William Bradford Was Popular Judge With Antebellum Home On Vine Street

Monday, February 26, 2018 - by John Wilson

William M. Bradford's father was a noted gunsmith who crafted Davy Crockett's favorite rifle, "Long Bess.'' The younger Bradford chose a career in politics and law and became a judge in Chattanooga. Before the Civil War, he was known as one of the most powerful political
speakers in East Tennessee.

The Bradfords, according to tradition, trace back to the Governor William Bradford of Mayflower fame. Henry Bradford, father of William, was the son of Joseph Bennett Bradford of Fauquier County, Va., and Mary Wilson. Joseph B. Bradford died in Caldwell County, N.C., in 1830 when he was 95. His father was John Bradford of Fauquier County.

Henry Bradford was born in Burke County, N.C., on Christmas Eve 1776 and had moved to Jefferson County the year Tennessee became a state - 1796. In 1799, he had married Rachel
McFarland, whose father, Robert McFarland, was on the Tennessee Supreme Court. Her mother was Mary Blackburn McFarland. Henry Bradford was also a justice of the peace, and he performed Davy Crockett's marriage. He was an elector for James Madison in 1812 and he represented Jefferson County in the General Assembly from 1811-1821. He was a colonel in the War of 1812. Henry Bradford, like his father, lived to be 95. He died in 1871. Rachel McFarland Bradford died in 1852.

William Bradford was born Feb. 14, 1827, on a farm in McMinn County in the section that was later taken into Polk County. He was the youngest of 10 children. There were nine sons and a single daughter. William Bradford attended Forest Hill Academy in Athens, Tn., then when he was 17 he was elected county surveyor of Polk County. He was appointed postmaster of Columbus, Tn., when he was 18 and was elected justice of the peace in Dandridge when he was 21. Bradford obtained his law license at 20 and was appointed clerk and master in Dandridge when he was 24. He married Elizabeth K. Inman, daughter of Shadrach and Sarah Henderson Inman, in Dandridge in 1846. Her grandfather was Abednego Inman, an Englishman who fought in the Revolution. His wife was Mary
Ritchie. Andrew Henderson, Elizabeth's grandfather, was also a Revolutionary soldier. He was
a direct descendant of Margaret Bruce of Scotland, who married William Henderson in 1705.
Andrew Henderson married Agnes Keys, daughter of John Keys of Augusta County, Va.

Bradford in 1859 was nominated by a Whig convention for state senator and was elected to
represent Jefferson, Hawkins and Hancock counties. At the close of the momentous legislative session of 1859-60, Bradford volunteered in the Confederate Army. In February, 1862, he was elected colonel of the 31st Tennessee Mounted Infantry. He was in many battles in Tennessee, Virginia and Mississippi and at times commanded a brigade. He was in the siege of Vicksburg, where he was captured. Following his exchange, he rejoined the Confederate army under John C. Vaughn. He refused to give up after hearing the news of Lee's surrender and he went to North Carolina and joined the exodus of Jefferson Davis to Georgia. He was paroled in Washington, Ga.

By the time of the Civil War, Bradford had accumulated $25,000 in slaves and property, but the conflict left him penniless. It was said that, had it not been for the war, he "would doubtless have obtained a national reputation. But the war swept away the hopes and prospects of many a brilliant young man.'' After the war, Bradford was no longer a Whig but "an undeviating, consistent and conscientious Democrat.'' He moved his law practice to Athens, Tn., and in 1875 became chancellor. He moved his family to Chattanooga in 1880. The Bradfords occupied an old home on Vine Street that before the war had been the two-story law office of John L. Hopkins. Hopkins had owned an entire block and lived in a cottage at Vine and Houston, but he moved on to become a judge in Atlanta.

One of the most interesting cases to come before Chancellor Bradford in Chattanooga was the matter in which Harriet Whiteside sought to limit admission to her valuable Lookout Mountain property where Point Park is now located. Judge Bradford ruled in 1885 that the gates to the Point should be opened to all. Chancellor David Key had earlier ruled in favor of Mrs. Whiteside, saying the property owner had the right to selectively exclude visitors.

Judge Bradford lived until June of 1895 when he was 68. His funeral service was preached by his neighbor, Dr. Jonathan Bachman. It was said to have been one of the most impressive funeral
orations in the city's history and there was "hardly a dry eye in the room'' when the Presbyterian minister was finished. Then a funeral cortege wound its way out to the Citizens Cemetery.

Judge Bradford was termed "a genial, pleasant, warm-hearted gentleman of the old school.'' It was said that "few men were so fond of telling a good anecdote, of giving a good hearty handshake, or who enjoyed social life and good neighborhood so well as Judge Bradford.''

Elizabeth Inman Bradford died in 1903.

The Bradfords had 11 children, but six died in infancy or early childhood. The children included Mary Coffey (May) who married O. Dumas, Linda Margaretta who married Dr. Oliver Eugene Ross, Henry James who became a merchant in New York City and married Florence Frost, Elizabeth Tipton who married John Henry Cleage, and Augusta Franklin.

The Bradford home on Vine Street passed to the Ross family, and Miss Augusta Bradford lived there for many years. She was the genealogist at the Chattanooga Public Library. One of the last occupants of the house was Miss Mary E. Ross, a granddaughter of Judge Bradford. Miss Ross was a schoolteacher, including a long tenure at the Park Place School. She was born in the house and lived there until her death in 1969. Like her grandfather, she was laid to rest at Citizens Cemetery. The quaint antebellum home at 519 Vine was torn down several years later.


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