Jesse Brown Swafford

Jesse Brown Swafford

Since all families are interconnected with many genealogical lines, finding and learning about ancestors can get very complicated and puzzling. Perhaps the best way to untangle the past is to find all the information you can about each person, and then put the family members together. Sometimes it becomes easier if you have information on each descendent written on a note pad or sticky note, then place it on a chart, and build from there. For many people that may be a slow way to do things, but it does get the job done when researching tangled family lines. The information relating to Jesse Brown Swafford and Hannah Gillespie Darwin was taken from the following publications: History of Rhea County, Leaves From the Family Tree, Rhea County Cemetery Records, Volume 2 and Resolutions of the Rhea County Bar Association Upon the Passing of J. Brown Swafford, Attorney, of Dayton, Tennessee. This information shows how confusing looking for ancestors can sometimes be!

Jesse Brown Swafford, the son of Samuel S. and Eliza E. Roberson Swafford was born on July 6, 1866 in Bledsoe County, Tennessee. Jesse’s father, Samuel married Eliza in 1855 after the death of his first wife, Hester Ann. (Eliza and Hester Ann were sisters.) J.B. Swafford attended Peoples College in Pikeville in 1884, and Tennessee Valley College, 1885-87, at Evensville, Tennessee. He graduated from Cumberland University Law School at Lebanon.

At the age of eighteen, he began teaching school in Bledsoe County in order to have expenses for college; he began practicing law at Dayton in 1889, and continued until his death. He was the attorney for Dayton Coal and Iron Company, and a director in the Dayton Bank and Trust Company from 1915 until his death. Also, Swafford served both as county attorney and city attorney; he was appointed as government appeal agent for Selective Service System in 1942. He served as chairman of the county Democratic Executive Committee; he was a member of the state committee of Independent Democrats; and served in the 52nd General Assembly, 1901-03, as Senator representing Rhea, Bledsoe, Cumberland, Meigs, Sequatchie, Van Buren and White Counties. Also, Swafford was a partner of the late U.S. Senator James B. Frazier, and a senior member of the firm of Swafford and Woodlee, Attorneys. Swafford was a member of both the Rhea County and Tennessee Bar Associations. He was elected and served one term as state senator from the Ninth Senatorial District of Tennessee; he also had attended all the state conventions of his party for fifty years before his death.

J.B. Swafford was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (First United Methodist Church), and served as steward, trustee and teacher of the Men’s Bible Class. In addition, he was a member of Free and Accepted Masons with membership in the Royal Arch Chapter No. 121, Dayton; he also held membership in Knights Templar, Commandery No. 21 at Harriman and Trinity Consistory, 32nd Degree, Nashville.

Jesse Brown Swafford married Hannah Gillespie Darwin on December 18, 1895. Hannah was the daughter of Adelia Gillespie and Captain William Perry Darwin. Adelia Gillespie was the daughter of Robert Neilson Gillespie, who was a successful merchant in Washington, Rhea County. R.N. Gillespie was also a trustee of Tennessee Academy in Washington. Adelia Gillespie’s mother was Hannah Leuty Gillespie. (William Perry Darwin and Adelia Gillespie were my great-great grandparents; one of their daughters, Ella Adelia was my great grandmother, and a sister to J.B. Swafford’s wife, Hannah). William Perry Darwin was Captain of Company C, 16th Battalion of Tennessee Cavalry in the Confederate Army, and a merchant and farmer.

J.B. Swafford and Hannah Gillespie Darwin had two children: Samuel Perry Swafford and Jessie Lucille Swafford. Samuel Perry Swafford married Pauline Morgan and had the following children: Whitney Gillespie Swafford, who died in infancy, and Virginia Carol Swafford. Jessie Lucille Swafford married Oliver Hamilton Attridge and had the following children: Betty Brown Attridge and Barbara Hamilton Attridge.

Jesse Brown Swafford died in 1945; Rhea County Cemetery Records, Volume 2 states that he died on May 31, and the History of Rhea County lists his death date to be May 24. His wife, Hannah, died in 1937, according to Rhea County Cemetery Records, Volume 2, with Samuel Perry, wife, Pauline and their daughter Whitney G. being buried in the same lot with them. These death dates can be clarified by obtaining a copy of the death certificates for each.

A grandnephew of J.B. Swafford, C.P. Swafford, also born in Bledsoe County, Tennessee, was the son of Mr. and Mrs. S. Walter Swafford. He married Mary Frances Lee of Pikeville, Tennessee, and this union produced two sons: C.Philip Swafford, Jr, deceased, and Samuel Lee Swafford, of Dayton.

These Swafford, Darwin, Gillespie and Roberson lines have many branches to follow in order to get to the main part of the family a person is researching. During the early years of our history, it was common for names to be carried down from one generation to the next, and that can really make things complicated. However, researching is somewhat like a puzzle, you have to find the pieces and try to make them fit. However, we need to learn from the past in order to live in the present and prepare for the future.

Pat Guffey can be reached at