It is said that the highway that connects Angleton and West Columbia (and also runs through Bailey’s Prairie) is haunted by the ghost of one James Briton Bailey – for whom the area was named. According to legend, the ghost, carrying a lantern, roams across the flat land of Brazoria County – at night, constantly searching for a jug of whiskey.
It appears as a bouncing, white ball of light floating about four to six feet off the ground occasionally making an appearance somewhere between West Columbia and Angleton. A large number of folks have seen the phenomenon known as “Bailey’s Light.”
According to The Handbook of Texas, James Briton Bailey was part of Stephen F. Austin’s Old Three Hundred colonists. He was born in North Carolina in 1779. Bailey was married at a young age and the couple had six children. After his first wife died, he married her sister and fathered five more children.
Bailey, known as “Brit,” moved his family from North Carolina to Kentucky and apparently served in the legislature of that state. He was a very controversial figure and obtained a bad reputation. The story goes that he was prosecuted for forgery before he left the state.
After leaving Kentucky, Bailey turned up in Tennessee. He lived there for a number of years and later fought in the War of 1812. When the war was over, Bailey moved his family and six adult slaves to Texas. He settled on land that would later become part of Brazoria County. That specific area is known as Bailey’s Prairie.
Bailey allegedly bought his land from the Spanish government. After Mexico won its independence from Spain however, the Mexican authorities refused to recognize his claim that the land belonged to him. Bailey would not give up his home even though Stephen F. Austin ordered him to leave the Austin colony.
Although Bailey and Austin apparently disliked one another, Austin finally recognized Bailey’s squatter’s claim to the land. He was given a league and a labor of ground on the east bank of the Brazos River. Brit Bailey was later commissioned as a captain in the local militia. At that time, Texans were loyal Mexican citizens and Bailey took the oath to defend the Mexican Constitution of 1824.
Bailey gained a reputation as being a troublemaker – he regularly engaged in brawls and evidently was a constant thorn in the side of Stephen Austin. Some were probably relieved when he finally died. Those who knew Brit Bailey may have thought that he died of just plain meanness, but history says that the tough old man succumbed to cholera on December 6, 1832.
In his will, Bailey demanded that he be buried standing straight up and facing the West. According to legend, he also wanted his rifle at his side and a jug of whiskey at his feet. The slaves who were digging the grave stole Bailey’s jug of whiskey.
Nobody knows what causes the light to appear over Bailey’s Prairie.
The vision of Bailey’s Light has been prevalent in Brazoria County for years and the folks there are probably convinced the old Brit is never going to find that jug of whiskey and that’s okay.
The light has been known to “chase” vehicles traveling on the highway late at night or in the early morning hours.