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

Published, Tuesday, March, 13, 2001 Pensacola News Journal, Nicole Lozare

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.”