Martinez Historical Society

Cemetery Tour of Martinez


brown2Elam and Margaret Brown

In 1846, Elam Brown, a widower with 4 children, joined a wagon train and came west. They stayed briefly at Sutter's Fort, then came through the Livermore Valley to Mission Santa Clara. Along the way Brown married Margaret Allen, a member of the wagon train whose husband had died on the trek west. She had eleven children. In the Spring following their arrival, Elam hired out in the Contra Costa logging district. There were three stands of very large trees, Moraga Redwoods, Peralta Redwoods and San Antonio Redwoods. He helped to harvest trees, whip sawed them into lumber, hauled the lumber by ox team to the Oakland Estuary, and transported it across the bay to San Francisco. While delivering lumber, Brown heard of 3,300 acres being offered within easy riding distance of where he was working. Brown had little money of his own but his new wife had $900.00 that she had hidden in a crock among the things she brought west. The owner of the land accepted Brown's $900 offer and Elam established a ranch in the Lafayette area. He was supposedly the second white man to settle in the county. He served as "Alcalde" of the territory and he represented the District of San Jose at the Constitutional Convention of 1849. Elam was the first member of the California Legislature for the county and the founder of Lafayette. Elam sold his friend, Nathaniel Jones, who had come west in the same wagon train, 372 acres for $100. Nathaniel Jones would become Contra Costa's first sheriff. Brown harvested heavy crops of wheat, which grew profusely all over Contra Costa in the days of virgin soil. Elam bought a second hand grist mill so he wouldn't have to haul his grain to a mill in San Jose. Brown capitalized on his acreage - not only by raising wheat but also by selling off small farms, and soon a small village developed. In 1853, Benjamin Shreve, a disappointed gold seeker, bought 250 acres from Brown to farm. In addition to farming, Shreve taught school. In 1855, he closed the school and opened a general store. Later he applied to the U.S. Post Office Dept. for permission to open a branch at what he named "Centerville". Another town already had the same name so Shreve chose "Lafayette" in honor of the French general who helped the American cause during the Revolutionary War.