Last year the team hit pay dirt when they
uncovered the remains of an adobe house believed to have been occupied
by the Briones family, who were leading citizens in the emerging city of
San Francisco during the early 1800s. Today Juana Briones is remembered
as an astute businesswoman, landowner, and a healer who challenged the
gender conventions of her time. This summer the archeologists plan to
excavate inside the adobe house, its yard, and nearby trash deposits.
“The artifacts we find this summer will reveal
the events that happened here long ago,” said Dr. Barbara Voss, the
Stanford professor leading the team of two dozen or so students who are
exploring the Presidio’s past this summer. “We will learn the details of
early colonial life that are missing from the history books.”
Last year, preliminary explorations of the site
recovered evidence that Native Californians were living and working at
El Polín Spring alongside the Briones family. “We especially hope our
research will help us learn more about the relationship between colonial
families such as the Briones and native peoples,” Voss added.
The Briones family settled in El Polín Spring in
the 1810s and lived there until they were evicted by the U.S. Army the
early 1850s. The family was headed by Marcos Briones, a retired soldier,
and his adult daughters Juana, María de la Luz, and Guadalupe Briones.
These three sisters, who were of African/Latino descent, played an
important role in the development of San Francisco.
The dig is part of a five-year study of how this
valley, now called Tennessee Hollow, in the Presidio was used during the
Spanish-colonial and the Mexican periods of the Presidio between the
years 1776 and 1847.
When Spain colonized California, the Presidio was
chosen as a site for a fort to defend San Francisco Bay. Some 40
families emigrated here from Northern Mexico in 1776. After Mexico
gained independence from Spain in 1821, the Presidio became a Mexican
frontier outpost. The United States Army took control of the Presidio in
1846, and it gradually became the most significant post on the West
Coast. In 1994, the Army departed and the Presidio became part of the
Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
The dig is taking place at El Polín Spring, a
place in the Presidio that is rich in historical and ecological
significance. During the Spanish and Mexican periods, this area was used
for farming and livestock grazing. Freshwater springs provided water to
the settlement year-round. The waters at El Polín are believed to have
had fertility powers.