BRYAN, A PIONEER FAMILY
By Edward Bryan
Editor's Note: This article is verbatim as published in the Register of Kentucky State Historical Society, Volume 40, No. 132, pp. 318-322. C1974 KY State Historical Society-Frankfort. Edward Bryan, the compiler, is descended from Morgan Bryan. He was born in Louisville, but at the time of the publication, lived in Colorado.
The family most closely associated with the redoubtable Daniel Boone, and that one whose exploits most nearly parallel those of the picturesque explorer, was the family of Morgan and Martha Strode Bryan. So much has been written concerning the kindly and nomadic Boone, that his neighbors and kinsmen, the Bryans, might well be forgotten men, but for some scores of prideful descendants who, from generation to generation, continue to recount the adventures of their forefathers, and recall the role they played in the westward march of empire. Colleagues in the difficult and dangerous enterprise of settling Kentucky, the lives and fortunes of the two families are so inextricably interwoven that some genealogists have, for the sake of convenience, treated them very much as though they were one.
Daniel Boone married a Bryan, his brother, Edward, married another, his sister, Mary, a third, and these Boone-Bryan alliances were continued into following generations. Joseph, eldest son of Morgan Bryan, taught young Dan'l to ride and to handle a rifle. Friends and neighbors in Pennsylvania, the two families continued their close association on the Yadkin River in North Carolina, and in time blazed the trail together to settle the land of blue-grass and rhododendron.
Morgan Bryan, progenitor of the Bryans of central Kentucky, was born in Denmark in 1671. He came to America as a young man, settled at the present site of Reading, PA, thence in 1730 to what is now Winchester, VA, thence in 1748 to a point near the present town of Wilkesboro, NC. Here, some sixty miles from the nearest habitation, he founded what came to be known as the "Bryan Settlements," and here he devoted himself to fighting off the Indians, raising fine horses, and rearing a sizeable family of children.
Much of what is known concerning the ancestry of Morgan Bryan has been gleaned from the family papers of the descendants of his brother, William, who also came to the colonies.
While the immigrant ancestor of William and Morgan Bryan migrated to these shores from Ireland, he was of Anglo-Irish stock, being descended from Francis Bryan, an Englishman who was sent to Ireland in 1548 as Lord Lieutenant. Some of the writers who have compiled papers on the genealogy of the pioneer Bryans have stated that Morgan Bryan was descended from Brian Boru, an Irish monarch of the tenth century, and great-stem of the royal Irish house of O'Brien.
While this is true, this statement, without a word of explanation, is indefinite and misleading. Sir Francis Bryan of Buckinghamshire, and ancestor of Morgan Bryan, married Joan, dowager duchess of Ormond and heiress of James Fitz-Gerald. Joan's mother was the daughter of Turlogh O'Brien, and of that branch of the clan known as the "Mac-I-Brien-Ara."
Thus do the Bryans descend from the house of O'Brien and from the mighty Boru, but only through the wife of Sir Francis Bryan, and not in the direct male line. The Rev. J. W. Shearer, another of the family historians, appears to have succeeded in tracing the ancestry of Morgan Bryan to Sir Francis, but he too, falls into the error of assuming that the later was a Dalcassian.
A comparative study of the armorial bearings of the Irish O'Briens and the English Bryans reveals that the Brayns of Carolina and Kentucky inherit and display the coat of the English Bryans. This device, described as "Or, three piles in point, azure," was first displayed by Guy, Lord Bryan, at the siege of Calais, 1345. His lordship "le bon Guyon" as he was sometimes called, was descended from a long line of Guy Bryans who settled in Devon since very early times. While there is only heraldic evidence, their name is believed to be a place name, and from the ancient Chateau de Brienne in the former province of Champagne. The generations which intervene between Lord Guy and Sir Thomas Bryan (grandfather to Sir Frances) are missing, and it is stated by Beltz (Order of the Garter) that the family of the former became extinct, but it is a matter of record at the College of Arms that Sir Thomas bore arms: three piles in point, and difference from those of Lord Guy only in the matter of color.
The earliest of the Bryan grandsires of whom there is authentic record is Sir Thomas, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas from 1471 until his death.
His will, proved December 11, 1500 mentions his son, Thomas, Thomas' wife and an illegitimate daughter. The son - Sir Thomas Bryan of Chedington, Bucks, was knighted by the seventh Henry in 1497. His wife, the Lady Margaret Bryan was a sister of John, Lord Berners, and daughter of Sir Humphrey Bourchier and his wife, Elizabeth Tylney. Through this marriage the Bryans claim descent, on the distaff side, from the houses of Bourchier, Bohun and Plantagenet.
Following the unhappy death of Anne Boleyn, Lady Margaret was made foster-mother to the princess Elizabeth, and in recognition of this service the king created the Barony of Bryan. She died in 1551, whereafter her peerage, conferred only for life, is heard of no more. An interesting account of Dame Bryan's training and her relationship to the little princess, is contained in Agnes Strickland's "Lives of the Queens of England."
Her son and heir - Sir Francis Bryan, had a prominent place at the court of Henry VIII. Together with Sir Thomas Wyatt, George Boleyn and Nicholas Carew, he was one of a coterie, the members of which were the companions of the sovereign. Sir Francis was educated at Oxford, was M.P. for Buckinghamshire from 1542 to 1544, and a member of the Privy Council until the close of Henry's reign. At the beginning of the reign of Edward VI, he was given large grants of land, which through the dissolution of the monasteries had reverted to the crown. In 1520 he was knighted, and during this year attended Henry at the Field of Cloth and Gold.
The circumstances under which he removed to Ireland are curious and interesting. In 1548, James Butler, Earl of Ormond, an Irish noble whose powerful influence was obnoxious to the government at Dublin, died in London of poison. Thereupon his widow, Joan, daughter or James Fitz-Gerald, sought to marry her relative Gerald Fitz-Gerald. To prevent this marriage, which would have united the leading representatives of the two chief Irish noble houses, Sir Francis was induced to prefer a suit to the lady himself. In the autumn of that same year, he married the widowed countess, was shortly nominated Lord Marshal or Ireland, and sent to Dublin. He died in February, 1550, at Clonmel, and was buried at Waterford.
The data concerning the ancestry of Sir Francis Bryan is based on research done by The Society of Genealogists, London. Much of this material is also contained in "The Dictionary of National Biography" and "The Complete Peerage."
For the line showing the descent of Morgan Bryan from Sir Francis, the write is indebted to the late Gordon M. Ash, Esq. Of Frederick, MD, a Bryan descendant, and lately genealogist to the Society of Descendants of Knights of the Garter. It has also been published in Carter R. Bryan's, "The Bryan Family," Armstrong's "Notable Southern Families, " J. W. Shearer's, "The Shearer-Akers Family," and various articles on the ancestry of Morgan's brother, William.
Sir Francis Bryan was twice married, first to Phillippa Montgomery, by whom he had a son, Sir Edward Bryan. By Lady Joan, he had a son, Francis, who married Ann, daughter of Sir William Smith. From his mother, the second Francis Bryan inherited estates in County Clare. His son, William Smith Bryan, attempted to gain the throne of Ireland, and in 1650 Cromwell deported him as a troublesome subject. Together with eleven sons and a shipload of chattels, including horses and other livestock, he landed at Gloucester Beach, Virginia, and his twenty-one sons and grandsons settled Gloucester County. An article in "The Thoroughbred Record" credits him with being among the first to bring horses to America.
In time the eldest of his sons, Francis Bryan III, returned to Ireland and tried to regain the Clare County estates, but being persecuted by the government he was obliged to seek refuge in Denmark. He was born about 1630, married Sarah Brinker, a cousin to the Princess of Orange. He was permitted to return to Ireland about 1683, and is said to have been standard bearer to William of Orange at the battle of the Boyne. He died in Belfast in 1694. He had two sons, William, born in Ireland, and Morgan, born in Demark. Both came to America.
William was the first to settle at the present site of Roanoke, and died there at the age of 104. Many of his descendants are listed in "The Shearer-Akers Family," heretofore referred to.
From the time of his arrival until his marriage in 1719 to Martha Storde, not much is know of the movements of his brother, Morgan Bryan. Martha Strode's parents had migrated from France to escape religious persecution. Her mother died at sea, leaving three children, who were provided for by their shipmates until they came of age. Martha died in Virginia in 1747, and it was about a year later that Morgan Bryan began his epic journey through the Blue Ridge to the Yadkin Country, to found what came to be known as the Bryan Settlements in Rowan County, NC. His route was afterward called "Morgan Bryan's Road." It is related that at one point he was obliged to take his wagon apart, carry it piece by piece over a mountain, and reassemble it on the other side. He died about July 1763. A copy of his will is contained in Mr. J. R. Cooper's "The Bryan Families of Fayette County," and it is apparent from this document that he had prospered at the Settlement.
He reared seven sons and two daughters, namely: Joseph, born c. 1720; Eleanor, born c. 1722; Mary, c. 1724; Samuel, c. 1726; Morgan, c 1728; John, c. 1731; William, c 1733; James, c. 1735; and Thomas, about 1737.
Researchers who have delved into the Kentucky pioneer period of the Bryan annals have found their task somewhat less arduous than those who have searched out and listed the Morgan Bryan ancestry. Interest in the brothers William, James and Morgan, founders of Bryan's Station, and in Rebecca Bryan, wife of Daniel Boone, has uncovered the wealth of material to be had from the Fayette County records, family Bibles, gravestones, and two notable collections of family papers, known as the "Shane and Draper Collections." Thanks to these sources, present day descendants of Morgan and Martha Strode Bryan are enabled to complete their lines of descent from their immigrant ancestors, of whom the Bryans, unlike most families, have two.
When in the autumn of 1773 Boone made his first attempt to settle Kentucky, the Bryans were among the "forty well-armed men" who joined him in Powell's Valley. After being attacked by Indians as they approached Cumberland Gap, and having several of their number slain, and after retreating forty miles back on the trail over which they had come, most of the company rested a while at Blackmore's fort on the Clinch River, before moving back to North Carolina.
The Bryans, however, remained at the Clinch settlement, and again joined Boone when he returned there in 1775 to take his family to Boonesorough. Thence they moved on northward to the Elkhorn, where during the autumn and winter of 1775 they built the stockade fort, which bore their name. The siege of Bryan's Station and the subsequent battle at the Blue Licks, were of national as well as local importance, since they constitute what was, in fact, the final battle of the Revolution.
Friends and kinsmen in the several colonial communities in which they lived, it is a curious circumstance that the ancestors of both the Boones and the Bryans were long settled in Devonshire, and that both families claim decent from the ancient Norman house of deBohun, the Bryans through a collateral line.
Humphrey, founder of the house, and surnamed "with the beard," came into England with William the Conquer, Henry duBohun, great-grandson of Humphrey, joined the barons who obtained the concession of Magna Carta, and was one of the twenty-five appointed to insure it's observance.
When in 1799 Boone, finding Kentucky too crowded for him, sought "elbow room" in what is now Missouri, he was not long separated from the Bryans. Shortly thereafter, Jonathan, son of James Bryan, as if to continue the Boone-Bryan tradition, followed him to the Femme Osage region and settled within half a mile of him. "However, for the most part, the Bryans were content to remain on the dark and bloody ground. The restlessness, which had so long characterized both families, appears to have ended for them once their roots were embedded in Kentucky's rich limestone soil.
Return to the articles page