Reference Entry

Brown, John

in American National Biography Online


Published online February 2000 | e-ISBN: 9780198606697

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merchant and congressman, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of James Brown, a merchant and shipowner, and Hope Power. The Brown family was long dominant in the mercantile life of Rhode Island, and during the Revolution Brown and his brothers Moses Brown and Nicholas Brown amassed great wealth from their various enterprises. His education did not go beyond that of the common schools. At age fourteen he wrote in his “Cipher Book,” “John Brown the cleverest boy in Providence Town.” Upon his father’s death in 1739, an uncle, Obadiah Brown, became in loco parentis for Brown and his four brothers. Obadiah Brown took the brothers into his firm, which enhanced its profits by privateering and trading with the enemy during the French and Indian War. By 1760 the company had eighty-four vessels at sea, one of the largest fleets in New England. In 1760 Brown married Sarah Smith; they had six children. Brown was an active member of the First Baptist Church in Providence.

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