Maria Estudillo, as the wife of William Heath Davis, was the link between Old Town San Diego and New Town built on the bay.
Dona Maria de Jesus Telesfora de los Santos Reyes Estudillo was born in Santa Barbara, California on January 5,1829. Her parents were Juana Martinez and Don Jose Joaquin Estudillo. In 1834, her father was elected the first alcalde (mayor) of Yerba Buena (San Francisco) where the family had moved, and in 1835, he relocated with his family to San Leandro (now part of Oakland). In 1842, Don Estudillo received full title to this league of land on San Francisco Bay, where he would ultimately breed over three thousand head of cattle and become a very wealthy man. It was here that William Heath Davis first became acquainted with his youngest daughter, Maria de Jesus, age fourteen.
Mr. Davis’ father had known Don Estudillo so it was not unusual for the younger Davis to call at the Estudillo mansion. In 1845, Davis wrote a letter to Don Estudillo requesting permission to wed his daughter, but he was turned down. He converted to Catholicism, as the Catholic Church did not allow marriage between Catholics and non-Catholics at the time. He continued pursuing both the beautiful Maria and his career and returned the following year with his own ship and much more stable finances. Their engagement was announced and the family embraced Davis. During the course of their two-year engagement, Davis recalled that they did not exchange more than one hundred words in private. All their conversations were in the presence of her parents, especially her mother.
The wedding was held at Mission Dolores in San Francisco in November of 1847. It was reputed to be a grand affair that continued for several days with much dancing, feasting and large amounts of spirits.
An uncle of Maria’s was the alcalde (mayor) of Old Town where the Mission San Diego de Alcala was located on the San Diego River. While visiting her uncle, Mr. Davis met Andrew Gray, sent to survey the US/Mexican border after the Mexican War. He convinced Davis to build a new town on the bay as it was perfect place for a seaport because of its natural harbor. Davis purchased 60 acres of pueblo land. In 1850, Davis bought 10 pre-fab houses on the brig, Cybele, which had been earmarked for the 49ers, Gold Rush miners. He sent the ship with the houses to San Diego. The Davis’ lived in one of these located in Pantoja Park. Maria gave birth to Anita in the house. Appropriately, Anita was the first child to be christened in Davis’ “New Town” San Diego. The Davis marriage produced 13 children, including 4 who died at birth or shortly after.
After Davis lost the bulk of his money in a warehouse fire in San Francisco the family abandoned the newly–founded town of San Diego and returned to the San Francisco area. Mr. Davis and his brother-in-law, John Ward, went on to develop San Leandro, and a street there is named Estudillo Avenue in honor of the First Lady of New Town, San Diego, Maria de Jesus Estudillo.