Eliza Simmons Bryant.

by Lisa Y. Henderson


ELIZA SIMMONS BRYANT (1827–1907) founded a home in Cleveland, Ohio, for elderly African-Americans, many, freed slaves.  The Cleveland Home for Aged Colored People, now known as Eliza Bryant Village, continues to serve some of Cleveland’s most vulnerable residents.

Eliza Bryant’s official biography asserts that she “was born in North Carolina to Polly Simmons, a slave, and her master. She was raised on a plantation in Wayne County. In 1848, Polly Simmons was freed, and moved with her family to Cleveland, Ohio, where she purchased a home, with funds from her master.” In fact, Eliza was born free to Polly Simmons, who was part of a large family whose freedom dated from at least the mid-18th century.  Her father may have been white, and may have employed her mother, but was not her master.  (Eliza turned 21 in about 1848 — was a release from an indenture the “freedom” attributed to her mother in her bio?) The 1850 census of the South Side of the Neuse, Wayne County, shows: Polly Simmons, 47, her children Eliza, 23, Buckner, 21, and George, 18; plus Nancy A., 17, and Willie Grice, 15, and Rufus Daniel, 14; all described as mulatto. They are listed among a cluster of Simmonses, including 84 year-old Phereby Simmons, who may have been Polly’s mother.

Photo courtesy of http://www.elizabryant.org.  Wikipedia; US Federal Population Schedule.