On Friday, March 22, 1839, 45-year-old Spanish-born Manuel Alvarez was named U.S. Consul at Santa Fe. He was effectively the first American consul in New Mexico—the one appointed in 1825 had decamped to Chihuahua within the year.
As consul, Alvarez was responsible for dealing with American mercantile matters and also taking provisional possession of the estates of Americans who died without legal representation and sending word of their death back home. In addition, he voiced the concerns of Americans in the region, an activity that didn’t always make him popular with the governor.
Alvarez had been a merchant in New Mexico since 1824 and was comfortable complaining to the authorities. In July 1837, he’d signed on to a complaint to Governor Pérez about a confrontation between a group of Americans and some Mexican soldiers. After Pérez’s death the following month, Alvarez was one of the merchants who petitioned the Mexican government for repayment of loans made to the governor and his officials.
The real test of Alvarez’s ability to get things done came in September 1841, two-and-a-half years after he was named consul. Three hundred Texans, two-thirds of them soldiers, were marching toward Santa Fe and it was making everyone nervous. Some people believed the American merchants in New Mexico supported the Texan plan to take it over. Threats were made.
Alvarez asked for formal assurance that the Americans would be protected from angry citizens. Governor Manuel Armijo responded that they would be—as long as no one gave aid to the Texans. If anyone did, Alvarez would be held personally responsible.
This warning doesn’t seem to have slowed the consul down much. When the Expedition members arrived and were taken into custody, he offered to act as intermediary, noting that the Republic of Texas had been recognized by the United States, but not by Mexico.
He also requested permission to meet with the American citizens among the Texans. He may have been especially concerned for the safety of George Wilkins Kendall. As publisher of a New Orleans newspaper that had printed disparaging articles about New Mexico in general and Armijo in particular, Kendall was likely to be unpopular with the governor and his associates.
Certainly, Alvarez’s concerns made him unpopular. In fact, the Governor’s shirt-tail relation Ensign Tomás Martín was so irritated that he and a group of friends confronted the consul in his Santa Fe office. During the ensuing altercation, Martín drew a knife and wounded Alvarez on the cheek. Alvarez likely would have suffered further if fellow merchant and New Mexico Secretary of State Guadalupe Miranda hadn’t arrived and dispersed the crowd.
Alvarez fled Santa Fe shortly thereafter, going East to report to Washington D.C. But he returned to New Mexico and his duties, maintaining his position as consul until the American takeover in 1846. At that point, the position was no longer necessary. But Alvarez didn’t turn to mere money making. He became active in regional politics and in 1850 was elected New Mexico’s Lt. Governor. He was also active in the faction that fought for New Mexico to be made a state instead of a territory.
Alvarez continued to be active politically until his August 1856 death in Santa Fe. The consul before him may have left quickly, but Alvarez, for all his faults, appears to have been committed to New Mexico. Or at least the Americans there.
Sources: William Campbell Binkley, “New Mexico and the Texan Santa Fé Expedition,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 27:2, Oct. 1923, pp. 85-107; Lansing Bloom, “Ledgers of a Santa Fe Trader,” New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 21, April 1946, pp. 135-139; Lansing Bloom, “Texan Aggressions, 1841-1843,” Old Santa Fe Magazine, Vol. 2, pp. 143-156; Thomas Esteban Chavez, “The Trouble With Texans, Manuel Alvarez and the 1841 ‘Invasion,’” New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 53:2, April 1978, pp. 133-144; Janet Lecompte, “Manuel Armijo, George Wilkins Kendall, and the Baca-Caballero Conspiracy,” New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 59:1, Jan. 1984, pp. 49-66; Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Rio Arriba, University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque, 1985; Max L. Moorhead, New Mexico’s Royal Road, University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 1958; Joy L. Poole, Ed., Over The Santa Fe Trail to Mexico: The Travel Diaries and Autobiography of Dr. Rowland Willard, University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 2015; Benjamin M. Read, Illustrated History of New Mexico, New Mexican Printing Company: Albuquerque, 1912; Daniel Tyler, “Gringo Views of Governor Manuel Armijo,” New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 45:1, Jan. 1970, pp 23-46; David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846, University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque, 1982; Consular duties: https://adst.org/a-brief-history-of-the-consular-service/ accessed 1/18/22)