Bernardo Bonavía y Zapata, Knight of Alcántara and field marshal, entered the service of the king of Spain in 1758. In 1786 he was appointed governor of Texas but, because his services were needed elsewhere, did not serve. In Mexico, Bonavía first served as corregidor (chief magistrate) of the district of Mexico and in 1796 became governor of Nueva Vizcaya (principally the modern states of Durango and Chihuahua) served in that capacity until 1809, when he was appointed military commander of Texas. He had previously been ordered to Texas in 1806 with the governors of Nuevo León and Coahuila but was unable to join them since he was urgently needed in Durango. Bonavía had played an important role in putting the liberal reforms of Charles III in trade and commerce into effect in Mexico and worked to see those reforms placed in operation in the provinces, especially in Texas.
On his arrival in Texas he requested all ranking officials to present written statements of their views on defense and development of the province. On the basis of these reports and his own observations he recommended to Nemesio Salcedo y Salcedo, commandant general of the Provincias Internas, that frontier defenses be strengthened immediately. Bonavía also called a meeting of the governors of Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Texas to discuss measures for the development of Texas; he forwarded the recommendations of the group, particularly for free trade and immigration, to the commandant general on June 28, 1809. On July 20, 1809, Bonavía called a second meeting to consider establishing direct water communication between Texas and Veracruz and the opening of a free-trade port. When Salcedo did not approve their plan to open the Port of San Bernard, Bonavía warned that if conditions of trade and commerce in Texas were not remedied, the time would soon come when the colonists would take things into their own hands. He also recommended, unsuccessfully, that the decree of May 30, 1804, calling for the reorganization of presidios into provincial regiments for defense, be put into effect.
In late 1810 Bonavía returned to Durango to suppress a revolt. As Salcedo’s second in command, Bonavía was among the most experienced royal officers on the northern frontier and, when a long-debated division of the Interior Provinces was finally carried out following Salcedo’s retirement in 1813, he was appointed commandant for the Western Interior Provinces. The viceroy’s confidence in Bonavía’s abilities was such that in instructions on forming a joint command to counter foreign aggression should the need arise, the viceroy ordered that Bonavía be in overall command rather than Joaquín Arredondo, the commandant general of the Eastern Interior Provinces. Bonavía retired with the rank of field marshal in 1817 and returned to Spain the following year. He should not be confused with the Bernardo Bonavia who was a Spanish officer killed in Oaxaca during the Hidalgo Revolt.