The Murder of Macon Bryan (ca. 1837-1899)

by | May 16, 2014 | 0 comments

[Editor’s Note: The following is an article contributed to East Carolina Roots by Anthony Bryan, a descendant of the Bryan family of Vanceboro. You can visit find him here at LinkedIn. If you have an idea about a story, or research that you’d like to contribute, please contact me via this link.]


News item mentioning the murder of Macon Bryan – New Bern Daily Journal, Jan. 25, 1899

Macon Bryan was murdered at his home in Vanceboro, North Carolina, in 1899 at the age of 62.

He was my great-grandfather Lewis (Louis) Arthur Bryan’s older brother, and both were sons of John and Mary Louisa (Ellison) Bryan.

The homocide was reported on Wednesday, January 25, 1899 in the New Bern Daily Journal. 

There was no elaborate article with a giant headline, as we might see today, but instead, just a dry, four-sentence summary:

Macon Bryan who was assaulted at his home in Vanceboro, on the 18th inst. [instante mense or this month] died from the effect of the assault on Monday at 6pm 23d inst. He was 62 years old.

A coroner’s inquest was held yesterday at Vanceboro, the verdict being that Bryan came to his death from a blow delivered by party unknown.

His funeral will take place today.

Macon had been attacked at home by an unknown (at least to us) assailant and died a few days later.

Was anyone ever arrested? Did it go to trial? Were there even any suspects?

21 Mar 1899 - Governor's Proclamation offering a $200 reward for the apprehension of the person or persons guilty of Macon Bryan's murder - The Progressive Farmer, Winston-Salem, NC

21 Mar 1899 – Governor’s Proclamation offering a $200 reward for the apprehension of the person or persons guilty of Macon Bryan’s murder – The Progressive Farmer, Winston-Salem

According to an article that was published shortly after the attack, there was at least one suspect who was seen with blood on his clothes not far from the home of Macon Bryan, but he was apparently cleared of charges, as within a month, the governor had issued a proclamation promising a reward of $200 for the apprehension of Macon’s assailant(s).

Sadly, it doesn’t appear the attacker was ever apprehended, at least this researcher has yet to find evidence stating such.

Who was Macon Bryan?

Aside from being the victim of century-old murder mystery, what else do we know about Macon?

His siblings were Sarah Elizabeth Bryan (1839-1922, m. Luther E. Satterthwaite), Mary Anna Bryan (1841-1907, m. Asa Thomas Waters), Lewis (Louis) Arthur Bryan (1844-1916, m. Della Dancy Higgs), Milton Frost Bryan (1848-1933, m. Laura Virgina Lang), Thomas E. Bryan (1848-?), and Edward Bryan (1854-1859).

Macon doesn’t show up in the 1840 or 1850 census (that is, unless he’s erroneously recorded as being a female named Minerva, which would be the right age at 13).

In 1860, he’s listed as a 21-year-old farm laborer (albeit as “Minkon”) still living at home. His father, John Bryan’s, real estate and personal estate values have jumped to $10,000 each.

Just a couple of years later, in 1862, Macon Bryan, who would’ve been about 25 at the time, is in the Forty-fourth Infantry, fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War. 

Next, we find him in 1870 as a 30-year-old clerk in store. (As a side note, Jackson Clark is 49 and a liquor dealer in a separate household, but in 1850 as a 30 year old laborer, he lived with the Bryans. Perhaps Jackson brought him into his later career, which we’ll get to in a minute.)

16 Feb 1899 - T.E. Warren granted liquor license once possessed by Macon Bryan - New Berne Weekly Journal

Although Macon ran a saloon as early as 1890, this news item shows he was granted a license to sell liquor just three weeks before he was murdered, in January 1899.

As he enters his 40s, in 1880, Macon is a grocer and purveyor of dry goods. 

Branson’s North Carolina Agricultural Almanac lists M. Bryan as having a “G.S. and Saloon” [general store?] in 1890 in Vanceboro, formerly known as Swift Creek, under the category of “Merchants and Tradesmen.” Under “Mills,” it lists “Steam corn, Swift Creek, M. Bryan.” (page 219)

Just a couple of pages later, the Almanac lists “M.F. Bryan & Bro” under “Farmers” in Vanceboro. At the time, Vanceboro is listed as having a population of 136.

Unfortunately, Macon’s name would not be found in the 1900 census, as he was murdered in January of 1899. He apparently died a bachelor, as there do not appear to be any records indicating he had a wife or children.

2 Feb 1899 - Adm of Macon Bryan's estate - New Bern Daily Journal

2 Feb 1899 – New Bern Daily Journal

A few more clues

A bit more that can be learned about Macon Bryan’s life and circumstances in his estate records, which were filed in Craven County.

L.M. Satterthwaite, Macon’s nephew, was appointed administrator, which Macon’s siblings Milton and Sarah witnessed.

Macon’s siblings Sarah, Lewis, Mary, Milton, and Thomas are listed as heirs. Lewis’ wife, Della Dancy Higgs Bryan (my great-grandmother) is also mentioned.

At the end of his life, Macon possessed an inventory consisting of:

  • $258.81 of liquor
  • $11.50 Chattel Goods, sundries
  • $16.60 half proceeds Morris Mortgage to Bryan and Bro.
  • $3.65 to sale of balance of Chattel Goods
  • $75 for real estate [about a half acre] sold

In all, his assets totaled $365.56.

His debts, totaling $1,500, are also listed.

Considering Macon’s half-acre of land sold for only $75, the value of his liquor at $258 seems high, but then again, his debt of $1,500 of debt seems even more extravagant — enough to buy 20 acres of land at the price of his half-acre.

Was this debt to stock the general store and saloon?

Had Macon gotten into financial problems?

His debts seem to heavily outweigh his assets.

Macon and Lewis’ younger brother, Milton Frost Bryan, named his son Edward Macon Bryan (1903-1967) in Macon’s honor (and also for Lewis and Milton’s younger brother, Edward Bryan (1854-1859), who died in childhood).

Macon’s younger sister Sarah Elizabeth Bryan Satterthwaite also named one of her sons Luther Macon Satterthwaite (1866-1948) in her brother’s memory.


While Macon’s murder could no doubt be classified as a cold case, being over a century old, it seems unlikely that it will ever be solved. Though his life may have been taken from him at the hands of another, his memory lives on through his extended family.

Some of his estate documents are linked below. You can click on any of them to view them at a larger size.

Macon Bryan estate document




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