Bryant Surname Genealogy

and Bryant are English and
American surnames derived from the old Celtic personal name Brian which
thought to combine the elements bre
meaning “hill” and brigh
“strong.”  Bryan may alternatively have
derived from the place-name Brionne (pronounced Brionny) in northern
France.  The names were probably first
brought over to England with Breton and Norman bearers of the name who
had arrived
at or after the time of the Norman Conquest.
Brian Boru rose to the high kingship
of Ireland in 1002 and later defeated the invading Vikings.  His descendants became the O’Brien sept.  The O’Brien name in its travels abroad,
particularly in America, often got mixed up with the Bryan name.  Bryants outnumber Bryans
by about two to one
today.  The Bryant name is particularly
numerous in America.

Bryant Resources on

Bryant Ancestry

England.  Guy de Brienne was
12th century scion of a Norman family which based itself at Walwyn’s
Castle in
Pembrokeshire and began six generations of knights that were all named
Guy.  Whether there was a descent from here
Thomas Bryan of Cheddington in Buckinghamshire is doubtful, although
one was

This Thomas Bryan rose from humble origins to become Chief Justice of
the Common Pleas in 1475.  His son and
grandson were courtiers to Henry VIII, most famously his grandson Sir
Francis Bryan
the rake who was known as the “Vicar of

Most Bryants
came from the west country, principally Somerset and Gloucestershire in
19th century.

.  Breton origins may have been the base of the
Bryan family in Somerset which took its name from Brean manor sometime
in the
14th century.  However, the spelling in
Somerset became more Briant and Bryant.
Alexander Briant was the Jesuit priest from Somerset who was
for his faith in 1581.  There was a later
Briant family from Yatterdon which emigrated.
There were as well notable Bryant families in the villages of
Withiel-Flory and Thurlbear.

Gloucestershire.  This county had the
largest number of Bryants
in England in the 1891 census.  The small
village of Frampton Cotterell near Chipping Sodbury has had a
number of Bryants dating back to the 1600’s.
A Bryan family of masons
flourished in Painswick from the early 1700’s.  

Cornwall.  The Bryant name appeared in
villages such as
St. Hilary and St. Uny near Lelant in the 18th century.
The latter was the birthplace of William
Bryant, the convict transported on the First Fleet to Australia in 1788
made a famous escape by ship to the Dutch East Indies three years later.  William died soon afterwards.
His wife Mary was captured and brought back
to London, but subsequently pardoned.

Devon.  Thomas Bryant was recorded at
Bampton in 1634
and descendants were subsequently to be found at Tiverton where James
was a starch-maker in the late 1700’s.
His son William Bryant, who became a Quaker, entered into a
with a fellow Quaker in 1843 to form what was to be the Bryant & May match company.
William’s son Wilberforce took over the company after William’s
death in
1874.  By 1900 the company had become,
through expansion and merger, the largest match-making company in

Ireland.  The
Bryans of Kilkenny were not thought to have originated from the Irish
but from the Anglo-Norman de Brienne family in Pembrokeshire in Wales.  Sir William Bryan of this line may have come
to Kilkenny sometime in the late 14th century, although details here

was a John Bryan who around the year 1640 owned well over
5,000 acres of the civil parish of Erke in the northwestern tip of
Kilkenny in the barony of Galmoy.”

These Bryans were Catholic at the time of
Cromwell and lost much of their land.
However, Pierse Bryan and his descendants remained sizeable
at Jenkinstown in Kilkenny during the 18th and 19th centuries.  

The principal early Bryant
lines were to be found in New England.

New England.  Anne Bryant, a widow, was
an early arrival in
New England, coming to Plymouth on the Handmaid
with her three young Bryant sons
from Kent in 1630.  The main descending
line came from her second
son Stephen.

The line via Ichabod, Philip, and the literary physician Peter led
to the 19th century poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant.  The chef Julia Child might have been a
descendant too.  Another line via Ichabod went to Edwin
Bryant, a Kentucky
newspaper editor who wrote a popular book in 1848 entitled
I Saw in California

about his overland journey to San Francisco.

Captain John Bryant, born in Boston in 1742, may have been of this
but there is no proof.  He was Deputy
Commissary of Military Stores at the Springfield Armory during the
Revolutionary War.  His son John was a
prominent Boston merchant of the firm of Bryant & Sturgis in the

Another early Bryant line started
with John Bryant, also from Kent, a carpenter who was first recorded at
Scituate near Plymouth in 1639.  He was
married three times and was the father of 19 children:

  • from
    one line came Gridley
    Bryant who was born in Scituate in 1789.   He
    was a construction engineer who built the first
    commercial railroad
    in the United States in 1826.  His son
    G.J.F. Bryant was a well-known Boston architect and builder.
  • from
    another came
    the Bryants who moved to Maine in the 1760’s.  Later
    Bryants here were blacksmiths in Knox, Maine.

.  Irish O’Briens frequently
became Bryans in America.  One early
example was William Smith Bryan
was transported as a rebellious subject to Virginia in 1650.  A grandson, also named William, made his home
along the Roanoke river.  He lived to be
104, being able to die after having seen the defeat of the British in
America in 1783.  A descendant of these
Bryans is thought to
have been the politician and three-time Presidential nominee William

Other O’Brien/Bryan examples were the five Bryan brothers, including
and Hardy, who came to New Berne, North Carolina from Munster around
the year

African American Bryants.
Bryant has been a prominent African American name even prior to

Sherrod Bryant had been born into slavery in North Carolina in
1781.  He became a free black, moved to
Tennessee, and his plantation at Bryant Grove in the pre-Civil War
South was
large in size and undoubtedly employed slaves.
He died there in 1854.  Abraham
Bryant meanwhile was a freed slave from Tennessee who had moved to
Hamilton in
Canada by the 1840’s.

Eliza Bryant, the daughter of a freed slave, grew up in
North Carolina but moved to Cleveland in 1858.
There she worked tirelessly for the cause of black people.   In 1895 she founded what became known as
Eliza Bryant Home for elderly citizens.
Other noted African American Bryants, who have been traced back
to the
1830’s, were to be found in Jefferson and Franklin counties, Missouri.

John D.
O’Bryant, who was born in Boston in 1931, sounds Irish but was in fact
African American who became President of Northwestern University in

Australia and New Zealand.  James and Mary Bryant were among the early
arrivals in New Zealand.  In 1840 they
came from Cornwall on the Duke of
to Petone beach near Wellington where their first son John
born.  James purchased the Hula farm in the
Ohariu valley in 1857.  The family story
was told in Shirley Arabins’s 1990 book The
Bryants of Ohariu.
  Meanwhile Lewis
from Bristol emigrated with his family on the Queen Margaret in 1855 and made his home in Brightwater
near Nelson.

The mining slump in
Cornwall prompted the emigration of the Bryants from St. Teath in the
1860’s.  Three brothers and five sisters
to Australia.  They headed for the
town of Ballarat in Victoria.

Bryant Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Bryan/Bryant Names

Francis Bryan
an amoral but successful courtier to Henry VIII who ended up as Lord
Chief Justice of Ireland.

Cullen Bryant
was an
American 19th century romantic poet, journalist, and long-time editor
of the New York Evening Post.
Jennings Bryan
was a dominant force in the populist wing of the US
Democratic party, standing three times as the Presidential candidate
1896 and 1908.

Sir Arthur Bryant
an English historian of the early 20th century
extremely popular in his day but less so today.
Bear Bryant
was the
longtime head coach of the Alabama college football team.
Kobe Bryant
a superstar basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA

Select Bryan/Bryants Today

  • 40,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Wiltshire)
  • 70,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 26,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



Click here for reader feedback
Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply