Revolutionary War Brysons

The Bryson Clan, William and at least five of his sons and his brother John had moved from Pennsylvania to the Carolinas by 1765. They were farmers with their father until they were old enough to move to nearby South Carolina to start their own farms. By the time of the American Revolution they were all young adults and most were married with their own homes.

One of the brothers, James Holmes Bryson marries Sarah Countryman in the town of Ninety Six in South Carolina in 1769. Some of their children were born near King’s Mountain before finally reaching Sugarfork.After the 1773 death of her husband, the Mother-in-Law Elizabeth Countryman moves in and will remain with them until her death in 1817 at the ripe old age of 101 (some researchers give her age at 117). Their daughter Sarah will marry Thomas Gross and their daughter Ann will marry James Naille Bryson, the grandson of her dad’s brother. I am not sure what that relationship is called. Anyway, the family remained in close proximity with each other and were able to provide support as the rebellion against the British began.

Brother Andrew, who along with James Holmes are in the line descent, will marry Agnes Naille who passes away in 1796 near Ninety Six. Brothers John, William, Samuel and Daniel all spent their early adult lives in the hills of western North Carolina which remained frontier. Initially there was little fighting between Rebels and Loyalists in the southern colonies. However, the Cherokees had allied themselves with the British and had killed 37 settlers near present day Franklin. Franklin is about 20 miles from Sylva and Cullowhee, the centers of Bryson settlement. The efforts of Daniel, the youngest of William’s sons is the best documented. His story probably parallels the efforts of his brothers although this is speculative. But given the proximity of the family to these events and the informal nature of enlistments and fighting, a fair amount of inference can be assumed.

Daniel joins a group of 2,500 militia and marches through Sylva and across Cowee Mountain to present day Franklin.  Cowee, the main Cherokee settlement of the region, was destroyed. Another 30-40 Cherokee towns were obliterated by the mountain militia that will later do the same to the British at Kings Mountain and Cowpens. Daniel is part of a militia unit that will fight at the Battle of Brandywine. He returns home with a case of smallpox that will sideline him until 1778. Daniel received a battlefield commission as a Captain and commanded a company of militia at Cowpens. Unfortunately, these informal ranks were never recognized after the war. The story of his pension applications to the US, North and South Carolina pension boards are beyond discussion here. He finally did receive a pension in 1818. Brother Samuel served in the North Carolina Line of the Continental Army and received a pension in 1833 at the age of 89. It appears that the Veterans Administration developed a pattern very early in its history. While serving as a militiaman in 1776 guarding the Catawba River, he would get permission each night to return to his home 14 miles away to protect his home and family from his Tory neighbors. Brothers Andrew and James Holmes performed as militia at the Battles of Kings Mountain and Cowpens but neither received pensions. It is to these two key battles that we turn our attention to.

In the fall of 1780, the victorious forces of General Cornwallis seemed unstoppable in the southern colonies. His southern strategy was largely based on the belief that the southern colonies were filled with Loyalists and that the rebels were few in number. The Loyalist forces attached to his army were not reluctant to settle old grievances with their rebel neighbors by burning their homes and destroying their farms. By 1780, British commanders announced that they would burn all rebel homes. In Georgia, patriots like the McKenneys moved their families safely out of the way and joined militia units. For the Brysons, the war was headed their way.

An 1100 man British militia unit that was strengthened by Scottish Highlanders under the command of a Major Ferguson found itself surrounded on a hill by 800 backwoods militia under the command of General Pickens. Kings Mountain is on the South Carolina border with North Carolina some 140 miles from Sylva. As news spread that Ferguson bragged that he would destroy the homes of the rebel “mongrels”, backwoods frontiersmen like the Brysons needed no further motivation. They left their homes with their rifles and joined others who had caught Ferguson on a hill that was quickly surrounded. Some of the rebel units were organized militias with commanders and some degree of structure. It is unlikely that the Brysons needed much direction. They were presented with an opportunity to revenge their grudges against the Tories, some of whom may have been neighbors. They took full advantage. From behind trees and rocks they quickly picked off the British officers. They were restrained by their officers after killing some 200 of the British led forces and did not give the Loyalists “Tarleton’s Quarter”.

Elizabeth Countryman Reenactors

Elizabeth Countryman Re-enactors

Most of the Patriot militia headed home for the winter but quickly rallied in late January when it was reported that the hated Tarleton was isolated from the bulk of the British army at a place known as Cowpens. The Patriot commander, General Morgan knew his militia well. He gave them an assignment he knew they could carry out. That was to fire three rounds and then retreat. He talked to them the evening before the battle in sight of Elizabeth Countryman’s cabin. There were at least four and possibly six Brysons gathered around those campfires as well as two McKenneys with the Georgia militia. In the morning Elizabeth will join them in battle bringing water to the patriots.

As is well known, General Morgans tactics were perfect. Tarleton saw the militia apparently running away after firing a few shots. He ordered a charge only to discover that the main force of Continentals was behind a rise. The running militia quickly rejoined the fight and the battle was a rout. More than 80% of Tarleton’s force was destroyed along with Cornwallis’ southern strategy. Cornwallis will then depart for Virginia and surrender at Yorktown.

The Brysons return home and create future generations.

Battle of Cowpens today

Battle of Cowpens today

Elizabeth Countryman’s cabin was to the left of the road in the picture above.

31 thoughts on “Revolutionary War Brysons

  1. Hi! I’m James Holmes Bryson’s direct grand daughter. I have been looking for documentation of his military service. If you can tell me where to find any actual records I would be very grateful. I found depositions for Daniel and Andrew’s petitions for pensions. I found a picture of James Holmes Bryson’s head stone, but I can’t find anything that is a historical record of his service. I want to know if he fought at King’s Mountain. I’ve read many pages that tell the story, but so far, nothing to back it up. If you can help me, I thank you.
    Sincerely,
    Trish Ciaffone.

    • Do you have access to Ancestry.com? If you do, you can see the documentation that I have.

      It seems that all of the Bryson’s and their father James Holmes Bryson fought at Kings Mtn and at Cowpens.

      • I was in County Antrim a couple years ago, but couldn’t find much in the way of Brysons. Did you locate anything of interest?

      • We are also descendents (in NC) and I took my father and son on a trip last September to tour the ancestral homelands… Antrim, Larne, Glasgow/Stirling, Loch Lomond….words can’t do the trip justice.

        I had gotten interested initially in the family stories of the Civil War, and then worked my way back….

      • Don,

        The folks,at the genealogy library in Ballymena told us that most people from Antrim immigrated from Portrush. Were you able to find anything helpful in Larne?

        I am writing the story of out visit and will post as a blog in a few weeks after we return from Russia.

  2. Mark do you have any info on the Scottish ancestors of the Brysons in this history? Specifically William Bryson’s line who came to Antrim then to PA? We always dead end at William’s father. I am a direct descendent of James Holmes Bryson.

    • Carlene, I get much of my Bryson info from Ronald Howell Bryson’s book. We went to Antrim in 2012 and dug around in the local genealogy collections. I got nothing specific other than almost all of Scots Irish departed from Portrush and got their immigration papers in Antrim town. I am currently writing a synopsis of our trip and will post it as a blog in the next couple of weeks.

      We did find some Calvinist Brisons near Nimes in Southern France. Do you know any male Bryson’s who have done a DNA test?

      So yes, I too reach a dead end in Antrim but it is pretty easy to generalize their reasons for leaving just like their likely origins near Glasgow per RH Bryson.

      • Thanks for the info and sorry it’s taken me so long to reply. There was a DNA project t going on but I’m not sure if it’s still active. The website where the results were posted no longer appears to be active. Here is the link to the DNA project. https://www.familytreedna.com/public/bryson We have a genealogy group on Facebook called Clan Bryson on Facebook

      • Well I take that back…the DNA results are at the link I posted. I don’t really understand them.

  3. Larne was just a convenient base: Beautiful train ride to Belfast, and then the ferry to Troon. Some tidbits suggested some Brysons may have arrived there from Scotland (and something about a ship’s captain named Bryson). Later, I ran across some references to Brysons in Carrickfergus….which we unfortunately did not have time to visit. We didn’t confirm many specific details, but were more than satisfied taking in the overall environment and atmosphere…and hospitality. Highlights were Drymen, Scotland and our visit to the Ulster-American Folk Park in Omagh during the largest bluegrass festival outside North America (complete with Irish re-enactors of a Confederate unit out of Morganton…who treated us like celebrities!).

    Looking forward to your account; looks like we visited similar locations:
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/89045151@N00/sets/

  4. I too am a direct descendant of James Holmes Bryson. Through my membership in D.A.R. I am doing talks in colonial dress about women on the battlefield in the Revolutionary War. I would like to know more about any documentation of Elizabeth Countryman’s activities at Cowpens. When I asked about her at the battlefield, no one knew who she was. You have a picture of her re-enactors. Did you title that yourself or are there actually members of some group who commemorate her? I would like to explore any documentation you may have on her and her son-in-law. I want to be accurate in my story telling.

  5. William and Isabella Bryson are my 6th great grandparents. Samuel and Martha Bogle Bryson are my 5th great grandparents. I’m so glad I found this article! I’m working on documenting my heritage for membership in the DAR. This is great! Thanks.

  6. I’m so excited to find this. William and Isabella Bryson are my 6Xs great-grandparents. I had traced the Bryson line and now James Holmes and Sarah Countryman have come up as DNA matches on ancestry. com. I live in Texas. I, too, am in D.A.R. and am very interested in learning more about Elizabeth Countryman and her role at Cowpens. I would love to see her approved as a D A R female patriot.

  7. William Bryson to James Holmes Bryson, to Daniel Granderson Bryson, to Col. Thaddeus Dillard Bryson, to Judge Thaddeus Dillard Bryson II, to Judge Thaddeus Dillard Bryson III….His eldest daughter, Irene Gail Bryson, was my mother….the town of Bryson City, N.C. is named after the Col.

  8. William Bryson to James Holmes Bryson, to Daniel Granderson Bryson, to Col. Thaddeus Dillard Bryson, to Judge Thaddeus Dillard Bryson II, to Judge Thaddeus Dillard Bryson III….whose eldest daughter, Irene Gail Bryson, was my mother……The town of Bryson City, N.C., in Swain Co., is named after the Col.

  9. Andrew Bryson is my line ,I would like to have more information about his 2nd wife his daughter Nancy Bryson b.1811 married William Hooper, William Hooper’s dad Was also a Revolutionary War Soldier Absolom Hooper if anyone knows anything to help me with my research it would be great to here from you, Email address 108dab888@gmail.com name Donnie Alan Blackstone South Carolina, Thank’s

  10. I am a direct descendant of James Holmes Bryson. My grandmother was Marian Bryson Singleton, the daughter of Thaddeus Dillard Bryson Jr.

  11. I am a direct descendent of Elizabeth Countryman. My name is Carl Byrd Fisher, Jr. and my late father was Colonel Carl Bryd Fisher, Sr born in Andrews NC. My ancestors (Brysons and Fishers) are interred at Old Hill Cemetery, Beta Community, Jackson County NC. I am researching Elizabeth Countryman and I knew about her amazing story from family documents. Your story about her and the Brysons is the most well written and informative I have come across. Thank you for sharing.

  12. I, too, am a direct descendant of Elizabeth Countryman and James H. Bryson. My daughter and I made a trip to the Cowpens Battlefield, SC, in June. I live in E. TX, my daughter lives in the Eastern area of SC. The park rangers told us they, too, have heard and been brought the stories of the bravery of Elizabeth and Sarah Countryman. They said they have no documentation of this and, reminded us that the battle that changed the course of the Revolutionary War in the South took less than 1 hour. I was in hopes of finding documentation so I could prove them as female DAR patriots. Cowpens Battlefield and Kings Mountain Battlefield historical videos are wonderful.

    • I noticed that you said you lived in East Texas. I
      am your cousin and I currently live in Comanche County, although I am originally from the Texas Panhandle. There are some Bryson’s buried in Comanche and they are related to us.

      Take care.

      Ray Trosper

    • Hello Angela Kay Key,
      I may have misspoken when I said ‘documentation’ what I have actually is hand written accounts from relatives which I am happy to share. Her story was handed down to her children and grand children by word of mouth as was the custom of our mountain kinfolk. I have uncovered an interesting story written about Elizabeth Countryman from the ‘Gaffney Ledger’ Gaffney, SC Oct. 1974 written by John Parris who was a well known writer for the ‘Asheville Citizen-Times’.

      I also have a little more information on Elizabeth Countryman from relatives which I will be happy to share later as this article from the ‘Gaffney Ledger’ is lengthy. Reading this today with all the turmoil in our country and indeed the world sends a wave of pride up my spine knowing that I and my related family come from the finest stock of the bravest patriots America has to offer. I shall walk taller now. Enjoy!

      October 25, 1974
      The Gaffney Ledger from Gaffney, South Carolina · Page 3

      John Parris, who “Roams the Mountains” for the Asheville Citizen-Times,

      A Woman’s Place Heroine of Cowpens A simple gravestone marks the spot where Elizabeth Countryman was buried without fanfare in 1834. John Parris, who “Roams the Mountains” for the Asheville Citizen-Times, discovered the simple grave near the small village of Beta, N. C. “Granny” Countryman was 118 years old when she died, an item which should not be overlooked, however, there’s much more. Few folks ever heard of her and even fewer know of her part in the Battle of Cowpens during the American Revolutionary War. We, here in the battleground country, should be interested in what Parris found out about “Granny” Countryman. In her way, she was something of a heroine, Parris writes. “At least, she was to the little army of patriots whose long-rifles spoke out for independence that January day of 1791 and broke the British hold on South Carolina.” Parris said, “She went among them with wooden bucket and gourd dipper, when the smoke of shot and shell parched their throats, and gave them water when there was no water.” She remembered that Gen. Daniel Morgan’s troops were on the hill and Gen. Andrew Pickens’ men were at the foot of the slope there at the Cowpens when Colonel Tarleton, the British commander, launched his attack. Her two sons, John and Andrew Countryman, and her son-in-law, William Bryson, and his five brothers were there with their long rifles. “The day was cold, she remembered, and she recalled how she got up that morning at her home, which was close by the American forces, and picked up a bucket and a gourd,” Parris writes. “She went out to the spring and filled the bucket with water and, while the battle raged, she went among the soldiers and gave them water. “Before the British attacked, her sons told her later when the battle was over, Gen. Pickens had told every third man to fire when the enemy was within 150 yards, the others to wait until the British were closer. “Officers in bright regalia were the chosen targets. “Granny Countryman said she couldn’t name the number of trips she made that day to and from the spring with water for the soldiers. But she told her great-grandchildren that she didn’t stop until late afternoon when the British had been sent fleeing. “After the battle, she and her daughter, the wife of William Bryson, walked over the battlefield to see if any of their family had been killed or wounded. “They looked at the faces of the dead, she recalled, and were relieved to see that none of their family was among them. “When her folks returned months later, they told her they had taken some cannons and a moving forge and, with several prisoners, had moved on north after the battle in pursuit of the British who they engaged on the Catawba and later at Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina. “With the end of the American Revolution, the Brysons moved from South Carolina to stake out homesteads in the wilderness of North Carolina.” Granny Countryman, then 85 years old and still tough as a hickory, came with them. It was 1801 and, making their own way through the wilderness, the family, with Granny helping, carved out a home in the wilds, among the squirrel, the owl and the black bear. Among the Balsams near Fisher Creek in Jackson County, Granny Countryman lived, worked, and told her story. It was in 1834 that she died, far from her birthplace in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and a goodly way from Cowpens where she had been a heroine. They buried her on the Bryson farm, on a high grassy knoll above the creek, under the tall Balsams. A permanent marker was erected in 1925. “Even though she never made the history books, the memory of Granny Countryman is kept alive by her kin,” Parris states. True. It is our first encounter with the story, amid and among all the others about Cowpens and that historic battle just up the road. Yet, there are countless stories about men and women who, in the early days of this nation, not knowing if tomorrow would bring freedom or slavery, gave the best they had for the cause. Granny Countryman saw her duty. Perhaps to us it seems like a small thing, a bucket of water and a gourd dipper, in the midst of a battle to save a nation. Yet, do we know what one drink of water meant to that soldier, to that man on the front line? Do we know what this woman’s concern meant to those who faced danger and death? How much courage did her courage inspire? How much grit did her grit generate? How much compassion did her compassion create? Do we really know how important that dipper of water might have been on that fateful day at the Cowpens? As long as there are dedicated Americans striving to save our freedom, there will be people like Granny Countryman doing their small part to defend it also. 

      • Carl, Thank you, so much for this. I love family stories. You may send anything about this branch of the family to me: ak_key2000@yahoo.com I link from me, my daddy Charles Darrell Kay, grandfather Lawrence Melvin Kay, g-grandfather Stephen Preston Kay, gg-grandmother Isabella Armstrong, ggg-grandmother Isabella “Ibbie” Bryson, gggg-grandparents James H. Bryson and Sarah Isabella Countryman.

  13. James Holmes Bryson and Isabella Countryman were my 6th great grandparents. I’m fascinated with family history, and have thoroughly enjoyed reading this information. If anyone has anything to share regarding family history, or if you’re a cousin and would like to say hello, I can be reached via email at cvlsimmons@gmail.com.

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