Branch was born in Prince Edward County, the son of Richard Branch and Mary Hays. Until emancipation he was owned by the Thackston family, for whom he worked as a house servant and shoemaker. Branch learned to read and write, and many of his contemporaries characterized him as unusually intelligent. About 1859 he married Harriet Lacy, also a slave. They had four sons and six daughters.
With both literacy and a trade, Branch quickly took advantage of his freedom. He was one of the trustees who purchased land in 1868 and 1869 for what became Beulah African Methodist Episcopal Church. By 1873 he owned property of his own in Farmville and served on the town council. Like other Piedmont counties with large African American populations, Prince Edward maintained an active Radical Republican Party organization, and Branch received the party's nomination for the House of Delegates in 1873. As a county native respected by whites as well as blacks, Branch differed from Edgar Allan, the British-born Union army veteran and Republican candidate for both the state senate and commonwealth's attorney. Thus, more than a play on words may have been behind Allan's description of him as one of the party's "olive branches." The Republicans carried the county, and Branch easily defeated his opponent, Joseph T. Lyon.
Two years later Branch and many other county Republicans cooperated with moderate Conservatives to form a ticket for local offices. The fusion ticket won, but the Republicans split over Branch's candidacy for reelection. Allan repeated a Conservative charge that Branch had a poor attendance record in the legislature, and Branch damned Allan as a party wrecker. As a result largely of defections from Allan's allies, Branch won reelection. During both of his terms in the assembly he served on the Committee on Claims and voted with the small Republican minority.
Branch was said to have become too disgusted with politics to seek reelection in 1877, but he accepted a federal patronage position as an assistant assessor of internal revenue. Because he refused to follow other Republicans into a coalition with the Readjusters, he was dismissed from this position in October 1881. Branch remained out of politics thereafter, although in 1888 he supported the successful bid of John Mercer Langston to become Virginia's first African American congressman.
Branch was a typical postwar African American politician in several respects: he had a close-knit nuclear family and possessed occupational skills, literacy, and property. Branch's independence and willingness to cooperate with moderate white Conservatives limited his political influence but earned him a lasting local reputation for integrity. He lived in Farmville until after 1911, when he sold the last of his property and moved to New Jersey to live with his son. Tazewell Branch died in Camden on April 30, 1925, and was buried in Odd Fellows Cemetery in Farmville.
May 13, 1828 - Tazewell Branch is born in Prince Edward County, the son of Richard Branch and Mary Hays.
ca. 1859 - Tazewell Branch marries Harriet Lacy.
1868–1869 - Tazewell Branch is one of the trustees who purchase land for what will become Beulah African Methodist Episcopal Church.
1873 - By this year, Tazewell Branch owns property in Farmville and serves on the town council. He also receives the Radical Republican Party's nomination for the House of Delegates.
1875 - Tazewell Branch and many other county Republicans cooperate with moderate Conservatives to form a ticket for local offices. The fusion ticket wins, but the Republicans split over Branch's candidacy for reelection.
1877 - Tazewell Branch accepts a federal patronage position as an assistant assessor of internal revenue.
October 1881 - Tazewell Branch is dismissed from his position as assistant assessor of internal revenue for refusing to follow other Republicans into a coalition with the Readjusters.
1888 - Tazewell Branch supports John Mercer Langston's successful bid to become Virginia's first African American congressman.
1911 - Tazewell Branch moves to New Jersey to live with his son.
April 30, 1925 - Tazewell Branch dies in Camden, New Jersey.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Morgan, L. J., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Tazewell Branch (1828–1925). (2013, July 18). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Branch_Tazewell_1828-1925.
- MLA Citation:
Morgan, Lynda J. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Tazewell Branch (1828–1925)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 18 Jul. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: April 22, 2013 | Last modified: July 18, 2013