Dear Dr. Knox:
I cannot find a decent biography of John Williams, Jr. (1818-1881), the son of Colonel John Williams. Can you help?
I am researching Horace Maynard, who was attacked with a cane by Williams in a Knoxville street on August 14,1867.
Why this occurred, the New York Times of August 15 does not state.
My Dear Mr. Wake:
We can bet this fracas between a couple of prominent middle-aged Knoxville gentlemen wasn’t about a dame. August, 1867, was a dangerous month for Tennesseans of any political persuasion.
Horace Maynard (1814-1882) is one of the most interesting people who ever lived in Knoxville. Originally from Massachusetts, and rumored to be part Indian, the long-haired lawyer had a reputation as kind of a literary radical as a young man, perhaps what we’d call a bohemian. But he was an ambitious one: A math professor and sometime newspaper columnist, Maynard became an attorney and, in 1857, a U.S. Congressman. When the war came along Maynard was a strong Unionist, and was an extremely rare representative of a Confederate state who kept his seat in the U.S. House during the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln liked Maynard, sometimes conferred with him, and reportedly considered him for a cabinet position.
When Maynard shifted his allegiance from the dying Whig Party, he gave Tennessee’s 2nd District its first in an unbroken line of Republicans that has lasted almost 150 years.
Republicans in general were not popular in the South after the Civil War, of course. Maynard made it tougher for himself by sometimes aligning himself with the punitive Radical Republicans. He remained popular in his East Tennessee district, repeatedly re-elected to office. But 1867 was a time of fierce Southern resentment of Maynard and his fellow Republicans.
Col. John Williams (Jr.) (1818-1881) is less well known, and probably doesn’t have a biography. A grandson of Knoxville founder James White, Williams is often confused with his father, who was also known as “Col. John Williams.” To the consternation of generations of casual historians to come, neither of them seemed to regularly use a Sr. or Jr. or a I or a II.
We referred to Junior a couple of years ago in a column about his handsome old house, which is still standing on Riverside Drive. He was not nationally famous, as Maynard was, but he had been a member of the Tennessee Legislature in the 1840s and ’50s, and like Maynard, had been a notable Whig before the war. They were both Unionists. However, Williams and Maynard parted ways, politically, after the war’s end.
Williams was a close friend of the embattled president, Andrew Johnson, who had alienated the more progressive wing of the Republican Party and was facing impeachment. Congressman Maynard, who sometimes allied himself with the radical Republicans who hated Johnson, was generally an opponent of the president. That couldn’t have helped the Williams-Maynard friendship.
However, if we had to bet, it was about the gubernatorial election, earlier that month, and the many insults swapped in the press in those bitter days. “Parson” William G. Brownlow, the South’s closest approximation of a Radical Republican, favored the vote for freedmen and opposed enfranchising former Confederates, and had just been elected governor of Tennessee. His most powerful political ally in 1867 Tennessee was Knoxville’s Horace Maynard, who often campaigned for him.
Brownlow’s opponent in 1867 was conservative Unionist Henry Emerson Etheridge (1819-1902), a West Tennessee former slaveholder who had condemned emancipation, but later tried unsuccessfully to befriend the emancipated. His closest ally, in East Tennessee, at least, was John Williams. Etheridge and Williams often stumped together, and Williams was often mentioned as if he were a running mate.
Articles sometimes referred to the gubernatorial race as “Etheridge and Williams” versus “Brownlow and Maynard.” The source of the quarrel could have been some of the invective in the press. Brownlow’s landslide victory in early August provoked both gloating and bitter resentment.
Brownlow’s paper, the Knoxville Whig, was no friend of Etheridge and Williams. Etheridge had reportedly refused to debate Maynard, because the latter was “not a gentleman.” But in an editorial published the morning of the assault, the Whig remarked on Etheridge’s “wicked and profane habits and low and vulgar associations.”
Fortunately, the 53-year-old Maynard survived the beating. He later became ambassador to Turkey, where he was able to assist Heinrich Schliemann in the excavation of ancient Troy. Still later, Maynard was U.S. Postmaster. He became the namesake of the new town of Maynardville, home of several famous country musicians, and made even more famous as the home of the vengeful scalper in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.
John Williams maintained his friendship with Johnson, whom he sometimes entertained at his home on Riverside Drive. When John Williams II is remembered today, it’s probably most often as the great-grandfather of the playwright known as Tennessee Williams.
Yr. Obt. Svt.
Z. Heraclitus Knox
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