Reese Bowen Brabson, attorney, state legislator, and U.S. congressman, was born at Brabson's Ferry, Knox County, on September 16, 1817. He graduated from Maryville College and studied law at Dandridge in Jefferson County. In 1844 he married Sarah Maria Keith, daughter of Judge Charles F. and Elizabeth D. (Hale) Keith, of McMinn County; their six children were John Bowen, Ada, Maria, Catherine, Mary, and Rose.
Settling in Chattanooga in 1845, Brabson practiced law in partnership with James A. Whiteside, one of the city's founding fathers. Brabson entered politics in 1848, serving the Whig Party as elector on Zachary Taylor's presidential ticket. In 1851 Hamilton County elected Brabson to the Tennessee General Assembly and in 1859 to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Subsequently, responding to threats of secession, Brabson warned his southern peers in Congress against destroying their constitutional protections. A pro-Union slaveholder, Brabson remained a steadfast supporter of the federal government. When Tennessee seceded, he returned to his large, fashionable residence at Chattanooga, known as “Brabson Mansion.”
Brabson refused to take up arms against either side, though each offered him a military commission. In 1862, against pubic opinion, he ably defended James J. Andrews, a Union operative tried for stealing a locomotive, the General, and attempting to destroy the rail artery between Chattanooga and Atlanta. Contrarily, Brabson gave aid to Confederate war casualties, opening his commodious house to the wounded following the battle of Stones River.
As the war he hated continued around him, Brabson succumbed to typhoid, dying at home on August 16, 1863. He was buried at Citizens Cemetery, the location of his unmarked grave now unknown. The old mansion, still referred to as the “Brabson House,” though altered extensively by subsequent owners, remains standing at 407 East Fifth Street.