John Thomas Brady, lawyer, legislator, newspaperman, and Houston city promoter, the son of John and Mary (Davis) Brady, was born in Charles County, Maryland, on October 10, 1830. He attended Charlotte Hall Academy and taught in the county's public schools for three years. He was admitted to the bar at Port Tobacco, Maryland, about 1855 and practiced law briefly. He then moved to Westport, Missouri, where he edited the Frontier News for two years. When troubles developed in Kansas, Brady moved there to assist in organizing the new territorial government. He was elected public printer, a position in which he published the journals and laws of the state's first legislature, and became district attorney for the Third Judicial District of the territory.
In 1856 he moved to Texas and established a law practice at Houston while living at Harrisburg. In Houston he served as leading counsel for the heirs of Christopher Dart against Elisha M. Pease, a case involving the recovery of 300 slaves smuggled into Brazoria County by Monroe Edwards. In 1866 Brady was one of a group of businessmen who established the Texas Transportation Company, which became part of the Southern Pacific Railroad and built a line from Houston to Clinton on Buffalo Bayou. In the 1880s he helped to organize the Houston Belt and Magnolia Park Railway Company, later part of the Missouri Pacific. At different times Brady served as the first president of each railroad. He was also interested in deepening the Houston ship channel and had the bayou dredged in what became Houston's first turning basin. The new channel cut Brady's Island from his property.
In the Civil War Brady served the Confederacy on Gen. John B. Magruder's staff and was a volunteer aide to Commodore Leon Smith on the steamer Bayou City in the capture of the Harriet Lane and the defeat of the federal fleet at Galveston Harbor on January 1, 1863. He received special mention for his courage at the battle of Galveston. Brady was elected to the Tenth Legislature in 1863 and served as chairman of the committee on finance. In 1866 he was chairman of the committee on internal improvements in the Eleventh Legislature, and he was an advocate of the State Plan for building railroads. As a senator in the Fifteenth Legislature in 1876, he was chairman of the committee on public debt. In 1880 he was nominated for Congress by the National Greenback Labor party.
On March 31, 1858, he married Caledonia Tinsley of Brazoria County. The Brady home, known as the Cedars or the Brady Place, comprised 2,000 acres, from which the Magnolia Park subdivision was later developed. After his first wife's death Brady married Lennie Sherman, the daughter of Sidney Sherman, on November 24, 1880; they had a son and a daughter. When Lennie died, Brady married Estelle Jenkins of Maryland, with whom he had one daughter. Brady bred thoroughbred cattle and served as the first president of the Texas State Fair Association. He died after suffering a stroke on an inspection of the port of Houston on June 26, 1890, and was buried at Glenwood Cemetery.