John Nicholas Brown II

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John Nicholas Brown II
Assistant Secretary of the Navy
In office
January 12, 1946 – March 8, 1949
President Harry S. Truman
Preceded by John L. Sullivan
Succeeded by Dan A. Kimball
Personal details
Born (1900-02-21)February 21, 1900
New York City
Died October 10, 1979(1979-10-10) (aged 79)
Annapolis, Maryland
Spouse(s) Anne Seddon Kinsolving
(m. 1930; his death 1979)
Children Nicholas Brown
John Carter Brown III
Angela Bayard Brown
Parents John Nicholas Brown I
Natalie Bayard Dresser
Relatives John Carter Brown I (grandfather)
Education St. George's School
Alma mater Harvard College
Awards Legion of Honor

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.

Early life[edit]

He was born in New York City on February 21, 1900 to John Nicholas Brown I (1861–1900), who died on May 1 of the same year, and Natalie Bayard Dresser (1869–1950), 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. 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 2x great-granduncle Major Simeon Thayer.[2] He then attended Harvard College, from which he received a bachelor's degree in 1922, and a master's degree in 1928.


His paternal grandfather was John Carter Brown (1797–1874), the son of Nicholas Brown, Jr. (1769–1841), the namesake patron of Brown University (in 1804), who was a collector of American books in the mid-19th century and 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.[3] His 2x great-grandfather was Nicholas Brown, Sr. (1729–1791), brother of John Brown, Moses Brown, and Joseph Brown, who was a merchant and slavetrader who co-founded the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.[4]

His mother was the great-niece of Hamilton Fish (1808–1893), a U.S. Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and New York Governor. Through the Fish family, he was a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant, the first governor of Dutch colonial New York through Hamilton Fish's mother, Elizabeth Stuyvesant, Peter Stuyvesant's 2x great-granddaughter.[5] His maternal uncle was D. LeRoy Dresser (1862–1915), his maternal aunt was Edith Stuyvesant Dresser (1873–1958), the wife of George Washington Vanderbilt II (builder of the Biltmore Estate) and later Sen. Peter Goelet Gerry. His first cousin was Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt (1900–1976), who married John Francis Amherst Cecil (1890–1954), son of Lord William Cecil and Mary Rothes Margaret Tyssen-Amherst, 2nd Baroness Amherst of Hackney.[6]


Brown's family home, the Nightingale–Brown House, built in 1792.

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.

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.[7]

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.


Brown inherited a large fortune from both his father and uncle Harold,[8] who both died in May 1900 before he was three months old.[9] In 1957, Fortune magazine reported that his net worth was between $75 million and $100 million. 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.

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.

Brown was invested as an Officer of the French Legion of Honor in February 1947 in recognition of his wartime service.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Brown's Newport, Rhode Island cottage (bottom left), among others.
Harbour Court, Brown's cottage, now the Newport branch of the New York Yacht Club

In 1930, he met and married Anne Seddon Kinsolving (1906-1985),[11] a society reporter working for the Baltimore News. She was the sister of the Rev. Dr. Arthur Lee Kinsolving, rector of Trinity Church, and later, St. James' Episcopal Church in New York. Rev. Kinsolving was the father of Lee Kinsolving (1938–1974), the actor.[12] 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.[13] Brown and his wife had three children:

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.[25]

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

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 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.


Brown's Newport estate, named Harbour Court, designed by Ralph Adams Cram, was inherited by his wife and, after her death, it was sold to the New York Yacht Club to serve as its Newport station.[26]

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. During the 1920s, Brown redecorated the house in American colonial revival motifs. In 1985, the house was donated to Brown University after the death of his wife, Anne K.S. Brown, after which it underwent extensive renovations.[27]

In 1932, Brown attended a Museum of Modern Art show featuring the work of Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe and Richard Neutra. In 1938, after acquiring land on Fishers Island, Brown convinced his wife that they should hire a modern architect to build their home. The house, named Windshield, was designed by Neutra and was completed in August 1938, at a cost of $218,000 (equivalent to $3,709,092 in 2016 dollars) and a size of more than 14,000 square feet.[26] 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 house burned down on New Year's Eve 1973.[26]


  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 two weeks later 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. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  4. ^ Miyoshi, Masao (January 1, 2009). Trespasses: Selected Writings. Duke University Press. ISBN 0822392488. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  5. ^ Corning (1918), pp. 12-15.
  6. ^ "Edith Vanderbilt Wed to P.G. Gerry. Marriage by London Registrar Is Followed by Service at the Savoy Chapel". New York Times. October 23, 1925. 
  7. ^ "Brown, John Nicholas II". Monuments Men Foundation. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  8. ^ "BROWN'S $25,000,000 ESTATE APPORTIONED; Half Goes to John Nicholas Brown and Half to His Aunt, Mrs. Sophia A. Sherman.". The New York Times. 30 March 1914. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  9. ^ "Richest Baby in World Home from Europe", Chicago Daily Tribune, October 21, 1901, p5
  10. ^ New York Times. February 26, 1947.
  11. ^ "Socialite Anne Brown dies". UPI. November 21, 1985. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  12. ^ "Lee Kinsolving, 36, Actor, Son of Ex-St. James' Rector". New York Times. 1974-12-08. Retrieved 2014-01-01. 
  13. ^ "ANNE SEDDON BROWN". The New York Times. 23 November 1985. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  14. ^ Gunts, Edward (June 25, 1995). "Amateur Who Made Splash At Aquarium". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  15. ^ "Guide to the John Nicholas Brown family photographs 1860-1980 (bulk 1920-1979)" (PDF). John Hay Library | University Archives and Manuscripts. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  16. ^ Kimmelman, Michael (19 June 2002). "J. Carter Brown, 67, Is Dead; Transformed Museum World". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  17. ^ "Constance Barber Mellon, 41, Prominent Patron of the Arts". The New York Times. 4 January 1983. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  18. ^ Times, Special To The New York (18 June 1971). "Mrs. Byers Wed to J. C. Brown". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  19. ^ Times, Special To The New York (24 September 1976). "Notes on People | Director of National Art Gallery to Wed". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  20. ^ "B. RIONDA BRAGA". The New York Times. 25 July 1986. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  21. ^ "Edwin G. Fischer, MD, FAANS(L)". The Society of Neurological Surgeons. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  22. ^ Bachrach, Special To The New York Timesbradford (5 May 1963). "Miss Angela B. Brown Is Married; Bride of Edwin G. Fischer at Church in Providence". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  23. ^ "WEDDINGS; Olivia Fischer, Christopher Fox". The New York Times. 29 August 1993. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  24. ^ "Amanda B. Grow,Edwin Fischer Jr.". The New York Times. 8 October 1995. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  25. ^ "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. 
  26. ^ a b c Bernstein, Fred (3 February 2002). "ART/ARCHITECTURE; When Modern Married Money". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  27. ^ "The Nightingale Brown House | Public Humanities". Brown University. Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
Government offices
Preceded by
John L. Sullivan
Assistant Secretary
of the Navy (AIR)

January 12, 1946 – March 8, 1949
Succeeded by
Dan A. Kimball