John Carter Brown

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For the former director of the U.S. National Gallery of Art, see J. Carter Brown.
John Carter Brown
Born 1797
Died 1874
Nationality American
Occupation Book collector
Children John Nicholas Brown I

John Carter Brown II (1797–1874) was a book collector whose library formed the basis of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.


He was born in 1797 to Nicholas Brown, Jr., the namesake patron of Brown University. Collecting American books in the mid-19th century, John Carter Brown amassed thousands of early American volumes. He was the first American to join the Hakluyt Society as a charter member in 1846, and in 1855, he was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.[1]

John Carter Brown II, son of Nicholas Brown II and Ann Carter lived 1797-1874. During his upbringing, he was taught philanthropy and public leadership by his father and his uncles that were into such work. he attended what is famously known as Brown University and graduated in 1816. The year of his graduation he joined his family owned company Brown & Ives. Due to his older brother Nicholas Carter Brown III leaving the family firm, John shouldered his company responsibilities although it was not his preferred field; Brown & Ives had strong ties to business and politics. He however was into other areas such as history, literature and art.

In 1822 John went to Europe as the beginning of his two-year grand tour, but it initially was to be a business trip on behalf of Brown & Ives. Originally his trips to Europe and the American West had been on “The Revolution of Empires;” he later directed his attention to show that the current historical theme at the time was the movement of people from one home setting to another and the way people could adapt according to each setting. Benjamin Carter, his uncle, later became his mentor. Benjamin was the first to introduce John Carter Brown II to “the great subject”. The great subject refers to the correlation between the new and old worlds including the effect they had on each other as time passes. John Carter Brown II spent a good portion of his life collecting books and articles to help other people expand their knowledge, it also fed his interests about history and things he was interested in because he could read about them as he collected books related to the topic. John Carter Brown II did not create this habit on his own, since 1749 his ancestors have been buying books and founding proper places to use them; in 1753 Providence Library was founded, 83 years later, Providence Atheneum was created all under the Brown family name. John Carter Brown and his brother Nicolas Carter Brown followed suit. John Carter Brown's influence on book buying skyrocketed after the passing of his father in 1841, when he inherited all of his father's company shares. A Frenchman named Henri Ternaux had a well developed library himself, but in 1846 John Carter Brown had already been accumulating most of Henri’s library. In the same year John Carter Brown managed to buy his brother's books in order to expand his own library. John's love for books and collecting found a man named Henry Stevens who planted himself in Europe to search for books of interest. John’s collection had gotten so large he expanded his house by adding a modern fireproof library so his books would not be damaged; he also hired a full-time librarian to manage his books and print catalogues of his enormous collection. John collected a legendary 7,500 books before his time in 1874.

Although he did not like to share his generous collection of books, he still continued to make contributions to Brown University, Butler Hospital, and the Rhode Island Hospital. He did other philanthropic work by joining playing major roles in Anti-Slavery campaigns, he became President of the Emigrant Aid Society when the United States granted every country in its region to practice slavery.

Before he died, he bore a son with Sophia Augusta Browne — a descendant of Roger Williams who shared the same interests as he did—at 62 years of age. When his oldest son died in 1900, his well collected books were granted to Brown University with an endowment and a building.[2][3]


He was an ancestor of J. Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery of Art.


  1. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  2. ^
  3. ^ "History of the John Carter Brown library". Retrieved 2011-04-21. Although the Brown family had been acquiring books since early in the eighteenth century, the present collection was not fully launched until the mid-nineteenth century when John Carter Brown (1797–1874) began avid pursuit of Americana, an area of interest he termed “the Great Subject.” His son, John Nicholas Brown (1861–1900), actively continued this tradition and before his untimely death had conceived the idea of giving the Library to the world of historical research as a memorial to his father. 

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