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Brown, Moses

Account for outfitting of the brig Sally; August, 1764

This document is an account, apparently from August, 1764, from Esek Hopkins to Moses Brown listing all that he had paid for goods and services associated with fitting out the Sally for Africa.

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, Moses to Clark, John and Nightingale, Joseph; August 26, 1783

During the Revolutionary War, the African slave trade out of Rhode Island was brought virtually to a standstill, but with the end of the war in 1783 the traffic stirred back to life. In August, Moses Brown, by then a confirmed opponent of the trade, heard reports that his friends John Clark and Joseph Nightingale, Providence merchants, were intending to dispatch a ship to Africa. The result was this letter, recounting his experience with the Sally and begging his friends not to repeat his mistake. Had the Sally never sailed, he wrote, "I should have been preserved from an Evil, which has given me the most uneasiness, and has left the greatest impression and stain upon my own mind of any, if not all my other conduct in life..." Nightingale and Clark elected not to heed the advice. Their ship, the Prudence, sailed for Africa a short time later.

Brown, Moses to Foster, Dwight; January 30, 1800

Letter from Moses Brown to Dwight Foster, January 30, 1800. Foster was a Federalist Congressman from Massachusetts, alongside Moses's older brother, John, who had recently been elected to the U.S. Congress representing Rhode Island. In the letter, Moses refers to a bill coming before Congress tightening the law against Americans trafficking slaves to foreign ports. While supportive of the bill, Moses also worried that it might "Agitate my Brother ... he having a peculiar irritability whenever [the slave trade] has been mentioned..." The letter makes oblique reference to the voyage of the Sally, a venture into which John, with his "Love of Money and Anxiety to Acquire it," had drawn his brothers. The proposed bill was enacted, despite vocal protests by John Brown, who was one of six Congressmen to vote against it.

Brown, Moses to Hopkins, Samuel; January 20, 1786

Letter, dated January 20, 1786, from Moses Brown to Rev. Samuel Hopkins, a Newport minister and prominent leader of the Rhode Island anti-slavery movement. In addition to forwarding Hopkins copies of anti-slavery pamphlets just arrived from England, Brown raised the idea of endowing prizes at leading American colleges for the best student essays on the slave trade, a policy that had recently been employed with great success at Cambridge University in England. While doubtful that such a contest could be organized at the College of Rhode Island, due to the presence of slave traders on the College Corporation, Brown asked Hopkins to investigate the possibility of establishing such prizes at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. He even offered to endow the prizes himself. Whether the offer was communicated to officials at the three schools is unclear.

Brown, Moses to Morse, Jebediah; April 23, 1791

Letter from Moses Brown to Jebediah Morse, April 23, 1791. The bulk of this long letter discusses Quakerism, but it also includes, on p. 7, a short statement of Brown's belief that developing manufacturing industry in Rhode Island might help to wean local merchants from slave trading. Brown himself would become a leader of the state's burgeoning textile industry - an industry that depended on slave-produced cotton.

Brown, Moses to Nicholas Brown & Co.; July 17, 1765

On July 17, 1765, a letter finally arrived from Esek Hopkins on the coast of Africa, contradicting recent reports that the Sally and her crew had been lost. The letter came first to Moses Brown, who was in Newport on business; he forwarded it to his brothers in Providence, along with this note. While the letter from Hopkins does not survive, it is clear from this and other letters that Hopkins had lost one crewman to disease and a substantial share of his rum cargo to leakage, reducing the chances of a profitable voyage. But Moses's happiness was undimmed. "If Capt. Hopkins & People Return Safe with the Brigt. I shan't be any Great Disapointed What Else he Brings, after Ingaging in So Disagreeable a Trade and being alarmed with... Loss of Friends and Interests," he wrote. This passage is the only contemporary evidence that Moses entertained reservations about the venture, but the effect of the remark is diminished by the balance of the letter, which discusses the best market for selling the Sally's slaves.

Brown, Moses to Unidentified Recipient; July 31 1835

Letter from Moses Brown to unidentified correspondent (possibly Jeremiah Hubbard), July 31, 1835. Though he had passed his ninety-seventh birthday, Brown remained mentally alert and deeply committed to racial equality. In this letter, he criticizes the American Colonization Society, which proposed to solve America's racial problem by transporting free people of color to Liberia, a colony that the society had established on the Windward Coast of Africa.

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.

Codicil to last will and testament of Moses Brown; June 25, 1835

Last will and testament of Moses Brown, who died on September 6, 1836, just a few weeks shy of his ninety-eighth birthday. He remained mentally alert and passionately opposed to slavery until the end. A year before his death, he summoned his attorney and added a codicil to his will, leaving $500 to the Providence branch of the American Anti-Slavery Society to publish "such manuscripts and pamphlets as the society may judge most useful for abolishing Slavery."

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.

Hopkins, Samuel to Brown, Moses; March 7, 1787

Letter from Rev. Samuel Hopkins to Moses Brown, March 7, 1787, thanking Brown for the anti-slavery pamphlets he had sent the year before and briefly discussing his idea of creating a settlement for Christian blacks on the West Coast of Africa. He also endorses Brown's suggestion of endowing anti-slavery essay prizes at American colleges, but notes that he has been unable to pursue the matter.

Statement of manumission; November 9, 1787

In 1773, Moses Brown experienced a severe emotional and spiritual crisis, brought on by the death of his wife, Anna. He deepened his involvement with the Quakers, with whom he had begun to worship during Anna's illness, and determined to free himself of the sin of slaveowning. On November 10, 1773, he gathered his slaves together, along with friends and family members, and read this statement of manumission. The original copy of the document is deposited with other probate records at the Providence City Hall. The document exhibited here is a handwritten copy made by John Howland in the nineteenth century and later donated to the Rhode Island Historical Society.