John Brown (Rhode Island politician)
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John Brown I
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Rhode Island's at-large congressional district|
|Preceded by||Thomas Tillinghast|
|Succeeded by||Joseph Stanton, Jr.|
|Born||January 27, 1736|
Providence, Rhode Island Colony, British America
|Died||September 20, 1803 (aged 67)|
Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.
|Children||James Brown III|
Abigail Brown Francis
Sarah Brown Herreshoff
Alice Brown Mason
|Parents||James Brown II|
|Relatives||Chad Brown, ancestor|
Nicholas Brown, brother
Moses Brown, brother
Joseph Brown, brother
John Brown Francis, grandson
John Brown I (January 27, 1736 – September 20, 1803) was an American merchant, enslaver, slave trader and statesman from Providence, Rhode Island. Together with his brothers Nicholas, Joseph and Moses, John was instrumental in founding Brown University (then known as the College of Rhode Island) and moving it to their family's former land in Providence. John Brown laid the cornerstone of the university's oldest building in 1770, and he served as its treasurer for 21 years (1775 – 1796). Brown was one of the founders of Providence Bank and became its first president in 1791. He was active in the American Revolution, notably as an instigator of the 1772 Gaspee Affair, and he served in both state and national government. At the same time, he was a powerful defender of enslaving Blacks, clashing aggressively—in newspapers, courts and politics—with his brother Moses, who had become an abolitionist.
John Brown's home in Providence is now a museum and National Historic Landmark. Brown's desk and bookcase reside at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut. The desk is attributed to Daniel Spencer, who opened his cabinetmaking studio in Providence, Rhode Island in 1772.
John Brown was born in Providence in the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, on January 27, 1736, to James Brown II (1698–1739) and Hope Power (1702–1792). His paternal grandparents were Elder James Brown (1666–1716), a pastor at the First Baptist Church, and Mary (Harris) Brown. His father, James Brown II, established himself early in the mercantile business, trading in slaves, rum, molasses, and other goods. His parents, who were married in 1723, had six children, including: Mary Brown (1731–1795), who married Dr. David Vanderlight, James Brown III (1724–1750), the eldest son who was a sea captain and who died young, Nicholas Brown (1729–1791), Joseph Brown (1733–1785), John Brown (1736–1803) and Moses Brown (1738–1836).
John Brown was a descendant of Chad Brown, a co-founder of Providence and early Baptist minister at the First Baptist Church in America following Roger Williams. His uncle was Obadiah Brown I (1712–1762), who joined Brown's father, James Brown II (1698–1739), in the mercantile trade in cocoa, rum, molasses. He also enslaved and sold men, women and children of African descent. Obadiah's initial role was as master of his brother's shipping vessels in the West Indies trade. After the death of Brown's father in 1739, Obadiah retired from the sea himself, but continued the business. He also helped to raise James' young children, later forming a partnership with James' four surviving sons as "Obadiah Brown & Co." Obadiah Brown I, who married his first cousin, Mary Harris (1718–1805), daughter of Toleration and Sarah Harris, had eight children. All four of their sons died in early childhood, and their four daughters, Brown's first cousins, were Phebe Brown (b.1738), who married John Fenner (brother of Governor Arthur Fenner), Sarah Brown (1742–1800), who married Lt. Gov. Jabez Bowen (1739–1815), Anna Brown (1744–1773), who married her first cousin, Moses Brown, and Mary Brown (b.1753), who married Thomas Arnold (1751–1826). Another uncle was Rhode Island Deputy Governor Elisha Brown and a nephew was Nicholas Brown Jr., the philanthropist and the namesake for Brown University.
Brown went on to own a successful farming and shipping business with his brothers, Nicholas, Joseph, and Moses Brown. He was active in the slave trade and China trade and invested heavily in privateers during the 1760s through 1780s.
Brown was a leader in the Sons of Liberty and was one of the instigators of the burning of the Gaspee in 1772. This was one of the first violent acts of defiance to the authority of the British Crown which eventually led up to the American Revolution.
In 1775, during the American Revolution, John Brown sold the United States Navy its first ship, the USS Providence (previously, the Katy). Brown was named as a delegate for Rhode Island to the Continental Congress in 1784-1785 but did not attend.
John Brown was also an active slave trader. On March 22, 1794, Congress passed the Slave Trade Act of 1794, which prohibited the making, loading, outfitting, equipping, or dispatching of any ship to be used in human trafficking. Subsequently, on August 5, 1797, John Brown was tried in federal court as the first American to be tried under the 1794 law. Brown was convicted and was forced to forfeit his ship Hope.
Brown's involvement in the Triangular Trade in enslaving Africans and financial contribution to the early years of Brown University's development are addressed in the official Response of Brown University to the Report of the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice.
Brown's business interests were varied. In addition to the slave trade he was involved in shipbuilding and real estate speculation. He was also a partner (along with his brother Moses Brown and Rhode Island Governor Stephen Hopkins) in the Hope Furnace (located in Hope Village on the border of towns of Scituate and Coventry, RI) which made cannons during the American Revolution and through the War of 1812.
In 1791 Brown founded of the Providence Bank - the first bank in Rhode Island, and organizer of the Providence South Bridge Company. After various acquisitions over the next 160 years Providence Bank evolved into FleetBoston Financial which, in turn, was absorbed by Bank of America in 2004. Providence Bank is one of the oldest "branches" in Bank of America's "family tree" and is, at least arguably, still a "living" corporate entity.
The original Providence Bank building still stands at 50 South Main Street in Providence and is the corporate office of the Brown & Ives Land Company which is another business which can trace its roots to John Brown.
John Brown played a leading role in the Gaspée Affair of 1772 that increased hostilities between the thirteen colonies and the British Empire and helped catalyze events leading up to the American Revolutionary War. He was an active Federalist and pushed against Rhode Island's anti-federalist, "Country Party" in getting Rhode Island to become part of federal union.
Providence, the first warship to sail for America's Continental Navy, was built in 1768 by John Brown. It was purchased by the colony of Rhode Island after British men-of-war began attacking Rhode Island's shipping lanes. The General Assembly ordered its committee of safety to fit out two ships to defend the lanes, one of which became the Providence. The ship — at one time under the command of John Paul Jones, considered the father of the American Navy — went on to participate in 60 battles and to capture 40 British ships before it was dismantled in 1779 to prevent it from falling into the hands of the British.
Brown was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1798 and served one two-year term from March 4, 1799 to March 4, 1801. The carriage he travelled to Washington in is referred to as "John Brown's chariot" and is preserved at the John Brown House in Providence.
Death and burial
He was married to Sarah (Smith) Brown (1738–1825). Together, they had:
- James Brown III (1761–1834), who never married, was educated at Harvard University where he graduated in 1780. In 1789, James was elected a member of the Board of Fellows of Brown University, and regularly attended meetings until his death.
- Abigail Brown Francis
- Sarah Brown Herreshoff (1773–1846), who married Charles Frederick Herreshoff (1763–1819), an engineer derived from Germany.
- Alice Brown Mason
Brown's grandson John Brown Francis was later a U.S. Senator and Governor of Rhode Island. His grandson, Charles Frederick Herreshoff (1809–1888), and his sons, James Brown Herreshoff (1834–1930), John Brown Herreshoff (1841–1914), and Nathanael Greene Herreshoff (1848–1938) founded the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, a boat-building establishment in Bristol, Rhode Island.
- "John Brown (1736-1803) Papers". Rhode Island Historical Society Manuscripts Division. 1995. Retrieved January 28, 2015.
- "John Brown". Gaspee Virtual Archives. April 2013 [originally posted 2003]. Retrieved January 28, 2015.
- The Charter of Brown University (PDF), Providence, RI: Brown University, 1945, retrieved January 27, 2015
- "Report of the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice" (PDF). Brown University. October 2006. Retrieved January 28, 2015.
- "Desk and bookcase, RIF3601". The Rhode Island Furniture Archive at the Yale University Art Gallery. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
- "Daniel Spencer, 1741-96". The Rhode Island Furniture Archive at the Yale University Art Gallery. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
- "James Brown II (1698-1739) Papers". Rhode Island Historical Society. Retrieved October 28, 2013.
- "Obadiah Brown I (1712-1762) Papers". Rhode Island Historical Society. Retrieved October 28, 2013.
- Finkelman, Paul (2007). "Regulating the Trade - U.S. Constitution and Acts - The Abolition of The Slave Trade". The Abolition of the Slave Trade. The New York Public Library. Retrieved January 28, 2015.
- Coughtry, Jay; Schipper, Martin, eds. (1998). A guide to the microfilm edition of Papers of the American slave trade (PDF). Series A: Selections from the Rhode Island Historical Society. Part 1: Brown Family Collections. Bethesda, MD: University Publications of America. ISBN 1-55655-650-0. Retrieved January 28, 2015.
- "Response of Brown University to the Report of the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice : February 2007" (PDF). Brown.edu. Retrieved October 28, 2013.
- Allen, Richard Sanders (2004). Covered bridges of the Northeast (Dover ed.). Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications. p. 78. ISBN 0486436624.
- "John Brown, American Raider on English Ship Gaspee". Gaspee.Info. Joseph Bucklin Society. Retrieved January 27, 2015.
- Dujardin, Richard C. (April 16, 2011). "Replica of Sloop Providence sets sail again". The Providence Journal. Archived from the original on April 20, 2011.
- Charles Rappleye, Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2006).
- Bangs, Jeremy D, "The Travels of Elkanah Watson" (McFarland & Company, 2015).
- United States Congress. "John Brown (id: B000927)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
- Encyclopedia Brunoniana
- Biography of James Brown and catalog of original manuscripts held by the Rhode Island Historical Society
- Biographical notes on John Brown by the Gaspee Virtual Archives
- Final report and other materials from Brown University's Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice reflecting on the university's historical relationship to slavery (including through John Brown and his family)
- Providence Journal (2006) article on the conflict between John and Moses Brown, from a series on Rhode Island's Slave History.
- John Brown's Mansion
- "Hidden in Plain Sight: Slavery and Justice in Rhode Island" - an address by Brown President Ruth J. Simmons at St. John's College, Cambridge University on the occasion of the bicentenary of the Act of Parliament abolishing the British slave trade[dead link]