Merchant, of Providence, R.I.
Size: 2 linear feet
Catalog number: MSS 309
Processed by: Pam Narbeth, 1995
Finding aid by Rick Stattler, October 1996
USE MICROFILM E445 .R4, part 1, reel 1
©Rhode Island Historical Society
James Brown II (1698-1739) was born in Providence. His father was Elder James Brown (1666-1716), a pastor on the First Baptist Church; his mother was Mary (Harris) Brown. James II established himself early in the mercantile business, trading in rum, molasses, slaves and less controversial wares. He seems to have been the owner of only one slave ship, the Mary, which sailed for Africa in 1736, sold its cargo in the West Indies and then returned to Providence. It was apparently the first slave ship ever to sail from Providence, but did not yield much profit. No other slave ships sailed from the town until 1749, and the Brown family remained out of the trade until 1759.
The remainder of James Brown's business was extremely successful. Upon his death, he left a considerable fortune to his sons, who followed him in business under the tutelage of their uncle Obadiah Brown (1712-1762).
James II married Hope Power (1702-1792), daughter of Nicholas, in 1723. They had six children. Mary (1731-1795), the one daughter, married Dr. David Vanderlight. James III (1724-1750), the eldest son, was a sea captain who died young. The other four were Nicholas (1729-1791), Joseph (1733-1785), John (1736-1803) and Moses (1738-1836).
The Chad Brown Workbook; A Continuing Family Genealogy of the Descendants of Chad Brown. 2nd edition. Providence: Rhode Island Historical Society, 1987.
Hedges, James B. The Browns of Providence Plantations: Colonial Years. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1952.
Rogers, L.E., ed. The Biographical Cyclopedia of the Representative Men of Rhode Island. Providence: National Biographical Publishing Co., 1881. 42.
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Scope and content:
The collection includes business correspondence between Brown and other merchants and letters received from the captain of his ship in the West Indies reporting on cargo sales and receipts; a letter book of copies of Brown’s outgoing correspondence; accounting ledgers and an account book. The collection also contains a small amount of miscellaneous legal documents, such as land deeds; an agreement to build a ship with building specifications; and James Brown’s estate papers.
Also included is a cyphering book, which is a series of mathematical and navigation problems designed to teach young men mathematical concepts and 18th century navigation skills. The end of the volume has a day-to-day journal of a voyage taken in 1727 by James Brown aboard the sloop Truth & Delight .
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The provenance of these papers is unknown. The 1736-1738 letter book was originally cataloged as part of the miscellaneous Rhode Island Manuscripts collection, in volume 8, page 13; it can be assumed that this volume at least arrived before 1880 or so. The other letter book was at the R.I.H.S. in 1929, upon its publication as The Letter Book of James Browne of Providence, Merchant 1735-1738. In the introduction to that volume, John Carter Brown Woods writes that we owe the preservation of James Brown’s papers “to the wise forethought of his youngest son, Moses Brown”. This suggests that this collection arrived as part of the Moses Brown Papers, in 1851, 1914 or 1919. Most, if not all, of this collection was at the R.I.H.S. by 1952, when Hedges published The Browns of Providence Plantations.
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The John Nicholas Brown Center for the Study of American Civilization at Brown University, in partnership with the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University and the Rhode Island Historical Society, conducted a two year collaborative project starting in1995 to arrange, describe and catalog records relating to the Brown family of Providence, Rhode Island. The Brown Family Papers Project was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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Box 1, folder 1. Deed, James Browne Senior (1666-1732) to James
Browne Junior (1698-1739) 1724/5, recorded 1731/2
Box 1, folder 2. Cyphering and navigation book 1719
Box 1, folder 2. Journal of a voyage on sloop Truth and Delight 1727
Box 1, folder 3. Agreement to build sloops 1720/1, 1735
Box 1, folder 4. Obadiah Browne to James Browne regarding sales
of cargo from St. Eustatius March 30, 1735
Box 1, folder 4. John Field to James Browne from Surinam
reporting loss of 39 hogsheads of molassesMay 25, 1736
Box 1, folder 4. James Browne to his wife Hope, advise on business
operations in case he does not return August 23, 1737
Box 1, folder 4. Obadiah Browne to James Browne on cargo sales
on St. Eustashe (St. Eustatius) March 5, 1738
Box 1, folder 4. Copy of public statement made by James Browne
giving permission to examine his body after his death
to determine cause of death, and a complaint about
ministers (copy written by Moses Brown)May 26, 1738
Box 1, folder 4. Obadiah Browne to James Browne regarding
cargo sales at Surinam June 15, 1739
Box 1, folder 5. Letter book, outgoing business correspondence1735-1739
Box 1, folder 5. Letter book, outgoing business correspondence1736-1738
Box 2, folder 1. Ledger, James Brown's first 1723-1737
Box 2, folder 2. Receipts 1734-1735
Box 2, folder 3. Receipts 1735-1739
Box 2, folder 4. Will, estate papers and receipts written to Hope Browne
for payment of debts owed by James’ estate1737, 1739-1741
Box 2, folder 5. Receipts removed from 1735-1748 ledger 1735-1748
Box 3, Vol. 1. Ledger with a few entries by James' brother Obadiah
after 1739, includes a name index 1735-1748, (bulk 1735-1739)
Box 3, Vol. 2. Account book with the births of James’ children
recorded inside the front cover 1731-1734
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Brown, Hope (1702-1792)
Brown, Obadiah (1712-1762)
Cyphering books - 1719
Distilleries - Rhode Island
Log books - 1727
Merchants - Rhode Island - Providence
Providence, R.I. - Commerce
Rum industry - Rhode Island
Slave-trade - Rhode Island - Providence
Truth & Delight (ship)
West Indies - Commerce
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