St. Louis Mo. Jan. 8th 89
No. 2637 Pine Street
My dear Mrs. Brownlow,
You will no doubt be surprised at receiving this letter from me, the grand daughter of your deceased husband, Col. Parson Brownlow. I have been intending to write to you for a long time. I will not enter into particulars now, but write now to ask you to be kind enough to send me a picture of my grandfather, Brownlow. I have an own[sic] Brother, (his grand son) living in Paris France – married into a very wealthy family, an old sea captains family.
I could have made the acquaintance of Miss Brownlow at Sweet Springs had an opportunity only presented itself. She was quite a Belle there, I heard, as I have visited there myself several times. I hope that this letter will not cause any excitement, as many strange things are daily happening.
Should you be kind enough to send me my grand father’s picture – you will please send it to this address No. 2637 Pine St. St. Louis, Mo.
I recently returned from Europe and expect to go again very soon. I stand very high Socially.
I might write to strangers in Knoxville for this picture, but prefer to write to some member of our family.
Wishing to receive an early response from you,
I am yours affct.
I am called as you will see after the family, Brownlow.
But Who is Julia???
She is addressing Eliza Brownlow, widow of W. G. Brownlow, but she doesn’t get her grandfather’s name correct. She calls him Col. Parson Brownlow. W.G. was never in the army. His two sons were, but not Parson Brownlow.
Next, she is addressing Eliza as the widow of her grandfather, not her own grandmother. So her father is not a son of Eliza’s? Who is her “Brownlow” father? Does she even have the correct Brownlow family or just the most famous?
Julia only mentions a brother, so their parents seem to be dead at this point.
Julia writes, “I hope that this letter will not cause any excitement, as many strange things are daily happening.” And ends with a note after her signature, “I am called as you will see after the family, Brownlow.”
So we now have someone claiming to be the granddaughter of W. G. Brownlow but not Eliza, and acknowledges that her letter might be surprising and feels she has to point out that she uses the family name. Are we to assume an illegitimate connection to the Brownlow family?
Letter written in 1889.
W. G. died in 1877.
W. G. and Eliza are married in 1836. W. G. was 31 years old.
When was Julia’s father born? Before or after W. G. and Eliza were married?
The letter sounds as if it does come from a woman of experience, not someone who is young and inexperienced. Say she was 25-30 years old at the time. There is no way to know if her brother is older or younger. So her birthdate could be 1859-1864. And then her father? 20-30 years old? That puts his birthdate 1829-1839.
W.G. and Eliza’s son, John, was born in 1839. Perhaps she is his daughter. But why not claim Eliza as her grandmother? John used the title Colonel for the rest of his life after the Civil War. Is that where “Col.” came from? Did she mix the two men up?
And then there is the possibility that her family is another branch of the Brownlow line all together.
That is the big question isn’t it. Neither of W. G.’s biographers nor any other source indicates that W. G. had an eye for the ladies. W. G. went to a camp-meeting in 1825 and found his purpose as a man of God. He started riding the circuit for the Methodist Church in 1826 in the Black Mountain district of North Carolina. Did he succumb to temptation at some point, either before or after his marriage? We don’t know.
Could John Bell be her father? He was 20/21 years old in 1860, so he was old enough. He went away to college when he was about 17 and graduated when he was 21. He was unsupervised at that time and he could have fathered a child. Once back in Knoxville, he lived at home and worked at his father’s newspaper, but could still have had a life that the family did not know about. He was married in 1872, plenty of time to sow his wild oats.
A Twist to the Story
As if this story didn’t have enough unanswerable questions, we now turn to the address Julia used. According to several St. Louis business directories, the address belonged to Dr. William F. Silverwood, an African-American physician, who lived at that address for many years before and after Julia’s letter. Dr. Silverwood had served in the U.S. Colored Infantry and was a Lt. Colonel by end of the Civil War. He went to the University of Michigan Medical School, graduating in 1871.
St. Louis was a very segregated city, even up through the middle of the twentieth century. It is unthinkable that a white woman who “stood very high Socially” would stay with an African-American family in 1889, even a respected doctor’s family. However, the home of a respected doctor would be a fitting place for a bi-racial woman who “stood very high Socially.”
We don’t know what happened to Julia Brownlow.
The letter was sent to Eliza who probably gave it to Annie since she had contacts, through the Patrick family, in St. Louis. But did anyone contact her? Did John acknowledge her as his daughter? Was her father an illegitimate son of W.G.?
This letter is the only record of Julia Brownlow. Whether she was a granddaughter of W.G. or another Brownlow, we do not know.