Bryan – Surname Saturday

Name Origin

Bryan is a surname based upon habitation, that is to say, based upon where a person lived or came from. The Dictionary of American Family Names[i] indicates it derives from either of two places called Brionne in northern France (in Eure and Creuse). It also has derivations from the Celtic personal name Brian as in “O’Brian.”

It has been my experience that Bryan and Bryant seem to be interchangeable in my wife’s family line and that occasionally, a Bryan might be known as a Bryant.

Earliest Ancestors

The earliest known Bryan ancestor is my wife’s fifth-great-grandfather, Robert Bryan. Some records indicate he was born in 1736 in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. However, Edgecombe County wasn’t formed until 1746 from Bertie County. The part of Edgecombe County that Robert Bryan lived in was split off to create Halifax County in 1758. So, it appears that he was born in Bertie County, lived in Edgecombe County, and died in Halifax County without moving anywhere. It appears that he was a patriot who served in the North Carolina Revolutionary Army.

North Carolina when Robert Bryan was born in Bertie County (Brt above) in 1736.
Thanks to US GENNET for providing access to this image.

Robert’s oldest son, my wife’s fourth-great-grandfather, Lewis Bryan, was born in 1755 in Halifax County. The southeastern part of Halifax County, along with part of Tyrrell County, used to form Martin County in 1774. He too lived his entire life in Halifax & Martin County.

His son, John W. Bryan, was born in 1788 in Martin County, North Carolina. He lived his entire live there, dying July 20, 1865. 

His third daughter, Martha Ann Bryan, is my wife’s second-great-grandmother.  She was born in 1820 in Oak City, Martin County, North Carolina, and lived in Martin County all of her life. In 1844, she married Samuel Aquilla Long and further descendants followed a Long / Hobbs / Howell line.

Distribution of Bryan surname in 1840. Source: Ancestry.Com

According to Ancestry.Com, in 1840 there were 85 Bryan families living in North Carolina. That was 11% of the Bryans then living in the United States. John W. was one of those households, as were his brothers, Turner, Silas, and possibly William. I haven’t researched his cousins yet, but know he had three uncles Robert, James, and Walter that most likely had children of the right age to be Bryan families in North Carolina. With that in mind, it is possible that many, if not most, of the Bryans of 1840 North Carolina are somehow related to my wife.

I haven’t found an immigrant ancestor in the Bryan line so I don’t know if our Bryans were French, Celtic, or English. Regardless, they settled in North Carolina early in it’s early beginnings.

Known Relatives

My records have 263 direct-line descendants of Robert Bryan identified over ten generations, which is 20% of my known Howell-Darling ancestors & their known descendants.


[i] Source: Dictionary of American Family Names ©2013, Oxford University Press

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