John (Juan) Davis Bradburn was born in Virginia in 1787, moved with his family to Christian County, Kentucky, by 1810, and became a trader at Springfield, Tennessee. He was probably a member of the Gutiérrez-Magee expedition in 1812. He was elected third lieutenant of Buard's company, Eighteenth Regiment of Louisiana volunteers, by the returned filibusters in 1814, when the British attacked New Orleans. The Natchitoches regiment failed to arrive at the Crescent City before January 8, 1815, when Andrew Jackson defeated the British.
After the war Bradburn joined Henry Perry, a veteran of the Gutiérrez-Magee endeavor, who was planning a second attack on Spanish Texas. Stationed in the Nacogdoches area, Bradburn funneled men and equipment to Perry at Bolivar Peninsula and Perry's Point (Anahuac) in 1816. Perry and Bradburn joined Luis Michel Aury, who had recently been appointed governor of Texas by the Mexican revolutionary government in exile on Galveston Island, a staging area for a descent on La Bahía. Before Aury's plans matured, Francisco Xavier Mina arrived with funds, men, and a new plan to attack Soto la Marina, Tamaulipas, and join Mexican guerrillas. The group sailed in April 1817 and easily took the Spanish fort. Upon joining the patriots at Fort Sombrero in Guanajuato in July, Bradburn became second in command of the American volunteers. A successful siege by the royalists forced the insurgents to evacuate, and Bradburn was one of the few to escape. He managed to join Vicente Ramón Guerrero near Acapulco and served the cause until December 1820, when he defected to Agustín de Iturbide, commander of the Spanish army. Iturbide, a native Mexican, was secretly planning a coup to expel the Spaniards, and Bradburn apparently served as intermediary between Iturbide and Guerrero in uniting the diverse Mexican factions in order to defeat the Spanish. The union of the two allowed the promulgation of the Plan de Iguala in February 1821, and the Spanish soon admitted defeat.
Once independence from Spain was achieved, Bradburn remained in the Mexican army as a lieutenant colonel and an aide to Iturbide. He married a titled heiress, María Josefa Hurtado de Mendoza, whose family owned property on the Zócalo, the House of Tiles. Bradburn survived the numerous political changes of the 1820s and in 1830 was appointed commander of a new garrison on Galveston Bay. Commandant Gen. Manuel de Mier y Terán ordered him to locate a site for the fort, a military town, and a customhouse, to be named Anahuac. Bradburn chose Perry's Point, overlooking the mouth of the Trinity.
The Law of April 6, 1830, endeavored to "Mexicanize" Texas by limiting future immigration from the United States and to encourage native Mexicans to populate Texas. Bradburn encountered hostility from his fellow Anglo-Americans when he tried to carry out Mier y Terán's orders, which included inspecting land titles, issuing licenses to Anglo lawyers, and enforcing the customs laws of the nation. The exemption from paying tariffs granted to Austin's colonists had expired, and the federal government expected the revenue to pay for the six new military posts guarding the entrances to Texas.
William B. Travis was among the leaders opposing Bradburn, and he violated the military laws governing the post by words and deeds calculated to stir a rebellion. When Bradburn arrested him and other leaders of the movement, emotional outcries on the Brazos started a force marching to attack Anahuac. The rebels invaded the village on June 10, 1832, and Bradburn agreed to an exchange of prisoners—Travis and the other Anglos in exchange for nineteen cavalrymen ambushed by the insurgents the previous day—and withdrawal of the insurgent force. The cavalrymen were released, but when Bradburn later discovered that a number of rebels had remained in town overnight, he refused to free his prisoners and began firing on the town.
The insurgents then withdrew to Turtle Bayou, where they drew up a series of resolutions explaining their action in light of news that the Federalist faction under Antonio López de Santa Anna was defeating the Centralist administration supported by Bradburn. An uneasy peace lasted while the rebels sent to the Brazos for cannons and Bradburn appealed for help from other military commanders in Texas. Col. José de las Piedras marched from Nacogdoches, but fearing that he was outnumbered he met with Anglo insurgents near Liberty and agreed to their demands—remove Bradburn from command and free Travis and the others.
After Bradburn was relieved of command on July 2, he feared plots against his life and on July 13 fled to New Orleans. He returned to the Rio Grande and continued his career with the waning Centralist army until its defeat in December 1832. He then lived in retirement at his home near Matamoros until 1836, when he was ordered against his wishes to join José de Urrea's command of the port of Copano, where he saw none of his old adversaries. The defeat of Santa Anna at San Jacinto caused the rest of the Mexican army to retreat, and Bradburn made his way back to Matamoros and retirement. He was briefly called back to duty during the Federalist Wars, but ill health prevented him from attacking San Antonio in the Mexican invasions of 1842. Bradburn died at Matamoros on April 20, 1842, and was buried on his ranch, Puertas Verdes, in what is now Hidalgo County, Texas. His only son, Andrés, became a priest; he disposed of his maternal inheritance in the 1880s. The widow Bradburn sold the ranch, which eventually became La Lomita Seminary near Mission (see LA LOMITA MISSION).