The Coastal Post - August, 1997

The Origins of the Briones Family


Don Marcus, the father of Georgio, was born in Castile, Spain. He was known as a don, as all the men from noble families were.

A few people had come up first by Spain, then Mexico, by way of San Diego, where there was a mission. The missions were all linked together by El Camino Real, with one mission a day's horseback ride from the other. In Monterey, Father Junipero Serra was waiting for them, eager to found a mission on the great bay of San Francisco.

In 1776 on the 27th of June, they arrived in San Francisco (or Yerba Buena, as they called it then). Marin Pepper wrote, "Among the party was a man of high character distinguished in appearance and of Castilian descent, Don Marcus Briones and his wife Isadora Briones de Tapia. There were in all 16 soldiers, two priests and seven colonists plus servants, carriers and vaqueros."

When they got to San Francisco they at first built a fort and a garrison. By 1776 they were ready to build a mission dedicated to St. Francis de Assisi. Little did they know that the entire bay and a new city would bear the name San Francisco. They went on calling it Yerba Buena until the Gold Rush.

At first Don Marcus lived in Yerba Buena a short distance from the fort. He and his wife had a large family, five sons and three daughters. The first-born daughter, Juana, filled the place of a doctor or nurse to the small settlement. Juana married Apolonario Miranda and they lived near the fort, which became the Presidio. (Today we call the place Vallejo and Green Streets.) Later they built an adobe house on the western slope of Telegraph Hill.

After Don Marcus retired, he moved back to Monterey where his youngest son, Gregorio, the hero of our story, was born 1799.

Marin Pepper writes of the glories of Monterey in which Gregorio grew up. It was a Mexican village in those days with adobe houses. It was flanked by the intensely blue waters of the bay, and she writes, "For miles and miles the sand dunes and white beaches stretched into the distance, forming a great crescent." (For those who know it today it is hard to visualize it when it was unspoiled.)

There was a fort in Monterey and that is where Gregorio commenced his military trading. Pablo Vincentes de Sola had just arrived from Spain to be the new governor. He had a large library and was very generous about sharing it. Gregorio Briones took advantage of this and increased his knowledge.

At this time Don Luis Arquello was the commandante of the Presidio in San Francisco. He was one of the handsomest men of his time-he mesmerized all. Gregorio Briones wished to serve under him and the fact that Juana and Lupe, his sisters, had married and lived at Yerba Buena, had some influence on him, too.

He had not yet fallen in love with Ramona Garcia, born in San Diego in 1801, where there was also a mission. In the consecrated ground of the Mission rested her father, mother and several brothers and sisters. She didn't wish to leave San Diego, but her uncle, Padre Garcia, had told her that far to the north dwelt a tribe of savages who had not heard of Jesus.

While Gregorio was still at Monterey, the ship docked there. "Gregorio first saw her, a lovely girl stepping from the boat, her hand resting in that of her brother," Marin Pepper writes, "and glowing with youth and happiness, she stepped into the heart of Gregorio Briones."

She had come up from San Diego with Garcia's wife Loretta and his small son, just three years old. Now in Monterey, since there were no inns to accommodate visitors, they stayed at the Casa Briones. Gregorio was at the Presidio, and it was evident that he had fallen in love with Ramona Garcia. Romance delighted the Spanish-Californians, and although the duennas were strict, courtship leisurely and consent for a marriage had to be procured from Mexico, these impediments to union added a subtle sweetness to affairs of the heart.

There was to be a mission in San Rafael; until the mission was completed, Rafael Garcia arranged for his wife, sister and son to stay at the Presidio. When the Mission was completed in 1817, they stayed in a good-sized adobe building next door. Because they were the only Spanish women at the mission, and the Indians were unfriendly, their activities were very limited.

When Rafael Garcia learned from a friendly Indian that the Indian chief Marin was making plans for an uprising, he put his family into a tule boat with a priest from the Mission, Father Juan Amorosa. The great bay surrounded them, but they were lucky and they were borne towards a cove at Yerba Buena, discovered and brought to shore. No doubt the drama of the event stayed with Ramona all her life. Marin Pepper wrote, "Their beautiful, simple faith allowed no doubt in any mind that day that the saints had indeed watched over them and guided them to safety."

Months passed without the lovers meeting. Finally, in 1822, Georgio received permission to wed. Marriages were most particular in those days, but the Briones and Garcia clans were well pleased with the unity of both families. Rafael Garcia gave the bride away, and Ramona, in her wedding gown of white brocade, was led to the high altar at the Mission Dolores. (In spite of the fact that it was dedicated to St. Francis de Assisi, it was always known as the Mission Dolores.)

Rafael Garcia stayed behind to defend the mission in San Rafael, and for this he was rewarded with a Mexican land grant near Bolinas, which eventually he ceded to his brother-in-law Gregorio Briones. So Ramona Garcia Briones and her husband Gregorio came home to the house that was called Casa Briones.