Sunday, May 14, 2006

RefQ: The Founding of Santa Fe

This is a fairly frequent reference question: someone will call up and ask for the exact date Santa Fe was founded. (We think the purpose of the question is astrological...) Would that there were a firm answer! The only firm fact is not the one they want: according to city records, Santa Fe was incorporated on 17th June, 1891. As to when the Spanish established a settlement here and founded the city, not even the year is certain. The city emblem says 1610. The Place Names of New Mexico (revised edition, 1998), mirroring other scholars, says that in 1609 Don Pedro de Peralta began moving the colony from San Gabriel to "an abandoned Indian pueblo" on the present site of Santa Fe, and since the move took some time, 1610 is the accepted date; but mentions that "an obscure conquistador named Juan Martinez de Montoya may have established a plaza there as early as 1608."

Well, yeah. The date moved back and back again in the last decade or so based on letters found in an archive in London (1)(2)(3)(4). Juan Martinez de Montoya established a settlement he called 'Plaza de Santa Fe' here apparently well before 1608. In ?1605? As Tom Chavez said, "Could it be that Santa Fe was founded when Oñate was away discovering the South Sea, in 1605? Is that possible? Yes, it is. So, from those documents, Santa Fe was founded at the latest 1607, and maybe as early as 1605, before Jamestown." That would leave only St. Augustine (1565) as an older permanent settlement of Europeans in the New World.

Not everyone acknowledges the new information. "Despite debate, Santa Fe's founding date as the seat of the Spanish colonial province remains 1610" says a 2004 article. On the other hand, even the Virtual Jamestown timeline gives us 1605. The City's emblem still says 1610 but it's wrong; and the State's tourism web site (wrong); and the file card in our 'Hard-to-Find' File (wrong).

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