Thursday, November 27, 2014

Haywood County's first entrepreneur, Hiram Bradford

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Since today is Thanksgiving, a time when families gather together to express gratitude for their blessings, I wanted to share this photo of a family found in the genealogy archives of the Elma Ross Library in Brownsville, Tennessee. It was taken, I assume, as they were preparing for a formal portrait in front of their home. I love the commotion that seems to be taking place as they try to get situated for the photo. The gentleman to the far left looks like he just wants the whole thing to be over as he stares off into the distance, finishing his cigarette.

Of course, I immediately wondered who this family was.

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From what is written on the back, we know the photo was taken 90 years ago in September 1924 at "The Old Bradford Place" which was "five miles west of Brownsville."  These are very likely some of the descendents of Brownsville’s first entrepreneur, Hiram Bradford.

Bradford was born January 2, 1797 in Granville, North Carolina to Benjamin J. Bradford and Polly Smith Bradford. Eventually, the family settled on the Columbia River in Stewart County in Louisiana. As a young farmer in East Feliciana Parish, Hirum Bradford supplemented his income from farming by trading horses and mules. He traveled much of the undeveloped Indian country to the west of Louisiana and became familiar with what would eventually become West Tennessee. He saw great opportunity in the rich soil around the Forked Deer River. In 1826 he heard they were planning to auction off lots in a town that was being named Brownsville.

Bradford’s early years as a settler in Haywood County is mentioned in one of my favorite old books, “Old Times in West Tennessee,” written by Joseph Williams in 1873. If you enjoy West Tennessee history, you should add this to your library. You can get a free digital copy here or purchase a hardcover book on

Williams wrote:
“Familiar with the rich virgin lands west of the Tennessee river, he resolved on fixing the future place of abode in Haywood. Learning the day fixed for the sale of lots in Brownsville, he gathered together his accumulations, with which, and his cotton crop of ten bales that season, he went to New Orleans and bought him a stock of goods, ordering his family to be ready on the bank of the river for the boat as she came up…He was among the first on the ground, when the sale of lots began, and bid off the first lot, No. 1, situated on the corner of the Public Square and East Main street, south side.”
Bradford had brought along two men who worked for him (probably slaves) and assigned them the task of cutting down the oak tree that stood on the lot he had just purchased. They cut the wood from the tree into the slabs with which Bradford built Brownsville’s first general store. Later, he used the money he made from the store to build Brownsville’s first hotel.

As settlers poured into the area, more cotton was planted and harvested, and Bradford saw the potential for what would become Brownsville’s first gin. Many credit Bradford’s gin with the increase of Brownsville’s population from 200 in 1823 to more than 5,000 by the end of the 1830s.

Williams wrote, “Few men lived so long and blameless a life as Hiram Bradford, enjoying the fruits of a well-earned fortune and an honorable name, all of which he left as a noble heritage to his surviving family.”

Hyram Bradford died August 27, 1862 at the age of 65 and was buried in what is now referred to as the “Bradford Family Cemtery.” It’s said to be located at Highway 54, off Thomas Lane which is about five mile west of the town of Brownsville. I assume this is very near the location of the house in the photo above.

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Thomas Lane and Highway 54, Haywood County, Tennessee

There are several clumps of trees in that area that could be covering a cemetery so I plan is to try to find it the next time I’m back in Tennessee. If anyone knows where it is, let me know.

Hiram and Polly Bradford had many children. One of their sons, Alsey High “Asa” Bradford, was four years old when his family first moved to Brownsville. As a young man, Bradford initially worked for his father helping to manage the family businesses but later recorded in his journal that he enjoyed “the estimable privilege of tilling the soil as a planter.” Source

By 1860, Bradford owned 1,850 acres valued at $20,000, which he farmed with his thirty-one slaves.

During the Civil War, he held numerous positions working his way up to Colonel, Commander of Hillard’s Tennessee Legion and Confederate Post Commander in Knoxville. After the war, he continued farming until his death on August 6, 1906. He was buried in Brownsville’s Oakwood Cemetery. Source

Another son, Hiram Scott Bradford, was also a Colonel in the Civil War and his bust can be seen in The Haywood County History Museum.

I know the approximate location of the house and possible heritage of the family, but who specifically were these people preparing for that 1924 photo?

Looking at the 1920 census, one possible suspect family could be that of Laura Bradford (age 63). She was the head of household and living with her were:

Alsey H. Bradford, age 26
Katherine Bradford, age 21
H. Victor Bradford, age 4 years and nine months
Alsey F. Bradford, age 1 year and four months.
Unusual for the time and place, Laura's occupation is listed as a fire insurance agent. She was a daughter of Colonel Alsey High Bradford and it appears she never married. In the 1900 census, Laura is living with her widowed father, two of his sons (Hyram C. and Alsey F.) and their families which included Alsey H. Bradford who was six at the time.

So it's certainly possibly that twenty years later, this 1924 photo is of Laura Bradford and others in her family including her nephew, his wife and their children. 

Although I would like to spend a little more time today researching the Bradfords, I would rather go spend time with my own family gathered here in Arlington for Thanksgiving!

For more blog entries, visit my Blog Home Page or to check out the genealogy research about my specific family lines, go to my Haywood County Line Genealogy Website. Purchase a signed copy of my book "The Forgotten Adventures of Richard Halliburton" here and receive a free Richard Halliburton bookmark, while supplies last.