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Record 1 of 1

2014-04-01 2018
  • Obadiah Brown I (1712-1762) Papers
  • Brown, Obadiah, 1712-1762
Call Number:
  • MSS 315
Record Level:
  • Collection
Physical Description:
  • 5.5 ft.
  • 3 AB, 6 LB, 4 vol.
Inclusive Dates:
  • 1719-1776
Bulk Dates:
  • 1740-1762
Cataloged By:
  • Rick Stattler,
    • Phoebe Simpson Bean,
      • Phoebe Simpson Bean, 1996-00-00
  • Merchant, of Providence, R.I.

  • Business records of the mercantile firm of Obadiah Brown & Company and related papers. Including correspondence, account books, shipping records, etc.

Cataloging Note:
  • 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.
  • This collection is 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.
  • Additions were made to the collection via a purchase in 2014. These loose papers and invoices spanning 1733-1763 were added to Series 1 as Box 3 and Box 6x by date and not interfiled within existing boxes so as to distinguish them from what was microfilmed as part of the Papers of the American Slave Trade in 1997. Series 1, boxes 3 and 6x have not been microfilmed.
Historical Note:
  • 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). HISTORICAL OUTLINE: 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 5, 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).
  • Manuscript
Bibliographic References:
  • 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.
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 involved in only 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.
Accession Number:
  • 1851.7.3.1-
  • 2014.20.17
  • 2014.20.18
  • 2014.20.19
  • 2014.20.1
  • 2014.20.20
  • 2014.20.21
  • 2014.20.22
  • 2014.20.23
  • 2014.20.24
  • 2014.20.25
  • 2014.20.27
  • 2014.20.26
  • 2014.20.28
  • 2014.20.29
  • 2014.20.30
  • 2014.20.31
  • 2014.20.32
  • 2014.20.33
  • 2014.20.34
  • 2014.20.35
  • 2014.20.36
  • 2014.20.37
  • 2014.20.2
  • 2014.20.3
  • 2014.20.4
  • 2014.20.5
  • 2014.20.6
  • 2014.20.7
  • 2014.20.8
  • 2014.20.9
  • 2014.20.10
  • 2014.20.11
  • 2014.20.12
  • 2014.20.13
  • 2014.20.14
  • 2014.20.15
  • 2014.20.38
  • 2014.20.39
  • 2014.20.40
  • 2014.20.41
  • 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. In 2014 additions were to made to the collection of accession # 2014.20
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