The death of Judge Isaac Henry Bry

Layton Castle

If you live in or near Monroe, you are familiar with Layton Castle.  What you probably don’t know, is that Layton Castle is much older than it appears.  At it’s heart, lies Mulberry Grove Plantation, built in 1814 by Henry Bry.  Around 1910, The Layton family built the “castle” around the original plantation and it has been known as Layton Castle ever since!

Just a bit of trivia:  When the first Steamboat (called the James Monroe) came up the Ouachita and docked at Fort Miro in 1819, there was a big celebration at the settlement.  It was Henry who made the suggestion to name the settlement after the steamboat, which met with universal approval.  We have been called Monroe ever since!

Henry was a remarkable man, who left a huge legacy to Ouachita parish.

The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA) January 8, 1859, Page 2


            Died, on the 30th of November, the venerable Judge HENRY BRY, of Ouachita, in the 78th year of his age.

No man connected with Northern Louisiana is more worthy of being held in honorable remembrance.

He was born at Geneva, in Switzerland, on the 9th of January, 1781.

He attained manhood during the unsettled state of Europe, about the end of the last century ; was in the city of Genoa when it was besieged by the British and Austrians, and witnessed the horrors of war there and in other parts of Italy.  He saw Napoleon there in the early period of his victorious career, and foreseeing that this perturbed state of affairs was likely to continue for many years, he wisely determined to emigrate to the quiet shores of the United States, whither his distinguished relative and fellow-townsman, Albert Gallatin, had preceded him.

He arrived at Salem, in Massachusetts, in the spring of 1801, but finding that climate uncongenial to him, he came to New York, and soon after went to Havana, and thence to New Orleans.

He was in that city in time to witness the transfer of Louisiana from France to the United States.

He soon afterwards visited Ouachita, a settlement known under the Spanish Government as Fort Miro.  Here he resided to the time of his death.

A distant and secluded settlement like this could not have received a more valuable acquisition than the enterprising and intelligent young Swiss immigrant.

He engaged in agricultural pursuits, and by his improved modes of culture, gave a new impulse to the industry of that region.

He made himself so conspicuous for his usefulness and knowledge, that he was elected to the Convention of 1811 for the county of Ouachita to form the first constitution of the State of Louisiana.

He was conspicuous for his wise suggestions among that patriotic and enlightened body.

From the labors of that Assembly emanated a constitution, liberal and, at the same time, wisely conservative, under the influence of which the new State rapidly advanced in wealth and importance.

Few of his associates in that Convention now remain.  The last time we looked over this list of distinguished names, there were, besides the deceased, then living, only the Hon. Henry Johnson, one of our early Governors, and long a useful member of the U.S. Senate; Col. Chas. Olivier, of Attakapas; and Bernard Marigny, Esq., of New Orleans – the youngest member of that body.

He acted for a time as Parish Judge of Ouachita.

Though no solicitor for office, he felt it to be the duty of a citizen to fulfill the functions to which he was called by those in authority.

He was afterwards selected by the President of the United States as Receiver of Public Moneys – a station which he held from 1821 to 1830 with entire satisfaction to the public and the Government.

The late Stephen Girard, having become intimately acquainted with Judge Bry, conceived a strong friendship for him, and having perceived, with that sagacity which enabled him to amass so large a fortune, that a vast sum was to be made by purchasing the land along the Mississippi River, from Concordia to the northern limit of the State, then coming into market, he offered him the money to do so on joint account, but Judge Bry, in whose mind the highest standard of civic virtue was formed, knowing it would retard the settlement of Northeastern Louisiana, then suffering from the unsettled state of the large grants to Bastrop and Maison Rouge, refused from this motive the tempting offer, though he knew that large wealth, with little trouble, would be the result of complying with the proposal of his friend.

His patriotic self-denial deserves being recorded in letters of gold.

Few of those who are cultivating that fertile soil are aware how much their prosperity is owing to that lofty sentiment worthy of the best days of any Republic.

Soon after the organization of the Board of Public Works, Judge Bry was called on by the Governor to act as its President.  With habitual devotion to public duty, he examined the rivers, bayous and lakes of the State, sometimes exposed for days in a small boat.  The reflection of the sun from the water so affected his sight that it became difficult for him to read or write.  This was a painful privation, as few took more delight in literary pursuits or were supplied with a better library.

The devotion of an accomplished daughter to a great extent mitigated this calamity.  She read for him, and acted as his amanuensis in keeping up an extensive correspondence.

Three years before his death paralysis deprived him of speech.  He bore those evils of advanced age with remarkable resignation, and occasionally seemed even cheerful.

Some weeks before his death he had the satisfaction of seeing his youngest daughter happily married.  Thus having seen the members of his family settled in life, he intimated that all his duties were fulfilled.

In his domestic relations he was kind and considerate.  The members of his family were devotedly attached to him.  He took much pains in superintending their education.

With his friends he was sociable and hospitable; and his conversation was at all times interesting and instructive.

He so systematized his time that he despatched [sic] much business, and even carried on an extensive correspondence with men of note and science in different parts of the country.  The late learned Mr. Duponceau was among his intimate correspondents.

His recreations and exercise were conducive to general improvement ; these were mostly in his garden and greenhouses.  His knowledge of botany and horticulture, with his industry in collecting plants and trees most likely to thrive in that climate and soil, have served to beautify the residences and render fruitful the orchards of his fellow citizens around Monroe, by diffusing a similar taste and affording the opportunity to indulge it.

He attracted to that distant and then almost unknown region men of intelligence and worth by the accurate and ample descriptions he gave of its advantages through the leading journals of the country.

During the last quarter of a century he has had the patriotic satisfaction of seeing a dozen of thriving parishes and communities grow up in Northern Louisiana, carved out of the wilderness he settled, extending from the Mississippi to the limit of Texas, and knowing that he greatly contributed to the result.

Well may his adopted country, as well as his friends venerate his memory.

4 thoughts on “The death of Judge Isaac Henry Bry

  1. Thanks so much for this!
    I am researching the early naturalists of NE Louisiana. Is there a broad biographical treatment of Judge Bry that is available?


    1. His obituary is probably the best sketch of him I have found. I would also take a look at Dr. E. Russ Williams’ “Encyclopedia of Individuals and Founding Families of the Ouachita Valley of Louisiana from 1785 to 1850 Part One A-K”. That book has a good one too.


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