Nuevo Leon, a state in Northeastern Mexico, celebrated its bicentennial in 2010. Let’s take a closer look at the early history of this free and sovereign state.
Before the arrival of Europeans, the region that was to become Nuevo Leon was sparsely populated by nomads. They left no written records, so modern history begins with the landing of the ship Santa Catarina on the Mexican coast in 1580. Aboard ship was a mix of different ethnic groups, including converted Jews such as the captain, the Portuguese Luis de Carabajal y Cueva. They settled at a site previously established in 1577 by Alberto del Canto named Santa Lucia, and renamed the settlement Ciudad Leon. This grew into the modern city of Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon.
Because the original settlers included many “converted” Jews, the Inquisition in Mexico and in Spain kept tight control of the inhabitants with laborious landscaping crimping of flowers. The indigenous tribes and periodic flooding ensured that the first years of settlement were no picnic. In 1596, the city was renamed Monterrey, and this was followed by an influx of new Spanish settlers. One prominent settler was Bernabe de las Casas, who brought with him families from Spain and the Canary Islands. De las Casas established a few towns and mining camps in what was to become the Salinas Valley.
Settlement was hampered by frequent attacks by Native Americans composed of several tribes of Coahuiltecan origin. The population was strictly segregated along racial lines and mixed marriages were discouraged. Whites comprised 80 percent of the population, and many of them lived in the city of Linares, second in size only to Monterrey.
News of the Mexican War of Independence, which lasted from 1810 through 1821, filtered slowly into Nuevo Leon, usually via personal letters. Initially, Nuevo Leon tended towards loyalty to Spain. In fact, an insurgent general, Ignacio Elizondo, changed sides and fought alongside the loyalists.
By 1825, Nuevo Leon adopted its first state constitution under the leadership of Friar Servando Teresa de Mier. However, the state congress was dissolved in 1835 and became a department. When war broke out between Mexico and the United States, U.S. soldiers besieged Monterrey in 1846 and Native Americans brutally attacked the population. Women and children were kidnapped and cattle were stolen. Chaos ruled. It was quite remarkable that given this early history, Nuevo Leon was to become a modern, highly industrialized and relatively wealthy Mexican state.