The Renshaw House Sisters

I was looking again at the giant book of genealogy that George put together for Mom and found that he knew when and who Paw Paw’s brother, Joseph John Grant, Jr., married. I don’t know much about Mom’s uncle Joe, but he was a salesman for Maxwell Motors in Salina, Kansas in 1917. He married a very cute girl he met there and she died the next year, not sure why. He married again in 1958 in Las Vegas, and died in Los Angeles in 1970.

This got me looking a little closer at George’s book for clues to things I didn’t have records of at In his book, I was reading through the childhood recollections of Eunice Thompson Geiger (about 60 pages typed), who was Paw Paw’s first cousin. She lived in Pensacola growing up and, during a Yellow Fever quarantine, left the city quickly (maybe in 1905) with her mother to visit “Cousin Fannie” in Knoxville. She was quite well off, lived in a grand house named “Melrose,” and was well versed in family history, which she imparted to young Eunice.

The Melrose Estate house in Knoxville, Tennessee where Aunt Fannie lived.

The Melrose Estate house in Knoxville, Tennessee where Cousin Fannie lived.

The first part of research I did was to find out who Cousin Fannie was. Frances Renshaw House (named Frances like her mother, grandmother and great grandmother back to James Budden’s wife, Frances Bispham of Barbados) was already in the family tree at along with her husband, Thomas O’Conner. She was born in 1832, a niece to my great, great grandfather Francis Bostock Renshaw, the naval officer. The house was originally on 20 acres of land, but living long after her husband, she subdivided the land and sold off parcels for income. After she died it became an art gallery (Melrose Art Center) and a boarding house before being torn down and all of it incorporated into the campus of the University of Tennessee. Fannie told a story to Eunice about her sister, Ellen Renshaw House, spitting on Union officers when they occupied their house during the Civil War (I’m pretty sure that was a different house than the one Eunice visited, but the story makes it sound like it is the same one and that it still had hoof marks in the wood floors from when the Union soldiers kept horses in the house). Ellen absolutely despised the Yankees and in 1996, long after her death, a book was published based on her personal diaries she kept during that time where she vented about the horrible Yanks and the suffering she saw around her during the war (she said she was glad Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and wrote that if General Lee surrendered then the south just needed to find a new general that could win the war; after the war she refused to sign the oath of loyalty to the United States).

A quick search of census records found Frances and Thomas living in Knoxville in 1880, but there was no date for when Thomas O’Conner died (Fannie died in 1923; they didn’t have any children). I did a search on him and found a very interesting history not mentioned anywhere else that I knew of. His page on Find a Grave (like Linked In for dead people) mentions that he is a figure in folklore, written about by Mark Twain in Twain’s memoir Life on the Mississippi. Apparently O’Conner had been a Major for the Confederates during the Civil War and had become quite successful in business afterwards, dying in 1882. I’ll let Mark Twain tell the story, from Chapter 40 (written like a wire story, and maybe it was since the book was only published the following year):

KNOXVILLE, Tenn., October 19.–This morning a few minutes after ten o’clock, General Joseph A. Mabry, Thomas O’Connor, and Joseph A. Mabry, Jr., were killed in a shooting affray. The difficulty began yesterday afternoon by General Mabry attacking Major O’Connor and threatening to kill him. This was at the fair grounds, and O’Connor told Mabry that it was not the place to settle their difficulties. Mabry then told O’Connor he should not live. It seems that Mabry was armed and O’Connor was not. The cause of the difficulty was an old feud about the transfer of some property from Mabry to O’Connor. Later in the afternoon Mabry sent word to O’Connor that he would kill him on sight. This morning Major O’Connor was standing in the door of the Mechanics’ National Bank, of which he was president. General Mabry and another gentleman walked down Gay Street on the opposite side from the bank. O’Connor stepped into the bank, got a shot gun, took deliberate aim at General Mabry and fired. Mabry fell dead, being shot in the left side.As he fell O’Connor fired again, the shot taking effect in Mabry’s thigh. O’Connor then reached into the bank and got another shot gun. About this time Joseph A. Mabry, Jr., son of General Mabry, came rushing down the street, unseen by O’Connor until within forty feet, when the young man fired a pistol, the shot taking effect in O’Connor’s right breast, passing through the body near the heart.The instant Mabry shot, O’Connor turned and fired, the load taking effect in young Mabry’s right breast and side. Mabry fell pierced with twenty buckshot, and almost instantly O’Connor fell dead without a struggle. Mabry tried to rise, but fell back dead.The whole tragedy occurred within two minutes, and neither of the three spoke after he was shot. General Mabry had about thirty buckshot in his body. A bystander was painfully wounded in the thigh with a buckshot, and another was wounded in the arm. Four other men had their clothing pierced by buckshot. The affair caused great excitement, and Gay Street was thronged with thousands of people. General Mabry and his son Joe were acquitted only a few days ago of the murder of Moses Lusby and Don Lusby, father and son, whom they killed a few weeks ago. Will Mabry was killed by Don Lusby last Christmas. Major Thomas O’Connor was President of the Mechanics’ National Bank here, and was the wealthiest man in the State. –ASSOCIATED PRESS TELEGRAM.

I’m not real sure why Twain put this in his book, but there it is. O’Conner’s wife, Cousin Fannie, was the first cousin of my great grandfather, Joseph John Grant, and therefore my first cousin, three times removed. The women in our family married a lot of interesting people, so this is another example. And Eunice would do this too, marrying a young Marine Corps pilot who trained in Pensacola (the 5th marine ever to get his pilot wings), eventually became a general, commanded the Cactus Air Force at Guadalcanal, and was briefly the US commander of the battle for Okinawa, Gen. Roy Geiger. In an odd coincidence, Geiger was promoted when the former commander, General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. was killed in action on Okinawa. General Buckner’s father, General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Sr., was the confederate general in charge of the defense of Knoxville during the Civil War.

3 thoughts on “The Renshaw House Sisters

  1. I have a book about Roy Geiger. Uncle Horace visited with him in Pensacola and knew Eunice.
    Uncle Joe lived in California and I visited him and his 2nd wife in 1958. I stayed several days with them. He was very handsome when he was young. He visited us in Birmingham when I was aa child.
    You are coming up with some very interesting information about the Grant/Renshaw families.

  2. Wow! Where did you get that photo of Melrose? My family (House family of Knoxville) is connected to the O’Conner family by marriage, and many of them had homes in the parcels sold off by Fannie after Thomas died, on the street called Melrose Place. I’ve never seen that particular photo. It’s beautiful. All those houses are gone now, including my grandparents’, which was a few houses away from Melrose house.

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