History: Peter Alexander Brannon’s hobby became his vocation

History: Peter Alexander Brannon’s hobby became his vocation

Editor’s Note: Russell County has a long history that is important to the State of Alabama and its evolvement from an area described in the book “Russell County in Retrospect” by Anne Kendrick Walker as a “barbaric land” to what it is today. Many of the people who set their roots in the county in its early days including the state’s first Territorial Delegate to the United States Congress, important Native Americans who paid with their lives to cede land that created the county, a family that started a place of higher learning in south Russell County that later led to the establishment of one of the state’s most known institutions of education today and a former slave who placed a monument to honor his former owner, are very much important to the formation of Alabama. The story that follows is another of a series to inform you – our readers – about the history of Russell County. 

Peter Alexander Brannon knew the exact date he became interested in Alabama history. It was Dec. 7, 1889, the day after the former president of the Confederate States of America – Jefferson Davis – died. 

Brannon remembered the day vividly. He attended a memorial in Seale with his step-grandfather, Peter Alexander Greene. Greene had served in the 31st Georgia Infantry during the Civil War and after the war he worked as a clerk for the Circuit Court of Russell County. In his spare time, Greene collected Indian relics and Civil War memorabilia. It was his influence on his grandson that would give Alabama perhaps its greatest historian.

It was not the memorial service that sparked Brannon’s interest in Alabama history; it was what he did with his step-grandfather on that day. The two went looking for Indian relics around Seale. From that day forward, Brannon was hooked and made Alabama history his hobby – for the time being. It was from that day in his life that he began to study his surroundings. He collected a variety of items including items relating to Alabama’s early inhabitants. He collected bottles, beads and arrowheads, anything of historical significance.

Upon graduating from Seale High School in 1898, Brannon enrolled at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn University), where he earned a degree in pharmacy in 1900. He went to work as a pharmacist in Talladega, then Columbus, Ga. and later Troy. All the while, Brannon continued his love of learning about local history and collecting relics.

When his step-grandfather died in 1903, Brannon inherited Greene’s collection which included manuscripts, a great many Indian relics, and a number of pistols, swords, guns, and other miscellaneous things. Thomas McAdory Owen had heard of the collection and was interested in procuring several items for the newly established Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery. 

Owen, who founded ADAH in 1901, traveled to Columbus to visit Brannon, view the collection and to make notes of the local history. In 1904 Owen purchased several pieces from the Greene collection. They continued to communicate concerning collectors and locations of collections. As a result, Brannon’s interest in the work of the Department of Archives and History from these small beginnings grew to a serious nature. He moved to Montgomery in 1907 to work as a pharmacist at Spann’s Drug Store. Brannon began to assist Owen in various programs and their relationship as research associates grew stronger.  

In Owen’s 1909-1910 annual report to the Board of Trustees he urged the members to consider appropriating funds to establish the position of chief clerk. The job had several duties such as serving as acting director while Owen was traveling the state popularizing the Department. The candidate was also to travel throughout the state securing for the State the thousands of precious historical relics, and aboriginal, pioneer, Confederate, personal, etc., that were going to waste, or else being carried away from the state by collectors from other states. 

Owen further elaborated that the chief clerk would also serve as the head of the yet to be created anthropological division of the ADAH. He ended by stressing that the job would go beyond academic work and that it would include field work relating to archaeological investigations. 

It is clear from Owen’s report that Brannon was whom he had in mind for the position when he referenced Brannon’s archaeological interest and his niche for collecting. The Board of Trustees approved the appropriation of funding and Brannon began his new career in February 1911. Thus began a 50-year career with the department.

Brannon served in several positions with the ADAH over the years – curator, archivist and director. He is the author of many books on Alabama history. He also helped create the Alabama Historical Commission, served as a member of the State Archaeological Surveys, member of the Alabama Anthropological  Society, edited the Alabama Historical Quarterly, helped create the Russell County Historical Commission and wrote over 900 articles on Alabama history for the Montgomery Advertiser to name a few of his endeavors over the years.

Brannon was the son of George Thomas and Stephie (Greene) born on August 30, 1882 in Seale. He died on January 5, 1967.