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Brown, John

Brown, John to Arnold, Welcome; June 15, 1797

Letter from John Brown to Welcome Arnold, June 15, 1797. Welcome Arnold was a Providence merchant and long-time business partner of John Brown. He was also the brother of Thomas Arnold, a leader of the Providence Abolition Society and one of the men determined to prosecute Brown for illegal slave trading. In this letter, Brown complains to Welcome Arnold of his brother's activities, accusing the abolitionists of singling him out while allowing other slave traders to continue unmolested.

Brown, John to Brown Moses; July 29, 1797

Letter from John Brown to Moses Brown, July 29, 1797. As his trial for illegal slave trading approached, John Brown vacillated between self-righteousness and self-pity. In this letter, he accuses Moses and his companions in the Providence Abolition Society of vindictively singling him out for prosecution after one voyage while ignoring or offering settlements to others more deeply involved in the trade.

Brown, John to Brown, Moses; November 17, 1797

Letter from John Brown to Moses Brown, November 17, 1797. With his trial for illegal slave trading approaching, John Brown wrote to his brother Moses and to David Howell, president of the Providence Abolition Society, asking for a settlement. He proposed that they drop the prosecution in exchange for his pledge to avoid being involved in the trade in the future, an arrangement the society had previously made with another illegal slave trader in Providence, Cyprian Sterry. Ultimately, the case went to trial and John was acquitted.

Brown, John to Brown, Moses; November 27, 1786

Letter from John Brown to Moses Brown, November 27, 1786. In 1785, John Brown returned to the African slave trade after a sixteen-year hiatus. His decision deeply distressed his brother Moses, prompting a searching correspondence between the two. In late 1786, Moses learned of John's intention to send another ship to Africa. He immediately wrote to his brother, urging him to reconsider. John responded with this letter, defending his decision and offering various arguments in favor of slave trading. His ship, the Providence, sailed for the West Africa a few days later.

Brown, Moses to Brown John; March 15, 1797

In late 1795, John Brown returned to the slave trade for a final time, dispatching a ship, the Providence, to Africa. The venture proved a financial success: the Providence, under the command of Peleg Wood, acquired 229 captives in the Gold Coast, 198 of whom survived to be sold in Cuba. Unfortunately for Brown, the venture violated a recently enacted federal law prohibiting Americans from trafficking slaves to ports outside the United States. (The slave trade into American ports was protected by the U.S. Constitution, which contained a clause barring Congress from closing American ports to slaves for twenty years - that is, until 1807.) The Providence Abolition Society, an organization founded by John's brother, Moses, responded by bringing a prosecution. The case against John Brown provoked great controversy in Rhode Island, as well as an extraordinary exchange of letters between the brothers. In this letter, dated March 15, 1797, Moses expresses his deep distress at John's action, and accuses him of mounting the voyage in a deliberate effort to try the strength of the new federal law. John was eventually ordered to forfeit the offending ship, but in the ensuring criminal trial he escaped with an acquittal, an outcome that Moses ascribed to the "peculiar turn" of the Newport jury.

Brown, Nicholas to John, Joseph and Moses Brown; September 12, 1764

Letter from Nicholas Brown to his brothers, John, Joseph, and Moses, September 12, 1764, discussing various trading ventures, including the voyage of the Sally, which had sailed from Newport a day or two before. In the letter, Nicholas proposed planting a story in the local press about the depressed "state of the Rum Trade upon the Coast of Ginea" in hopes of discouraging other Rhode Island merchants from dispatching ships for Africa. If the ruse was tried, it did not work: more than two dozen Rhode Island ships cleared for West Africa in 1764.

Contact; August 4, 1776

The Brown family's enterprises included a chandlery, where spermaceti, oil harvested from the headmatter of whales, was manufactured into bright-burning, smokeless candles. Labor demands in the chandlery fluctuated with the season, and the Brown's often relied on slaves to supplement the workforce of free laborers. Moses Brown's decision to manumit his slaves in 1773 disrupted this arrangement. In this contract, dated August 4, 1776, the four Brown brother agreed not to employ slaves at the works, except during peak periods, when necessary to get the stock out. In such cases, the four brothers agreed, Moses could supply his quota of additional workers with free rather than enslaved laborers.

Invoice: Bell, Robert to Brown, John; ca. August 1764

This document is an invoice presented to John Brown by Robert Bell for unspecified work on ships owned by the Brown brothers, including 13 days labor preparing the brigantine Sally for its African voyage, ca. August, 1764.

Invoice: Bell, Robert to Brown, John; ca. August 1764

This document is an invoice presented to John Brown by Robert Bell, a local sailmaker, for work on the Sally's sails, ca. August, 1764.

Invoice: Cookoe, William to Brown, John; August 13, 1764

This document is an invoice presented to John Brown by William Cookoe for work on ships owned by the Brown brothers, including "sheething your brig," August 13, 1764.

Invoice: Payson, George to Brown, John; September 8, 1764

This document is an invoice presented to John Brown by George Payson for miscellaneous stores being loaded onto the Sally prior to its departure for Africa, September 8, 1764.

Letter from A citizen

Letter published in the February 14, 1789 issue of the Providence Gazette and Country Journal, written by "A Citizen." The author, as contemporary readers well knew, was John Brown. In his letter, addressed to the citizens of the State of Rhode Island, Brown denounces the newly established Providence Abolition Society as an evil "combination" of religious fanatics bent on ruining him and the whole economy of the state.

Letter from A Citizen and true Federalist

Letter published in the March 14, 1789 issue of the Providence Gazette by "A Citizen and True Federalist" -- alias John Brown. In the letter, Brown defends the slave trade and continues his bitter attack on the newly formed Providence Abolition Society.

Receipt: Ingraham, Samuel to John Brown; August 7, 1764

This document, dated August 7, 1764, is a receipt from Samuel Ingraham, a local blacksmith, for the cost nails, bolts, and other ironware, as well as for iron work on the Sally's small boat.

Wanton, Joseph Jr. to Brown, John; June 20, 1766

Letter from Joseph Wanton, Jr., a Newport merchant and slave trader, to John Brown, concerning some "paper hangings," dated June 20, 1766. In a postscript, Wanton requests permission to inspect the account book from the recently completed voyage of the Sally, in hopes of gleaning information about trading conditions on the African coast.