Stephens-Bryant Family Papers
Scope and Content
Octavia Bryant Stephens' diaries begin when she attended school in Boston in 1856 and end around 1899. They are significant due to the detailed and descriptive manner with which she wrote. Other family diaries, journals, and account books are included in the collection as well. Both the diaries and the letters provide insight into the Floridian home front, Civil War military encounters (including the Battle of Olustee), female responsibilities in maintaining the family unit, the strength and interdependence of an extended family, as well as attitudes on slavery and race relations of small farm and plantation owners during and after the Civil War period. The collection also helps us to understand the settlement of peninsular Florida (with the town of Welaka), and how the St. Johns River basin helped to shape and bind a community together.
Also of particular interest are the photographs, scrapbooks and relics. The photographs portray several family members and some family residences. Many photos are still in their original frames. The relics range from a New Testament carried by H.H. Bryant throughout the Civil War to a 1926 Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Coin.
It should be noted that several letters are missing pages or parts of pages. Some letters also include the "cross-writing" device popular during the Civil War and hence may be difficult to read. Many of the diaries also include miscellaneous newspaper clippings and correspondence in addition to daily entries.
- Majority of material found within 1836-1931
- Stephens-Bryant family. (Family)
James William Bryant (1812-1867) married Rebecca Hathorne Hall (1813-1864) in 1836 in Boston, Massachusetts. He moved his wife, children, widowed mother, and unmarried siblings to the South years later, ending up in Jacksonville, Florida. James traveled up and down the southern coast for his job and often traveled to Havana, Cuba, for his position as editor of a newspaper. In 1850 he founded the town of Welaka on the St. John's River, and moved there with his wife and five children (William, Davis, Octavia, Henry, and George). Their only daughter, Octavia, was sent by her parents in 1856 to her uncle's girl's school in Boston after they disagreed with Winston J.T. Stephens' proposal to her at the young age of 14 (he was 26). Her brother, Davis, was also sent away to attend school at the Rochester Academy in 1857.
Once Octavia returned from Boston, she and Winston Stephens re-ignited their correspondence and would often pass their letters through Winston's slave, Burrel, or would arrange to meet without her parents' knowledge. They once again broke off relations only to reunite and marry on November 1, 1859. They settled down in their new home called "Rose Cottage" in Welaka to a relatively quiet farm life.
At the start of the Civil War, Winston left home to join a company later called "The St. John's Rangers" that was used to defend the state of Florida. Davis Bryant also joined the Confederate side and remained in Florida. Willie Bryant's company was sent north to fight, and he soon after obtained a clerk's position in the Adjutant's office to General Bragg. Davis and Winston were stationed in and around the St. Johns River and then the Jacksonville area in several camps, such as Camp Beauregard and Camp Finegan. Throughout the war correspondence was continued through the family members covering topics such as slave usage in keeping the plantation operating, currency, taxation, the possibility of English intervention in the war, and other local and international matters. Octavia's father, the only Union supporter in the family, was caught in Cuba at the outbreak of the Civil War, and was only able to see his family twice during the war years. In 1863 Octavia and her family moved from Welaka to Thomasville, Georgia, to live with relatives.
Winston's company emerged casualty-free from the Battle of Olustee, only for him to die one week later from a single sniper bullet while on a routine patrol in March, 1864. That same year the 22-year old Octavia lost her mother and gave birth to her only son, Winston, Jr. Octavia already had one daughter, Rosalie, born in 1860, and had lost another infant daughter (Isabella) a few years before Winston was born.
Following the war, William A. Bryant moved to Savannah to establish a mercantile business, and finally settled in Baltimore. He married Marianna Gilbert in 1866, had three children, and later died of cancer in 1881. Davis Bryant, who had been with Winston Stephens the day he was killed, lived in both New York and California after the war. He later married Lucie Spiers and had one child before dying in 1914. Henry H. Bryant settled in Welaka as a merchant after the war and married Mary Jane Stephens (daughter of Clark Stephens, Winston's brother) in 1876. They had six children together (one adopted) before his death in 1930. George Bryant also moved back to Welaka following the war, and died in 1876.
Octavia Bryant Stephens returned to Welaka a few months after the end of the war only to find her former home burned to the ground. Burrel returned with his family to Welaka as well. Along with a few other Southerners, some Northerners, and her family (brothers Henry and George), Octavia eventually helped Welaka to become a river town with churches, schools, stores, and wharfs for the river vessels. She turned their old family home into a hotel, taught school for a few years, and visited family members in and outside of Florida. Her daughter, Rosalie, died at age 21 shortly after her marriage to Albert Postell. Her son, Winston Jr., became a dentist and married Amy Gaston. Octavia died in 1908.
(This biographical and historical note was informed by the materials created by Ann S. Lainhart and Jerrell Shofner that are available in the collection, as well as the book Rose Cottage Chronicles: Civil War Letters of the Bryant-Stephens Families of North Florida. Also, genealogical information was found online at http://stephensbryantcollection.tribalpages.com/.)
10.75 Linear feet (15 boxes)
Language of Materials
Alternate Form of Material
The collection has been microfilmed, and the microfilm is available upon request. The microfilm represents an older arrangement for the collection. See the "Processing" note for more information. A Box and Microfilm Index is available in Box 4.
- American Civil War (1861-1865).
- Bryant (Family : Bryant, James William, 1812-1867).
- Bryant, Octavia Louisa, 1841-1908.
- Florida -- Welaka.
- Plantation life.
- Stephens family.
- Stephens, Winston John Thomas, 1829-1864.
- United States -- Confederate States of America.
- United States.
- electronic records (digital records)
- personal narratives
- A Guide to the Stephens-Bryant Family Papers
- Finding aid created by Nicole Milano
- November 2007
- Description rules
- Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is written in English.
Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository
George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America