John Downes Wilson, better known as Captain John Wilson, was born in Dundee, Scotland in 1798. By the time he was 30 he was master of the Thomas Nowlan, a ship trading in hides and tallow on the California coast. From 1828 to 1843 he was captain of several ships in this trade including the Ayacucho, a ship described in some detail by Richard Henry Dana in his book Two Years Before the Mast. After his sailing days he became a land holder and cattle rancher, ultimately becoming one of the biggest land holders in California. Although he was born a protestant, he converted to Catholicism in order to conform to Mexican law which restricted land ownership to Catholics. To this end he was sometimes known as Juan Wilson or even Juan Huilsons.
On November 9, 1835, John Wilson married Dona Ramona Carrillo de Pacheco at Santa Barbara mission. Dona Ramona was a member of the powerful Carrillo family and her father, Joaquin Victor Carrillo, was the first commandante of the presidio at Santa Barbara and later became a judge. At the time she was a widow having been married to Captain Mariano Pacheco who was killed in the battle of Cahuenga Pass in 1830. Dona Ramona married Pacheco when she was 15 and, at the time of his death she had two sons, one year old Mariano and 5 week old Romualdo. In 1857, Ramona’s son, Romualdo, became a Califonia State Senator and, in 1875, he became California’s only Hispanic governor. In 1876 he was elected to congress.
The Captain and Ramona had four children: Maria Ramona, Juanita (Juana) Guadalupe, Maria Ignacia and John D.
Both Wilson and his wife acquired large land holdings during the rancho period. Ramona was granted the eleven league Rancho Suey near Santa Maria by Governor Alvarado and John received the four league Rancho Los Guilicos in Sonoma County. In 1843 Wilson bought the tiny Rancho Huerta de Romualdo. Wilson and his partner, James Scott, bought the Rancho Pecho y Islay and the Rancho Canada de Los Osos in 1844 and in the same year Wilson and Scott received a grant of the Rancho Canada del Chorro. In 1854 John Wilson purchased about 30,000 acres of the Rancho Piedra Blanca from grantee Jose de Jesus Pico who was Ramona’s cousin and in the 1850s Wilson bought Rancho San Luisito bringing the value of his total land holdings to about $130,000.
When California became a state in 1850, John Wilson became the first treasurer of San Luis Obispo County. Two years later, when the first Board of Supervisors was elected, John Wilson was one of the board members.
John Wilson died on October 31, 1861. Dona Ramona Carrillo Pacheco de Wilson died on December 16, 1888.