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 in the late 1830s to support a family with his wife Eliza O’Brien and also worked for his father-in-law’s iron works. As an editor, he continued to press his case on various issues of the day through his publications, including the Jonesboro Whig which was later relocated to Knoxville. His combativeness and wit naturally led him into conflict with men of differing view and sometimes personal violence as was the case when he attacked Democratic newspaper editor Landon Carter Haynes with a sword cane before Haynes shot him in the thigh. It wasn’t the first time he had been shot at for his outspoken ways, and he was also attacked and clubbed in 1848. Brownlow himself pointed his revolvers at adversaries in other instances, and his son also killed a classmate in a fight but was acquitted.
He was pro-slavery prior to the Civil War and personally owned slaves but was fiercely against secession in response to the election of Abraham Lincoln. He shifted to a pro-emancipation stance during the war. Per Lampe’s article, “He was the last house to fly the American flag...He bravely defended the American flag at his home despite the threats of Confederate troops and warnings by his neighbors who threatened to take the flag down at all costs. Once when two would-be flag snatchers tried to steal the flag, Brownlow’s 23 year old daughter Susan confronted them with a revolver and forced them to retreat.” His newspaper had 10,000 subscribers in 1861 before being forced to close. He was arrested by the Confederate government and temporarily jailed before being released in December 1862 and was exiled into Union territory with his family. He soon called for “grape for the rebel masses, hemp for their leaders” for his mistreatment and their treason and set out on a speaking and book selling tour with General S.F. Carey throughout the North. He became a popular hero and also earned himself significant sums from his speaking fees, reportedly
as much as $2,000 for a single hour and twenty minute speech and $10,000 for the manuscript of “Sketches of the Rise, Progress, and Decline of Secession” (copy included). His tour was not all about enriching and promoting himself though; Brownlow’s fiery speeches were also used to encourage enlistments and donations in support of the Union cause.
It was during this tour that he received this stunning cased Colt Model 1861 Navy revolver. His daughter Susan was also presented a revolver in recognition of her defense of the flag in Knoxville. The speech and presentations are discussed in the Hartford Courant on June 6, 1862, which states that after his speech “The Rev. Asher Moore then appears, and in an appropriate speech presented Parson Brownlow with a Colt’s revolver and appurtenances from the workmen in Colt’s factory. The Parson replied by thanking them kindly, saying it should never be dishonored and that, if necessary would put a bullet through the man that insulted the flag. The Parson said he was sorry that there were men mean enough in Hartford as to uphold the rebellion, and that, if any would help him, he would lead the crow tomorrow morning and ride those rascals out of town on a rail.” His daughter’s Colt was then presented. The following day, the Hartford Courant also indicates that Brownlow was also presented “a Sharps’ rifle, of the same pattern as those used by the Berdan Sharpshooters” during a visit to the Sharps factory and then was also presented a sword by a delegation from Collinsville. He was also presented with a Henry rifle in the period. With a Colt and sword for close combat, a long range Sharps for sniping, and Henry for fierce fighting, the Fighting Parson would certainly have been ready to wage battle against his foes.
Brownlow temporarily moved his family to Cincinnati, Ohio, but they were able to return home to East Tennessee once Union forces secured Knoxville in the fall of 1863. He soon re-opened his newspaper, now named Brownlow’s Whig and Rebel Ventilator.” His two sons joined the Tennessee volunteers fighting for the Union, and Brownlow soon became a leading political figure in the important border state and worked as an agent for the U.S. Treasury. He was elected governor in 1865, replacing Governor Andrew Johnson who had been elected as Lincoln’s vice-president and became president upon Lincoln’s death. Brownlow had long opposed Johnson and had stated publicly, “I therefore pronounce your Governor, here upon his own dunghill, an unmitigated liar and calumniator, and villainous coward.” With language like that, it truly is a wonder Brownlow was never killed in a duel. Unlike Johnson who was famously lenient on former rebels, Brownlow showed himself to remain staunchly anti-secessionist and pushed to have all former Confederates in the state disenfranchised and also mobilized the militia to fight the Ku Klux Klan.

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