1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

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 Papers of James Brown (1761-1834)



 Size: 2.5 ft.

 Catalog number: MSS 310

 Processed by: Nathaniel Shipton, 1976; Staff of the Brown Family Papers Project, John Nicholas Brown Center, Brown University, Providence, RI, 1997

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            James Brown, the son of John (1736-1803) and Sarah (Smith) Brown (1738-1825), was born on September 22, 1761. Educated at Harvard University he graduated in 1780. In 1789 he was elected a member of the Board of Fellows of Brown University, and regularly attended meetings until his death.

            Son of the highly successful businessman, John Brown of Providence, James did not have his father’s drive for business pursuits. He “[had] no relish for active pursuits [and] never engaged in any business” as a handwritten draft for an obituary put it. It continues “his ample patrimony he did not care to expose to the hazards of trade, and to his credit be it added he squandered no part of it upon expensive or corrupting pleasures.”

            James Brown was interested in books and travel, and lived the life of a gentleman of leisure, despite efforts of his father to involve him in the family business. He kept records of expenses and diaries of his travels and social activities, often in the empty pages of pocket Almanacs. He never married, and was devoted to his family, writing frequently to his sister and brother-in-law John Francis. He died on December 12, 1834.



Bulkley, Abby Isabel. Chad Brown Memorial, Consisting of Genealogical Memoirs of a Portion of the Descendants of Chad and Elizabeth Browne, 1638 - 1888. New York, 1888.

Collins, Clarkson A, III “ James Brown’s Diary.” Rhode Island History 6, no. 4: 99-107;

            7, no. 1, 9-1, 51-57.

Hedges, James B. The Browns of Providence Plantations. Cambridge: Harvard University, 1952.

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Scope and content:

            This collection contains the personal correspondence, both sent and received of James Brown. The papers date from 1773 to 1834 with the bulk of the material falling between 1773 - 1806. The correspondence is mainly with family and friends, recording travel descriptions and family concerns. The collection also contains dairies and personal accounting records.

            The accounts document his personal expenses, but also include some invoices from merchants, an inventory of his personal library, eyewitness accounts of important events such as the Providence Fire of 1801, meteorological records, and a ciphering book of mathematical lessons.

            The collection has been arranged in chronological order and described in three series under, Correspondence, Diaries and Accounting Records.

See Also: Rhode Island Historical Society Manuscript Collection

          MSS 312 Papers of John Brown (BFPP 2.17)

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Processing note:

            The collection was originally processed by Nathaniel Shipton in 1976. 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.

            The diaries from this collection are available on microfilm as a part of:

            Schipper, Martin P, comp., A guide to the microfilm edition of Papers of the American Slave Trade. Bethesda, MD: University Publications of America, 2001.

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            Series I. contains letters sent and received by James Brown from family and friends. There are descriptions of places James Brown visited, people he dined with, clothes people wore, and family gossip with his sisters. There is an interesting letter from his brother-in-law, John Francis, describing Congress, which was in session in Philadelphia in 1790. Several letters in 1791 describe the death of his uncle, Nicholas Brown, and family responses to the death. There is a letter written by James while on business for his father where he describes the City of Baltimore in good detail. There is also a business letter concerning the rebuilding of the Washington Bridge written in 1807.

B.1, F.1 (Items 1 - 10) 20 February 1773 - [June] 1791

B.1, F.2 (Items 11-20) 3 January 1791- 23 January 1794

B.1, F.3 (Items 21-30) 25 February 1794 - 15 January 1802

B.1, F.4 (Items 31-42) 16 November 1804 - 1834


Complied by Nathaniel Shipton, 1976

                                                                 Item Number

Bethune, Nathaniel                                         26

Brown, Avis                                                   10

Brown, Benjamin (1763-1773)                        1

Dickerson, Charles                                         31

Dickins, E.                                                      25

Francis, Abigail (Brown) (1766-1821)           7, 22, 28, 36a

Francis, John (1763-1796)                              8, 9, 14, 21

Francis, Thomas                                             23

Francis, Thomas W.                                       27, 29

Herreshoff, Charles F. (1763-1819)               42

Herreshoff, Julia L. (1811-1901)                    38

Herreshoff, Sarah B. (1773-1846)                  2, 3, 6, 11, 13, 18, 30, 40

Herreshoff, John B. (1805-1861)                   34a

Malbone, Francis (1759-1809)                       24

Mason, Amasa                                                39

Mason, Daniel                                                15

Otis, Harrison G. (1765-1848)                       17

St. Cecilia Society                                          20

Washington Bridge                                         36

Watson, Elkanah                                            36c

Willing, Thomas M.                                       16


            Series II. consists of James Brown’s diaries which often describe his travels while on business for his father, John. Of note in his diary of 1801 is a detailed description of the fire which burned much of Providence that year.

B.1, F.5           Ciphering Book, c. 1775-1780

B.1, F.8           Diary entries, 1787-1789 in Almanac of 1788

B.1, F.11         Memorandum and Diary Entries, 1791, in the almanac of 1791

B.1, F.12         Memorandum and Diary Entries, 1791 -1793

B.1, F.13         Diary entries, 1794

B.1, F.15         Diary entries, 1799

B.1, F.16         Memorandum and diary entries, 1799-1830

B.1, F.17         Diary and Memoranda Book, 1800, 1803, 1804, 1831

B.2, F.1           Diary, 1801

B.2, F.2           Transcriptions of diary entries, 1801-1802, loose diary entry, 1803

B.2, F.5           Thermometer readings, meteorological observations and diary entries, 1805-1806

B.2, F.8           Diary Entries, 1815 - 1818

B.2, F.11         Diary entries in front of almanac of 1822

B.2, F.16         Diary Entries: James Brown’s tour of Niagara [Falls] in 1827.

B.2, F.18         Diary Entries, 1831, loose folios

B.2, F.19         “Certificate for Industry”, to Abby Mason from H. Swan’s and H. Rose’s

                                    School, Medford, n.d.

B.2, F.20         Diary entry, n.d.

B.2, F.21         “Account of Chad Brown and his Descendants” copied by Abby Mason.

B.2, F.22         Memorandum and diary entries in the "Massachusetts Register and United States

                                    Calandar" of 1813


            The account records in this Series document James Brown’s personal expenditures. The Cash Account Book from 1823-1830 has an additional ten pages of genealogical information (mainly birth and death dates) for the ancestors of Chad Brown. There are also several books recording thermometer readings and other meteorological information.

B.1, F.6           Memorandum Book, in Pocket Almanac of 1783

B.1, F.7           Memorandum Book, 1782-1823

B.1x, F.1         Book invoices and catalog, October 12, 1784 (Item 5b)

B.1, F.9           Memorandum Book, 1788-1789

B.1, F.10         Memorandum Book, 1789-1799, in Almanac of 1797

B.1, F.11         Memorandum and Diary Entries, 1791, in the almanac of 1791

B.1, F.12         Memorandum and Diary Entries, 1791 -1793

B.1, F.14         Memorandum entries for 1798 in Almanac of 1798

B.1, F.17         Diary and Memoranda Book, 1800, 1803, 1804, 1831

B.1x, F.3         Meteorological Records, 1803-1804, 1819-1820, 1829-1832

B.1x, F.2         Deed, Charles Dickerson to James Brown, November 10, 1804 (Item 31)

B.2, F.3           Memorandum Entries, in Almanac of 1804

B.2, F.4           Memorandum and Daily Account Entries, 1805

B.2, F.5           Thermometer readings, meteorological observations and diary entries, 1805-1806

B.2, F.6           Account Book 1808, and loose account folios for 1806

B.2, F.7           Cash Account Book, 1814 - 1822

B.2, F.9           Memorandum Book, 1819-1834

B.2, F.10         Memorandum Entries in Almanac of 1821

B.2, F.12         Cash Accounts Book and genealogical notes, 1823-1830

B.2, F.13         Memorandum Entries, in Almanac of 1824

B.2, F.14         Memorandum Entries in Almanac of 1825

B.2, F.15         Almanac of 1827

B.2, F.17         Memorandum Entries, in Almanac of 1831

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Baltimore (Md.) – Description and travel.

Brown family.

Brown, John, 1736-1803.

Brown & Francis.

Ciphering books.

Diaries, 1782-1834.

Francis, Abigail (Brown), 1766-1821.

Francis, John, 1763-1796.

Herreshoff, Sarah (Brown), 1773-1846.

Mason, Abby, 1800-1822.

Mason, Alice (Brown), 1777-1823.

Meteorology - Observations.

Mathematics - Textbooks.

Providence (R.I.) - Fire, 1801.

Providence (R.I.) - Social life and customs.

Providence (R.I.) - Washington Bridge.

United States. Congress – History – Eighteenth century.

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