George William Brown

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Gabrielle D. Clements, Hon. George William Brown, 1901, Baltimore City Circuit Court

George William Brown was mayor of Baltimore, Maryland from 1860 to 1861, a University of Maryland School of Law professor, and 2nd Chief Judge, Supreme Bench of Baltimore City. He was founder and president of the Bar Association of Baltimore City and the Library Company of the Baltimore Bar.


Brown was admitted to the bar in 1834.[1] Brown was a founder of the Library Company of the Baltimore Bar (1840) and from 1861 to 1874, he was its president. He was a founder of the Maryland Historical Society in 1844.[1] The first digest of Maryland Court of Appeals decisions was compiled with his assistance and published in 1849.[1] Brown was mayor of Baltimore, Maryland from 1860 to 1861 and a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Baltimore in 1867. From 1871 to 1873, he was a University of Maryland School of Law professor from 1871 to 1873. He was elected in 1872 to serve as 2nd Chief Judge, Supreme Bench of Baltimore City, a position he held from 1873 to 1888.[1] He was founder (1880) and 11th president of the Bar Association of Baltimore City from 1889-1890.[1]

Pratt Street Riot[edit]

Brown played an important role in controlling the Pratt Street Riot, where the first bloodshed of the Civil War occurred, on April 19, 1861. Immediately following the Riot, Baltimore saw much lawlessness, as citizens destroyed the offices of pro-Union German newspapers and looted shops in search of guns and other weapons. Mayor Brown and Maryland businessmen visited the White House to urge President Abraham Lincoln to reroute Union troops around Baltimore city to Annapolis to avoid further confrontations that they felt would result from additional troops passing through the city.

In the few days following the Pratt Street Riot, Governor Hicks likely assented to Mayor Brown's decision to dispatch the Maryland militiamen to destroy the railroad bridges over the rivers north of the city, to prevent more troops from passing through Baltimore. This was an act both Hicks and Brown would later deny—though Isaac Ridgeway Trimble, commanding Baltimore militia companies immediately following the Riot—later claimed that Brown authorized destruction of the railroad bridges, which may explain Brown's later arrest and imprisonment by federal authorities. Shortly thereafter, a Maryland militia captain and Baltimore County farmer, John Merryman, was arrested, held at Fort McHenry and later denied a writ of habeas corpus, on grounds that President Lincoln had suspended the writ (but only along rail lines in Maryland). This arrest sparked the case of Ex parte Merryman.

President Lincoln agreed to reroute Union troops around Baltimore to Annapolis, so they could then travel to Washington. Northern troops (state militia companies) were able to arrive in Washington, thus avoiding further bloodshed in Baltimore.


On May 13, 1861, the Union army entered Baltimore, occupied the city, and declared martial law. Mayor Brown, the city council, and the police commissioner, who were all pro-Confederate,[citation needed] were arrested and imprisoned at Fort McHenry[1] for the balance of the war. Francis Key Howard, the grandson of Francis Scott Key was also made a prisoner.

Later life[edit]

Almost three years before he died, Brown wrote his memoir. In it, he referred to Quaker Johns Hopkins as a "wealthy Union man" and a member of a committee of bankers who gave $500,000 to the city of Baltimore after the first blood in the Civil War was shed there. Hopkins selected Brown as one of the trustees of the university (but not of the hospital) who would oversee the construction and founding of the institutions now known as the Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Hospital.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Hon. George William Brown (1812-1890)". Hon. George William Brown (1812-1890). Retrieved March 22, 2015. 
  • Brown, G. W. (1887). Baltimore and the nineteenth of April 1861; a study of the war. Johns Hopkins University studies in historical and political science, extra vol. 3. Baltimore, N. Murray.
  • Mitchell, Charles W. Maryland Voices of the Civil War. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas Swann
Mayor of Baltimore
Succeeded by
John C. Blackburn