Did William Smith Bryan exist or is he just a myth?

+3 votes

The profile of William SMith Bryan tells a  tale of a brave Irishman who  rallied his men who called him 'Prince of Ireland' in his fight against the evil Cromwell, only to be deported to Virginia with his family all his household goods and some fine thoroughbred horses. One of his sons returns to Ireland to fight for the family's land to no avail. There are several trips to Denmark by both William Smith Bryan and his son Morgan which resulted in marriages to Irish women who happened to be in Denmark at the time. It's a great story, but is it true? 

Can anyone produce a single document that would prove that William Smith Bryan existed? Is there anything to be found in Irish, English or Colonial Virginia records which could substantiate their existence? 

WikiTree profile: William Bryan
in Genealogy Help by Jeanie Roberts G2G6 Pilot (127k points)
edited by Jeanie Roberts

3 Answers

+1 vote
Some sources say he emigrated 1615, others 1650. The date would make a substantial difference to the story.
by C. Mackinnon G2G6 Pilot (272k points)

It would have to be 1650 for a Cromwellian deportation. Places to look for this man would be:

1. 1641 Civil Survey - did they own land in Clare? http://downsurvey.tcd.ie/ - this site also covers the 1670 Books of Survey and Distribution

2. 1641 Depositions - was he mentioned in any of these - http://1641.tcd.ie/

3. Act of Settlement court cases of 1652 where land was taken from the defeated Irish families.

4. The claims from 1694 onwards were recorded in "A List of the Claims as They are Entred with the Trustees" etc of August 1700. Various copies on the internet.

There may also be claims made under the 1662 Act of Settlement and 1665 Act of Explanation.

thank you John for these sources.
This event was said to have happened at the Siege of Clonmel
That's ok if the Cromwell story is true. Elsewhere it is claimed that WSB took the first horses to Virginia. Can't believe it took more than 40 years.
0 votes
So many versions.  But the pension application states clearly that Morgan Bryan's father - not named, but allegedly Francis Bryan III, son of William Smith Bryan - was a Dane, born and raised and married in Denmark, where he had at least one son Morgan before decamping to Ireland.

Presumably Francis's father WSB must have abandoned him in Denmark, if he was raising another family in Gloucester Co at the same time.
by Anonymous Horace G2G6 Pilot (568k points)
I believe the legend is that he was exiled, not a native. Big difference.

But the pension application is supposed to be a documentary source, not a legend.

It's the only thing that brings Denmark into the picture.  Early versions of William Smith Bryan's life story don't mention Denmark.  But if you want to make WSB the grandfather of Morgan (citation needed), you can't ignore Denmark.  All references to Denmark are attempts to stitch the WSB story to the pension application.


+1 vote
all but the rootsweb link in the actual sources list count as sources
by Porter Fann G2G6 Mach 5 (54.6k points)

Actually the Rootsweb 'source' is as valid as the rest. The problem with this list of sources it that they are for the most part authored works, they offer no primary or secondary sources. The first two are carbon copies of text, the third is only a derivative listing with no documents as are the last two. So just because someone can generate a list of sources it doesn't mean that they are any good. In the case of this profile they are not any good. Not a single piece of actual primary documentation has been offered to prove this person existed. 

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