Santa First

It feels sort of stupid to even go over all of this on a history blog because of course we all know the history of this country we call home. There was a settlement at Jamestown (RIP) and then the Pilgrims arrived and ate with the Indians, and then slowly but surely expanded South and West until they got to California and called it a day. Um, duh.

That’s why it makes perfect sense that the first capital city in what we now call the United States was Santa Fe, part of modern New Mexico.

I’m just kidding, that doesn’t make any sense, like how Charleston, South Carolina is latitudinally further south than Atlanta, Georgia. (What a country we live in.)

But I’m not lying. Santa Fe was founded 13 years before the Pilgrims even set foot on the Mayflower, and had a bumping little local economy with a hotel, public buildings and a non-indigenous government.

Palace of the Governors, the oldest public building in the United States.

Most U.S. history is taught with a British-centric view of the world, with a dash of France-Wanted-Canada thrown in. But we often forget about the other end of the continent.

Spain had already captured a swath of territory in Mexico when the conquistadores moved north. In 1609, Santa Fe was declared the capital of the Spanish Kingdom of New Mexico. It was governed by Don Pedro de Peralta, who had one thing in common with his British pals across the continent: he would stop at nothing to subjugate the Native Americans already living on the land.


The Pueblo Indians of the region numbered 100,000. There were 2,500 Spanish colonizers living in Santa Fe. In 1680, after decades of trying to enslave and re-educate the indigenous people, they lost the battle. The Pueblo people killed 400 of the Spaniards and drove the rest back to Mexico. They burned most of the city to the ground (except the Palace of the Governors, which stands today as the oldest public building in the United States.) Through this, the Pueblo people proved the old adage: first is the worst.

In 1692, the city was reclaimed by the Spanish and they formed a peaceful alliance with the Pueblo Indians. Santa Fe began to grow and prosper, and when Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, it became the capital of the province of New Mexico. Then, in 1846, after the Mexican-American War, Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ceding New Mexico and California to the United States.


A little-known but all too real consequence of that treaty was that it took Philadelphia down a few notches. No longer could Philadelphia claim to be the first capital city in the United States. It could still claim to be the first capital city of the United States, which is, I suppose, probably more important. If you’re taking the AP History Exam, and they ask you for the first capital of the United States, please say Philadelphia and move on with it. If you’re at a party and someone starts talking about the Eastern Seaboard with a bit too much confidence, feel free to whip out this party fact.

Not impressed.

Because long before the United States was even a few settlements on the coast, Santa Fe was a bustling metropolis, enslaving Native Americans and making turquoise jewelry. And they deserve the credit for starting those questionable traditions and lovely fashion statements.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s