Bell, Josiah Hughes (1791–1838)

By: Merle Weir

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: September 30, 2020

Josiah Hughes Bell, Brazoria county planter, founder of East and West Columbia, Texas, and one of Stephen F. Austin's Old Three Hundred colonists, was born on August 22, 1791, in Chester District, South Carolina, the son of John and Elizabeth (Hughes) Bell. His father died when he was five, and at age eleven the young man was apprenticed to two uncles in the hat business in Tennessee. He later moved to Missouri Territory, where he became justice of the peace of Bellevue Township in 1813 and served in the Indian wars growing out of the War of 1812. He was discharged from service by 1815 and manufactured hats and dealt in pelts for a time. In 1818 he sold his farm in Missouri and on December 1 of that year married Mary Eveline McKenzie of Kentucky, with whom he had eight children. Bell's son, Thaddeus C. Bell, was the second White child born in Austin's colony.

After a period in Natchitoches, Louisiana, Bell came to Texas with Austin in 1821. He brought with him a family of slaves and settled on New Year Creek, near old Washington. There he served as síndico procurador in 1821 and alcalde in 1822. From 1822 until August of 1823, when Austin was in Mexico, Bell took charge of Austin's colony. Horatio Chriesman made the colony's first survey on February 10, 1823, to locate Bell's land grants on the west side of the lower Brazos. Bell moved to what became known as Bell's Creek in January 1824, was made a militia lieutenant the same year, and was joined by his family in the fall. By 1829 a community known as Bell's Landing or Marion, which became an important inland port, grew up around a landing he constructed near his home. Bell developed a sugar plantation along the creek's banks and subsequently laid out the two towns that came to be known as East Columbia and West Columbia. He built the area's first hotel in 1832, constructed a school, and as an innovative town planner provided garden plots for new residents.

In 1834 he called a meeting of the colonists to draw up representations to Mexico for Austin's release from prison. He was Austin's friend and dependable agent in settling differences and publicizing new regulations among the colonists. He followed Austin's conservative policy in dealing with Mexico before the Texas Revolution, but he was loyal to the Texas cause during the war. Bell sold the tract embracing both Marion and East Columbia to Walter C. White and James Knight in October 1837 and moved to West Columbia, where he died on May 17, 1838; he was buried there. The value of his estate was estimated at $140,000.

James A. Creighton, A Narrative History of Brazoria County (Angleton, Texas: Brazoria County Historical Commission, 1975). Andrew Phelps McCormick, Scotch-Irish in Ireland and America (1897). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Time Periods:
  • Mexican Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Merle Weir, “Bell, Josiah Hughes,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 30, 2020

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