Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

 
John Berry, Frontiersman -
Historical Marker, Georgetown Texas


County Road 152 at Berry Springs
1 mile east of Toll road 130
Berry Springs Park
(at the entrance to the park)

GPS Coordinates
North 30.68333 - West -97.63882

UTM 14 R - Easting: 630380  - Northing: 3395298


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Marker Text:
(1786-1866) A native of Kentucky and veteran of the War of 1812, John Berry moved in 1816 to Indiana. In 1827 he brought his family to the Atascosito District of Texas. Mexico awarded him lots in Liberty and Mina (Bastrop) when those towns were founded. Berry's oldest sons, Joseph (1811-1842), John Bate (1813-1891), and Andrew Jackson (1816-1899), served in the Republic of Texas Army. All three were Texas Rangers before and after the War for Independence (1836) and in the Battle of Plum Creek (1840). Joseph was the first casualty in the Mier Expedition (1842), and John Bate was in Perote Prison for a year. A Williamson County pioneer, John Berry settled three miles northeast of Georgetown in 1846. He built a blacksmith and gun shop and a spring-driven grist mill near Berry Creek. Berry had 18 children by his three wives: Betsy Smeathers (d. 1818), daughter of pioneer Texan William Smeathers (Smothers); Gracie Treat (d. 1830); and Hannah Devore (1812-1904). Five sons and three sons-in-law served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War (1861-1865). Berry died at age 80 and was buried near his home. His descendants include a great-grandson, Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in American history. (1978)





Mill stone from the John Berry Mill - 1846

     

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JOHN BERRY, FRONTIERSMAN

(1786 - 1866)

Historical Narrative by Judge Jack Pope and Mrs. James P. Knight

 

John Berry was born in West Louisville, Kentucky, in 1786. He died of the infirmities of old age on December 24, 1866, at his home on the Berry League in Williamson County, Texas. He was one of ten children of John and Hannah Berry of Lincoln County, Kentucky. His father, John, served in the army during the American Revolution in the Lincoln County Militia, under the command of Col. Benjamin Logan, and for this service he received land grants in several parts of Ken­tucky.

 

John was married about 1810, probably in Kentucky, to Betsey Smeathers (also spelled Smothers), the daughter of Captain William Smeathers, a celebrated pioneer leader and the first settler of Owensboro, Kentucky. The Bill Smothers Pioneer Park, located along the banks of the Ohio River, was dedicated to his memory by the citizens of Owens­boro several years ago. Smeathers later emigrated to Texas, where he died at Columbia in 1837.

 

John volunteered for service in the U.S. Army during the war of 1812 at Rockport, Indiana Territory, a small town across the Ohio River from Owensboro. [1] He served for a short time in Captain Thomas Spen­cer's company of spies, Indiana Militia, but soon transferred to a mounted unit commanded by Captain William Smeathers, his father-in-law. [2] This unit of Kentucky Militia formed the spy company for General Samuel Hopkins on the march from Vincennes to Ft. Harrison, and also fought the Indians at Tippecanoe and the Thames, under the general command of William Henry Harrison. [3] John was discharged at Shakertown, Indiana, on October 30, 1812. [4]

 

In 1815, John and His family, along with his brother Joseph, moved to Christian Settlement, Illinois, while they waited for land to be made available to settlers in Indiana Territory for one dollar an acre. The brothers applied for land in 1816 in what is now Monroe County, Indiana, near the site of a big blue spring, about six miles southwest of present-day Bloomington. [5] The settlement that grew up there came to be known as Blue Spring, but is now called Harmony. The Berry family remained in this area for a period of about ten years. By this time, three sons had been born to John and Betsey - Joseph, born 1811, John Bate, born 1813, and Andrew Jackson ("Jack"), born 1816. Betsey died about 1818, and on July 13, 1819, John married Gracie Treat, the daughter of John Treat of Monroe County. They became the parents of three daughters, all born in Blue Spring - Elizabeth, born 1820, Hannah, born 1822, and Margaret, born 1825. It was at Blue Spring that John Berry first learned the trade of a miller. He helped operate the Hamilton Grist Mill on Indian Creek, first mill in the area, built and operated by the husband of one of John's many relatives.

 

In 1826, John and his family prepared to migrate to Texas, possibly after hearing reports of its many opportunities from his former father-in-law, Bill Smothers. The Mexican government required of all land ap­plicants a character reference from residents of his former home. A citation commending John Berry and Burton Tarkington (his niece's hus­band, who was also making the journey) was drawn up and executed Sept. 23, 1826, in Bloomington, Indiana. It was signed by about 25 friends and relatives, and attested to "the honesty, sobriety, morality, and in­dustry of John Berry and Burton Tarkington." [6]

 

The Berry and Tarkington families set out for Texas, arriving in Atascosito (later Liberty) County early in 1827. The Mexican government on May 2, 1831 granted John Berry one of the original town lots in the city of Liberty. It was located at the southeast intersection of present-day Cos and Milam Streets, and on it, John built a blacksmith shop. [7] The Tarkington's received land near Cleveland, Texas.

 

With the death of Gracie Treat Berry about 1830 in Liberty County, John became a widower for the second time. On May 8, 1831, John married Hannah Devore, born 1812 in Catahoula Parish, Louisiana, the daughter of Jesse Devore and Polly Black, The Devores were Vehlein Colonists, and as such received a league of land from the Mexican government. [8]

 

The Berry family moved to Bastrop in 1834, where John once again established a blacksmith shop. [9] There he played host to a famous visitor early in 1836. David Crockett, on his way to eventual death and glory in the Battle of the Alamo, stopped at John's smithy to have his rifle, "Old Betsey", repaired. John affixed to the broken breech a sil­ver band while Crockett visited with the family, holding on his lap the two eldest of John and Hannah's children - Mary-and Emanuel. [10]

 

John and his three eldest sons by Betsey Smeathers were sworn in as Robertson Colonists on November 6, 1835, [11] hoping to receive some of the choice land further north in Colonel Robertson's domain. While waiting for his land to be allocated, the family continued to live in Bastrop, and in the meantime, the struggle for Texas' independence from Mexico had begun. The Berry family, except for the three sons just men­tioned, took refuge at Fort Parker during the "Runaway Scrape" when settlers fled the conquering army of Santa Anna. [12] Both Bate and Jack Berry were with General Sam Houston's forces at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, which Texas' independence was at last secured. [13] Joseph was in the army but not in the fight. Following the war, all three of the Berry boys served in the "ranging force" under such rangers as Seth Billingsley, John G. McGehee, William W. Hill and John L. Lynch.

In 1840, the family moved to Burleson County to a locality near the town of Caldwell, while still waiting for fulfillment of the dream of land on which to make their permanent home. During this time, Joe, Bate, and Jack Berry played a prominent part in many Indian fights, and all three fought in the Battle of Plum Creek on August 12, 1840. [14]

 

Joe and Bate were members of the ill-fated Mier Expedition to Mex­ico. Joe was killed at Mier on December 26, 1842, by a Mexican soldier while lying helpless with a broken leg. [15] Bate was taken prisoner with the rest of the army, escaped at Saltillo, was recaptured, and then drew a white bean. He was a prisoner in Perote prison east of Mex­ico City until September 16, 1844, almost twenty-one months after his brother was killed.

 

John Berry received title to his long-awaited land grant from the Republic of Texas on August 29, 1845. It was a league and labor in size, located in western Milam County (later Williamson County) about three miles north of Georgetown. The property was traversed by a swift stream of water, which came to be known as "Berry's Creek" with the passing years. By this time, John and Hannah had six children, and six more, including two sets of twins were born on the Berry League, where John Berry was to spend the rest of his days. He and his sons cleared the land, erected split-rail fences, and built several cabins to house their families. As always, John built a blacksmith shop and forge. The usual crops were planted, along with a kitchen garden and a fruit orchard, and row upon row of pecan trees, some of which still stand today.

 

John also built a large grist mill, one of the first in Williamson County, to which other settlers in the area came to grind their corn and wheat. It was constructed at the site of a swift-flowing spring of water, which came out of the-ground at an estimated rate of two to three million gallons each day. A dam was erected, behind which a millpond soon formed. For many years it served the needs of hundreds of families in the vicinity, and even the Indians of the area brought their corn to be ground at Berry's Mill.

 

Concerning his new home, John wrote to a relative in Louisiana: "They come from far and near to see my mill spring; to see this great fountain of water boiling up out of the earth, pure and cold. This land is the best farming land I have ever seen. The country is pleas­ant and healthful. There is some fever here in wet years, but not fa­tal like in most places."

 

Others who came after John Berry have also found this a pleasant and desirable land. In more than one hundred years since John filed his original deed, only four families have owned the homestead tract of the property:

 

John Berry family -     Aug. 29, 1845 - Sept. 10, 1883

W. F. Gann family -     Sept. 10, 1883 - June 26, 1896

J. W. Watson family -  June 26, 1896 - Apr. 19, 1906

R. F. Young family -    Apr. 19, 1906 - Nov. 22, 1924

William L. Mann -                    Nov. 22, 1924 to present [17]

 

The property was known as Gann's Mill Farm for a number of years prior to the destruction of the mill in a flood in 1921. The Gann family had enlarged and improved upon the original Berry mill. The burrstone from the mill is now on the courthouse lawn (now in the John Berry Park) in Georgetown. In 1967, the Daughters of 1812 presided at a dedication ceremony in which a marker was placed on the stone, commemorating the mill's original owner.

 

John Berry served as one of the county commissioners when the new county of Williamson formed, [18] and was a member of its first grand jury.(19) The Berry home was a center of worship in the community for many years. Hannah Berry made their home available for meetings of the Baptist church members for over 14 years, until the congregation could erect a place of worship.

 

Here John Berry lived out his life, surrounded by his numerous children and grandchildren, until death came to him in his eightieth year. He is buried in a small family cemetery on the hill overlooking the old mill pond, near where the Berry home once stood. His grave­stone reads: "In Memory of John Berry - Died Dec. 24, 1867, Aged 80 Years." (When a copy of his will was obtained from the probate court, it was learned that the death date on the gravestone is in error. He died in 1866, and his will was filed for probate in 1867.) Hannah Berry died in Jones County, Texas, in April, 1904, and is buried there, surviving her husband by some 37 years.

Besides Joe Berry (killed on the Mier Expedition), Bate Berry (who took part in the siege of San Antonio, the Battle of San Jacinto, the Plum Creek Fight, the Mier Expedition, and the Civil War), and Jack  Berry (who was in the Battle of San Jacinto, the Plum Creek Fight, and the Civil War), John Berry had three other sons in the Civil War. They were Emanuel Berry and John Berry Jr., both involved in the capture of the Federal steamer, the Harriett Lane, at Galveston, [20] and Joseph  Berry (named in honor of the Joseph above) who was killed in action in 1863, at the age of 18.(21) He was with a unit of Parsons' Cavalry. Three of John Berry's sons-in-law were also in the Civil War: John Compton, James Rumsey, and Samuel Jackson.

James Rumsey, husband of John's daughter, Jane, was a member of the 16th Legislature of Texas, which approved plans and selected the granite for the present State Capitol building. [22]

 

John's descendants meet once a year in reunion at Georgetown to pay tribute to the memory of their pioneer forefather. The Berry Assoc­iation has several hundred members on its roll, but there are more than 2,000 descendants of this one man, who had eighteen children by three wives. Perhaps the most noteworthy of John's descendants is the late Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of World War II, who later had a twenty year movie career before his death. Audie was the grandson of Virginia Berry and George Murphy. Virginia Berry was the youngest daugh­ter of John and Hannah Berry.

 

The Berry Association would like very much to have erected a Texas State Historical Marker to honor the memory and the contributions of John Berry and his family to the early history of Texas. To quote the late Admiral William L. Mann, whose research into Berry family history is the basis for much of our knowledge:

"To appraise the man, John Berry, is not difficult. He held no high office; he held no captaincy; the harper does not sing of his valor; history does not give him many pages; yet he left his mark upon the land he loved. He gave his name to a living stream that later generations shall continue to enjoy. He loved and was loved by his family and kinsmen. He raised his sons in his likeness, taught them to stand and fight for what they believed to be right, and with Christian fortitude accepted the loss of two of his sons in battle. He walked unafraid be­fore all mankind, and was respected and honored by all who knew him.

 

He had the courage, the daring, and the will to set out upon an unknown track to a new frontier, there to share in the founding of a new state, and for his reward, lived to see the Lone Star of Texas rise to its ze­nith, finally become a white star, and take its rightful place on a field of blue. The evidence has been submitted. The mark is there, and history is its proof that John Berry 'paso por aqui'." [23]

 

By Judge Jack Pope and Mrs. James P. Knight

view endnotes and bibliography

 

 


 


 

 


Berry Springs Park opening day dedication pictures
10-05-2005
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