Santa Fe, New Mexico, is the oldest established capital city in the United States. Founded in 1608 by Governor Pedro de Peralta on the site of a Native American ruin, the Villa Real de Santa Fe (the Royal City of the Holy Faith) served as the governmental, military, and cultural headquarters of the northern province of New Spain. In 1680 Native Americans living in pueblos in northern New Mexico revolted against the Spanish and drove them out of Santa Fe and New Mexico in the most successful uprising against European settlers in North American history. The Spanish, led by Don Diego de Vargas, reconquered Santa Fe in 1692 and reestablished it as the capital of New Mexico for Spain. In the eighteenth century Santa Fe remained on the periphery of the Spanish Empire, but Hispanics and Native Americans found ways to live peacefully in the capital. In 1776 Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante and Father Francisco Domínguez set off from Santa Fe to blaze an overland trail to Monterey, California. They abandoned their exploration in the badlands of Utah and returned to Santa Fe. In 1821 Mexico won its independence from Spain, and Santa Fe became the capital of the Mexican state of New Mexico.
According to the Spanish censuses in the eighteenth century, Santa Fe grew from a population of 1,285 in 1760 to 4,500 in 1799. As the capital of the colony, Santa Fe attracted settlers from Mexico as well as Native Americans from the nearby pueblos, from the Navajos and the Plains tribes, and from tribes in Mexico. Many mixed-heritage people also lived in Santa Fe.
From its founding in 1608 through the nineteenth century, Santa Fe served as the terminus of several important transcontinental trails. First, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (the Royal Road to the Interior Lands) connected the colony with the rest of the world. The 1,500-mile (1,900-km) trail from Mexico City to Santa Fe delivered immigrants, priests, governmental officials, and goods to the city. Even though Santa Fe was the major city on the northern frontier of New Spain, authorities forbade trade with the other European settlements to the east. In the contest for colonial territories, Spanish officials used Santa Fe and New Mexico as a buffer between New Spain and the French, British, and then the United States territories. After Mexican Independence in 1821, Mexican authorities allowed trade with the east, and William Becknell, a bankrupt farmer from Missouri, opened up the Santa Fe Trail. In addition to bringing immigrants and trade goods to the city, the Santa Fe Trail also was the route of con- quest taken by the United States Army during the Mexican American War in 1846. Santa Fe then became the capital of the United States territory of New Mexico in 1850.