Hamilton County Pioneers - the Wisdom Family

Saturday, June 13, 2009 - by John Wilson

In 1853, when Chattanooga was “a struggling town of about two thousand inhabitants,” Abner J. Wisdom arrived here “practically penniless” from Arkansas. Up to the time of the Civil War, he was in the livery business. Later, he also became a builder, large property owner, and pioneer of the streetcar lines.

He was born in 1826 in Floyd County, Ga., the son of Jesse Wisdom, a farmer and Virginia native. The Wisdoms had originally come from Ireland to near Lynchburg, Va. His mother was Elizabeth Griffin, whose family was from South Carolina. He had a brother, Frank Wisdom, who also came to Chattanooga. He attended a dance at a house on Market Street near Seventh and was shot and killed after a quarrel. A sister, Julia Wisdom Strickland, also lived in Chattanooga. Another brother, John Wisdom, lived at Hokes Bluff, Ala. as did a sister, Mary Wisdom Wright.

When Abner J. Wisdom was only a boy, his father was killed after being thrown from a horse. Despite this tragedy, Abner Wisdom loved horses and was an expert at handling them. He won some renown as a jockey. When he was about 15, he went to Arkansas and was married to Fannie Glass in 1842. She died about 1850 after they had three children, Elizabeth, Margaret and Julia. At the start of the war in May of 1861, he married
Perlemna Parolee Clowdis, daughter of a “leading planter,” R.R. Clowdis, at Chattooga County, Ga. Her mother was Katherine Swan Marly of Knox County.

Prior to the war, Wisdom worked in the livery of Rezin M. Rawlings and then was employed by liveryman Augustus Cook. At the war's start, he joined the Confederate army and was in the supply department until he was taken prisoner at Nashville. His wife went to Nashville with only $20 and “after much trouble” was able to gain his release on the condition that he not fight again for the Confederacy. The family went by wagon to Milton, Ky., where they lived for about a year, then they returned to Chattanooga in 1865, again “practically penniless.”

Wisdom obtained a loan from the First National Bank, which he used to buy a carload of
mules. He soon built up a leading livery business that was first on Market Street between
Fourth and Fifth streets, then was moved to Pine Street near the Western and Atlantic
freight depot. He also was involved in buying and selling livestock and had a stockyard in
South Chattanooga in partnership with his neighbor, Oliver P. Fouts. Wisdom also became a builder of homes and business blocks. One of these was the Wisdom House, a hotel on Market Street. He also made improvements to the block of Market Street between Ninth and Tenth streets. One of his acquisitions was Tom Crutchfield's Amnicola Farm, which he bought in 1881 for $32,000. It was said that Abner Wisdom “exhibited rare business judgment, and everything he took hold of prospered.”

The Wisdoms were among the few residents of Houston Street. They were Methodists. He was one of the first members of the Mountain City Club. Abner Wisdom was a Democrat, but he never ran for public office. However, on one occasion he felt so strongly about a public issue that he sued the city for an injnction. The issue was a request by the Chattanooga, Rome and Columbus Railroad for a $100,000 subscription of tax funds. This litigation was successful in preventing the subscription. It was said that Wisdom was criticized at the time for this action, but in later days was praised for doing it.

On Sept. 4, 1875, when a horsecar line was inaugurated at Chattanooga, Abner Wisdom had the honor of sitting in the driver's seat. He was selected because he was “the chief horseman of the city” and also because the line's owner, Fatty Harris, was too wide to occupy the driver's post. The car was pulled by a pair of carriage horses from the Wisdom and Owen stables. This horsecar line ran over Market Street between the river and Montgomery Avenue (Main Street). Wisdom and Owen later bought the horsecar operation for $2,700, and held it for about a year before passing it on to Joseph Warner.

Of the children by Abner Wisdom's first marriage, Elizabeth Wisdom married W.H. Foust. Their three sons were A.C., Lon and John E. Foust. Margaret Wisdom married John J. Nix. Julia Wisdom married Lewis Owen, who was a partner in the livery business. Owen was also in a partnership with John A. Barnes in a shoe store on Market Street between Eighth and Ninth. They were in a dispute and Barnes shot and killed Lew Owen.

There were three daughters by the second wife also. Carrie Virginia married Harry E.
Chapman, who eventually took over the old Wisdom livery operation. Chapman also expanded into the undertaking business. He built new three-story quarters, including a chapel with stained-glass windows, on Pine Street. The Chapman funeral operation was later merged into Wann Funeral Home. Abbie Chapman, daughter of Harry and Carrie Chapman, married W.V. Milligan, and their sons were Harry Chapman Milligan and Vincent Milligan.

Kate Lee Wisdom married Edmond Lee Brantly. During the Civil War, he rode on horseback from Gadsden, Ala., to Rome, Ga., to warn of an impending attack by the Union Army. He later was presented a sterling silver tea set by grateful citizens of Rome for this feat. His grandson, Ed Brantly, still lives in Chattanooga. He was the son of Edmond Brook Brantly. Jessie Wisdom, another daughter of Abner Wisdom,
married J. M. Lanier.

Mrs. Abner Wisdom lived on Missionary Ridge during the last years of her life.

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