A story passed down through our family is that we are related to the Brown family for whom Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island is named, and as part of the terms of the endowment made to Brown University we are entitled to a free education there. Although it is true we are related to that Brown family, our connection occurs several generations before the Browns that endowed the university, so the rest of the story is unfortunately untrue.
Our connection to the Brown family is through Mary Brown who married Arthur Aylesworth in Providence, Rhode Island in 1680.
Mary Brown was the daughter of Rev. John and Mary (Holmes) Brown. John was the son of Rev. Chad and Elizabeth (Sharparowe) Brown and was born in Buckinghamshire, England in 1630. Chad, Elizabeth and their first four children; John, James (b. 1632), Jeremiah (b. 1634) and Judah (b.1635) arrived on the ship Martin in Boston, in 1638. Chad and his family were exiled to Providence, Rhode Island, along with Roger Williams, the founder of Providence, the same year, because their religious beliefs were too liberal for the Puritans. Chad and Elizabeth’s remaining two children; Daniel (b. 1638) and Chad (b. 1640), were born there. Chad was one of the twelve original proprietors of the Providence Purchase and a signer of the Providence Compact. He was ordained pastor of the First Baptist Church in Providence in 1642. He was also a surveyor and was responsible for the first map of Providence. Chad died in 1663 and Elizabeth died in 1672.
Chad Brown’s original burial site was on his own property in Providence. It was located on land that became part of Brown University, first, and is now occupied by the Court House in downtown Providence. His remains were moved in 1792 to the North Burial Ground, and a monument to him was erected there.
Rev. John Brown married Mary Holmes, daughter of Obadiah and Catherine Holmes in Providence. As well as being a minister, John, like his father, Chad, was a surveyor. John and Mary had eight children; Sarah, Obadiah, Martha, Deborah, Nathaniel (b. 1645), Mary (b. 1653), John (b. 1662) and James (b. 1666). John died in 1706.
James Brown married Mary Harris (b. 1671), daughter of Andrew and Mary (Tew) Harris, in 1691. James and Mary had nine children; John (b. 1695), James (b. 1698), Joseph (b. 1701), Martha (b. 1703), Andrew (b. 1706), Mary (b. 1709), Obadiah (b. 1712), Jeremiah (b. 1715) and Elisha (b. 1717). James and Mary lived in Providence, Rhode Island. James died in 1732 and Mary died in 1736.
James Brown (II) married Hope Power. They had five children; James (b. 1724), Nicholas (b. 1729), John (b. 1736), Moses (b. 1738) and Joseph.
On March 3, 1764, a charter was filed to create Rhode Island College in Warren, Rhode Island. The charter had more than 60 signatories, including John and Nicholas Brown of the Brown family. James Manning, the minister sent to Rhode Island by the Baptists, was sworn in as the College’s first president in 1765.
Rhode Island College moved to its present location on the east side of Providence, in 1770. The Brown family, Nicholas, John, Joseph and Moses, were instrumental in the move to Providence, funding and organizing much of the construction of the new buildings. Joseph Brown became a professor of Physics at the University and John Brown served as treasurer from 1775 to 1796. In 1804, a year after John Brown’s death, the University was renamed in honor of John’s nephew, Nicholas Brown, Jr., who was a member of the class of 1786 and contributed a large sum of money toward an endowed professorship.
Our family connection, therefore, occurs at least two or three generations before the generation of Nicholas, John, Joseph and Moses. Since we would need to have been one of their descendants to go to Brown University tuition free, this does not apply to us. However, since the Brown family of that time was wealthy, at least in part (if not mostly), from the slave trade, that sordid history does not apply to us either.