Every now and then a story will lead directly into another. Yesterday’s feature on the kinship of the Coffin family to Tennessee Williams led to an email from another Williams cousin now living in Nashville.
Alex F. Brandau III is originally from Knoxville and, like Tennessee Williams, is a direct descendent of Col. John Williams. In fact, he purchased and restored his ancestor’s home, the Williams House (1826), on Dandridge Avenue and rents it out. The home is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I grew up in a house right across the street from the Mabry-Hazen House,” Brandau said. “I remember it like it was yesterday.”
Though he never met his famous cousin, whom he refers to as Tom, he and his family were immensely proud of the family connection.
“It is really a shame I never got to meet him,” Brandau said. “I did get to know his brother, my cousin Dakin. I met him in St. Louis in the middle of a snowstorm. He treated me like a prince.”
Brandau, 73, attended the old Mountain View Elementary School. His family later moved to south Knoxville where he graduated from South High School in 1965. He loved to sing and was in the All-City Choir as well as the University of Tennessee Singers. He didn’t finish college right off the bat, so off to the Army and the Viet Nam War he went. He returned from that to finish his general business degree in 1974. Though marriage moved him to Nashville not long after, Knoxville and his Williams family history stayed with him.
“I inherited from my grandmother the job of being family historian,” Brandau said. That is part of the reason he purchased the Williams House. “I bought it for a song, but the restoration cost me $180,000 I didn’t have,” he said, adding that he partnered with his nephew Michael Lanier Brandau of Knoxville on the project.
The other aspect was writing a book about his notable ancestor, Col. John Williams. While the colonel came to prominence fighting with Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, what began as an amiable relationship between the two ended in a bitter rivalry. The details can be found in his book, but Brandau said the colonel died on a trip back to Washington, D.C., to try to stop Jackson’s planned Indian removal, known as the Trail of Tears.
“I told my grandmother I would tell these tales, and I did,” he said.
While he certainly wouldn’t speak for his entire family, it would be an understatement to say Brandau loves to punch holes in the mythology of Old Hickory. When asked about Harriet Tubman taking over Jackson’s place on the $20 bill, he said “it’s about damned time.”
You can go here to purchase a copy of Brandau’s book, THE HORSESHOE COLONEL.
While many of the Williams family are buried in Old Gray Cemetery, Col. John Williams is interred in the graveyard at First Presbyterian on State Street.
Beth Kinnane is community editor for KnoxTNToday.com