1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

    List of finding aids

    R.I.H.S. Library page

    R.I.H.S. home page

 James Brown II (1698-1739) Papers

 Merchant, of Providence, R.I.

 Papers, 1719-1739

 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

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            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.

Return to top

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 .

Return to top


            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.

Return to top

Processing note:

            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.

Return to top


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

Return to top


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

End of finding aid - return to top