Haunts & Jaunts: Finding Mary Bryan

Mary Bryan’s memorial sign can be found in Southport Cemetery. (Photo by Rick Hinton)

By Rick Hinton

I don’t stroll through cemeteries in the dark much these days. However, I have no hesitation doing so in the daylight when I’m looking for someone or something, especially when accompanied by my friend Barry Browning, President of the Perry Township/Southport Historical Society. We went to the Old Southport Cemetery on a mission: To find the grave of Mary Bryan—Pioneer Woman.

History can sometimes be a puzzle: dates can be off by a few years; some events may or may not have happened as thought (stories are just that—stories); the spelling of names change. However, one thing remains consistent—what has happened in the past, in many ways, defines our present. History becomes a tale of people who lived their lives during their brief moment in the sun, resulting in events
that have left imprints remaining to this day.

Mary Bryan has her own historical marker, easily visible, outside a small cemetery on busy Southport Road. This location’s importance is a slice of history, becoming a defining part of the Southside. 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 made their way through the mountains to transition into a new life—and whether it was Boone leading the way—is lost in the fuzziness of history. There are date discrepancies on Bryan’s
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 among those.

Mary Hunt had married Samuel Bryan in Rowan County, NC. They managed to produce ten children before their next move in 1779 to Campbell County, KY, where they lived for many years. Their final move, with a few of their children, was to Southport between 1830-1834. After this move, Samuel had barely enough time to unpack. He died in 1837. Mary followed five years later in 1842.

There are stories that they 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 was an old monument joined with a newer stone. A small wrought iron fence, adorned with flowers and American flags, encircled three sides of the grave. We paused in respect as vehicles flowed east and west on Southport Road. This moment, with the Bryans, was a piece of the puzzle of Southport in its infancy!

You might ask—how exactly do 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 a story for a different day.

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