Sen. Bill Frist Has Many Chattanooga Family Ties

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist, who is in line to assume one of the most powerful positions in the U.S. government, has many Chattanooga connections.

The soon-to-be Senate majority leader's great-grandfather, Jacob Chester Frist, was an Irish immigrant who made his way to Chattanooga well before the Civil War and worked as a carpenter.

His grandfather, Jacob Frist Jr., was born here, then made his way to Meridian, Miss., where he died saving the life of a woman who was about to be run over by a train.

Some of the Frists stayed on in Chattanooga, and some live here still.

The Frist family was originally from Ireland, but had lived in Delaware for a number of years. Jacob Frist was born at New Castle County, Del., Jan. 27, 1817, the son of Henry and Elizabeth Frist. Henry Frist died in 1821 at New Castle County. Jacob Frist apparently came to Chattanooga with other Irish workmen building one of the first railroads into the city.

Jacob Frist was fearless when it came to snakes. He slew 32 serpents (mostly water moccasins) at "Gas Flats" on the day prior to his marriage to Mary Ann Baldwin, daughter of the Ross's Landing pioneer Isaac Baldwin. Gas Flats was one of the ponds just south of town near the present 11th Street. Baldwin, who had arrived at Ross's Landing from Jefferson County with his family on a flatboat on April 16, 1836, had died Oct. 27, 1838. He had injured his hip in a fall from a building. His widow, Crissa Baldwin, stayed on in a house at Seventh and Chestnut that was built entirely of flatboat gunwales. Chrissa Baldwin, who was from North Carolina, was a charter member of the Centenary Methodist Church.

Jacob Frist was 16 years older than his bride, Mary Ann Baldwin. The Jacob Frists resided at 315 Carter St. in a house that was previously owned by a manufacturing company. It was an Irish settlement, including the O'Connors, the Maloneys, the Mahers, the Scamdens and the McMans. During the Civil War the Jacob Frists retreated to their 80-acre farm in Lookout Valley near the Cummings place and Kelly's Ferry.

The Frist children included Robert Harris, James B., Samuel H., Susan Elizabeth, Jacob Jr., Joseph E. and Emmett Franklin. Robert was apparently by an earlier wife of Jacob Frist.

After the war, Jacob Frist worked as a pattern maker at a foundry. He died March 18, 1879, and was buried at Citizens Cemetery. Jacob Frist Jr. was 17 at the time his father died. Sen. Frist, in a visit to Chattanooga some years ago, visited the grave of Jacob Frist Sr. at the old cemetery near the UTC campus.

Mary Ann Baldwin Frist lived on at Carter Street for many years. Like her mother-in-law, she was a constant attendant at Sunday School and church. It was said that "her hatred for sin was fairly puritanical." Mrs. Frist was "a woman of strong personality and vigorous mind. She held pronounced views and could express them with exceptional ability when occasion arose." She was often interviewed by Henry Wiltse, who chronicled the early days of Chattanooga, while sitting in a familiar old chair and denouncing the Yankees for having stolen two other chairs of the same pattern. Mary Ann Baldwin Frist was staying with her daughter, Susan, in Lookout Valley when she died in 1920, after having lived at Chattanooga more than eight decades.

James B. Frist resided on the family farm in Lookout Valley until his death in 1925. He is buried at the Parker Cemetery. His daughter, Bertie, married William Hartman, and the farm is still owned by the Hartmans.

Robert H. Frist went into the Confederate army at Chattanooga on April 1, 1862, giving his age as 17 though he was 15. He joined Co. B of McLemore's Fourth Cavalry. He was given $24.40 in extra duty pay for use of his horse and was detached for scout duty. Robert H. Frist died in 1903.

Samuel H. Frist, like his father, was a talented carpenter and patternmaker. He apparently became acquainted with Robert Cravens through the foundry business, and he acquired from Cravens a portion of his property below the Cravens House on the side of Lookout Mountain. Samuel Frist resided here in a home that had a commanding view of downtown Chattanooga. His daughter was Estelle Rockwood.

Jacob Frist Jr. worked in Chattanooga as a baggage master when he was still in his teens. His job with the railroad brought him to Meridian, Miss. He was the stationmaster there in 1919 when he saw a train approaching a woman and her child, who were looking in the opposite direction. He pushed them from the track, but was struck by the train and eventually died from his injuries. Jacob Frist Jr. was awarded the Carnegie Medal for his lifesaving action. Tom Frist and John Chester Frist, sons of Jacob Frist Jr., were raised by their mother, who ran a boarding house at Meridian. Tom Frist attended Vanderbilt Medical School and he and his son, Tom Frist Jr., were among the founders of the Nashville-based Hospital Corporation of America, one of the world's largest hospital chains. Other children of Tom Frist Sr. of Nashville include Sen. Frist, Dr. Robert Frist, Dorothy Boesch and Mary Barfield. Dr. John Chester Frist was a Presbyterian minister. His children include Dr. John Frist, a Nashville plastic surgeon, and Tom Frist, president of the American Leprosy Mission and recipient of a McCallie School alumni award.

Susan Frist married O.M. Vetter. Emmett Frist, who was just a baby when his father died, became a locomotive engineer and moved to Gadsden, Ala.

Some descendants of Joseph E. Frist still reside here, including Ronald Frist and Frank Frist. The widow of Paul Frist, son of Joseph Frist, lives in Lookout Valley. The Frist family Bible was given by the Chattanooga family to Sen. Frist, who keeps it at his home in Nashville.

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