Mary Jane Harris Briscoe (1819 – 1903) was the daughter of John Richardson Harris (1790 – 1829) and Jane Birdsall Harris (1791 – 1869). She was the sister of three other children, DeWitt Clinton Harris, Lewis Birdsall Harris and John Birdsall Harris. Her father John R. Harris is credited for being the founder of Harrisburg (now Houston), Texas.
According to Mary L. Sheer’s excellently edited book, “Women and the Texas Revolution,” her parents were neighbors of Moses Austin back in St. Genevieve, Missouri. Austin engaged Harris to come to Texas. Harris came to the area around 1826 and laid out the town of Harrisburg at the place where Buffalo and Bray’s bayous intersect. His wife and children were moved to New York while he moved to Texas. In his new town of Harrisburg, he erected a sawmill. When Mary Jane was not quite twelve years old, John Harris contracted yellow fever in 1829 while on a trip to New Orleans to purchase equipment for his business. Mary Jane had not seen him since she was an infant. John’s widow Jane came to Texas in 1833 with DeWitt, the oldest son, and was joined a few years later by her younger children, including Mary Jane. Jane Birdsall Harris remained in Texas until her death in 1869. Her obituary notes say that she operated an inn and served as hostess of the new republic. She also was a shareholder in the Harrisburg Town Company and had an interest in one of the early railroads in the area, the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway.
Mary Jane Harris had just turned eighteen years old when she married Andrew Briscoe. Briscoe was the son of Parmenas Briscoe (1784-1851) and Margaret Montgomery Briscoe (1794 – 1845). Parmenas Briscoe was also the great great grandfather of Governor Dolph Briscoe. The elder Briscoes had earlier lived in the southeast. They had about thirteen children, many of whom died in a typhoid epidemic in Louisiana. Parmenas is said to have perished at sea when his ship went down during a storm in the Pacific Ocean in 1851. Margaret had died about six years prior to Parmenas.
Andrew Briscoe had been in business operating a store in Anahuac, Texas when the Texas Revolution began. He was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. Briscoe joined the Texas Army and had served as Captain of Company A in the Battle of San Jacinto. According to his obituary notes, Briscoe was appointed Chief Justice of Harrisburg by Sam Houston. After a two year term, Briscoe returned to business and is known to have engaged at various times in the cattle business, a couple of railroad projects and other ventures. Briscoe died in New Orleans in 1849, after having been sick for some time. His cause of death is unknown, but could have perhaps been related to one of the more common illnesses of the day, such as typhoid fever, malaria or yellow fever. Andrew is buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. Mary Jane and the couple’s four children went to live in Mississippi with her father in law, Parmenas Briscoe, until his death in 1851, after which they returned to Houston.
With the initial aid of Texas relatives, Mary Jane Harris Briscoe went on to support and raise her family by developing and operating real estate that Andrew had acquired. She is also said to have expressed a great affection for Texas and its history. Mary Jane was invited to become an honorary member of the Texas Veteran’s Association in 1884 and became a co-founder of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in 1891. One of its first acts was to acquire the San Jacinto battlefield. She was also a charter member of the Texas State Historical Association. Mary Jane was active in civic organizations including the founding of a home for needy women in Houston, Sheltering Arms, which continues today as an agency of United Way. Mary Jane died in 1903 and is buried in Houston’s Glenwood Cemetery along with many of her family members.
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