George W. Barrow, U.S. and Confederate diplomat, editor, soldier, and statesman, was born in Nashville on May 10, 1808, to Wylie Barrow and Ann Beck, his father's second wife. Barrow spent a privileged and comfortable youth at the family home “Barrow Grove,” attending Davidson Academy and in 1826 becoming one of the first graduates of the University of Nashville. He read law and was admitted to the Tennessee Bar in 1827. In that same year, he married Anna Marian Shelby, daughter of Dr. John Shelby, one of the state's wealthiest men. In 1836 Barrow volunteered for service in the Seminole War as a member of the Second Tennessee Mounted Gunman and received promotions to major and adjutant.
Barrow returned to Nashville in 1837 and won election to the Tennessee General Assembly. By 1840 Barrow was active in the Whig presidential victory and was rewarded with an appointment as minister to Portugal. After three years of diplomatic service abroad, Barrow returned to Nashville and assumed the editorship of the powerful Nashville Republican Banner. This position led to Barrow's election to the U.S. Congress in 1847, where he befriended the young Abraham Lincoln and joined him in opposition to the Mexican War. Returning home in 1849, Barrow was a delegate to the Nashville Convention of 1850. He also founded and served as the first president of the Nashville Gas Light Company.
After several years of seclusion following family tragedies, Barrow returned to public life just in time to become a leading advocate of secession, representing the state in negotiations with the Confederacy. In April 1861 Barrow voted for the secret declaration of Tennessee's alliance with the Southern states and became a signatory of the document, which Tennessee voters ratified in June 1861. Barrow raised and equipped Company C of the Eleventh Tennessee Cavalry, which became known as “Barrow Guards.” He served in the Confederate state Senate until February 1862, when Tennessee government collapsed with the approach of the Union army.
Following Nashville's surrender, Military Governor Andrew Johnson arrested Barrow and other prominent Confederates for treason. Barrow was first imprisoned in Nashville before Johnson shipped him to prisons at Detroit, Fort Mackinac, and Johnson's Island. Barrow refused to take the Oath of Allegiance but was eventually exchanged in March 1863. Barrow returned to Tennessee, ran unsuccessfully for Confederate governor of the state, and spent the balance of the war as a private with the retreating Army of Tennessee. After the defeat of the Confederacy, Barrow returned to Nashville, broken in health and financially ruined. He died within the year.