Skip to main content

Stephens-Bryant Family Papers

 Collection
Identifier: Ms 095

Scope and Content

The Stephens-Bryant Family Papers (formerly known as the Stephens Collection or the Bryant-Stephens Collection) include valuable material on topics in the social and economic history of Florida, the South, and the United States of America. The collection includes correspondence between the Stephens and Bryant families (as well as other family members and friends), photographs, diaries, relics, and other miscellaneous papers and materials. Although the collection spans from 1664-1989, the bulk of the material is from 1836-1931. This collection consists largely of correspondence between Winston J.T. Stephens and his wife Octavia Bryant Stephens, along with letters between members of the Stephens and Bryant families. The most significant correspondence covers the American Civil War years as letters between Winston J.T. Stephens and his wife Octavia, and any gaps in time during these years are covered by the other Bryant brothers' correspondence.

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.

Dates

  • 1664-1989
  • Majority of material found within 1836-1931

Creator

Access

The collection is open for research. In order to utilize original, restricted materials, permission from the curator may be needed. Many materials are fragile and need to be handled carefully. If microfilm or photocopies are available, it is asked that those are used in place of the originals.

Biographical/Historical Note

The physician Thomas P.G. Stephens married Mary A.J. Taylor and had five children: Mary, Clark, Winston, Swepson, and Richard. Their third child, Winston John Thomas Stephens, was born in Oglethorpe County, Georgia in 1820, and then moved with his family to Alabama in 1832. Mary A.J. Taylor remarried Major Lewis Gaines after her first husband's death, and then moved to the St. John's River area in the 1840s. Winston later moved with his brother Clark near the area that would become Welaka, and began a cotton plantation. In 1857 Winston went off to fight in the Seminole Indian wars.

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/.)

Extent

10.75 Linear feet (15 boxes)

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

Correspondence, diaries, and other papers and relics of Winston J.T. Stephens (1820-1864)- plantation owner, militia officer, and Confederate army officer; his wife, Octavia Bryant Stephens (1841-1908); and other family members including Henry H. Bryant (1847-1930), Davis H. Bryant (1839-1913), and William A. Bryant (1837-1881). Topics include the Civil War in Florida, military service, the Battle of Olustee, plantation life, slavery, and conditions along the St. Johns River during the mid-19th century.

Physical Location

University of Florida Smathers Library Building

Acquisition Information

The collection was donated to the University of Florida by Winston B. Stephens, Jr., of Riviera Beach, Florida in 1975. Later additions came from Mrs. Cordelia Bryant McIlwaine of Temple Terrace, Florida and Mr. William B. Parker of New York, N.Y. The Parker Addition is referred to by name when possible (for example: Parker Addition #3) on the folder or box title, and there is also a Parker Addition information list in the Miscellaneous Papers box of the collection. The McIlwaine Addition has its own box.

Alternate Form of Material

Digital reproductions of items in the Stephens-Bryant collection are available online via the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC). Please read the Permissions for Use statement for information on copyright, fair use, and use of UFDC digital objects.

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.

Related Material

For additional information regarding the Stephens and Bryant families, consult the book, Rose Cottage Chronicles: Civil War Letters of the Bryant-Stephens Families of North Florida, edited by Arch Fredric Blakey, Ann Smith Lainhart, and Winston Bryant Stephens, Jr. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, c.1998).

Processing Notes

Additional processing was completed in 2007 and the organization of the collection was modified substantially. Some folders were renamed to provide more descriptive information, and several folders were relocated to create a more logical arrangement. The microfilm reproductions for this collection represents the original folder order and naming system, and any new folder names will resemble the old names close enough so that there should be no confusion. For example, a folder that originally was titled "Currency" is now renamed "Confederate Currency." Old box numbers are listed on the back of each folder. If any items were removed from the McIlwaine Addition box, or placed into the oversize box, there is a form stating the new box number or collection information. A Box and Microfilm Index is available in Box 4.

Title
A Guide to the Stephens-Bryant Family Papers
Status
Completed
Author
Finding aid created by Nicole Milano
Date
November 2007
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

Contact:
George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America
352-273-2755