Finding Mary Bryan

By Rick Hinton

I don’t stroll through cemeteries in the dark anymore, yet have no hesitation in doing so in the daylight. Especially when accompanied by my friend, Barry Browning, treasurer for the Perry Township/Southport Historical Society. We are in the “Old” Southport Cemetery on a mission: finding the grave of Mary Bryan, pioneer woman.

History’s always been a puzzle. Dates can be off by a few years, some events may or may not have actually happened, the spelling of names change but one thing remains consistent: what has happened in the past in many ways defines our present. It’s a story of people who lived their lives for a brief moment in the sun and events that have left imprints. Mary Bryan has her very own historical marker, standing prominently outside a small cemetery on busy Southport Road. We pass it every day; at least I do. What happened here is a slice of such history.

History dictates that Daniel Boone (an explorer and settler from Kentucky) brought other potential settlers west through the “Gap” in the Cumberland Mountains in the late 1770s. The route became known as “The Wilderness Road.” Mary factored into this. She happened to be married to Boone’s nephew, Samuel Bryan, a Revolutionary War soldier and actual pioneer man. The exact year they transitioned through the mountains into a new life and whether it was with Boone leading the way is lost in the fuzziness of history. We’ll never know for sure. There are date discrepancies on her marker and a misleading statement: One of the first American women to cross the Cumberland Mountains.” Not true! The American Indians had been crossing those mountains for hundreds of years prior. I believe there might have been a few women along those.

Treasurer for Perry Townships/Southport Historical Society, Barry Browning, with Mary Bryan’s grave. (Photo by Rick Hinton.)

Mary Hunt married Samuel Bryan in Rowan County, North Carolina. They managed to rustle up 10 children before their next move in 1779 to Campbell County, Kentucky, where they lived for many years. Their final move, with a few of their children, was to Marion County, Indiana (Southport) somewhere between 1830 and 1834. Again… extreme fuzziness on the exact date. Samuel had barely enough time to unpack. He died in 1837. Mary followed five years later in 1842. There are reports that both were originally buried on the farm of their son, Luke, whom they were living with. They were later moved to the “Old” Southport Cemetery.

Barry and I found their plot in the cemetery. It wasn’t hard to find, with old monuments mixed with new stones. A small wrought iron fence encircled three sides and adorned with flowers and American flags. We paused in respect. This was Southport in its infancy!

You might ask how the Bryan’s factor into Southport history. How did they end up in this relatively small graveyard, looked over by the Gothic brick church to its east?  And, whose land was this? Well, that’s another story….

Special thanks to Marion County Marker Text Review Report (03/13/2013) for info and dates.