1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

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 The Records of James Browne

 Providence, Merchant

 Records, 1742-1743

 Size: 2 volumes

 Catalog number: MSS 948

 Processed by:

Compiled by the staff of the Brown Family Papers Project, John Nicholas Brown Center, Brown University, Providence, RI, 1995

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            James Browne was born in 1724, the first son of James (1698-1739) and Hope (Power) Browne (1702-1792) of Providence. He followed his father’s practice of ending his name with an “e”, although his younger brothers dropped it. His father founded a successful mercantile business, trading to the Caribbean, which he operated in Providence with his younger brother Obadiah (1712-1762). In 1739, when James was fifteen, his father died, leaving him and his four brothers and one sister to the care of their uncle Obadiah, whose four sons had all died in childhood. James trained under his uncle to enter the family business, and traveled to Barbados as early as March 1742/3, when he wrote a journal of the voyage in the back of his navigation and cyphering book. Other voyages are recorded from 1747 to 1750. In September of 1750 he left “Rhodesiland harbur on board the sloop frelove [Freelove] and am bound to maryland.” He never returned from this voyage, dying in York, Virginia, on February 15, 1750/1.

            When James, the eldest son, gained his majority in February 1745, he assumed the responsibilities at the head of the Browne household providing for his mother and younger siblings. His siblings were Nicholas (1729-1791), Mary (1731-1795), Joseph (1733-1785), John (1736-1802) and Moses (1738-1836). According to his father’s will, each child was to receive 1/5 of the estate upon turning 21 with James, Jr. inheriting an extra sum as his birthright. Although James became active in maritime trade, he used some of his newly acquired wealth to start up a still house which his brother, Nicholas, ran while James was away at sea.

            It is unclear in what capacity James Browne sailed to the West Indies, but he is associated with sloop Humbird, schooner Neptune, brigantine Hope, sloop Dolphin and schooner Smithfield. He was on board sloop Freelove when he died on February 15, 1750 off the coast of York, Virginia. Two of his younger brothers, Nicholas and John continued in the mercantile tradition between 1750 to 1762. They were eventually joined by their brothers Joseph and Moses in business endeavors under the partnership of Nicholas Brown and Company in 1763. Bibliography:

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.

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

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Scope and content:

            This collection consists of two cyphering and navigation books, dated 1743. The first, dated from January to February 1742/3, is a primer of Geometry and Trigonometry, which also contains lessons in Plain Sailing and Mercators Sailing. The second volume, dating from February 1742/3 to April 1743, is lessons in Mercator’s Sailing, Latitude, and Traverse Sailing, and ends with the day to day journal of his voyage to the island of Barbados in 1742/3.

            The voyages James made from 1747 to 1750 are recorded in the Log Books of Hope, Dolphin, Smithfield, and Freelove, kept by James Browne. It is located in Mss 828, Ship’s Logs Collection, at the RIHS.

See also Captain James Browne Records, MSS 309

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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 to arrange, describe and catalo 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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B.1 F.1.          Cyphering Book, January 1743 - February 1743, of James BrowneB.1 F.2.Navigation Book, February 1742/3 - April 1743, of James Browne

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Browne, James, 1698 - 1739

Brown, Nicholas, 1729 - 1791

Dolphin (Sloop)

Freelove (Sloop)

Hope (Sloop)

Mathematics - Textbooks

Navigation - Textbooks

Obadiah Brown & CompanySmithfield (Schooner)

West Indies - Commerce

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