Whether it was a prediction based on the personalities and preferences of his Bryan nephews, or his own hope for their future success, Stephen F. Austin predicted their careers in late 1834.
The eldest, William Joel Bryan, “must be a good planter,” Austin wrote in a letter to his sister, Emily. Moses Austin Bryan was to be “a good merchant,” while becoming “a good Lawyer” was his prediction for the livelihood of the youngest, Guy Morrison Bryan.
Only the decree involving Joel proved totally accurate, though those for the other two fell very close to the mark.
Joel was 15 when his mother and stepfather, James F. and Emily Austin Bryan Perry, brought their growing family to Texas in 1831.
Joel had received a good education while the family lived in Missouri, but except for a brief time with a governess, the move to Texas basically ended his school days.
More geared to outdoor pursuits, particularly hunting, than to poring over books, Joel did not consider this a hardship.
During that era in Texas, most of the settlers’ sons in their mid-to-late teens were considered old enough to help provide the labor needed to ensure the basic necessities for their families.
In Joel’s case, it appears likely this was in keeping with his own wishes, as well. Many of the early references to him by his brothers and other family members mention his fondness for hunting and for hunting dogs, which seem to have been favored pastimes throughout his life.
By the time the family reached Texas, Emily was in the latter stages of pregnancy with another child by her second husband, James F. Perry. She and the children remained in the settlement of San Felipe until she recuperated from childbirth.
In the meantime, her husband and their slaves worked to build a cabin and outbuildings, and prepare land for planting at the property James had chosen on the stream he called Pleasant Bayou.
He described this as “a small creek … which emties into Chocolate Creek near the west end of Galveston Island about 8 Miles from Galveston Bay and 15 or 16 (miles) from the Island.”
Describing it as “a very pleasant situation,” he added it offered “good water tolarble good land and timber enough for all the purposes of a farm although not very plenty.”
Its most valuable attribute was its pasture, on which “any number of stock may be raised without any other expence than herdsman” along with accessibility to abundant oysters and fish, as well as water navigation access.
This choice for the Perry/Bryan clan’s homesite had not been favored by Austin, who had suggested they settle on his Peach Point tract instead.
On learning of James Perry’s selection, Austin tactfully offered to deed them any site they wished, but couldn’t help adding he had “originally intended to settle all my family … on the Sea Shore prairie at the edge of the timber 6 miles from the sea beach.”
He described this as the “best land and best situation in the colony,” basing this opinion on recommendations from those familiar with the area.
The property near Chocolate Bayou was his second choice, he added.
It didn’t take long for Emily and James Perry to realize the drawbacks to the site James had chosen, as Austin continued to extol the advantages offered at Peach Point.
The place they had settled was subject to almost constant winds that were harmful to crops and made even moderate Texas coastal temperatures seem much colder than a thermometer would show.
The howling of these winds around the small cabin was a trial in itself, and the year had been excessively wet, further dampening spirits, as well as creating more difficulty in performing outdoor work.
Their correspondence with Austin made their dissatisfaction obvious, and he repeatedly warned them against voicing these feelings lest they affect other settlers.
Feeling responsible for their having come to Texas at all, he again cited the remarkably rich land at Peach Point, as well as other benefits available there.
These included mention of congenial neighbors, the availability of schools for the children, and the convenience of travel on the Brazos River and to businesses in Brazoria.
On more than one occasion, Austin cautioned both of them against “low sperits,” noting other settlers would attribute them to Austin himself, causing problems and rumors of disaster.
Finally, in August 1832, James wrote that the family planned to remove from their Pleasant Bayou cabin to Peach Point. He described this site as being “near the mouth of the Brazos River within about 11 miles of the Coast.”
By November 1832, he actually began building cabins on a spot adjoining Austin’s chosen home site at Peach Point, leading Austin to write that Texas “must prosper in the end, it cannot be otherwise.”
Although noting the year had been unusually wet “and filled with trouble,” Austin predicted the new year would be much better.
Near Christmas of 1832, the Perry/Bryan clan finally moved to the plain but comfortable cabin James had built at Peach Point.
It was a time and place in which eldest sons assumed the duties of adults at a much earlier age than would be considered today, and Joel Bryan was no exception.
Within a short time, as James Perry and his slaves cleared and cultivated the first tracts of the Peach Point land and planted crops there, Joel began to assume the duties of overseer for his stepfather.
Next week: Joel Bryan among early Texas defenders.