O'Brien, George Washington (1833–1909)

By: Judith Walker Linsley and Ellen Walker Rienstra

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1995

Updated: August 4, 2020

George W. O'Brien, lawyer, newspaper editor, and officer in the Confederate Army, son of George and Eliza Ann (Bryan) Bryan, was born five miles south of Abbeville, Vermilion Parish, Louisiana, on May 28, 1833. As a youth he received a private education, later adding to his knowledge by constant study and reading. George Bryan, who had changed his name from the original Irish spelling of O'Brien, moved to Beaumont as a widower in 1839, leaving his son with relatives. He married Nancy Millard, sister of Henry W. Millard, in 1840 and became a storekeeper and the founder of the Bolivar and Sabine Pass Stage Line before his death in 1856. When the younger George reached maturity, he changed his name to O'Brien. George O'Brien moved to Beaumont in 1852 and found his first employment working for his father as a mail rider from Galveston to Beaumont. In 1854 he was elected county and district clerk for Jefferson County; in that capacity he kept the county records until the advent of the Civil War. He was also elected justice of the peace for Precinct No. 1 in 1858 and received his license as attorney on May 27, 1861. On July 21, 1854, O'Brien married Sarah Elizabeth Rowley, and they had four daughters and a son. After his first wife's death in 1870, he married Ellen Peebles Chenault in 1872. They had two sons. In the Jefferson County secession election of February 1861, O'Brien was one of sixteen voters who opposed Texas's secession from the Union. Nevertheless, on August 23 of that year, he enlisted in the Confederate Army, joining Company F, Fifth Texas Infantry Regiment of Hood's Texas Brigade. Shortly after his arrival in Virginia, however, he contracted measles and was discharged from the army on December 10, 1861. O'Brien returned to Beaumont and in March of 1862 mustered Company E, composed mostly of Beaumonters, which eventually became part of Col. Ashley W. Spaight's Eleventh Texas Volunteers. The company, with O'Brien as its captain, fought a number of skirmishes and an engagement, the battle of Fordoche Bayou, Louisiana, in September 1863. Its last combat experience was the battle of Calcasieu Pass on May 6, 1864. The company then garrisoned Fort Griffin at Sabine Pass and the post at Niblett's Bluff until it was discharged at Beaumont on May 27, 1865. O'Brien took the oath of allegiance to the United States and was paroled on July 14, 1865. Thereafter, he practiced law in Beaumont, the first resident attorney in the city. During Reconstruction, O'Brien vehemently opposed the Radical Republican regime of Governor Edmund J. Davis and became a spokesman for the "New Democracy," or Democratic party, in Southeast Texas. In 1869 he published the Neches Valley News and its successor, the Beaumont New Beacon, as the voice of the Democratic party. He was also active in efforts to construct a deep-water port in Beaumont. In 1872 he was a delegate to the National Democratic Convention in Baltimore, and in 1874–75 he served as district attorney for Jefferson County. He was a prominent Methodist and also served in 1892 as grand master of the city's Masonic lodge. That same year O'Brien became vice president of the Gladys City Oil Company, a partnership formed with fellow Beaumonters Pattillo Higgins and George W. Carroll. After several years of unsuccessful drilling for oil on Spindletop Hill, the company in 1900 leased 663 acres on the hill to Capt. Anthony F. Lucas, who on January 10, 1901, brought in the Lucas Gusher, the first well of the great Spindletop oilfield. George W. O'Brien died in Beaumont on June 30, 1909, and was buried in the Magnolia Cemetery.

W. T. Block, A History of Jefferson County, Texas, from Wilderness to Reconstruction (M.A. thesis, Lamar University, 1974; Nederland, Texas: Nederland Publishing, 1976). John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas (Austin: Daniell, 1880; reprod., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). James Anthony Clark and Michel T. Halbouty, Spindletop (New York: Random House, 1952). William Andrew Fletcher, Rebel Private, Front and Rear (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1954). Cooper K. Ragan, ed., "The Diary of Captain George W. O'Brien, 1863," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 67 (July, October 1963, January 1964). Christine Moor Sanders, Captain George Washington O'Brien and the History of the Gladys City Company at Spindletop (1992).

  • Journalism
  • Newspapers
  • Editors and Reporters
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • General Law
Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction

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

Judith Walker Linsley and Ellen Walker Rienstra, “O'Brien, George Washington,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 09, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/obrien-george-washington.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1995
August 4, 2020