Peter Jefferson/Joshua Fry Survey of Virginia in 1751
Above is the complete map of the most inhabited part of Virginia containing the whole province of Maryland with part of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Carolina drawn by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson (father of Thomas) in 1751. Below is the Albemarle County area of that map. Click on either for an enlargement.

Family of John Bryant, Sr.

Unfortunately, the Buckingham courthouse burned in 1869, destroying all deeds, wills, and other records stored in the clerk’s office. We have used DNA in combination with traditional genealogy to render this approximation of the family:

John Bryant b. bef. 1732 d. 1798 in Buckingham Co, Va m1 Sarah Murray bef 1754

Sarah ("Sally") Murray b. bef 1735  m. bef 1754

John Jr.  b. 5 Nov. 1754 in Albemarle Co, Va  d. 29 March 1842 m. Judith Winfrey 1783-early 1786 (DNA proven)

Austin b. ca 1760-1762 d. 1830s in Buckingham Co, Va m. Unknown bef 1781 (DNA proven)

Anthony b. ca 1763 d. ca 1809 in Buckingham Co, Va m. Rhoda bef 1788 (DNA proven; Anthony was mamed for his mother's brother, who lived nearby)

Mildred ("Millie") b. ca 1770 d. aft 1855 m. Thomas Ware 15 Oct 1787 (For more info, click here.)

Its quite possible that John Sr. had more than one wife.  There could be additional sons that moved away from Buckingham County or died in the Revolutionary War, and there were almost certainly more daughters.

Early Family History

Our earliest known ancestors were Richard and Sarah Murray on the distaff side. Richard was definitely born before 1721 and possibly before 1713.[1] Together, the couple purchased three tracts of land in St. Margaret's Parish, Caroline Co, Va. between 1742-4. The fact that Sarah's name appears on documents means that her dowry contributed to the purchases. Throughout the 1740s, records place Richard in Caroline County where he appraised property; built roads; operated a plantation, mill, and tavern; and served on a grand jury.

In 1750, Richard began purchasing land in what is now Cumberland Co. Over 9 years, he accumulated 2,300 acres[2] and operated an inn and a mill. Richard and Sarah had seven children: John Murray, Richard Murray Jr. m. Judith Allen, Anthony Murray, Frances Murray m. William Terrell, Nancy Murray m. Edward Walton, Mary Murray m. Peter Goldsby--and Sarah Murray m. John Bryant Sr.

The Bryant and Murray lines most likely joined in Cumberland between 1751-3.[3] The whereabouts of John Sr. and Sarah Murray following their marriage is uncertain; they either continued to live in Cumberland or moved to Albemarle. (See footnote 3). Their oldest known son, John Jr., later stated that he was born in Albemarle Co in 1754. One can find possible validation of that claim in early Albemarle records. In 1755, there were two entries in the plat book for one or more John Bryants: 1) 140 acres on the south branch of the south fork of the Hardware River and 2) 84 acres on the north side of the Fluvanna River on Bremo Creek. These properties were in the part of Albemarle adjacent to Cumberland that became Fluvanna in 1777. We don't know for sure if either tract belonged to John Sr.[4]. However, Richard Murray later purchased property on the Hardware River plus another tract relatively close.

These properties were all proximate to the Great Horseshoe Bend of the James River where Col. Peter Jefferson, father of Thomas and Randolph, lived on his Snowden estate. By Nov. 1757, shortly after the death of Peter Jefferson, Richard Murray had leased a key part of Snowden: 4 acres, including houses, and the ferry operation linking southern and northern Albemarle Co.; he paid  £4 per year.[5] The ferry crossed to Scott's Landing or Scott's Ferry (later incorporated as Scottsville)--the first county seat of Albemarle. One of the houses was an ordinary or tavern.

In 1760, Richard purchased 150 acres in the Great Horseshoe Bend adjacent to Thomas Ballow, who along with Peter Jefferson and several others, was a founding father and magistrate of Albemarle Co. In 1761, the Virginia House of Burgess sliced off the southeast part of Albemarle, including Richard's property, creating Buckingham Co. As a direct consequence, Albemarle officials moved their county seat to a more central location in Charlottesville. In June 1762, Richard Murray paid another £3 and 5 shillings to the Jefferson estate for his lease. There are no surviving estate records for Snowden that address the lease of the ferry and tavern after this date. Richard may have continued his business there, or he may have pulled out, after the courthouse moved.

In 1764, Buckingham Co. officials compiled a tax list of male residents. Only the first part of the alphabetized list has survived. John Bryant was not listed. "Murray" was in the missing part of the record. On March 28, 1764, Richard filed a survey for 380 acres on branches of George's Creek--the James River tributary closest to Snowden. The survey noted that his neighbor was Col. Jefferson, deceased. A year later, Richard purchased another 183 acres on the north side of Little George's Creek. Richard lived on this property, and at some point, added another 60 acres including a mill. 

Eight years later Richard Murray was dead, predeceased by his his wife. His will--recorded on 13 April 1772--conveyed "two negroes" to John Bryant, Sr and wife.[6] The property on George's Creek went to his son Anthony. He also made other bequests. His residual estate was divided equally among his children. 

The Revolutionary War broke out in 1776, when John Sr. was at least 44 years old. In Virginia, all men 16-50 were required to serve in their county militia. Almost none of the county militia records have survived. During the war, the fortunes of Scottsville rose again, when it became an important port for shipping tobacco and other supplies downstream to Richmond. John Sr. probably supplied the army with cattle, beef, or grain. His son Anthony appears to have guarded prisoners of war at the Albemarle Barracks in 1779. John Jr. was drafted in the final year of the war. Austin and John Sr. probably served in other military capacities, beyond the county militia, but so far they have fallen through the large gaps in surviving records. Without a doubt, family members were lost in battle, and life was one of great hardship.

Due to the war, tithable lists were not kept from 1774 to 1781. (See the Appendices for detailed tax rolls.) In 1782, Virginia established a personal property tax, and record-keeping began anew.[7] That year John Sr. had five mules, seven head of cattle, and three slaves: Jacob, Lucy, and Diley.

Then, in 1782, land tax records were established for the first time in Buckingham. These records show that John Sr. was already in possession of 200 acres. In 1783, by treasury warrant #20,204 [8], he purchased the right to buy another 790 acres on the east side of Rock Island Creek--not far from Snowden and Richard Murray--at a cost of 40 pounds per hundred acres. To see the original land grant, click here

Rock Island Creek took its name from hilly Rock Island abreast the James River. The mouth of the creek was due south of the island. Importantly, the Bryant property was just a few miles upstream of Scottsville. Per an early plat map, Howard's Road bisected the Bryant property. A current map of Buckingham Co. shows a Bryant Lane south of the original property location. (See the next chapter for more information on the land and the names of neighbors, many of whom migrated  together.) 

On 10 March 1783, John Bryant Sr. gave a deposition in a lengthy lawsuit regarding the disposition of Richard Murray's estate. John Sr. stated that he had "often in the life time of Richard Murray, Dec'd [heard him] say that the two surveys of land he had made on George's Creek in Buckingham he made for his son Anthony Murray provided the said Anthony would pay the expenses..."

About this time, John and Sarah's children were reaching maturity. By 1781, Austin had married. Between 1783-early 1786, John Jr. married Judith Winfrey, the granddaughter of neighbor, Israel Winfrey. Given that he was about 30, it's conceivable this was his second marriage. In 1787, Mildred married Thomas Ware, an overseer for Randolph Jefferson at Snowden; he was the son of Mark Ware and scion of a prominent central Virginia family. Before 1788, Anthony married Rhoda whose surname is unknown.

In May 1790, a survey of 790 acres on Rock Island Creek was completed for John Bryant Sr. In Jan of the following year, this land grant was officially recorded, and he began paying taxes on the property. The 1797 record indicated that he was still paying for two tracts (790 and 200 acres).

John Bryant Sr. died between June 1 of 1798 (when he paid property taxes) and June 5 of 1799 (when his next listing said “estate”). The number of land transactions in 1798 suggest that he died that year. The Rock Island property was broken into parcels of unequal size with John Jr. getting the largest share. Smaller parcels went to Austin and Anthony, who proceeded to buy out John Jr. Personal property tax records imply that John's wife got a life estate. That almost certainly included the family home plus acreage, perhaps the original 200 acres. Apparently, the estate was not completely settled until 1817--nearly 19 years after the death of John Sr.! Either Sarah Murray Bryant survived that long (she would have been about 83 in 1817) or she died considerably sooner and John Bryant had a second wife and possibly minor children, the last of which did not come of age until 1817.

Further reflections on antecedents  

When we first began to earnestly delve into the Bryant origins, our assumption was that the family came to America as  poor immigrants, probably as indentured servants. However, as our genealogical skills improved and our database increased, that perception began to shift. 

Until after the Revolutionary War, Virginia had an especially rigid social order. A great divide separated "common folk" from "gentle folk." Many servants became freemen, but relatively few rose to the rank of freeholder. At the top of the social order were planters, usually descendants of landed gentry from England; they owned most of the land, most of the servants, and nearly all of the slaves. Below them were a stratum of yeomen who owned and tilled their own land, often with the help of a servant or two. From 1680-1760, freeholders amounted to about 20-30 percent of the population. The rest had no land. 

Richard Murray's assets and activities put him in the upper strata of Colonial America. His signature survives on many documents, a clear indication that he was literate. Daughters of Richard Murray married into the Walton family[9] of New Kent County and the Terrell family--equally prominent and wealthy in stature.

Given the class structure of Virginia, it seems implausible that John Bryant Sr. came from a significantly different class--unless, like George Washington, he had other notable attributes. The location of his land near the James River suggests that he raised tobacco or other crops. John may have helped his father-in-law with various business enterprises. The fact that he owned nearly 1,000 acres automatically places him in either the landed gentry or the upper yeoman class. But without a will, it's hard to gauge the size of his total estate. The first financial record we have for any RIC Bryant is that of his grandson, David P., who left behind a Kentucky estate (personal property--not including real estate) valued at $3,239. This doesn't sound like much, but it would take $71,800 in today's money to purchase what that could buy in 1823. The equivalent prestige value is $2.2 million and the relative wealth compared to total GDP is $65 million.[10]

There is only one extant document--the affidavit associated with a lawsuit over Richard Murray's estate--that could have displayed John Sr.'s signature. Instead, it sports his mark: X. It's hard to tell with just a single document, but it could mean that he was illiterate. Clearly the family valued education. Richard Murray left £10 to each of his children for the education of their children. Similarly, there is a family story about Austin's son Reubin b. 1789-1792  d. Dec 1818, describing him as a school teacher known for his beautiful penmanship. There was also a letter--ostensibly signed by John Bryant Jr.--in the Revolutionary War pension application he submitted in 1838.[11] Yet another document in the packet displays his mark.

The more we learn about the family, the more it seems that John Bryant Sr. was either a gentleman from England or his father was in the merchant, military, or civil servant stratum. In either case, he or his family probably arrived first in the Tidewater area of Virginia before moving west to Buckingham. His links to Powhatan/Cumberland Co support this thesis. (It also whispers a reminder of the possible French connection, since many Huguenots settled in Powhatan Co.)

Only two cultural factors point in the direction of Irish Sea origins: 1. His son, John Jr., exhibited a restless urge to follow the frontier from Va to Ky to TN and AL-- a quality often attributed to those of Scottish descent. 2. A grandson (Randolph Bryant) and great-grandson (Jesse Puryear Bryant) became Baptist preachers--another quality linked to the Scots.


[1] His brother, Anthony Murry, married in 1734, leading to a DOB of before 1713.

[2] The tracts were on the south side of James River, on a south branch of the Willis River, on both sides of Little Muddy Creek, plus tracts that did not have place names in the deeds. Three of his tracts were on Muddy Creek and one deed referenced a dwelling there, so that may have been where he lived. In fact, it's quite possible that all the property was in the property is in the same general vicinity. 

[3] It's possible the couple lived in the portion of Cumberland Co. that later became Powhatan Co. In 1782, when Buckingham Co, started its land tax list, an entry read “John Briant, Sr. (Pon County).” John Sr. was clearly residing in Buckingham at that time so the reference must have been to an earlier place of residence. Was he referring to growing up in Powhatan or living there just prior to taking up residence near Rock Island Creek? (In either case, he should have said "Cumberland County," as he was definitely a resident of Buckingham prior to 1772, perhaps by 1765, and Powhatan wasn’t carved from Cumberland until 1777.) If the latter, it conflicts with John Jr's claim that he was born 1754 in Albemarle.

[4] Another John Bryant and son Silvanus owned land farther downstream near the Rivanna River.

[5] The Jefferson Brothers by Joanne Yeck, page 18. Dates based on email correspondence with author, clarifying period of Richard Murray's lease. Also, according to Ms. Yeck, there are no other surviving records for the ferry house from 1762-1776. Ms. Yeck herself referenced John Harvie, Peter Jefferson Estate Account Book I, p. 36, CSmH.

[6] The book Virginia Tithables from Burned Record Counties listed John Bryant in Buckingham County with 0 tithables in 1773 and 2 in 1774. In 1774, these tithes were in addition to the “proprietor” or payer of the tax. By law at that time, a tithe was any white male over 16 or a negro or Indian, male or female. Jumping from 0-2 tithes can be explained in several ways: 1. two sons born within a 12-month period; 2. one son, plus a tithable negro or Indian; 3. two tithable negroes or Indians. Per this website: http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/guides/rn17_tithables.htm “When free males appeared for the first time in the household of an individual having their surname, they were at least sixteen years of age. When a free male appeared in his own name rather than in the household of another, he was probably twenty-one years of age.”

[7] The early laws required the tax commissioner in each district to record in “a fair alphabetical list” the names of the person chargeable with the tax, the names of white male tithables over the age of twenty-one, the number of white male tithables between ages sixteen and twenty-one, the number of slaves both above and below age sixteen, various types of animals such as horses and cattle, carriage wheels, ordinary licenses, and even billiard tables. Free Negroes are listed by name and often denoted in the list as “free” or “FN.”

[8] Due to the Revolutionary War, no land grants were issued between 1775 and 1779, when the legislature created a land office and system for distributing unappropriated lands. Since Virginia has a pretty good record of early land grants, it seems most likely that John Sr. purchased the 200 acres "secondhand" from someone else.

[9] There were, in fact, multiple Walton-Murray marriages: 1) Edward Walton Jr. married Nancy Murray, daughter of Richard Murray. 1) Edward's brother Thomas Walton Jr. married Phoebe Murray, daughter of Richard's brother Anthony. (Nancy and Phoebe were first cousins.) Thomas Walton Jr. owned the 1254 acre Cove Farm in Buckingham County.3) Thomas and Edward had a probable brother John Walton Sr. whose son Edward Walton m. Ann Murray. John Walton Sr. had two plantations and many slaves. 4) A cousin of these Waltons, Robert Walton Jr. had a son Tilman Walton who married his first Judith Walton, daughter of Edward Walton Jr. and Nancy Murray. Robert Walton Jr. owned thousands of acres. Patrick Henry was his attorney. After Robert's death, his wife Mary Hughes married John Winfrey in Cumberland. (The Bryants and Winfreys were strongly connected.)

[10] Cited in 2011 dollars, these numbers are not fixed. See this website: http://www.measuringworth.com/uscompare/relativevalue.php. Additionally David's brother, William Price, had 7 slaves in 1820 and supported a household of 17, so it's possible his wealth may have been much greater.

[11] It's conceivable this letter could have been signed by his attorney; however that wasn't customary. The only reason to consider this possibility is because there was another document signed by his mark, an X. John Jr. was elderly and very infirm during part of the extended time he was attempting to get a pension. It's possible he was not well enough to sign his name clearly on the other occasion.