Monday, August 10, 2020

Suffrage in Tennessee

written by Debie Oeser Cox

Many people know the popular story of how the Tennessee Legislature passed the resolution on Aug. 18, 1920, to approve woman's suffrage. Tennessee was the 36th and last state needed to ratify the amendment. On August 26, 1920, The Amendment was adopted to the Constitution of the United States, giving women the right to vote.

The final vote was cast in the Tennessee House, by Representative Harry T. Burn, who was just 22 at the time. Initially, he favored the passage of the resolution but was apparently worn down by his colleagues and seemed to have changed his mind. As the vote came down to the wire there was a tie vote in the house of 48 to 48. Emotions were high and no one seemed ready to budge. Burn had not yet voted, instead twice making a motion to table the resolution. In the end, Burn voted "Aye", breaking the tie. He was the hero or the villain of the day, depending on one's view of the passage. Burn revealed that he carried a letter from his mother in his pocket that read in part,

"Hurrah and vote for suffrage. Don't keep them in doubt! I notice some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don't forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the "rat" in ratification."
Young Mr. Burn was obviously raised in a home where his mother made up her own mind and spoke out about her beliefs.

Harry T. Burn, Tennessee House of Representatives from McMinn County

Our family celebrates a more personal story concerning the 19th Amendment. Our two daughters' paternal great grandfather was serving in the Tennessee Senate in that August of 1920. His name was Verner A. Bradley of Robertson County. Mr. Bradley had served in the House from 1903-1905, and 1907-1909 representing Robertson County. His Senate term was 1919-1921 for Robertson County. Years later he would serve once more 1941-1943 as a Representative from Robertson, Cheatham and Williamson Counties.

Tennessee Senators met on Friday, August 13, 1920, discuss the Constitution Amendment before their body, designated as Resolution No. 1. They were addressed by L. E. Gwin, Chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments. Mr. Gwin advised that committee members believed that the Legislature a legal and moral right to ratify the resolution. The majority report was entered into the record.

"In view of the fact that all the members of this Senate are either Democrats or Republicans and that both nominees and platforms of their respective parties, State and National, have unequivocally declared for the ratification of this Amendment and that its final adoption is as certain as the occurence of the seasons, and the further fact that this Senate has heretofore taken a stand in favor of woman's suffrage by the enfranchisement as far as was legally possible of the womanhood of Tennessee, we have not considered it necessary to state the many good reasons that might be urged in favor of the adoption of the Amendment.

National woman's suffrage by Federal Amendment is at hand; it may be delayed, but it cannot be defeated; and we covet for Tennessee the signal honor of being the 36th and last State necessary to consumated this great reform.

The report was signed by Chairman Gwin and Senators, Copenhaver, Houk, Collins, Murrey, Coleman, Wikle, and Haston. 

A minority report was also submitted, signed by two members of the committee. The report gave the opinion that the Legislature had no authority to act on the resolution and that no action be taken. A vote was taken and the majority report was adopted. After further discussion, the resolution was adopted through a roll call vote of Ayes - 25, Noes - 4 and 2 - Present not voting. The first of the Aye votes was cast by Senator Verner A. Bradley. That first vote for woman's suffrage is remembered by few. The descendants of Senator Bradley are proud of the stand that he took. His oldest child Marguerite came of age soon after the Amendment was adopted. She said her father always insisted that she exercise her right to vote. Mr. Bradley was a civic leader for most of his life. He served in both county and state positions. He was married to Mary Susan Dowlen in 1898 and they were parents of two sons and three daughters. He died on October 3, 1964, at the age of 94.

Verner Adolphus Bradley, Tennessee State Senator from Robertson County

Sources: House and Senate Journal of the Extraordinary Session of the Sixty First General Assembly which convened at Nashville on Monday, August 9, 1920. Provided by the Tennessee State Libray and Archives, Legislative History Staff.

Biographical Directory of the Tennessee General Assembly, Volume III, 1901-1931

Records of the Cox and Bradley families.

Photo of Harry T. Burn from Tennessee Virtual Archive.

Friday, February 21, 2020


Faucon’s, An early French Restaurant in Nashville

Debie Oeser Cox

Xavier Faucon, born in France, came to the U.S. when he was 14 years old. He first settled in New Orleans where he married Marie Pons. In 1896 he opened a restaurant bearing his name at 419 Union Street. Faucon's restaurant became known across the south for the thick steaks, duck, soups and the famous Faucon's salad. The restaurant was homey.  The china was mismatched and the atmosphere was casual.

The Nashville American Sun, February 9, 1896

After eight years Xavier decided to make his principal home in Biloxi, Mississippi. This was probably because of a bit of legal trouble Xavier had gotten into for selling liquor in violation of the law. The ownership of the restaurant was turned over to his son Leon Faucon. Xavier often visited Nashville so that Leon could have time away. 

Faucon's is in the middle of the 400 block of Union Street, in this ca 1918 image from TSLA

This alternating management was the practice until January 1926 when Leon became ill and died. Xavier Faucon returned to Nashville and the restaurant for a short time after Leon died but it was too much for him. In April of 1926, he declared that he was tired and closed the restaurant and returned to Biloxi. Xavier Faucon died in May of 1930 at his home in Biloxi.

Variations of Faucon's salad are served in Nashville today, more than 100 years after it was created by Xavier Faucon. Belle Meade Country Club and Jimmy Kelly's Steakhouse have this longtime favorite on the menu.The original salad was made in a wooden bowl, rubbed with garlic across the bottom. Iceberg lettuce that had been chilled on ice was shredded by hand was placed into the bowl. Finely chopped boiled egg and chopped bacon were added. A dressing was made from 2 parts olive oil and wine vinegar into which salt and paprika and a generous amount of crumbled Roquefort cheese were mixed. 

The Tennessean, April 30, 1926

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Robert “Black Bob” Renfro: Tennessee’s First Black Entrepreneur

In June of 2006, Kathy Lauder and Mike Slate published a book of essays, From Knickers to Body Stockings. The essays were chosen by Lauder and Slate from their Nashville Historical Newsletter which was first published in January of 1997. I am posting with permission from Lauder and Slate, one of the essays, Robert “Black Bob” Renfro:  Tennessee’s First Black Entrepreneur. It was written by Larry Michael Ellis, who wrote and published Spizerinctum, The Life and Legend of Robert “Black Bob” Renfro, in 2004. A link to Spizzerinctum will be included at the end of this page. 

Robert “Black Bob” Renfro:  Tennessee’s First Black Entrepreneur

By Larry Michael Ellis

Robert “Black Bob” Renfro is mentioned by name in at least 25 records during the period that Nashville-Davidson County was part of both North Carolina and Tennessee, and he is listed as both a slave and a freeman.  Part of John Donelson’s epic river voyage, his group left the Donelson party on April 12, 1780, at the Red River near present-day Clarksville.  His master, Joseph Renfro, was a kinsman of the group’s leader Moses Renfro.  Indian attacks drove them from what had become Renfro Station, probably in June 1780.  Accounts differ as to the sequence of events which followed, but we do know that Joseph Renfro was killed near present-day Coopertown at what came to be known as the Battle Creek Massacre.  Folk legend says that Black Bob saved his mistress and her children.  Other historical accounts state that only a Mrs. Jones escaped.  Nevertheless, Bob’s mistress, Olive Renfro, did arrive at Fort Nashborough where she petitioned for and was granted “letters of administration” for the estate of Joseph Renfro.

Bob does not appear in an official record until August 8, 1792, when he was sold by Olive Renfro (now Shaw) in what appears to be a three-party transaction.  Bob became the property of Josiah Love, whose financial troubles involved him in several lawsuits,  with Andrew Jackson serving as his lawyer.  One foreclosure on Love lists Bob as his only asset.  Around the same time, Love entered into another complicated transaction in which two people claimed ownership of Bob: Robert Searcy, a prominent lawyer, and Elijah Robertson agreed to let the courts determine the true owner. In November 1795 the Court ruled Searcy was the rightful owner.

In the meantime, on January 16, 1794, the Davidson County Court agreed that “… a certain Negro called Bobb [sic] in the town of Nashville be permitted to sell Liquor and Victuals.”  This was the origin of what came to be known as “Black Bob’s Tavern.”  A 1797 record lists an assault occurring at the “house of Black Bob.”  This establishment was probably located on what is now Third Avenue, south of the Public Square. 

An unusual event occurred in April 1800 when schoolmaster Anderson Lavender assaulted Bob.  Lavender was indicted by the Davidson County Grand Jury.  When he agreed to pay court costs, the case was dissolved.  This was a significant moment in legal history: a white man was indicted for assaulting a slave and the case was not simply dismissed.  Andrew Jackson, Archibald Roane (future governor), and David Campbell were the judges when the suit was heard before the Superior Court.

Robert Searcy maintained ownership of Bob until 1801, five years after Tennessee became a state.  Searcy believed that Bob had more than paid back his investment and agreed to free him.  However, freedom and emancipation are not synonymous terms.  Fifty-three of Nashville’s most prominent and influential citizens, one of whom may have been a woman, signed a petition to the General Assembly requesting that Bob be emancipated, “giving him all the privileges that is [sic] usual to persons in a similar situation….”  The Fourth General Assembly of the State of Tennessee Chapter XCIII on 
November 10, 1801, granted the request and further stated that he “shall in the future be known as Robert Renfro.”

The emancipated Robert Renfro opened a new “House of Entertainment” in 1802 that was located on Main Street (current day Second Avenue).    Robert then purchased a life estate in Lot #25 from Robert Searcy on Main Street where he built and operated his business until a fire destroyed the establishment in 1814.  He then rented and operated the “stone tavern on the public square, near the courthouse….”

Robert Renfro continued to be involved in court cases, prevailing in at least three cases before white juries.  In an 1805 breach-of-contract case he sued Charles Dickinson (who was killed the following year by Andrew Jackson), and the appeals process established several Tennessee legal precedents.  Renfro’s name is listed on militia and tax roles, as well as in the records of several other legal transactions.

The last record mentioning Robert Renfro dates from 1816. Although no record has been found of his death, his name does not appear in the 1820 US Census of Nashville.  


Click the link to read a preview of Larry Michael Ellis' book. 

The book Spizzerinctum is fiction based somewhat on historical fact.