Bryson, James (1730?–1796), presbyterian minister, was the son of John Bryson (1685?–1788), presbyterian minister at Holywood, Co. Down, and Ann Bryson (1698?–1804). He is said to have received his early education from the Lynches of Loughinisland. He was ordained as minister at Lisburn, Co. Antrim, 7 June 1764. Though his congregation was connected with the general synod of Ulster, he subscribed to the Westminster confession only as ‘founded on and agreeable to the holy scriptures’. In 1773 he moved to Belfast to become minister of the Second Congregation. In 1778 he published a large volume of sermons and became moderator of the synod. When the First Belfast Volunteer Company was formed (1778) he became a chaplain. In 1782 he joined the Freemasons as a member of the Orange Lodge (no. 257), to which he preached (24 June) a sermon, later published, on the duties of Masonry. Later some dissatisfaction, the nature of which is unclear, arose in his congregation. In 1791 the congregation left the synod to join the presbytery of Antrim; in November 1792 Bryson resigned and, with some supporters, formed the Fourth Congregation. All three congregations that Bryson served built meeting-houses during his office: Lisburn (1768), the Second Belfast (1789–90) and the Fourth Belfast in Donegall St. after its formation (1793).
Twelve volumes of Bryson's sermons, in which a unitarian tendency can be seen, survive in MS. It has been argued that his father was a native of County Donegal and that the Bryson family were Irish-speaking (Blaney, Presbyterians and the Irish language, 53–4). James Bryson married twice and was father of twenty-one sons and three daughters, most of whom died young. His wives’ names are unknown; one died 19 January 1790. He died 3 October 1796. His second son, Andrew (d. 1797), presbyterian minister at Dundalk, preached in Irish; his twenty-first son, Samuel Maziere Bryson (qv) (1776–1853), was a medical man in Belfast and collector of Irish MSS.