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

 Obadiah Moses Brown Papers

 Textile manufacturer and abolitionist in Providence, RI

 Papers, 1782-1823

 Size: 0.75 linear feet

 Catalog number: MSS 941

 Processed by: Compiled by the Staff of the Brown Family Papers Project, John Nicholas Brown Center, Brown University, 1997

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

         Obadiah M. Brown was born on July 15, 1771,* the only son of Moses (1738-1836) and Anna (Brown) Brown (1744-1773) of Providence. In adulthood he added Moses as a middle name and used the signature Obadiah M. Brown to distinguish himself from his cousin Obadiah Brown, son of Joseph Brown.

            After the Revolutionary War, Obadiah’s father Moses became convinced that America needed to create economic independence from England and Europe by developing domestic industries and manufacturing. He was also interested in developing methods to employ Quakers and reduce any economic dependence on the slave trade the Quakers may have had. With his son-in-law William Almy and his cousin Smith Brown, Moses decides to invest in the textile industry which was just beginning in nearby Massachusetts. Together, in 1788 they started a business known as Almy & Brown for spinning and weaving cloth in Providence. As the business became established, Moses investigated more practical methods to spin thread and became interested in the English Arkwright method using water power to run spinning frames and carding machines. Moses Brown hired Samuel Slater, recently arrived from England with direct experience and knowledge of the Arkwright machines, to design the machinery for Almy & Brown.

            In 1791, Obadiah M. Brown joined his father’s business. He often acted as an agent for the company by traveling to New York and throughout the South purchasing cotton to ship back to Rhode Island. By this time, Samuel Slater had become a partner and the firm was then known as Almy, Brown and Slater. Almy, Brown and Slater was very successful and it firmly established textile manufacturing in Rhode Island which soon dominated the region’s economy.

            In 1798, Obadiah married Dorcas Hadwen (1765-1826), daughter of John and Elizabeth Hadwen of Newport, RI. They had no children and she died in 1826. Like his father, Obadiah M. was a member of the Quaker faith and a strong financial supporter of the Yearly Meeting School, later named the Moses Brown School, for the education of Quaker children. He was also involved in the Bible Society of Rhode Island, which sold and distributed bibles, serving as Treasurer until his death in 1822.

            Obadiah M. Brown was a religious man who became deeply committed to the Quaker doctrine calling for the abolition of slavery. He was a member of the Society of the Abolition of Slavery and the Society for the Free Instruction of the Blacks. He sponsored free blacks and found employment for them. He championed their legal disputes and provided them with financial assistance. He also became involved in securing the freedom of kidnapped free blacks who were abducted and held by slave traders in the South. In addition to the issue of slavery Obadiah M. was also involved in other humanitarian pursuits. His correspondence shows subscription efforts and personal interest in George Comstock, a deaf man whom he and his father sponsored at the Hartford School for the Deaf and Dumb. Obadiah M. Brown died on October 15, 1822 in his 51st year.

      *The year of his birth is often recorded as 1770 in various documents. However, the Births and Deaths record book, 1783-1877 of the Providence Monthly Meeting which is at the RIHS documents his birth year as 1771. The inside front cover of the book states that Moses Brown was the recorder starting in 1783 and the handwriting for Obadiah M. Brown's entry is consistent with the handwriting of Moses Brown on other documents known to have been written by him.


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.

Conrad, James Lawson. “The Evolution of Industrial Capitalism in Rhode Island, 1790 -            1830”. Ph.D. diss., University of Connecticut, 1973.


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

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Scope and content:

            The collection of Obadiah Brown consists of personal and business correspondence and documents. There are letters sent and received, receipts, credit orders, stock shares, slave emancipation notes, bonds, writs, estate inventories, bible sales receipts and a day book of turnpike tolls. The collection dates from 1782 to 1823, with the bulk of the materials dating between 1810 to 1820. The collection has been organized into three series:

Series I. Correspondence - Chronological

Series II. Correspondence - Topical

Series III. Estate Records

For more detailed information about the content of each series, see the series descriptions below.

            See Also: Mss 29 Almy & Brown Collection

                             Mss 255 Almy, Brown & Slater Collection

                             Mss 313 Moses Brown Collection BFPP 2

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            The provenance of these papers is unknown. It is most likely that they arrived as part of the Moses Brown Papers in 1851 and possibly in 1914 or 1919. Moses Brown survived his son Obadiah Moses Brown for fourteen years and he seems to have been responsible for saving the papers of many members of the family. Most, if not all, of the Moses Brown collection was at the R.I.H.S. by 1952, when James Hedges published The Browns of Providence Plantations.

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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.

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Series I. Correspondence - Chronological

             Series I consists of correspondence both sent and received by Obadiah M. Brown. It has been is arranged in chronological order with approximately 20 items per folder. This Series represents a mixture of personal and business correspondence. His business correspondence is primarily copy letters sent back to Almy, Brown & Slater while he was traveling domestically purchasing cotton for the mill. There are also receipts for stocks he held in several Rhode Island turnpike corporations which include the Providence and Pawtucket Turnpike Corporation, North Providence Turnpike Corporation and the Woonasquatucket Turnpike Corporation. Obadiah M. Brown was the Treasurer of the North Providence Turnpike Corporation during 1814-1820. The Tolls Day Book is a record of the tolls collected while he was Treasurer.

        The most significant correspondence in this series details Obadiah M. Brown’s involvement with the Quaker abolitionist movement in Rhode Island. Many of his letters are written to members of his Quaker brethren securing employment for free blacks. There are “manumissions of slaves” notes and letters protesting free blacks on board local vessels being sold as slaves, and school bills he sponsors for James Scott, a “boy of colour.” Also included is an interesting series of letters about a free black mariner from Bristol named Harry Monroe who was kidnapped and enslaved in Georgia and eventually freed with the help of Obadiah M. Brown.

        The collection also includes letters regarding Obadiah M. Brown’s sponsorship of George Comstock, a deaf man from Providence enrolled in the Hartford Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb. The correspondence also includes letters concerning admissions into the Yearly Meeting School (Moses Brown School).

B.1 F.1            1782 - 1801

B.1 F.2            1802 - 1803

B.1 F.3           1806 - 1809

B.1 F.4            1810 - 1816

B.1 F.5            1817 - 1818

B.1 F.6            1819

B.1 F.7            1820

B.1 F.8            1821 - 1822

B.1 F.9            Fragments of letters, 1803 - 1822

B.1 F.10          Correspondence, n.d.

Volume 2        Tolls Day Book, 1814 - 1820, North Providence Turnpike Corporation

Series II. Correspondence - Topical

        Series II. contains the Subject Files of the Obadiah M. Brown collection, which were separated from the correspondence in Series I when the collection was originally processed. The series consists of eight folders of material each containing 20 items. There are six folders of correspondence and subscription lists of the Bible Society of Rhode Island for which Obadiah M. Brown was Treasurer from 1813, or earlier, until his death in 1822. The remaining two folders concern his involvement with the Society for Abolition of Slavery and the Society for the Free Instruction of the Blacks.

B.1 F.11          Abolition of Slavery, Society of, 1793 - 1819

B.1 F.13          Bible Society of Rhode Island, n.d., 1813

B.1 F.14          Bible Society of Rhode Island, 1814- 1815

B.1 F.15          Bible Society of Rhode Island, 1816

B.1 F.16          Bible Society of Rhode Island, 1817 - 1818

B.1 F.17          Bible Society of Rhode Island, 1819

B.1 F.18          Bible Society of Rhode Island, 1820 - 1823

B.1 F.20          Free Instruction of the Blacks, Society for the, 1790 - 1791

Series III. Estate and Accounting Records

        Series III contains a copy of Obadiah M. Brown’s will and household inventory. Mr. Brown also served as executor for the estate of William Barker of Providence. The Cyphering Book he wrote at the age of “eleven years & a half” in 1783 is filled with mathematical tasks based on mercantile problems.

B.1 F.12          Barker, William, estate of, 1797 - 1800

B.1 F.19          Brown, Obadiah, Will and HouseHold Inventory of Obadiah M. Brown’s                                     Estate 1822

Volume 1        Cyphering Book of Obadiah Brown, 1783

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Abolition Society - Providence

Abolitionists - Rhode Island - Providence

Almy & Brown

Almy, Brown & Slater

Almy, William (1761-1836)

Barker, William

Bible Society of Rhode Island

Brown Family

Brown, Dorcas (Hadwen) (1765-1826)

Brown, Moses (1738-1836)

Brown, Nicholas (1729-1791)

Cotton manufacture - Rhode Island

Hadwen, Benjamin (1757-1840)

Hartford School for the Deaf and Dumb

Labor wages

Moses Brown School

North Providence Turnpike Corporation

Providence and Pawtucket Turnpike Corporation

Quakers – Rhode Island

Slater, Samuel (1768-1835)


Slaves - Emancipation

Society for Abolition of Slavery

Society for the Free Instruction of the Blacks

Toll roads – Rhode Island

Transportation - History

Transportation - Rates

Union Bank of Providence

Woonasquatucket Turnpike Corporation

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