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Foundation of SF Matriarch's Adobe House Unearthed in Dig


Presidio of San Francisco (July 22, 2003) — Stanford University archeologists, excavating in an area where prominent 18th and 19th century Spanish colonial families once lived, have made a major discovery regarding a founding San Francisco matriarch, it was announced today.

The team, led by Dr. Barbara Voss, has discovered the stone foundation of an adobe house where they believe the Briones and Miramontes families lived during the early 19th century in the eastern Presidio section known as El Polin Spring. Artifacts recovered from the dig also indicate that some Native Californians may have been living at El Poli­n Spring alongside the Briones and Miramontes families.

Juana Briones, who is thought to have lived at the site from about 1815-1830, was a founding resident of Yerba Buena, the pueblo that became the City of San Francisco. Juana Briones and her sisters ran a prosperous business, farming at the Presidio and selling produce, dairy, and eggs to Yerba Buena residents as well as to ships docked in San Francisco’s early port. She was also known throughout the Bay Area as a curandera, or traditional healer. Today, Juana Briones is celebrated as an independent woman who challenged the gender conventions of her time.

The discovery comes during an extensive dig at the Presidio in search of 18th and 19th century artifacts that could trace the emergence of the City of San Francisco from its origins in the Presidio.

It is an area where the people who once lived there were part of a larger community of the historic settlement of El Presidio de San Francisco. El Polin Spring was a major water source for early 18th and 19th century settlers. The spring still exits today.

A major research theme that will be addressed through these investigations is the history of women’s participation in colonial military ventures and the roles played by Spanish-colonial women in the historical development of the City of San Francisco.

The excavation could provide new information about the living conditions and daily practices of the Briones family and other settlers during their residence at the Presidio and will also contribute to a growing body of scholarship on the history of women in Spanish-colonial and Mexican California.

Today, El Polin Spring is a popular picnic area for visitors to the Presidio because of its quiet beauty and serene environment. The public is invited to view the excavation between 9 am and 4 pm during the week.

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