THE FIRST SAN MIGUEL
Chichimeca San Miguel
There are signs suggesting that first settlers arrived in San Miguel de Allende about 2000 years ago and that they prospered thanks to agriculture. However, about a thousand years ago, they abandoned their colonies, leaving them in the hands of nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes, known as Chichimecas. One of this tribes, the Copuces, had a reputation of being very violent, even among the battle-hardened Aztecs.
Spaniards also avoided meeting with these tribes until the discovery of silver in Guanajuato and Zacatecas forced them to find a route to Mexico City for the mines through Chichimeca lands. They began by sending a Franciscan friar, Fray Juan de San Miguel, to convert and pacify the natives. This was not an easy task. However, by 1542, he had managed to build a church (San Miguel Arcángel) and establish a mission he called San Miguel de los Chichimecas.
His success lasted very little. In 1551, the Copuces invaded the mission and Fray Juan successor, Fray Bernardo de Cossín, moved the colony to a more defensible place a few kilometers away, which is the location of current San Miguel de Allende.
The conditions were not easy, and in 1555 the Spanish Crown fortified the place, calling it "Villa", and undertook its repopulation —especially by soldiers. The government gave it the name of Villa de San Miguel el Grande and, for many reasons, this was going to be the turning point.
For the next 250 years, the village became a thriving center of livestock production, leather work, wool and tools. By 1770 San Miguel el Grande had a population of 30,000 inhabitants. It grew with an extraordinary speed, and in 1790 its population was already of 50,000 inhabitants —twice the size of New York City at that time— and it was still growing. What could stop this? Yes: war could.