Malissa and A.N.C. Williams – One of Franklin’s First Power Couples

A.N.C. and Malissa Williams and their children

by Alicia King Marshall

As a walking tour guide here in Franklin, I’ve been talking about Allen Nevils Crutcher “A.N.C.” and his wife Malissa Williams for years. But while A.N.C.’s legacy is better known, it’s as a couple that I find them most interesting. Both enslaved at birth, they would go on to become prominent residents. A.N.C. was born in 1844 in Spring Hill, Tennessee and Malissa was born in Franklin. A.N.C. would later say he was “born into the Crutcher family”, as he was sold from one member of their family to another at the age of six. From an early age, he exhibited a passion for education and service that would continue throughout his long life. He chose a wife who shared these ideals. Their determination and commitment to others made them highly respected figures in Williamson County. 

ANC Williams Franklin TN
A.N.C. Williams (right) along with his sons, Fred. D. Williams and Ostranda Williams, in 1919 at his 418 Main Street mercantile (now Avec Moi )

A.N.C. started his own shoe repair business on the square in 1863, the first Franklin business owned by a person of color. A true Renaissance man, he went on to teach, preach, and run a bustling mercantile. This store still holds the record for the longest-operating business ever on Main Street. The building that once housed Williams’ general store is now home to Avec Moi, and bears a plaque honoring the legacy of A.N.C. Williams.

418 Main Street is the home of Avec Moi and the former location of A.N.C. Williams’ mercantile. On March 3, 1981, four Main Street buildings including 416 and 418 were gutted by fire.

His work ethic was common knowledge, prompting this reference in the Colored Tennessean in March of 1866, “Mr. A.N.C. Williams, who we all know is a No. 1 workman.” He’s celebrated as an early source of guidance and information for his fellow freedmen, assisting them as they sought educational and business opportunities here.

Colored Tennessean March 1866

This extended to women, as well. He assisted several women buying real estate, including Malissa. He’s also on record opening bank accounts for Malissa and other women of color in Franklin, later vouching for them as they opened their own.

John Watt Reddick was Grand master of the Mosaic Lodge for the African American community. They met in Shorter Chapel AME in 1926. A.N.C. Williams is on the far left.

Williams’s resiliency, leadership, and influence made him a local legend whose legacy endures, still serving as an inspirational figure today. His list of accomplishments is long and varied. I’ve always referred to him as the most fascinating person ever to live in Franklin, for good reason. His reputation as an honest and hardworking businessman, respected community leader, and dedicated family man was well-known.

Alma McLemore, president of the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County and Mary Pearce, preservationist and former director of the Heritage Foundation, honors A.NC. Williams with marker at his former Main Street business during Juneteenth. (Chris Gadd / The Tennessean)

Their many children went on to have successful careers in business, farming, education, music, and more. Their parental influence extended beyond their immediate family, however. Professor JK Hughes wrote about A.N.C., “His favorite subject was history. …..students from Battle Ground Academy, a local private white academy, would come down to the school. These students would sit for hours and ask him different questions pertaining to Franklin’s history.” 

Tuskegee Airman Robert Murdic Jr. served in WWII and was mentored by A.N.C. Williams

Many have written about going to Mr. and Mrs. Williams seeking counsel, and following their advice. Among them, two who would go on to be Tuskegee Airmen, Robert Murdic Jr. and Thomas Gordon Patton.

A columnist with Franklin’s Review-Appeal wrote six years after Mr. Williams’ death, “I sometimes wonder which has done more good in this town: the church in Hard Bargain, or a store on Main Street….(owned) by Williamson County’s most distinguished colored minister, (who) counseled and guided the young men of his race.”

Marriage to Malissa Doyle Williams

264 Natchez Street was the home of the Williams family. It is now being restored as the Merrill-Williams house by the African American Heritage Society.

A.N.C. Williams and Malissa Doyle Williams’ love story began when they first met in Franklin. Malissa was working at the Tennessee Female College when they married in 1862, having been freed upon her owner’s death. Their shared values and dreams brought them closer together. Numerous accounts of their family describe their teamwork, supporting each other in the pursuit of their passions and goals.

Tennessee Female College Marker - Franklin TN
Franklin’s Tennessee Female College Marker is on 4th Avenue South north of South Margin Street

While A.N.C. quickly became a respected and successful businessman and community leader, Malissa left her job at the school soon after their wedding. She would later work as a practical nurse for years, but her focus was clearly on her home. They had sixteen children. Thirteen lived into adulthood, 

Dedication to Common Causes

A.N.C. and Malissa’s shared commitment to making a positive impact on society was a driving force throughout their lives. The couple actively engaged in charitable, religious, and political endeavors, supporting various important causes. A.N.C. was active in local, state, and national politics. He attended the Tennessee state convention one year, and even traveled to Washington, DC. From advocating for equal rights and education to assisting their neighbors as they bought real estate and opened businesses, A.N.C. and Malissa were steadfast in their commitment to equality.

Impact on Society

A.N.C. and Malissa’s achievements and contributions had a profound impact on Franklin. Their unwavering dedication to causes close to their hearts inspired countless individuals to take action and create change. 

Malissa’s obituary in the Tennessee Sun said, “When a young woman, Malissa Williams held a position of trust with the Tennessee Female College here, and kept up her personal acquaintance with many former students of this institution late in life.” Other mentions of Malissa similarly cite her devotion to her students, and in return, their appreciation for her.

A.N.C. Williams as minister

A 1916 article about A.N.C.’s retirement appeared in the Tennessean. It stated in part, “In addition to the care of his large family and his business, he has done much for the spiritual welfare of his race, having been the minister for the Franklin Colored Church since 1873. Not only to the people of Williamson County is he well and favorably known, but to Nashville jobbers and to traveling salesmen, who have called on him for many years. He owns his storehouse, the building adjoining and his home on Columbia Avenue…” Through their work and personal lives, A.N.C. and Malissa became role models. Their love, compassion, and dedication to others transformed our community.

A.N.C.’s last home was located at 515 Columbia Avenue (Five Points District). The home was torn down. He also donated land for the Cummins Street Christian Church (now called Cummins Street Church of Christ) and served as minister there. 

Cummins Street Church of Christ located at 511 Cummins Street in Franklin

Legacy of Love

A.N.C. died in 1930. One of the speakers at his funeral was his good friend and neighbor, James Kemp Hughes. He described the Williams’ marriage fondly, saying “He married a better half and established a home which was his castle, his wife his queen.”

Over the years, I have been fortunate to have hosted several of A.N.C. and Malissa’s descendants on my walking tours. They have all described in one way or another the foundation of their family- the bond between these two who found each other during a turbulent period of our past. I remember one in particular who remarked, “They kept their vows ‘til the end. It couldn’t have been easy, but what was easy then?”

A.N.C. Williams and Malissa Doyle Williams’ love story exemplifies the power of true teamwork.  Their journey serves as an inspiration to all who seek to serve. Throughout their lives, they demonstrated dedication to their own family, friends and neighbors, and shared causes, leaving an indelible mark on our community. One simply cannot tell the story of Franklin without mention of this remarkable couple.

The headstone of Allen Nevils Crutcher “A.N.C.” Williams at the Toussaint L’Ouverture Cemetery

I encourage you to visit Franklin’s Toussaint L’Ouverture Cemetery. You can see the graves of Allen Nevils Crutcher “A.N.C.” and Malissa Williams buried among the other African American people who called Franklin home.

Nineteen Dates in the A.N.C. Williams Timeline

To many Tennesseans, the name and life of A.N.C. Williams are familiar. Franklin locals may recognize him from markers in the historic district or the street named for him in 2021, A.N.C. Williams Way. Others can tell you much more about this fascinating man. But even to those aware of his remarkable story, his numerous and varied accomplishments can be overwhelming. The timeline below clearly demonstrates his influential and enduring presence here in Franklin.

In 2021, A.N.C. Williams Way was dedicated off Hillsboro Road and 3rd Avenue North.

1844 A.N.C. born in Spring Hill, TN, property of Dr. Sterling Crutcher

1846 Malissa Doyle born in Franklin, TN, then freed upon her enslaver’s (Antonnette Smith) death

1850 Sold to DR Crutcher of Franklin for $400

1862 Sold to Captain Andrew Jackson Williams for $1,500, just five weeks before being freed

1862 Marries Malissa Doyle on Christmas Day. They will have 16 children, 13 will live to adulthood

1863 Emancipated. Opens his first business location on the square

1864 Business site destroyed in Battle of Franklin. Reopens on leased space on Main Street

1867 Franklin Race Riot, nearly averted due to A.N.C.’s efforts to establish peace

1875 Purchases prime lot on Main Street (currently Avec Moi) via loan from Harpeth Bank. Builds and operates business which ran for 63 years. (One newspaper headline claims 68 years, others say 64.)

1877 Purchases another prime lot on Main Street

1912 A.N.C. and Malissa celebrate their golden anniversary

1913 Nashville’s Tennessean newspaper features Mr. and Mrs. Williams in column

1916 Malissa dies

1928 A.N.C. retires. Family takes over store for a time, setting record for the longest continually operating business ever on Main Street

1930 A.N.C. dies

1930 Funeral not held in A.N.C.’s church, but at 4th Ave Church of Christ, to accommodate crowd. Buried at Toussaint L’Ouverture Cemetery in Franklin, beside Malissa

1981 Four Main Street buildings were gutted by fire including 416 and 418 (previously A.N.C.’s building before Avec Moi). The entire middle of the 400 block across from the Franklin Theater were heavily damaged. It started in the living space above Will Redmond’s liquor store at 416 Main Street.

2021 Streets named after MLK Jr. and A.N.C. Williams in Franklin at 3rd Avenue North

2023 Plaque honoring A.N.C. placed on building that was formerly home to his mercantile, now Avec Moi

A.N.C. Williams plaque at 416 Main Street

Three Weddings, One Great Love

Another sweet piece of trivia is that A.N.C. married his great love, Malissa, three times:

1862 A.N.C. and Malissa marry for the first time, by Preacher Perkins

1866 Second wedding, by Esquire AM Wrenne, “under the code” 

1912 Third wedding. Their golden anniversary is observed with another ceremony joining the two in continuing matrimony. This joyous celebration is attended by hundreds of friends and relatives. 

The Tennessean in 1913

We hope you enjoyed this tribute to one of Franklin’s most important couples. Make sure to stop by French-inspired Avec Moi and meet owner Bob Roethemeyer and see where A.N.C.’s mercantile was located.

Only this brick wall remains from A.N.C.’s original mercantile after the 1981 fire

Avec Moi features unique gifts, home décor, vintage treasures, ladies apparel, accessories, and jewelry. Make sure to notice the brick wall that still stands from when it was A.N.C.’s general store.

Thank you as always to Williamson County Historian Rick Warwick for allowing us access to his collection of historic photos. We also appreciate Victoria Pewitt Photography and her beautiful photography of Avec Moi.

Franklin’s storyteller and local tour guide,

About Alicia King Marshall

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