Mary Jane Harris Briscoe was born in 1819 at St. Genevieve, Missouri fatefully next door to the residence of Moses Austin, early dreamer of Texas. Her father, John Harris, fell in with Austin’s idea of the colonization of what became the Republic of Texas.
John Harris, intent on following Austin, sent his wife back to her former home of Seneca Falls, New York, with infant Mary Jane and her three pre-teen older brothers. In 1826, Harris obtained a Mexican land grant and laid out the town of Harrisburg at the junction of Buffalo and Bray’s bayous. He opened a thriving steam sawmill. In need of additional equipment, in August of 1829, Harris made a buying trip to New Orleans to die there of yellow fever.
By then Mary Jane was 10-years old and would never know her father. By 1833, Mary Jane’s brothers were teen-agers and their widow mother came with the eldest son, DeWitt Clinton, to Texas to claim her husband’s interests. It would be 1836, after the Republic of Texas began, before Mary Jane and her other brothers arrived in Texas.
At Brazorio, the Harris family stayed several weeks at the boarding house of Jane Long, where Mary Jane became enamored with the historic tales she heard from other early Texan boarders. On her 18th birthday she married Andrew Briscoe, a business partner of her eldest brother DeWitt, and San Jacinto Battle veteran.
Briscoe was a ‘restless individual’ who went in and out of several businesses while Mary Jane became the mother of five children. Andrew moved the family to New Orleans in 1849. That October, after being ill off and on for several months, he died probably of malaria. Mary Jane and her children then lived with her father-in-law at Port Gibson, Mississippi until his death on his return trip from California searching for gold in 1851.
Widow Briscoe found herself homeless and without support. Laura Lyons McLemore wrote about Mary Jane in her chapter “Women and the Texas Revolution in History and Memory,” in the book “Women and the Texas Revolution.” She states that “Upon the advice of a brother-in-law and family friends Mary Jane converted Andrew’s fallow real estate and Texas land grant certificate into revenue producing properties.”
Mary Jane returned to Texas first to Grimes County where records show she purchased property from widow Mary E. Goodrich on November 27,1854 paying $600 for a lot in Anderson. The deed indicated she was a Grimes County resident. Nearly six years later records show she sold that property to trustees of the Patrick Female Academy on March 24,1860 for the same amount of money. The deed then has Mary Jane in Harris County.
By now her children were reaching adulthood and two sons would serve in the Civil War. Much like Mary Ann Jones, widow of the last President Anson Jones of the Republic of Texas, Mary Jane devoted her life to memorializing the history of Texas.
Like Jones, she was devoted to the Texas Veterans Association to also become a founding member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. One of her major achievements was “her role in effecting the purchase and designation of the San Jacinto battleground property as a state park.”
Written by Betty Dunn, Two Rivers Heritage Foundation. Visit www.tworiversheritagefoundation.org for more information or to become a member.