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.