GaspeeVirtual Archives
John Brown (1736-1803)

The Gaspee Days Committee at www.gaspee.COM is a civic-minded nonprofit organization that operates many community events in and around Pawtuxet Village, including the famous Gaspee Days Parade each June. These events are all designed to commemorate the
1772 burning of the hated British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee, by Rhode Island patriots as America's 'First Blow for Freedom' TM.  Our historical research center, the Gaspee Virtual Archives at www.gaspee.ORG , has presented these research notes as an attempt to gather further information on one who has been suspected of being associated with the the burning of the Gaspee. Please e-mail your comments or further questions to
Evidence implicating John Brown:
John Brown was the acknowledged planner and leader of the attack on the Gaspee in 1772. In Life, times, and correspondence of James Manning, and the early history of Brown University by Reuben Aldridge Guild. Boston, 1864, p170-172: John Brown himself related his involvement as being that of leader, as told to his grandson, John Brown Francis:
Mr. Brown was the last man to leave the deck, being determined that no one should carry from the vessel anything which might lead to the identification and detection of the parties. By so doing he narrowly escaped with his life, in consequence of the falling timbers and spars... Mr. Brown afterwards deeply regretted this affair, as foolhardy in itself, and resulting in so much needless apprehension to himself and his family. For a long time he was accustomed to sleep away from home, lest he should be arrested during the night.
From the recounting by Ephraim Bowen <>:
(Captain Benjamin) Lindsey was standing easterly with the tide on ebb about two hours, when he hove about at the end of Namquid Point and stood to the westward, and Dudingston (in the Gaspee), in close chase, changed his course and ran on the point near its end and grounded. Lindsey continued on his course up the river and arrived at Providence about sunset, when he immediately informed Mr. John Brown, one of our first and most respectable merchants of the situation of the Gaspee. He immediately concluded that she would remain immovable until after midnight, and that now an opportunity offered of putting an end to the trouble and vexation she daily caused. Mr. Brown immediately resolved on her destruction and he forthwith directed one of his trusty shipmasters to collect eight of the largest longboats in the harbor, with five oars to each, to have the oars and rowlocks muffled to prevent noise and to place them at Fenner's Wharf, directly opposite the dwelling of Mr. James Sabin, who kept a house of board and entertainment for gentlemen....
David Lovejoy, in Rhode Island Politics and the American Revolution 1760-1776, (Providence, Brown University Press, p121) that John Brown's name appears on a list of members of the Sons of Liberty.  We suspect him having had planned the attack on the Gaspee well in advance <Deliberateness.htm>, and one poorly documented source claims that he bribed some people to keep quiet about his role in that event.  He had been jailed for his suspected offenses <JohnBrownDefense.htm>, and being the object of an armed naval  mission to rescue him <JohnBrownRescue.htm> had his brother, Moses Brown, not been able to release him by more diplomatic means. For more insight into John Brown's role in the Gaspee Affair, see the Joseph Bucklin Society discussion.
Biographical Notes:

The best history of the Brown brothers, particularly John and Moses, is captured by author Charles Rappleye in his new book Sons of Providence:  The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the Revolution (Simon & Schuster, 2006). Another useful source book regarding John Brown and his brothers is The Browns of Providence Plantations-Colonial Years, by James B. Hedges. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1952.

There were six children of James Brown (1698-1739) and Hope (Power) Brown (died 1792);  
  1. James Brown II (1724-1751), 
  2. Nicholas Brown (1729-1791), 
  3. Mary (Brown) Vanderlight (1731-1795),
  4.  Joseph Brown (1733-1785),
  5. John Brown (1736-1803), and
  6. Moses Brown (1738-1836)
According to Rappleye (p17) their father James Brown, a sea merchant, was grievously injured during a weight lifting contest and died of his wounds a year later in 1739. After the death of their father the five boys were tutored in aggressive business tactics by their paternal uncle, Obadiah Brown (1712-1762), who owned a successful chocolate factory, candle factory, and was heavily involved in coastal merchant trading. During the 1750s, he became the first Providence merchant to trade directly with England, bypassing the traditional mercantile cities of Boston and Newport.  The oldest of the five, James, Jr, died in 1751 at the age of 27 of undetermined causes while in York, Virginia.

The four surviving Brown brothers (Nicholas, Joseph, John, and Moses) were jingled as "Nick and Josie, John and Mosie".  The initial key to the Browns' business success was a spermaceti candle works; such candles being popular at the time as burning cleaner and brighter than other candles of the day. According to William Arnold Greene in The Providence Plantations for 250 Years (1886), p.53, Dr. Vanderlight, who had married their sister Mary, had introduced to the Brown family the Dutch process of extracting spermecetti from the brain matter of whales.  Using capital provided by Obadiah, Dr. Vanderlight and the Browns developed this thriving chadelry industry. After the death of their Uncle Obadiah in 1762, they also formed Nicholas Brown and Company for their shipping and commercial activities. That was the business that grew large and complex, and quickly became one of the most successful businesses in the English colonies. Rappleye's book chronicles an unsuccessful slaving venture sponsored by the Browns with the Sally in 1764.  Details of the voyage of the Sally, as well as original source documents, and more information about the Brown brothers' involvement in slavery are found at Brown University's Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice.  John split off from this company in 1771 and went independent of his brothers in the shipping-mercantile trade, but he continued in shared business interests with his brothers, one of which was a iron foundry called the Hope Furnace. From: (Link Stale 2006)
Founded [in 1765] by the Brown Brothers (Nicholas, Joseph, John and Moses) and co-partners in the business, Stephen Hopkins, Israel Wilkinson, Job Hawkins, and Caleb Arnold. This was an iron furnace producing, initially tea kettles, hollowware, nails, hinges, and iron hoops; but in 1775-1783 produced guns and canons cast for the Revolutionary War. The furnace structure was hearth and stack made of stone and located on the Pawtuxet River south of Salmon Hole. The river provided power for bellows and the surrounding woodlands were used for charcoal. Local farmers provided the stone that was heated and melted with the ore that came from the Oaklawn Avenue area in Cranston. The ore, charcoal, and limestone were carted uphill in horse-drawn wagons.
About 75 men were employed there as founders, colliers (coal miners), wood choppers, molders, firemen, carters and coalers of wood, diggers and carters of ore. These workers were paid poorly receiving about 1/4 of their pay in goods from the company store. By 1768 the Furnace was producing pig iron which was sold in England in exchange for English goods. 76 cannons were cast for the war effort. One remains in front of the Hope Library. In 1806 the furnace mill was sold at auction to Silvanus Hopkins and Jabez Bowen and became the Hope Manufacturing Company, a cotton spinning mill. This mill was located in the village of Hope, at the southwestern corner of Cranston with Scituate to the west, and West Warwick to the south.
According to a letter between his grandsons, from John Brown Herreshoff to John Brown Francis 2Apr1939, these cannon were then transported to John Brown's boring mill at India Point in Providence for finishing.  Brown provided some of his cannon at the beginning of the Revolution to local militia groups, such as the Pawtuxet Rangers, to provide artillery power at land fortifications designed to protect against an anticipated British assault up the river to Providence

During the Revolutionary War, John Brown continued his mercantile business, but we do have references that he was more active in the patriot cause than heretofore has been popularly surmised. We know he was an active member of the Providence branch of the Sons of Liberty (See Lovejoy, David S. Rhode Island Politics and the American Revolution, 1760- 1776, p120-121), and of course was also involved in cannon manufacturing at the Hope Furnace in Scituate.  In January of 1774 he was appointed to the Committee of Correspondence for Rhode Island. In 1775 John  Brown sold his 110 foot sloop, Katy, to the fledgling Rhode Island Navy, with which, fellow Gaspee raider Abraham Whipple harassed British ships in Narragansett Bay.  When the succeeding Continental Navy was formed, the Katy was it's first ship, renamed the Providence.  Brown's shipyards apparently also received contracts to provide some ship building for the Navy, at which some young men were apprenticed when they took part in the attack on the Gaspee. He's also noted to have been running a fleet of privateer ships from Providence out along the East Coast during the Revolution. Field, Edward, State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the End of the Century:  A History.  Boston, Mason Publishing Co. 1902., Vol II p 424 cites John Brown as the owner of the privateersmen Hawke, Polly, Diamond, Sally, Favorite, and Retaliation in 1776; Providence, Happy Return, and Friendship in 1779; Argo, Adventure, Betsey, Harbinger, and General Washington in 1780; Brig Hope in 1781; Sally and Insurance in 1782; and Snake Fish in 1783.  According to William P. Sheffield, An Address Newport, Sanborn, 1883, p60, he also owned the Marlborough in 1777

Don D'Amato, writing in the Warwick Beacon, February 24, 2005, "Rogues, Rascals, & Gallant Heroes: John Brown (2): Revolutionary leader", relates that John Brown was unhappy with the lack of success of American General John Sullivan during the 1778 Battle of Rhode Island, and publicly criticized him.  This led to a scalding rebuttal by General Nathanael Greene:

According to “The Papers of General Nathanael Greene,” edited by Richard K. Showman, Greene, in defending the action on Aquidneck Island in 1778, wrote, “I cannot help feeling mortified that those that have been at home making their fortunes, and living in the lap of luxury and enjoying the pleasures of domestic life, should be the first to sport with the feelings of Officers who have stood as a barrier between them and ruin.”  Brown quickly apologized to General Sullivan, saying, “Disappointed persons will always, especially at the moment of misfortune, say harder things than they would at any other hour.”  Brown, according to editor Showman, more than made up for the criticism by serving on the committee of the Assembly and the Town of Providence to thank Sullivan for his efforts.

According to D'Amato, in Warwick Beacon, March 3, 2005, "Rogues, Rascals, & Gallant Heroes: John Brown (3): So very clever"
Brown also had the keen business sense to realize that war was imminent and that whoever supplied war materials would make a great deal of money. Brown was a master at this. He had built up reserves of gunpowder and had his Hope Furnace produce materials necessary for war.

Charles Rappleye in his new book Sons of Providence:  The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the Revolution (Simon & Schuster, 2006, p210), concludes that:
As the war progressed, many fortunes were lost in Providence and throughout America, but John only prospered.  At the outset of the war he owned or shared interest in more than seventy-five ships, and while many were lost to the enemy-ten were seized in 1777 alone-John more than covered his losses with prize ships and returns from trade. Combined with earnings from the Hope Furnace and from his contracts with Congress, John managed to turn the war into a personal bonanza.

While John Brown seemed to have profited quite nicely from the Revolution, in all fairness, one cannot easily extract the patriotic interests from the economic interests back in that time.  They often were one in the same, and there really wasn't a sense of unity or country to be Patriotic to, until after the Revolution was completed.

There were, in fact, several John Browns that were prominent in the patriot cause  There was also a John Brown 1744-1780 that actually studied law for a time in Providence, but returned to the Berkshire region and became an active patriot. In  late February 1775, this John Brown was dispatched by Samuel Adams, Joseph Warren, and others as a secret emissary to Quebec and Montreal with letters inviting the Northern provinces to join with the unifying 13 colonies to the South. Upon his return south, this John Brown fell in with Ethan Allen, Benedict Arnold, and the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont and helped plan and lead the attack on Fort Ticonderoga at the very beginning of the Revolutionary War on May 10th, 1775. We conclude, however that William Wells in his book Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams, (1888, p 276), wrongly attributed the actions of this John Brown to our John Brown of Providence that we speak of here.  Also, there was no relationship between our John Brown, and the more famous John Brown who was hung for his abolitionist raid at Harper's Ferry prior to the Civil War.

John Brown by Edward Greene MalboneOf the four Brown brothers, it was John, whose picture is shown to the left, whose wealth showed the most.  The picture of John Brown is a miniature by Edward Greene Malbone, and is the only known likeness of John.  However, some of the clothing he wore survives, and from this we can estimate him as being over six feet in height and over 250 pounds in weight.  Both items can be seen in the John Brown Mansion tour. See   Donaldson in A History of the Adirondacks  writes that John Brown was known to be of average height, but to weigh in at a portly 300 pounds. Former Mayor of Providence Walter R. Danforth writing in "Pictures of Providence Past, 1790-1890" edited by Clarkson Collins in Rhode Island History, January 1951 recounted:

    In stature, John Brown was of medium height, but when I knew him was fleshy and rather unwieldy in movement and might be observed riding daily in all the business portions of the town in a one horse sulky, driving bargains and personally superintending all the branches of his affairs at the counting house, at his stores, at the shipyard, on the wharves, at the bank, and wherever his business operations called. He had a peculiar voice....[sometimes imitated by employees].

He was the most conspicuous of the brothers in terms of being known as a merchant.  He concentrated on the shipping trade, and his wealth was built partly on the triangular trade involving slaves and trade with the West Indies islands. John Brown's long career as an entrepreneur, privateer, and China trade merchant made him one of the most prominent men in Providence. He owned large rum and gin distilleries located at India Point, which name is taken from the 'India trade' he developed, (see RI History article on this). His purchase of a large tract of land in the Adirondack area of Northern New York after the Revolutionary war was part of a vision of what could be done by investing in land, but it eventually cost his children their wealth.

His work in the slave trade, also known as the Triangle trade, caused dissension within the Brown family.  It is important to remember that younger brother, Moses Brown, the famous abolitionist and Quaker leader, converted to Quakerism and the antislavery philosophy later in life.  The Brown brothers were all born as Baptists.  Also, there is no connection between our John Brown of 1736-1803 and the more famous abolitionist John Brown of the pre-Civil war era.  In fact, our John Brown was well known to have been engaged in the slave trade as part of his business pursuits.  There is evidence that John Brown personally held slaves employed at his spermiceti works, his distillery, the Hope iron works, and in his residence. John also is noted for his spirited defense of slavery in the House of Representatives of the United States Congress, to which he was elected in 1800.  "We want money; we want a navy; we ought therefore to use the means to obtain it....Why should we see Great Britain getting all the slave trade to themselves?--Why may not our country be enriched by that lucrative traffic?"  The American Slave Trade, p116.

In the economic realm, the famous Brown family of Providence rose to new financial, commercial, and industrial heights, surpassing in stature even the celebrated merchants Aaron Lopez, Joseph Wanton, and Christopher Champlin in Newport and James D'Wolf of Bristol. The resourceful Brown brothers -- Nicholas (1729-91). Joseph(1733-85), John (1736-1803), and Moses (1738-1836)- guided by uncles Obadiah (1712-62) and Elisha (1717-1802), laid the groundwork in this turbulent age for the remarkable commercial and industrial advances of the early national period.
From: Papers of the American Slave Trade, Series A: Selections from the Rhode Island Historical Society
<> Page 7:
On August 5, 1797, John Brown, the premier merchant and first citizen of Providence, Rhode Island, reluctantly entered federal district court in his hometown and became the first American  to be tried under the U.S. Slave Trade Act of 1794. After months of out-of-court wrangling with  the plaintiffs, officers of a state abolition society, it appeared that Brown would now stand trial for fitting out his ship Hope for the African slave trade. The voyage had concluded profitably a year earlier in Havana. Cuba with the sale of 229 slaves.

Brown's accusers included his younger brother, Moses, a tireless opponent of both slavery and the slave trade...

According to D'Amato, in Warwick Beacon, March 3, 2005, "Rogues, Rascals, & Gallant Heroes: John Brown (3): So very clever", however, "a sympathetic jury refused to convict such an 'eminent citizen and noted patriot'" During his dealings in this detestable trade, John Brown apparently used some of the same tactics of intimidation previously used during the attack on the Gaspee. <Ibid, Page 8>:
African merchants and their influential supporters simply intimidated all potential bidders and then repurchased their ships for a fraction of their assessed value. To end such bogus sales-at-auction. the government in 1799 sent Samuel Bosworth, surveyor of the port of Bristol, to bid for the D'Wolf family's recently condemned schooner Lucy. Twice within twenty-four hours of the scheduled sale, John Brown and two D'Wolf brothers, the country's largest slave traders, visited Bosworth at home to dissuade him from his duty. Despite a threatened dunking in Bristol harbor, Bosworth "with considerable fear and trembling" arrived at the wharf on auction morning where he was met by a party of local "Indians'' in unconvincing native garb and with faces blackened. No Bristol version of the patriotic tea party ensued, fortunately. Instead, Bosworth's captors hustled him aboard a waiting sailboat and deposited him two miles down the bay at the foot of Mount Hope. The government never employed that strategy again.
In his book, The Browns of Providence Plantations-Colonial Years, James B. Hedges professed the belief that the John Brown and his brothers had largely given up running the triangular trade by the time of the attack on the Gaspee in 1772 and the subsequent Revolution.  But given Brown's continued activities in sending ships to Africa, intimidation of Federal agents enforcing anti-slavery laws, and his ardent defense of slavery through his term in Congress, this is an erroneous assumption. Perhaps Hedges may have been handicapped by a destruction of records associated with Brown's involvement with slavery trade in an effort to make such information undiscoverable during his trial in the 1790s. Letters have resurfaced, now kept at the Brown University Library/Brown Digital Repository that make clear his continued role in the slave trade. John Brown was a distiller of both rum and gin, which makes economic (but not moral) sense of his continued involvement through 1795.

The Providence Gazette on June 12, 1772 printed a list of appointments to various city positions and we find the name of John Brown assigned as one of four "Valuers of Estates" (A position he held through 1801) and also to Fire Engine Co. No 1, along with his brother Joseph and others.  In June of 1777  he was elected under the Whig Party to the Rhode Island General Assembly as a Representative from Providence and served until 1787.  He was later appointed as President of the Ftd. In 1787 he was appointed as one of the "Overseers of the New Hospital".

Rappleye in  Sons of Providence relates that in May of 1784 John Brown was elected to Congress, but chose not to serve. Instead he invested heavily in a cod fishing fleet.

 In June 1788 he was on a committee formed to celebrate the Independence Day, and to further promote the adoption by Rhode Island of the US Constitution. Rappleye (p276) indicates John Brown used outright bribery to influence the adoption by Rhode Island of the new Constitution in 1790. We note from the Providence Gazette of Sept 1, 1798 that John Brown handily defeated his opponent Thomas Tillinghast for the position as a US Representative to Congress.  From: Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774-1949, page 900
BROWN, John (uncle of Benjamin Brown and grandfather of John Brown Francis), a Representative from Rhode Island; born in Providence, R.I., January 27, 1736; engaged in mercantile pursuits; one of the party which destroyed the British sloop of  war Gaspee in Narragansett Bay June 17, 1772; sent in irons to Boston for trial, but released through the efforts of his brother Moses; laid the cornerstone of the first building of the College of Rhode Island (now Brown University) May 14, 1770; trustee of Brown University, Providence, R.I., 1774-1803; treasurer 1775-1796; member of the State house of representatives 1782-1784; chosen as a Delegate to the Continental Congress in 1784, but did not serve; elected as a Federalist to the Sixth Congress (March 4, 1799-March 3, 1801); resumed his former business pursuits; died in Providence, R.I., September 20, 1803; interment in the North Burial Ground.

According to First Baptist Church historian Dr. J. Stanley Lemons,  John Brown was an original member of the Charitable Baptist Society, agonized c 1770 to fund and build the First Baptist Church meeting house that still stands today. He was a pew owner, but never a baptized member of the Church as was his father and brother Joseph.  The First Baptist Church at this time was of the Particular Baptist  variety, and one had to undergo a revelation into the faith, something John never experienced, or never bothered to experience. He resigned his membership in the Charitable Baptist Society after a falling out over the adoption of abolitionist principles by fellow church members in 1790.

John Brown was intimately involved with Rhode Island College, now Brown University. The land where the college is situated was all originally owned by Chad Brown, John Brown's great-grandfather.  From Bayles, Richard M. History of Providence County, Rhode Island, New York, 1891. Page 518:  "In 1770 the foundation of University Hall, the oldest of the college buildings, was laid. The ceremony of laying the corner stone was observed on the 14th of May, the honor of placing it being conferred upon John Brown."  In August 1776 he was elected Treasurer of the College. He also donated some 1400 volumes to the original library at the College, and gave dinners to students during commencement activities (ibid pg 517).  This was all when the original institution was still named Rhode Island College.  It was later renamed Brown University in 1804 in honor of the philanthropy of the Brown brothers John, Joseph, Nicholas and Moses, as well as nephew Nicholas Brown. John Brown was treasurer of the University between 1775 and 1796.

We also note that it was John Brown who was the founder and first president of Providence Bank in 1791, which later grew through many mergers and acquisitions to become banking industry giant, Fleet Bank (recently acquired by Bank of America)-Providence Journal, October 28, 2003, p1.  In 1795 he was the largest stockholder in a new theater venture in Providence. According to claims put forth by the Masonic Order, John, Joseph, and Moses were all active members of the St. John's Lodge Number 1 Providence Free and Accepted Masons (Providence Evening Bulletin, Letter to the Editor, June 7, 1966).  It should be pointed out that the Masons make many such claims of  leaders of the American Revolution.

R. H. Ives
                  GammellRight: Sailing of the General Washington, 1787, by R. H. Ives Gammell, mural c1950. Click to enlarge.

From Bayles, Richard M. History of Providence County, Rhode Island, New York, 1891, page  393: Brown Street on the East Side of Providence was named in honor of John Brown. John Brown greatly revered the American leader George Washington, naming at least two ships for him as well as the bridge, which in later reincarnations, and to this day, carries the first President's name.  From the same source, page  400:
Washington bridge crosses Seekonk river at India point, and is supposed to have derived its name from a wooden statue of  (George) Washington that adorned a bridge occupying this site, which was built by John Brown in 1793. The bridge and statue were carried away by a freshet in 1807. (See RIHS artifact description)

Brown's admiration of Washington extended to almost unbelievable heights. One of the rooms in John Brown's mansion house was (and still is) decorated in wallpaper depicting scenes of Washington's inauguration in New York in 1789.  Only six prints of this wallpaper were ever made, one of which is displayed at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.  According to Capt. Nat Herreshoff--the Wizard of Bristol by L. Francis Herreshoff, (1953), John Brown contributed substantially enough to the Revolution that George Washington presented Brown a portrait of the General and Martha Washington that later hung in Nate Herreshoff's house.

Left: Eliza of Providence, a ship owned by the firm of Brown & Ives.

From: Ships and Shipmasters of Old Providence, Providence Institution for Savings, 1920, p19:

The Duke of La Rochefoucauld-Llancourt in waiting of his travels through America in 1795-97 said: "The richest merchant in Providence is John Brown, brother of Moses Brown, the Quaker. In one part of the town he has accomplished things that, even in Europe, would appear considerable. At his own. expense he has opened a passage through a hill to the river, and has there built wharfs, houses, an extensive distillery, and even a bridge by which the road from Newport to Providence is shortened by at least a mile. ... At his wharfs are a number of vessels, which are constantly receiving or discharging cargoes. .
According to Herreshoff, (1953), John Brown's original home at 37 South Main Street was the site of a lavish dinner held in the honor of General Nathanael Greene in 1787.  The October 11, 1788 edition of the Providence Gazette carries an account of a fire, that had started in the kitchen of his house, completely consuming the that had been occupied by four families. Luckily, only one person was slightly injured when jumping our a window. Not the John Brown would ever have been put out on the street in the event of this fire for he owned several houses at the time.

The John Brown Mansion (shown at right) is the centerpiece of the RI Historical Society holdings.  This brownstone-and-brick mansion, was designed by his brother Joseph Brown (1733-1785) for John, and was built between 1786 and 1788 and has been restored as a museum.  Note that Power Street, at which the house stands, was on land owned and named after John Brown's mother's Power family.  According to Don D'Amato, Brown cleverly cashed in on some hard-to-collect debts owed him by advertizing to his debtors the ability to pay of their notes by furnishing lumber and other building materials for the mansion. From:  Historic Houses of Early America by Elise Lathrop. New York: Tudor Publication Company, 1927. Page 237:
John Quicy Adams called this "the most magnificent and elegant private mansion that I have ever seen on this continent." The house is substantial, three stories in height, built of bricks brought from England in the builder's own ships, and finished with mahogany from San Domingo. His architect brother, Joseph, planned it. Set high above the street, with lawns shaded by great elms, and a terrace extending along one side, solid mahogany gates admit to the grounds, and the handsome main entrance with its portico is surmounted by a beautiful window on the second story.

From the 1770 List of Providence Taxpayers we get the following long list of Brown families:
Brown    Allin    I A 1   
Brown    Chad    III D 5   
Brown    Esec    III A 2   
Brown    George    I A 2   
Brown    George    XI D 4   
Brown    Elisha’s Brick House    VI C 4   
Brown    Elisha’s Home    VI C 4   
Brown    Elisha’s Mill    VI D 1   
Brown    Hope    III B 3   
Brown    Isaac    VI C 2   
Brown    James’ Widow Hope    III B 5   
Brown    John    III B 5  
Brown    John    III B 6  
Brown    John    VI B 4 
Brown    John    VI C 4 
Brown    John    VI C 4 
Brown    Joseph    III B 5   
Brown    Molly    III A 4   
Brown    Moses    III A 3   
Brown    Moses    III B 5   
Brown    Nathaniel House  see William Brown    III B 1   
Brown    Nicholas    III B 5   
Brown    Obadiah, Widow    III A 4   
Brown    Richard, Jr.    VI C 5   
Brown    William    III B 1   
Brown    Zephaniah    XI B 5
According to Capt. Nat Herreshoff--the Wizard of Bristol by L. Francis Herreshoff, (1953), he owned the six properties at that time; three on North Main Street on the East Side and three just north of that location.  The waterfront estate on Bristol's Poppasquash Point was acquired by John Brown in 1781 through the previous Vassall family having been of the Tory persuasion during the Revolutionary War.  The Rhode Island Assembly had confiscated the property and transferred title to John Brown in payment for funds he had fronted for the Revolution.

From John Brown's Tract: Lost Adirondack Empire by Henry A. L. Brown and Richard A. Walton, Rhode Island Historical Society, 1988,  we also know that he also held other impressive farm lands, including a home in Gloucester, RI, and his country residence at Spring Green Farm in Warwick.  The 640 acre waterfront farm at Spring Green, purchased from the Greene family estate in 1782, just so happened to include Gaspee Point, where the infamous Gaspee had run aground and was burned by John Brown et al. in 1772. In talking (2004) to descendant and historian Henry A. L. Brown, however, it is very much doubted that this fact inspired John Brown to buy the land.  Rather, it was a case where the Greene family had become destitute, and Brown was able to obtain the valuable land at a bargain price. 

John Brown's children all became accomplished. According to Donaldson in A History of the Adirondacks  the daughters Abby, Sally, and Alice were all versed in harpsichord, and later in piano when John Brown bought the first such instrument to be seen in the State.  His grandchildren referred to John Brown as "Old Thunder." 

In the twilight of his life, John Brown got caught up in land speculation in the Adirondack area of Upstate, New York.  Despite intense efforts on his part, John Brown and his sons-in-law were never able to turn a profit and the affair ended in misery for those involved  See John Brown's Tract:  Lost Adirondack Empire, by Henry A.L. Brown and Richard A. Walton, RI Historical Society, 1988 and also A History of the Adirondacks by Alfred Lee Donaldson,  Vol 1  New York: The Century Company, 1921.  According to Clarkson Collins in "Jame's Brown's Dairy" Rhode Island History, [October 1947], John Brown and his family owned 20 shares in the Ohio Company, a land speculation and settlement investment group for the Ohio wilderness.  His ex-apprentice, Elkanah Watson, may have tipped him off to this investment, for the purchase of land along any envisioned construction of the Erie Canal serving Lake Erie would've tied into nice profits.

He was grievously injured in a carriage upset late in his life, and required many months to recuperate. After failing health, John Brown died on his Spring Green estate on 20Sept1803 of "dropsy", now known as congestive heart failure. The RI Historical Cemetery Database lists our John Brown as being buried in the Old North Burial Ground in Providence, as were many other Gaspee raiders, and as is his wife:
BROWN, JOHN 1736  - 20 SEP 1803    PV001
BROWN,  SARAH (SMITH) 1738  - 27 FEB 1825    PV001

According to D'Amato, in Warwick Beacon, March 3, 2005, "Rogues, Rascals, & Gallant Heroes: John Brown (3): So very clever" John Brown, who called himself the “cleverest boy in Providence town,” proved to be the “cleverest man in Rhode Island” during the late 18th century.
Genealogical Notes:
From the Brown Family Genealogical Society  we can track the genealogical background of John Brown and his fellow Gaspee Raider and brother Joseph Brown. We have also supplemented the material here from Wayne G. Tillinghast's The Tillinghasts in America:  The First Four Generations (2006).
THE BROWN FAMILY. Volume 1, Number I May 1972, "BROWN FAMILIES OF COLONIAL NEW ENGLAND" Compiled and Written by Eleanor Gates Crum
(THE BROWN FAMILY, a genealogical quarterly on the surname BROWN is published by J-B Publishing Company, 430 Ivy Avenue, Crete, Nebraska 68333)
Chad BROWN [c1600-c1650], emigrant ancestor, came from England in the ship "Martin". which arrived in Boston Mass., July 1638. He brought with him his wife Elizabeth [Sharparrowe (died c1672)], son John, then 8 years old, and perhaps younger ones. A fellow passenger died on the voyage and Chad Brown witnessed the will soon after his arrival. He did not long remain in Mass., probably because of his religious views, but soon removed to Providence, where he became at once a leader of that colony. That same year (1638) he and 12 others signed a compact relative to the government of the town. In the capacity of surveyor he was soon after appointed on a committee to compile a list of the home lots of the first settlers of the "Town Street" and the meadows allotted to them. His home lot fronted on the "towne streete" now South Main and Market Square, with the southern boundary to the southward of College and South Main Streets. The college grounds of Brown University now comprise a large portion of this lot. In 1640 he served on a committee with three others in regard to the disputed boundary between Providence and Pawtuxet. That same year he, with Robert Cole, William Harris and John Warner, was the committee of Providence Colony to report their first written form of government, which was adopted and continued in-force until 1644, in which year Roger Williams returned from England with the first charter. Chad Brown was the first of the 39 signers of this agreement. In 1642 he was ordained as the first settled pastor of the Baptist Church. In 1643 he was on a committee to make peace between the Warwick settlers and Massachusetts Bay, but their efforts were unavailing. He died September 2, 1650, on which date the name of his widow occurs in a tax list. Children: -John, James, and Jeremiah, both of whom removed to Newport, R.I.; Judah, or Chad, died May 10, 1663, unmarried; Daniel.II. John Brown, son of Chad Brown, was born 1630, and died about 1706. He married Mary, daughter of Rev. Obadiah and Catherine Holmes, of Newport, R.I. He lived in Providence, at the north end, in a house afterwards occupied by his son James. He served the town in various official capacities - juryman, commissioner on union of towns in 1654, surveyor of highways, 1659; was free man in 1655; moderator, member of the town council, deputy in legislation, assistant. He took the oath of allegiance May 31, 1666. In 1672 he sold the home lot of his father to his brother James, of Newport, who resold the same day to Daniel Abbott. Nearly 100 years later a part of it was purchased by his great grandsons, John and Moses Brown, and then presented to the College of Rhode Island at the time of its removal from Warren to Providence. The cornerstone of University Hall, for many years the only building, was laid by John Brown, May 31, 1770.
Historians of the First Baptist Church relate that Roger Williams himself was the first pastor of the First Baptist Church, Chad Brown was the second--or, perhaps as related above, the first 'settled' pastor.  Chad Brown was not a founder of the First Baptist Church in 1638, he arrived in Rhode Island a year later. 

Chad and Elizabeth's eldest son John Brown (1630-1706) was the great-grandfather of the John Brown of our concern. He married Mary Holmes (c1632-c1690), who was a daughter of Obadiah Holmes, the second pastor of the Newport Baptist Church

Children of John and Mary (Holmes) Brown::
1. Sarah married Nov. 14, 1678 John Pray
2. John born March 18, 1662
3. Rev. James (1666-1732) was the grandfather of John Brown of our concern.  He was the 8th pastor of the First Baptist Church. He married in 1691 Mary Harris (1671-1736).
4. Obadiah (q.v.)
5. Martha (1665-1727) married Gov. Joseph Jenckes (1656-1740)
6. Mary married Arthur Aylesworth c1708 of Kingston
7. Deborah
Children of  Rev. James Brown and Mary (Harris) Brown included:
  • (Capt.) James Brown (1698-1739) who was the father of the John Brown of our concern. (Capt.) James Brown married at Providence, 21Dec1722, Hope (POWER) Brown (4Jan1702-8June1792), daughter of Nicholas and Mercy (Tillinghast) Power (1679-1769).
  • Joseph Brown (1701-78), married. Abigail Brown (1711-84). Source:: <> (Stale link as of 2005)
  • Ann (Brown) Comstock married Samuel Comstock before 1738
  • Mary Brown
  • Jeremiah Brown
Children born at Providence to Capt. James Brown and Hope (Power) Brown were;
  1. James Brown, (12Feb1724-15Feb1750) died unmarried at York, VA
  2. Nicholas Brown, (28July1729-1791) He married 1st hist first cousin 2 May 1762 Rhoda (JENCKES) Brown (1741-1783); married 2nd 9Sept1785 Avis (BINNEY) Brown.
  3. Mary (BROWN) Vanderlight, (1731-1795) married Dr. David (poss John) Vanderlight (a physician who died in 1755)
  4. Hon. Joseph Brown, (3Dec1733-3Dec1785); married 30Sept1759 Elizabeth (POWER) Brown.
  5. John Brown (27Jan1736-20Sep1803) is the man of our concern; he married 27Nov1760 Sarah (SMITH) Brown (1738-1825) the daughter of Daniel SMITH &  Dorcas (HARRIS) Smith.
  6. Moses Brown, (12Sept1738-1836); married 1st Jan1764 his first cousin, Anna (BROWN) Brown (27, iv), b.28Nov1744, daughter of Obadiah Brown and Mary (HARRIS) Brown; married 2nd 4Mar1779 Mary (OLNEY) Brown; married 3rd 2May1799 Phebe (LOCKWOOD) Brown.
Children of John Brown and Sarah (Smith) Brown were:
  1. James BROWN (22Sep1761 -- 12DEC1834  PV001) graduated Harvard in 1780, no found marriage/children/or sustaining occupation
  2. Benjamin BROWN (1763-1773) -- died at 10 years of "intestinal mortification", probably appendicitis
  3. Abigail BROWN (c1765-1766)--died at age 10 months 
  4. Abigail (Abby) BROWN (1766-1821) married John FRANCIS (1763-1796), the son of Nicholas Brown & Co's Philadelphia trading agent, Tench Francis.  Their son, John Brown Francis was later the Governor of Rhode Island.
  5. Sarah BROWN (1773-1846) married Charles F. HERRESHOFF (1763-1819).  Their offspring went on to design famous America's Cup yachts.
  6. Alice BROWN  (1777-1823) married James B. MASON (1774--1819) who was a Representative in the US Congress.
The Tillinghast, Smith, and Harris family names are among other known Gaspee Raiders.  John's wife, Sarah Smith was the sister of Job Smith who also owned a distillery.

We have not been able to establish any relationship between John Brown and the much less famous fellow Gaspee raider, Abial Brown.  We also have not been able to establish a relationship to George Brown, the lawyer that falsely denied knowledge of the meeting at Sabin's Tavern to plan the attack on the Gaspee.
John Brown was a chief instigator and the overall leader of the attack on the HMS Gaspee in 1772, for which the Gaspee Days Committee recognizes him as an American patriot.
Click here for Details of Raid to Rescue John Brown    |   Click here for Legal Defense Used by John Brown
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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 1/2003    Last Revised 08/2017   JohnBrown.h