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Territorial Governor Henry Connelly

Born in 1800 in Nelson (now Spencer) County, Kentucky, the son of John Donaldson and Frances (Brent) Connelly. A Roman Catholic of Irish ancestry, Connelly was married in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1838 to a Mexican woman, by whom he was the father of three sons, including Peter. Following the death of his first wife, he married a widow, Delores Perea, in the late 1840s, by whom he was the father of three children.

After attending county schools, Connelly attended Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, where he received a medical degree in 1828. He practiced medicine for a few months in Liberty, Clay County, Missouri, but he soon left with a trading party for Santa Fe and Chihuahua. In the latter city he became a clerk in a store, buying out the owner in 1830. Connelly was engaged in trade between Independence, Missouri and Chihuahua for several years, and formed a partnership in that trade with Edward J. Glasgow in 1842. He served in August 1846 as an intermediary between General Stephen Watts Kearny and Governor Manuel Armijo during the transfer of New Mexico to the United States. Connelly moved in the late 1840s to Peralta, New Mexico, where he operated an extremely successful trading business. He was elected in 1851 from Bernalillo County to the upper house, the Territorial Council, and held that office through most of the decade.

President Abraham Lincoln named Connelly Governor on September 4, 1861. A strong Unionist, Connelly demanded and achieved in December 1861 the repeal of the Slave Act of 1859, which protected slavery in the territory. In March 1862 he had to abandon Santa Fe to advancing Confederate forces from Texas led by General Henry H. Sibley. With considerable support from the governor, however, Union forces defeated Confederate troops at Peralta, and the enemy left New Mexico in April 1862.

With the end of the Confederate threat, Connelly turned his attention to the Indians, taking an extremely harsh attitude to the Native Americans. He offered them the choice of life on the reservation or death, and followed a systematic program of starvation. Many of the Navajo, Gila Apache, and Mescalero Apache sent to the reservation at Bosque Redondo died during the bad harvest year of 1865.

Connelly was ill during a good part of his governorship, and from the fall of 1862 until May 1863 he left the territory in an attempt to recuperate. In his absence, Territorial Secretary William F.M. Arny served as Acting Governor. Connelly finally retired as chief executive on July 16, 1866. He died on August 12 of that year at Santa Fe of an opium overdose, and was buried in the San Rosario Cemetery in Santa Fe.

Sources Used:

Ralph Emerson Twitchell, The Leading Facts of New Mexico History (Cedar Rapids, Ia., 1917).

William I. Waldrip, "New Mexico during the Civil War," unpub. master’s thesis, University of New Mexico, 1950.

Calvin Horn, New Mexico’s Troubled Years: The Story of the Early Territorial Governors (Albuquerque, 1963).

Lawrence R. Murphy, Frontier Crusader: William F.M. Arny (Tuscon, 1972). DAB.