Merchant, of Providence, R.I.
Papers, 1719-1776. Bulk, 1740-1762.
Size: 5 linear feet
Catalog number: MSS 315
Processed by: Pam Narbeth, 1995
Finding aid by Rick Stattler, October 1996USE MICROFILM E445 .R4, part 1, reels 19-23
©Rhode Island Historical Society
Obadiah Brown I (1712-1762) 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. Upon reaching adulthood, Obadiah joined his older brother James Brown II (1698-1739) in the mercantile trade, which included traffic in cocoa, rum, molasses and slaves. His initial role was as master of his brother's vessels in the West Indies trade. In 1736, he shipped out to the African coast as the supercargo of the family's sloop Mary, which thus became the first known Providence slave ship. However, this trip does not seem to have been very profitable, and the Browns apparently had no further direct involvement in the slave trade for over twenty years. After the death of James in 1739, Obadiah retired from the sea himself, but continued the business. During the 1750s, he became the first Providence merchant to trade directly with England, bypassing the traditional mercantile cities of Boston and Newport. He also opened a spermaceti candle factory as early as 1751. He also helped to raise James' young children, later forming a partnership with James' four surviving sons as Obadiah Brown & Co. This firm made another attempt at the slave trade in 1759, when their slave ship Wheel of Fortune was captured by French privateers. Obadiah died in Glocester, R.I. in 1762, probably at the home of his daughter Phebe Fenner.
In 1737, he married his first cousin, Mary Harris (1718-1805), daughter of Toleration and Sarah Harris. They had eight children. All four of the sons died in early childhood. The four daughters were Phebe (b.1738), Sarah (1742-1800), Anna (1744-1773) and Mary (b.1753). Phebe married John Fenner of Glocester, R.I., brother of Gov. Arthur Fenner. Sarah married Lt. Gov. Jabez Bowen (1739-1815). Anna married her first cousin Moses Brown (1738-1836). Mary married Thomas Arnold (1751-1826).
March 22, 1698 Birth of Captain James Browne son of Elder James Browne (1666-1732) and Mary (Harris) Browne (1671-1736)
January 4, 1702 Birth of Hope (Power) Browne (1702-1792), daughter of Nicholas and Mercy (Tillinghast) Power
October 2, 1712 Birth of Obadiah Brown, brother of Captain James Browne
December 21, 1722 Marriage of Captain James Browne and Hope (Power) Browne
February 12, 1724 Birth of James Browne, eldest son of Captain James Browne (1698-1739) and Hope (Power) Browne (1702-1792)
July 28, 1729 Birth of Nicholas Brown, second son of Captain James Browne and Hope (Power) Browne
1731 Birth of Mary (Brown) Vanderlight, the only daughter of Captain James Browne and Hope (Power) Browne.
1733 Obadiah Brown begins his mercantile career
Dec. 3, 1733 Birth of Joseph Brown, third son of Captain James Browne and Hope (Power) Browne
January 27, 1736 Birth of John Brown, fourth son of Captain James Browne and Hope (Power) Browne
June 15, 1737 Marriage of Obadiah Brown and his first cousin, Mary (Harris) Brown (1718-1805)
September 12, 1738 Birth of Moses Brown, youngest son of Captain James Browne and Hope (Power) Browne
April 27, 1739 Death of Captain James Browne (b.1698)
1750 Nicholas Brown (b. 1729) reaches his majority; his elder brother James dies at sea
1751 Moses Brown begins to clerk for his uncle, Obadiah Brown
1754 Nicholas and John Brown begin business activities together
September 30, 1759 Joseph Brown marries cousin Elizabeth Power (1736-1806), daughter of Nicholas and Anne (Tillinghast) Power.
1760 Moses Brown and Obadiah Brown enter into partnership.
November 27, 1760 John Brown marries Sarah Smith (1738-1825), daughter of Daniel and Dorcas (Harris) Smith
May 2, 1762 Nicholas Brown weds Rhode Jenckes (1741-1783), daughter of Daniel and Joanna (Scott) Jenckes of Providence
June 17, 1762 Death of Obadiah Brown (b.1712)
August 1762 Formation of Nicholas Brown and Company
1763 United Company of Spermaceti Manufacturers, Plan of Union
January 1, 1764 Marriage of Moses Brown and his first cousin Anna Brown (1744-1773), daughter of Obadiah and Mary (Harris) Brown
1765 Formation of Hope Furnace
July 30, 1767 Hope Brown, daughter of Nicholas (b.1729) and Rhoda (Jenckes) Brown, drowns two days before her fourth birthday
1767/1768 George Benson clerks for Nicholas Brown and Company
June 1768 United Company of Spermaceti Manufacturers incorporates
April 4, 1769 Birth of Nicholas Brown (1769-1841), son of Nicholas (b.1729) and Rhoda (Jenckes) Brown
1772 John Brown withdraws from maritime activities of Nicholas Brown and Company
February 5, 1773 Death of Anna (Brown) Brown, wife of Moses Brown
1774 Moses and Joseph Brown withdraw from maritime activities of Nicholas Brown and Company
1775 George Benson a commission agent in Newport, RI
1776-1782 Nicholas and John Brown supply Continental Congress; Hope Furnace manufactures cannon
1782 Thomas Poynton Ives becomes a clerk for Nicholas Brown (b.1729)
1783 Nicholas Brown (b. 1729) enters into partnership with former clerk George Benson
December 16, 1783 Death of Rhoda (Jenckes) Brown, wife of Nicholas Brown (b.1729)
January 8, 1785 Death of Joanna Brown, daughter of Nicholas and Rhoda (Jenckes) Brown
September 9, 1785 Nicholas Brown weds second wife Avis Binney, daughter of Captain Barnabus Binney of Boston
December 3, 1785 Death of Joseph Brown (b.1733)
May 29, 1791 Death of Nicholas Brown (b.1729)
June 8, 1792 Death of Hope (Power) Browne, widow of Captain James Browne
May 26, 1795 Death of Mary (Brown) Vanderlight, daughter of Captain James Browne and Hope (Power) Browne
September 20, 1803 Death of John Brown (b. 1736)
August 16, 1807 Death of Avis (Binney) Brown, widow of Nicholas
September 6, 1836 Death of Moses Brown (b.1738)
Buckley, Abby Isabel. The Chad Brown Memorial, Consisting of Genealogical Memoirs of a Portion of the Descendants of Chad and Elizabeth Browne, 1638 - 1888. New York: 1888.
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.
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Scope and content:
These papers are almost exclusively records pertaining to Obadiah Brown's many business ventures. A large portion actually relate to partnerships between Brown and his nephews, under the name of Obadiah Brown & Co., or Obadiah & Nicholas Brown. There are very few personal papers in this collection.
The first portion of the collection consists of loose papers, dated from 1733 to 1762, with the bulk coming after 1752. Most of these papers are loose receipts, invoices and other financial memoranda. There are also some business letters, listed at the end of this finding aid. Almost half of the loose papers are from 1758, and relate to trading at Monte Cristi in today's Dominican Republic.
The second portion of the collection consists of bound volumes: ledgers, account books and day books of Obadiah Brown, alone or in partnership. Other noteworthy volumes are two outgoing letter books, and a ship's log kept aboard the sloop Mary en route from Surinam to Rhode Island in 1735.
There is very little directly relating to the slave trade in this collection, as Brown was only involved in two voyages to Africa. There is nothing relating to the 1736 voyage of the Mary, and only a few incidental accounts relating to the fitting out of the Wheel of Fortune in 1758. See "Ledger No. 5", page 122. Of course, Brown was very much involved in the related trade with the West Indies, and with operated a rum distillery as well.
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The provenance of this collection is unknown. The bulk may have arrived as part of the Moses Brown Papers, as Moses Brown was his nephew, protégé and a major heir of his estate.
Many of the loose papers certainly did; Hedges in his 1952 Browns of Providence Plantations cites some of these items as being in “the unbound Moses Brown Papers at the RIHS”. He also cites several of the volumes. These were all apparently donated as Moses Brown papers, but never fully organized as such, and later pulled out to make a separate collection.
Many of the volumes are marked with a catalog number beginning “2-W”, indicating that they were housed in the west wing of the old Cabinet building, and thus donated before 1945. Other volumes have catalog tags without such a designation, and were likely cataloged between 1945 and 1965.
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One item, a day book kept by Nicholas Brown & Company for the period 1762- 1789, has been transferred to the Nicholas Brown Collection, MSS 314.
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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Series 1: Loose papers
Includes correspondence, receipts, invoices, deeds, agreements, etc.
A list of correspondence in this series can be found at the end of the finding aid.
Box 1, folder 1. 1733 - 1749
Box 1, folder 2. 1750 - 1751
Box 1, folder 3. 1752
Box 1, folder 4 1753 - April, 1753
Box 1, folder 5. May - December, 1753
Box 1, folder 6. 1754 - June, 1754
Box 1, folder 7. July 1754 - December, 1754
Box 1, folder 8. 1755
Box 1, folder 9 1756
Box 1, folder 10. 1757
Box 1, folder 11 circa 1758
Box 1, folder 12. January - February, 1758
Box 1, folder 13. March, 1758
Box 1, folder 14. April 1 - April 15, 1758
Box 1, folder 15. April 16 - April 30, 1758
Box 1, folder 16. May - June, 1758
Box 1, folder 17. July, 1758
Box 1, folder 18. August, 1758
Box 1, folder 19. September, 1758
Box 2, folder 20. October, 1758
Box 2, folder 21. November - December, 1758
Box 2, folder 22. 1759
Box 2, folder 23. 1760 - 1761
Box 2, folder 24. 1762 - 1763
Box 2, folder 25. Undated
Box 2, folder 26. Estate papers of Obadiah Brown, 1762 - 1776
Oversized items from Series I
Box 1x, folder 1. Indentures, 1741, 1744
Box 1x, folder 2. Invoice for ship Smithfield, 1750
Box 1x, folder 3. Accounts, 1752-1754; Letter from Sam & William Vernon, 1752
Box 1x, folder 4. Agreement to build a vessel for Thomas Walker, 1752
Box 1x, folder 5. Invoices, 1755-1759; letter to Sam Angell, 1755
Box 1x, folder 6. Account of Joseph Potter, 1756-1759
Box 1x, folder 7. Accounts of sloops Ann, Deborah, Esther and Speedwell, 1758-1759, undated
Box 1x, folder 8. Correspondence from William Stead, 1756, 1759
Box 1x, folder 9. Estate papers of Obadiah Brown, 1762-1764
Series 2: Volumes
(Subseries 1: Account Books)
Box 2, folder 27. Spermaceti Manufactury account book, 1756-1758
Box 2x, folder 1. Spermaceti Manufactury accounts, 1757 - 1758
Box 2x, folder 2. Spermaceti Manufactury account book, 1757 - 1764
Box 2x, folder 3.Accounts of Obadiah Brown and the Estate of Obadiah Brown to Nicholas
& John Brown, 1759 -1763
(Subseries 2: Day Books)
Box 2x, folder 4. Day book of rum warehouse, 1749 - 1750
Box 3x, item V.2.2 Day book, 1746 - 1751 (in Oversize Box 3)
Box 3x, item V.2.3 Day book, January 1752 - October 1752 (in Oversize Box 3)
Box 4x, item V.2.4 Day book, October 1752 - April 1753 (in Oversize Box 4)
Box 4x, item V.2.5 Day book, April 1753 - November 1753 (in Oversize Box 4)
Box 5x, item V.2.6 Day book, November 1753 - May 1754 (in Oversize Box 5)
Box 5x, item V.2.7 Day book, May 1755 - March 1757 ( in Oversize Box 5)
Box 5x, item V.2.8 Day book, March 1757 - October 1759 (in Oversize Box 5)
Box 5x, item V.2.9 Day book, October 1759 - December 1763 (in Oversize Box 5)
(Subseries 3: Ledgers)
Oversized volume V.3.1 Ledger, 1719 - 1731, 1752 - 1755
Oversized volume V.3.2 Ledger No. 2, 1741 - 1750
Oversized volume V.3.3 Ledger No. 4, 1753 - 1756, and waste book, 1719 - 1731
Oversized volume V.3.4 Ledger No. 5, 1757 - 1763
(Subseries 4: Miscellaneous financial records)
Box 2, folder 28. Accounts and letter book, 1740, 1751 - 1752
Box 2, folder 29. Letter book, 1752 - 1759
Box 2, folder 30. Guide to Book -Keepers According to the Italian Manner by Charles Snell, printed in 1709. Inserted: journal of a voyage aboard the sloop Mary,
Jan. - Feb. 1735/6; and ship accounts dated 1733 to 1735/6.
Box 2, folder 31. Receipt book, July 1751 - March 1760
Box 2, folder 32. Marine insurance book, 1753-1762
Box 2, folder 33. Account book No. 2, 1747-1771, indexed (has 2 mutilated pages)
contains: Accounts of snow Reprisal, 1747-1748
Accounts of snow Providence, privateer, 1747
Accounts of ship Smithfield, 1748
Obadiah Brown & Co., Nantucket accounts, 1756-1771
Spinning and weaving accounts, 1769-1771
Box 2x, folder 5. 1758 Vice Admiralty Court case against brig Prudent Hannah, Virginia.
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Angell, Samuel (b.1707)
Brown, James (1698-1739)
Candlemaking - Rhode Island
Distilleries - Rhode Island
Log books - 1735
Lopez, Aaron (1731-1782)
Merchants - Rhode Island - Providence
Potter, Simeon (1717-1806)
Providence, R.I. - Commerce
Rum industry - Rhode Island - Providence
Slave-trade - Rhode Island - Providence
Spermaceti - Rhode Island - Providence
United States - History - French and Indian War, 1755-1763
West Indies - Commerce
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