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Papers of James Brown (1761-1834)

Historical note

James Brown, the son of John (1736-1803) and Sarah (Smith) Brown (1738-1825), was born on September 22, 1761. Educated at Harvard University he graduated in 1780. In 1789 he was elected a member of the Board of Fellows of Brown University, and regularly attended meetings until his death.

Son of the highly successful businessman, John Brown of Providence, James did not have his father’s drive for business pursuits. He “[had] no relish for active pursuits [and] never engaged in any business” as a handwritten draft for an obituary put it. It continues “his ample patrimony he did not care to expose to the hazards of trade, and to his credit be it added he squandered no part of it upon expensive or corrupting pleasures.”

James Brown was interested in books and travel, and lived the life of a gentleman of leisure, despite efforts of his father to involve him in the family business. He kept records of expenses and diaries of his travels and social activities, often in the empty pages of pocket Almanacs. He never married, and was devoted to his family, writing frequently to his sister and brother-in-law John Francis. He died on December 12, 1834.