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When did Britt Bailey come to Texas?

Something that always interested me about the story in Bailey’s Light by Josephine Polley Golson, was that the Bailey family crossed Galveston Island at the time that it was under the control of the Pirate Jean Lafitte.  Jean Lafitte was a smuggler and slave trader who took advantage of the political instability of the late Spanish empire in the Americas. He is a fascinating character to research. 


As I was learning more about Jean Lafitte, I read that a devastating hurricane that swept over Galveston Island in 1818.  Knowing that this was the year James Britton (Britt) Bailey and his family crossed Galveston Island (known as “Little Campeche” under Lafitte), I wondered if the Baileys had to endure a hurricane in their first year in Texas. 


According to Bailey’s Light, Britt Bailey and his family set out in March of 1818 from their home in Eastern Tennessee, however, the length of the trip and date of arrival are not known. 


It is recorded that the family travelled with four wagons holding all of their worldly possessions, four horses, two yoke of oxen, several head of stock, 4 male slaves, along with Uncle Bubba and Mammy Belle and their children, 5 Bailey children from his first marriage (not including Betsy), his 2nd wife Dot with a baby on her lap, and her brother, James Smith.  This caravan travelled over rough roads that may have included the historic Kingston Pike, Natchez Trace, Old Federal Road, or other rough historic paths through the newly created states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, down to New Orleans. 


Map of the southern United States showing the journey of James Britton Bailey to Texas

From New Orleans, the family travelled by boat to Galveston, crossed the island, and loaded up onto a different boat to head toward the main land.  We are unsure of the exact time that the Bailey clan crossed Galveston Island, but there is a clue in Bailey’s Light.  On page 10, there is mention that Mrs. Bailey recalled, “Seeing the mast of a wrecked schooner which was stranded on the sand on one of the highest points of the Island.”  While locals know that the “highest points” on Galveston Island are not particularly high, it is a sufficiently wide stretch of island to ponder at a schooner finding its way so far inland. 


Since pirates, like Jean Lafitte, didn’t always keep the most thorough records of their goings on, we are lucky that in 1818 Galveston was also home to the remnants of the Camp D'asile group of Bonaparte-loyal Frenchmen who were looking to set up a colony in Texas (Napoleon had been exiled to Saint Helena, and his followers were now unwelcome in French territories).  This group kept journals of their experience on the island, and recorded that on September 12, 1818, a major hurricane overtook “Little Campeche.”  After the hurricane passed, only 6 structures were left on the island (out of the 200 that Lafitte’s men had built), and most boats had either been driven inland (up to 5 miles!), or lost out to sea. 


Considering that there is no mention of such a forceful storm in Bailey’s Light, but a reference to a stranded shipwreck, it seems likely that the Bailey group came ashore to Galveston after September of 1818.  This means that their pioneering journey took over six months. 


From Galveston, the Baileys took another boat to Anahuac, which at the time was known as Perry’s Point (named for Major Henry Perry, a filibuster).  Brit settled his family there for a temporary stay while he and Uncle Bubba set off to find the land that would become their homestead.   After several weeks, and many mosquito bites, the family finally set out on the last leg of their journey, which included an encounter with the coastal Karankawa natives.  Upon finally reaching their land, after many months journey the family still had the arduous task of building a home, planting a crop, and surviving in a  hostile land without close community, or external resources. 

Map showing the journey of James Britton Bailey from Galveston to Bailey's Prairie


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.

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