Bryan, William Joel (1815–1903)

By: Lillian Childress

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: March 2, 2021

William Joel Bryan, son of James and Emily (Austin) Bryan, was born at Hazel Run in Ste. Genevieve County, Missouri, on December 14, 1815. He attended school at Potosi until 1830. In 1831 he moved to Texas with his mother and stepfather, James F. Perry. He lived in the eastern part of Brazoria County before moving in 1832 to Peach Point Plantation, where Bryan was instructed by a governess at home while his father looked after the plantation, cattle, and property of Stephen F. Austin.

Bryan served in the Texas Revolution in 1835 with the Brazoria County Volunteers and was with his uncle, Stephen F. Austin, during the siege of Bexar. He was with Sam Houston in the retreat of the army across Texas, but was ill with measles at the time of the battle of San Jacinto. He served as an overseer at Peach Point between 1836 and 1839, for which he received $800. In April 1840 he married Lavinia Perry, his cousin by marriage, and settled at Durazno (Spanish for "peach") Plantation, an extension of Peach Point Plantation given to the couple on the occasion of their marriage. There the couple's seven children, four of whom later joined the Confederate Army, were born. The death of Bryan's daughter Eliza at the age of five or six occasioned the opening of Gulf Prairie Cemetery. Durazno Plantation raised cotton, cattle, and, by the 1850s, sugar, but made only a single sugar crop between 1852 and 1858. By 1860 Bryan had real property valued at $176,000, personal property valued at $62,320, and thirty-eight slaves. During the Civil War he fed Confederate troops stationed at the mouth of the Brazos at his own expense. In 1865 he granted the Houston and Texas Central a right-of-way through his land in Brazos County, and a projected townsite, later called Bryan, was named in his honor. Bryan gave the town financial assistance and helped to establish its bank. He dreamed of the development of a deepwater port at the mouth of the Brazos and was involved with George L. Hammeken in promoting the Brazos and Galveston Railroad from Galveston Bay to the Brazos River and in developing municipal real estate at Austinia, near the site of present Texas City. Emily M. Perry deeded fifty-five of the 122 blocks of the town to Bryan and Hammeken on January 16, 1839, and the remainder on February 1. Bryan was a member of the Texas Veterans Association and a Presbyterian after 1894. He died on March 3, 1903, and was buried in Gulf Prairie Cemetery at Peach Point.

Nanetta Key Burkholder, The 1860 Census of Brazoria County (Brazosport, Texas: Brazosport Genealogical Society, 1978). Abigail Curlee, "History of a Texas Slave Plantation," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 26 (October 1922). C. W. Raines, Year Book for Texas (2 vols., Austin: Gammel-Statesman, 1902, 1903). Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Texas Collection, July 1953.

  • Agriculture
  • Plantation Owners
  • Military
Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Civil War
  • Reconstruction
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • East Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast

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

Lillian Childress, “Bryan, William Joel,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 25, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 2, 2021

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