marc., 2004.