Morgan Welles Brown
Morgan Welles Brown (January 1, 1800 – March 7, 1853) was a United States federal judge.
Born in Clarksville, Tennessee, and named after his father Dr. Morgan Brown IV (a revolutionary war soldier), his mother was the former Elizabeth Little. His parents had migrated from Grassy Island on the Peedee River in Anson County, North Carolina, where his father had been born, to Tennessee in 1795. They first settled on the Cumberland River where his father established the town and port of entry of Palmyra in Montgomery County and was made Collector for the District of Tennessee.
Morgan Welles Brown read law in the offices of his elder brother William Little Brown (1789 – 1830) who had served as Solicitor General of Tennessee (1814–1822) and as Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals and Errors of the State of Tennessee (1822–1824).
Admitted to the bar sometime prior to his elder brother's death in 1830, Morgan Welles Brown had established a private practice in Nashville, Tennessee by 1833. He was also a newspaper editor for one of the leading Nashville newspapers, the Nashville Republican, from 1832 to 1833. He was described as a man "of considerable reading and literary tastes, a fine miscellaneous writer . . . and a gentleman of polished manners and high social qualities."
In total from January 3, 1834 when he was first appointed, until his death on March 7, 1853, he served as a federal judge for 19 years. Amid controversy, on December 18, 1833, Morgan Welles Brown had been nominated by President Andrew Jackson to a joint judicial seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee and the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, both vacated by John McNairy. In making this nomination President Jackson ignored the Tennessee Democratic legislative delegation who deemed Morgan Welles Brown unacceptable as "he had edited an anti-Jackson newspaper during the Nullification Crisis" of 1832-33. Instead President Jackson was influenced by State Supreme Court Justice and later United States Supreme Court Justice John Catron, and by his knowledge of Morgan Welles Brown's deceased brother, Justice William Little Brown. Morgan Welles Brown was confirmed by the United States Senate on December 31, 1833, and received his commission on January 3, 1834. On June 18, 1839, the state was further subdivided with the addition of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, created from portions of the original two districts. Morgan Welles Brown was reassigned by operation of law to also serve on this district. While serving as a federal judge, Morgan Welles Brown was also a commissioner to oversee erection of the state capitol in Nashville from 1843 to 1844. He continued to preside over all three districts of Tennessee until his death, in Nashville, in 1853.
He was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Nashville.
On November 10, 1826, while still a law student, Morgan Welles Brown had married Ann Maria Childress (1809 – 1878) of Nashville. They had three children: William L. Brown, Jane (Brown) Williams and Elizabeth (Brown) Stevenson.
In about 1835 he is believed[by whom?] to have had a mulatto daughter with one of his slaves. This girl, Dicey, on her birth took on the status of her mother and also became the slave of Morgan Welles Brown, the man who is believed to have been her father. Earlier in 1834 Morgan Welles Brown had mortgaged to his father for $1,000 "my negro man Charles and my negro boy Jo, commonly called Anderson, and my negro boy Lucien commonly called Bogy, and my negro boy Philip. Also all my library of books of law, and miscellaneous collections, and particularly those willed to me by my late brother William L. Brown deceased." After his father's death in 1840 Morgan Welles Brown also inherited his father's slaves including Morgan Welles Brown's slave mulatto son or half-brother John Louis Brown who had been born in 1839, and who his father had requested be given his freedom in his will. Instead John Louis Brown, an ancestor of singer Lionel Richie, did not obtain his freedom until after the Civil War, as evidenced by John Louis Brown's post-Civil War pension application and related documentation. In the 1840 U.S. census Morgan Welles Brown was recorded as owning 11 slaves.
- Morgan Welles Brown at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
References & Notes
- Hamilton County Confederate Soldiers by Nat Hughes and John Wilson, 2005 
- In 2011 the NBC television program Who Do You Think You Are? did research into Lionel Ritchie's genealogy and specifically looked at information relating to one of Lionel's great-grandfathers, John Louis Brown, the father of Lionel's maternal grandmother. The program Who Do You Think You Are? casts doubt as to whether Dr. Morgan Brown is John Louis's father because of his advanced age and suggests that John Louis's older half-brother Judge Morgan Welles Brown may be his father. This goes against the documentary evidence that Dr. Morgan Brown tried to provide for John Louis and his mother in his will written before John Louis's birth; that he recorded John Louis's birth in his diary (which it was extremely unusual for a slave owner to do); and that his wishes that John Louis be freed from slavery after his death were not followed by his son Judge Morgan Welles Brown. It also goes against the biological evidence that an 81 year-old man is quite capable of fathering a child.