While researching something entirely different, I came across a story about early Texas pioneer James "Brit" Briton Bailey, and it caught my attention. Bailey is a recurring name in my father's Johnson/Johnston/Johnstone family, and our family migrated west from North Carolina, just as James Briton Bailey did. Hmm, so I checked my brother's extensive research (added to my earlier research) of our family tree on www.Ancestry.com and, sure enough, old Brit was a relative. And my brother and niece, who used to live in Brazoria County and--in a reverse migration--now live in North Carolina, have seen the ghostly lights on Bailey's Prairie. How fun is that? Small world, right?
Bailey's Oak watched over the unmarked grave of a very...um, unusual man, to say the least—James Briton Bailey (1779-1833). In his last will and testament, Brit Bailey requested that he be ".... intered [sic], with my face fronting the West…" Before his death, Bailey had declared that he had moved westward all his life and that he had never looked up to any man. It is clear that Bailey intended, if he could, to continue this course of action and this philosophy even after his earthly existence. Legend has it that his rifle is buried at his side, pointing up.
James Britton Bailey was a descendant of Kenneth Bailey, whose ancestor was Robert Bruce, once King of Scotland. A veteran of the war of 1812 and a native of North Carolina, Brit Bailey moved his family to Kentucky where he served in the legislature and got into a fracas, then moved to Tennessee. Apparently unable to get along harmoniously with his neighbors and fellow man, he kept moving, stopped in Louisianna long enough to wed his second wife after the death of his first wife, and ended up on the east bank of the Brazos River in March 1818 (in what is now the school district of Angleton, Brazoria County), two years before Austin’s first visit to Texas. The locale in which he settled still bears his name—Bailey’s Prairie.
Bailey received his league and a labor of land (4,587 acres) in a grant from the Spanish government. After Mexico freed herself from Spanish rule, however, Bailey’s land was included in Stephen F. Austin’s colonization grant from the Mexican government. Bailey was apparently a thorn in Austin's side, but they finally settled the question of ownership in Bailey’s favor in 1824, when he became one of Austin’s Old Three Hundred. Austin’s respect for--or maybe his desperation to get along with--Bailey resulted in Bailey's appointment as a captain in the 3rd Battalion of the Militia.
In the fall of 1832, the Baileys were building their new house when Bailey died of cholera. As he had requested, Bailey was buried in the grove near the big red house beside his children who had preceded him in death, and in the manner described in his will. Uncle Bubba, Bailey’s manservant who lived well past the century mark, claimed that the apparitions in the house and the periodic appearances of a fireball that seemed to rise from Bailey’s grave and moved across the prairie at night were his old master, carrying a lantern in search of the jug of whiskey Uncle Bubba had promised to place in his coffin. Uncle Bubba claimed Mrs. Bailey had removed the jug.
The legend of Bailey’s light persists, and in addition to my brother and niece, there are others living in the area who have reportedly seen it on one or more occasions. All evidence of Bailey’s homesite have long since disappeared including this giant oak by the flag pond, toward which Bailey faces, flintlock at his side. There are still oak trees in the area, and it was in a grove of them that my brother and niece saw the light. Was it old Brit looking for his jug of whiskey? Who knows?
For years after his death, residents of Bailey’s two-storied red house claimed they were visited at night by Bailey’s ghost. The vision of Bailey's Light has been prevalent in Brazoria County since his death and the folks there are probably convinced that old Brit is never going to find that jug of whiskey. The light has been known to "chase" vehicles travelling on the highway late at night or in the early morning hours. Or, maybe the people in those vehicles had found the whiskey instead of Bailey.
What about you? Do you believe in ghosts?
Texas State Historical Association Handbook of Texas online