Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams

There is probably nothing more boring than reading about someone else’s lineage – at least, that is the opinion of my Dear Hubby.

I find everyone and anyone’s families interesting.  Not sure what that says about me, but . . .

However, I am related to Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams through our common ancestor John Williams [born 26 Jan 1679, possibly Llangollen, Denbigh, Wales and died ca 1735, probably Hanover County, Virginia]  and our common ancestor Richard Borden [baptized 22 Feb 1595/96, Headcorn, Kent, England and died 25 May 1671, Portsmouth, Rhode Island].

For awhile, I even chased Williams’s Salmon ancestor, John Salmon, born 1646 and died March 2, 1696/1697 in Southold, Long Island, New York.  However, I don’t think that my Salmon/Sammon/Sammons line connects with Williams.

Genealogist John A. Brayton published The Ancestry of Tennessee Williams in 1993.

Excerpt from the Foreword of the book by Steve Cothan, February 1993.

Thomas Lanier Williams is a name that resonates with Tennessee history.  It is entirely fitting that the artist who bore this prominent East Tennessee name is almost universally known to the public as “Tennessee” Williams.  As a playwright, Tennessee Williams is generally acknowledged to be in the first rank of writers of the twentieth century.  Yet he never lived in Tennessee for any appreciable length of time and rarely visited the home state of so many of his father’s ancestors.  So why the name?  I wondered about that, subconsciously, as I read his autobiography, Tennessee Williams: Memoirs, soon after it was published in 1975.  Although Tennessee Williams made oblique references to his family connections to Tennessee and to events in his life and in the life of his sister Rose which happened in Tennessee, he never really explained the origin of the given name that his writing had made famous.  His sister Rose, to cite one example, made a disappointing debut in Knoxville in 1927, and her descent into madness is usually dated from that year.  a faint echo of that event is the mental institution, “Lion’s View,” in the play Suddenly Last Summer.  The Eastern State Hospital for the Insane was located at Lyon’s View on the Tennessee River outside Knoxville.  He was an adopted “native son” with a vengeance, whether or not his spiritual “home state” wanted to lay claim on this flamboyant artist.

Some of the ‘facts’ that Tennessee Williams presented concerning his ancestry in his autobiography were incorrect.  Thomas Lanier Williams I (1786-1856), was Tennessee Williams’s great-great uncle, not his direct forebear.  This gentleman, famous in his time as a lawyer, was the first Chancellor of the East Tennessee Chancery Court.  He arrived in East Tennessee at the end of the first decade of the nineteenth century, long after Tennessee achieved statehood in 196, not in the days of the “Western Territory” [i.e., Territory South of the River Ohio, 1789-1796].  The “imposing old Williams residence” in Knoxville was not, as Williams stated, a black orphanage but was instead bought by the state of Tennessee in 1885 and used as the “Colored Department” of the Tennessee School for the Deaf until 1965.  The family home still stands today, in deteriorated condition, a testament to the State of Tennessee’s lack of commitment to the preservation of the historically and architecturally significant buildings, owned by the state, which it ought to be eager to save for posterity.

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