John Nicholas Brown II

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John Nicholas Brown II
Born (1900-02-21)February 21, 1900
New York City
Died October 10, 1979(1979-10-10) (aged 79)
Annapolis, Maryland
Political party Democrat
Religion Episcopal
Children John Carter Brown III
Nicholas Brown
Angela Brown Fischer
Parent(s) John Nicholas Brown I
Relatives John Carter Brown I, grandfather

John Nicholas Brown II (February 21, 1900 – October 10, 1979) was the United States Assistant Secretary of the Navy (AIR) from 1946 to 1949. He was a member of the Brown family that had been active in American life since before the American Revolution and who were the major early benefactors of Brown University.


He was born in New York City on February 21, 1900 to John Nicholas Brown I, who died on May 1 of the same year, and Natalie Bayard (Dresser) Brown (1869 - 1950) who was the daughter of Civil War Veteran and civil engineer Brevet Major George Warren Dresser and Elizabeth Stuyvesant LeRoy. [1]

Brown grew up in Newport, Rhode Island and attended St. George's School, from which he graduated in 1918. Brown served briefly in the United States Navy during the closing days of the First World War as a seaman. He then attended Harvard College, from which he received a bachelor's degree in 1922 and a master's degree in 1928.

Brown inherited a large fortune from both his father and uncle. (In 1957, Fortune magazine reported that his net worth was between $75 million and $100 million.) In the wake of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Brown took control of his family's real estate and textiles businesses, beginning new enterprises and streamlining others.

Upon attaining his majority in 1921, Brown succeeded his father as an hereditary member of the Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati by right of his descent from his great great granduncle Major Simeon Thayer. [2]

One of Brown's first acts of philanthropy was in 1924 to finance the construction of the large and ornate chapel at St. George's School in Middletown, Rhode Island. It is said he did this so that the students would no longer have to walk two miles to go to church on Sundays.

In 1930, he met and married Anne Seddon Kinsolving, a society reporter working for the Baltimore News. She was an avid collector of material related to military uniforms and donated the Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection to Brown University in 1981.

Brown was appointed to the board of directors of the Rhode Island Foundation in 1930 and served on it until his resignation in 1972. His 42 year tenure on the board was the longest in the Foundation's history. The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest philanthropic foundation in the state of Rhode Island.

In 1938 Brown built a house on Fishers Island, New York named Windshield. The house was of a modern design by Richard Neutra and was completed in August 1938. The house was revolutionary in that it had rubber floors, aluminium frame windows and two Buckminster Fuller designed Dymaxion bathrooms. Brown donated the house to the Fishers Island Club in 1963 and it was later sold to Michael Laughlin. The housed burned down on New Year's Eve 1973.

Near the end of World War II, Brown was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel and worked for the United States Army in Europe as Special Cultural Advisor for the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program (MFAA) as well as Chief of Monuments of the U.S. Group Control Council. After the war, he helped supervise the return of art treasures stolen by the Nazis to their rightful owners. The work of the MFAA is depicted in the movie The Monuments Men.

Early in 1946, President of the United States Harry S. Truman nominated Brown as Assistant Secretary of the Navy (AIR) and Brown held this office from January 12, 1946 until March 8, 1949. He was a delegate to the Democratic national convention in 1948.

After his government service, Brown settled in Providence, Rhode Island as a senior fellow of Brown University. He served the university in a number of capacities for 49 years, including a stint as chairman of the university's building and planning committee, in which capacity he oversaw the building of a number of Brown University's buildings. He was also a regent of the Smithsonian Institution, and in 1975 was awarded the Smithsonian's Joseph Henry Medal for his cultural leadership.

Activities and Interests[edit]

Brown was an avid yachtsman and served as commodore of the New York Yacht Club from 1952 to 1954. He also served as commodore of the Ida Lewis Yacht Club and the Newport Yacht Club.

In 1949 he had built the sailing yacht Bolero which was a 73 foot Bermudan yawl designed by Olin Stephens. The Bolero won the 635 mile Newport Bermuda Race in 1950, 1954 and 1956 - setting a new record unbeaten until 1974.

Brown's Newport estate, named Harbor Court, was inherited by his wife and, after her death, it was sold to the New York Yacht Club to serve as its Newport station.

Brown's Providence residence was the Nightingale–Brown House at 357 Benefit Street. It was built in 1792 and had been passed down through generations of the Brown family. The house was donated to Brown University after the death of Anne K.S. Brown in 1985.

Brown was invested as an Officer of the French Legion of Honor in February 1947 in recognition of his wartime service. [3]

Brown belonged to many social clubs and hereditary organizations including the Pilgrims Society, the Society of the Cincinnati, the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, the Sons of the American Revolution (joined in 1960 as national member number 85,691), the Hope Club, the Newport Reading Room, the Newport Country Club, the Spouting Rock Beach Association, the Fishers Island Club and the highly exclusive Clambake Club.

Family Life[edit]

Brown and his wife had three children: John Carter Brown III (1934-2002), who became director of the National Gallery of Art; Nicholas Brown (b. 1933), who became a captain in the United States Navy and the director of the National Aquarium in Baltimore from 1983 to 1995; and Angela Brown Fischer.

On October 10, 1979, while celebrating his son John Carter Brown III's 45th birthday, John Nicholas Brown had a heart attack while on his yacht in Annapolis, Maryland and died.[4]

Brown was laid to rest, beside several of his ancestors, at the Brown family plot in the North Burial Ground in Providence.


  1. ^ "John Nicholas Brown II". Brown University. Retrieved 2011-04-22. John Nicholas Brown II (1900-1979) was born February 21, 1900. Two months later, his father John Nicholas Brown I died of typhoid fever, followed shortly by the unexpected death of his uncle Harold Brown. Thus, as an infant JNB became heir of his family's fortune and was dubbed by the public the "richest baby in America." John Nicholas Brown traveled the world in his youth and would continue to do so throughout his life. ... 
  2. ^ Members of the Society of the Cincinnati. William Sturgis Thomas. 1929. pg. 146.
  3. ^ New York Times. February 26, 1947.
  4. ^ "John N. Brown, 79, an ex-Assistant Navy Secretary". New York Times. October 11, 1979. Retrieved 2011-04-21. John Nicholas Brown, a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and a member of one of Rhode Island's leading families, died last night of an apparent heart attack aboard his yacht in Annapolis, Md. He was 79 years old and was a resident of Providence. 
Government offices
Preceded by
John L. Sullivan
Assistant Secretary of the Navy (AIR)
January 12, 1946 – March 8, 1949
Succeeded by
Dan A. Kimball