Antonio Jose Martinez
A controversial figure within the Catholic Church, Father Antonio Jose Martinez fought his entire adult life for the rights of people whose plight aroused his passion—Mexicans, Native Americans, slaves, and the poor.
Martinez was born in the village of Abiquiu and was raised in the town of Taos, in the territory of Nuevo Mexico (New Mexico), which was then part of Mexico. He married at the age of nineteen, but his wife died during childbirth. The daughter that she gave birth to died some time later.Despondent, Martinez entered a seminary.
He was ordained a few years later, and in 1826, he was appointed rector of the parish in his hometown of Taos, where he remained the rest of his life.Martinez quickly established himself as a civic leader and a champion of nuevo mexicanos (New Mexicans of Mexican descent).
He estab¬ lished a preparatory school, seminary, and college at his rectory, which catered to the brightest students in the area. He used much of the wealth that he inherited from his father to acquire scarce educational materials for his poor students. In particular, he bought the first printing press to be purchased west of the Mississippi River, and he used it to publish religious and nonreligious texts.
He studied law and became a deputy in the territorial legislature, becoming one of its most prominent members. He spoke out against unpopular taxes, and his remarks were believed to have caused an uprising against the Mexican government in 1837. Martinez was also accused of inciting a Native American rebellion the following year.
Martinez was a staunch foe of the encroach¬ ing culture of the United States. He denounced the slaughter of bison and the issuing of large land grants to U.S. settlers. His anti- American sentiments led to accusations that he also incited insurrections against U.S.forces, although no evidence was ever pro¬ duced to confirm the allegations.
He continued his involvement in politics after the United States won the war with Mexico in 1848 and took over the territory of Nuevo Mexico. He actively participated in the New Mexico statehood convention and went on to serve in the new state assembly, eventually becoming its president. He also became an abolitionist and an advocate for the rights of Native Americans.
In the 1830s, Martinez became involved in a dispute with his superior, the new bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, a Frenchman who believed all Mexicans needed to be more rigidly civilized. The clash led to Martinez’s excommunication from the Catholic Church. He ignored the punishment, however, and continued to preach to his own followers until his death.