We are celebrating a bicentennial milestone in the Polley Association this year! The James Britton Bailey family arrived on the shores of Texas in 1818. Among the family members was a 9 year old Mary Augusta Bailey (whom they called 'Pollie'). This very same Mary Augusta Bailey would grow up to be the matriarch of our Polley clan for whom our Polley Association was formed to commemorate.
The Bailey family left from Hawkins Co., Tennessee in March of 1818. James Britton "Brit" Bailey, his wife Dot (sister of his first wife, Edith, who died sometime between 1815 and 1817), 5 of his six children from his first marriage, and a baby on Dot's lap all set out for Texas. They also traveled with Dot's brother, James, and the Bailey family's slaves and their children. This full caravan processed through much uncertain and uninhabited terrain over land to New Orleans, where they caught a small ship to Galveston.
At the time, Galveston was under the control of the Pirate Jean Lafitte (though he always considered himself a 'Privateer,' not a pirate), and it was known as Little Campeche. The Bailey clan was on the island just long enough to catch sight of Jean Lafitte's famed Maison Rouge in the distance, and cross over the thin barrier island to reload their belongings onto another boat that would take them to the mainland of Texas. In September 1818, a major hurricane would cross over Galveston, devastating the small settlement. Because of this, it is presumed the Bailey's passed through before September of that year.
Their transport from Galveston took the party to Perry's Point, a place now called Anahuac. Brit Bailey found meager shelter for his family to rest in while he and his slave Bubba set out by horse (imagine the horses and wagons in all of this seafaring!) to locate and negotiate for land sufficient for a homestead. This process took many weeks, but Brit secured himself a league and labor (4587 acres) along the Brazos River and Oyster Creek in what is now Brazoria County, Texas. Bailey negotiated for his land with the local agents for the Spanish government because in 1818, Texas was under the Spanish crown. Unfortunately for Bailey, he did not collect a deed for the land he purchased, and this would later cause conflict with the Mexican government and Stephen F. Austin who attempted to order Bailey to leave the land that fell under Austin's Mexican deed.
This map is a rough approximation of their journey. The family traveled by boat from Little Campeche to Perry's Point,
and by land from Perry's Point to their new homestead in what is now Brazoria County, Texas.
The family was eager to settle their new homestead, and leave their mosquito-infested quarters at Perry's Point. We have no mention of the hurricane in any surviving family records or recorded tales, but any hurricane that hit Galveston in September of 1818 would have also hit Perry's Point/Anahuac and the Brazoria area where the family eventually settled. The last leg of their journey from Perry's Point to their new home site was filled with difficult and untouched terrain, as well as Indian attack. The family was not unfamiliar with Indians, coming from Eastern Tennessee, and Brit Bailey used what little knowledge of trade with the Indians he had to appease the Natives. The family finally made it safely to their new home on the prairie that would later (and to this day) bear their name.
As Josephine Polley Golson so eloquently put it in her book Bailey's Light...
When they stood upon the highest point of this land and looked over the wide expanse of wood and prairie, with a beautiful lake at their feet, Britton Bailey felt that his dream of glorious adventure had been finally realized. Deeply interested as he was in his surroundings, he could not see any menace to his security. Neither flood nor drought threw dark shadows over the future of this little colony, and the Indian question lay buried in Bailey's self-confidence.
It is doubtful if Britton Bailey ever realized that the move westward into the wilderness helped to lay the foundation of a new commonwealth, but, to a man with his determination, it was clear that to achieve success, only work with the axe in the forest, with pick in the mountain, and with plow on the prairie would give definite shape to the new land. He knew there was no place for men who were not full of hope, expectation and enterprise.
He was a man of strong character, meeting friends with outstretched hands and foes with a clinched fist. Those who have followed his life through the record that he left like to think of his work in Texas as a light that commenced to shine when he set foot on that high point of land he had come to settle, and like to believe that this light continued to shine brighter and brighter as he went on to greater accomplishments until its beam could not be dimmed by even death.
Many Texan bicentennial milestones will be marked across the state in the coming two decades. From Anglo colonization through Revolution and into the Republic of Texas era, we will hear many fascinating stories about the men and women who established this great state. Here at the Polley Association, we will do our best to tell the story of the Polley family in Texas, which began with our matriarch, Mary Augusta Bailey Polley, arriving at the sandy beaches of Galveston in 1818.
All links throughout this post exist to provide additional information about the subject or reference the source of information. The primary source for this post was Bailey's Light: Saga of Brit Bailey and Other Hardy Pioneers, by Josephine Polley Golson (San Antonio: Naylor, 1950)
The Polley Association aims to record the legacy of the Polley and Bailey families of Texas as accurately as possible. If you have information that can help us tell this story, we would love to hear from you. Please email us if you have corrections or additional information about this story.