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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Women’s History Month – Mariana Bonifay

Women’s History Month – Mariana Bonifay
Published Pensacola News Journal, Sun., Mar. 30, 2003.

Women`s History Month shouldn`t be allowed to slip by – as it`s about to do – without spotlighting Mariana Bonifay, a pioneering Pensacola businesswoman if ever there was one. Bonifay bought land, built houses and made money in Pensacola 200 years ago. And she did it all while raising 14 children – the count varies, but 14 seems the popular number – and that, mind you, before the days of Sesame Street and Mothers` Morning Out (not to mention some relevant medical advancements). The next time they bring a film festival to town, I think they should include a movie about Mariana. Besides being an adventurous and astute businesswoman, she fulfills another must-have for Hollywood scripts: the love angle. It`s almost certain that the “community of interests” – so described in her will – that she shared for 30 years or more with business partner Charles LaValle did not include a marriage certificate, although it did produce six or more of her children. One tidbit filmmakers aren`t likely to overlook: Historic accounts indicate she was carrying her third child by LaValle when she received word that her husband, Joseph Bonifay, had been killed the year before, in 1801. Mr. Bonifay, who was apparently in the military – perhaps the Spanish – hadn`t been heard from for several years. Mariana was born in France about 1760, married on the island of Santo Domingo and moved to then-Spanish ruled Pensacola about 1781, according to Pensacola Historical Society records. She bought a house on West Intendencia Street in 1784 – in her maiden name of Mariana Pingrow – for herself and then-five children. In 1790, to earn a livelihood, she formed the partnership with LaValle, a neighbor and carpenter, then about 18. She provided cash for lumber, apparently drawing on family means, and he built the homes for the town`s rapidly growing population (likely numbering about 600 by 1795) – colonization being encouraged by the Spanish government. Home lots were acquired through land grant or tax sales. One LaValle home, circa 1805, still stands, on Church Street. In 1807 the partners also invested in a brickyard, which in 1807 to 1808 turned out some 290,200 bricks, in three years netting $6,058 profit. The business climate was rough-hewn in Mariana Bonifay`s time. Pensacola was a frontier town, surrounded by sometimes- unfriendly Indians and flying under a different flag every 20 years or so. (Also lacking, needless to say, were today`s niceties of paved streets, indoor plumbing and e-mail.) Mariana Bonifay defied convention (as well as conventional morality): She pursued business at a time when women were expected to stick to hearth and home. “She was a successful businesswoman and extremely independent – that was one of the keys to her success,” said Randall Broxton, Pensacola Junior College history professor. Despite obstacles, she grew in wealth and status. When Andrew Jackson came to govern the newly American possession in 1821, he and wife Rachel were entertained by Mariana in her bayshore home. She died in 1829. About the time of the Civil War, her descendants constituted a goodly share – some say one-third – of Pensacola`s population. Now there`s a woman who made history.

Pioneer, entrepreneur and mother of 10: Bonifay helped shape Scenic Highway

Pioneer, entrepreneur and mother of 10: Bonifay helped shape Scenic Highway

Published, Tuesday, March, 13, 2001 Pensacola News Journal, Nicole Lozare @PensacolaNewsJournal.com

She has been called the Mother of Pensacola, and she literally helped build the Scenic Highway area with her successful brickyard. Yet, after more than 200 years, French-born Marianna Pingrow Bonifay’s life in Pensacola is still a bit mysterious. Books and other research materials have conflicting reports on everything from her name to the number of children she had to which Pensacola gentleman she considered her companion. “Basically, the amount of surviving records are limited. So there’s different interpretations,” said Tom Muir, museum administrator for the Historic Pensacola Preservation Board. Historians agree, though, that Bonifay and her descendants left an enduring mark on Pensacola. The pioneer came to Pensacola in the late 1700s . A single mom, she raised 10 children, according to one count, produced 145,000 bricks a year at her Bonifay Brickyards and juggled several other business interests from real estate to cattle farming. The grand matriarch of the Bonifay family, which still thrives in Pensacola today, lived and constructed her brickyards on what is now Scenic Highway. Historians believe that Bonifay came to America with her husband, Joseph Bonifay, who may have been connected to the Spanish military forces stationed in New Orleans and Pensacola. “We don’t know if he ever arrived here. We surmised that he was on the Gulf Coast with the Louisiana regiment and that at a later time period she has a relationship with Charles Lavalle,” said Muir. There is no record that Marianna and Joseph Bonifay ever lived together in Pensacola. She had six children with Bonifay. By 1784, Marianna Bonifay, then 26, was living with Sgt. Josef Domingo, 42, with one of her three children, his two children and four family servants, according to the 1784 census. She later purchased land from Domingo, which she put in her name instead of her husband’s, as was the usual practice at that time. All of Bonifay’s children read and wrote French and Spanish. They also knew how to keep books, just like their mother. One historian wrote that the children also picked up pieces of American Indian dialect as well as some army expressions not fit to print. In 1790, Bonifay invested her entire estate in a business venture with Lavalle, a carpenter and builder. The two would acquire new property, fix it up and then sell it for a profit. They became both business and romantic partners, owning several properties in Pensacola. They also had four children together, Muir said. She and Lavalle owned a home on Gaberonne Point and operated brick kilns near the clay bluffs on Escambia Bay. Bonifay also owned a cattle ranch in Cantonment. When she died in 1829, Bonifay left several properties on Scenic Highway to her children. She died, as she had requested, at her “country abode on the Bay of Scambia.”