Tuesday, April 26, 2011



In earlier chapters I have written about the English born Browne brothers, William and James and their conversion to the Quaker beliefs, their journey to the new American colonies; the marriage of William to his second wife Ann Mercer and the creation of the Nottingham Lots by William Penn.

Now we take up the story of my wayward Grandfather Charles Brown-Parker’s Quaker past with the life and times of Mercer Brown 3rd, by all accounts a young man with a mind of his own.

In 1745 Mercer was only four years old when his father, the man I have dubbed Richard the Entrepreneur, died.  As the only surviving son from his third and final wife, the Irish born Mary Norton, the youngster could well look forward to a comfortable life.
 His father left his extended family well provided with houses and property.   Then his mother remarried, to another prominent Quaker, William Kirk.

This man though wouldn’t have been a stranger to Mercer, the two families had previously intermarried with various Kirk siblings wedded to other descendants from the Brown Patriarch’s, James and William.  Besides, William Kirk had been his father’s trusted friend and following his marriage to the widow Brown he had taken over the running of the mill adjacent to the house he now shared with her.

When his mother died, young Mercer inherited the house and the mill and promptly sold the lot to the enterprising Thomas Taylor of Maryland;  which is why that particular area around the Catoctin Creek is now known as Taylorstown.



 When Richard Brown 2nd chose the banks of the Catoctin Creek to build his grist mill in the late 1730’s he may not have realised this beautiful part of the country had been occupied for over ten thousand years by ancient native American tribes.  And he certainly could never have imagined this particular part of America would one day be considered the inspirational cradle of a vast nation.

 In 1608, when Captain John Smith of Pocahontas fame, explored the Potomac River he came across the village settlements of the original Native American inhabitants, the Doeg whose ancestors have been traced back to 9,000 BC.

Later in 1742 Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax of Cameron acquired dominion over some five million acres of this rolling forest stretching along the northern banks of the Occoquan River and subsequently that part of the country became Fairfax County. 

When Richard Brown arrived the land was sparsely settled with a mixture of Quakers, Papists and Presbyterians.  Within eleven years that population would double to just over 2000 souls, both white and negro. ( Today Fairfax County has a population in excess of 970,000.)

By the mid 1700’s unrest and dissatisfaction has spread throughout the country.  While the still raw colonies reel under the 1754-1763 French and Indian War an increased sense of American unity against English dominion is beginning to emerge.  The unrest is fanned by editorials in Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette.

This political cartoon by Franklin calling for colonial unity during the French and Indian War will be put to use again during the American Revolution. At first I thought the pen and ink daub was an animals tail, but then I saw it was a viper with a poisonous tongue.  The various sections are initialled with the then existing eight colonies, New England encapsulating 4 colonies, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, both South and North Carolina and Virginia. Delaware and Georgia have for some reason been omitted.


Meanwhile in 1743 an 11 year old boy has inherited a small farm on the Rappahannock River, part of a larger estate where he lives with his siblings and widowed mother.  As he grows to maturity he begins experimenting with a set of surveyor’s instruments he finds in a farmhouse storeroom. 

Later in 1748, at sixteen, he sets off to accompany George William Fairfax and James Genn, surveyor on a month long trip west to survey land for Thomas, Lord Fairfax, 6th Baron Cameron.  Though merely an apprentice this trip will mark the beginning of a lifelong relationship between the youngster and the powerful and influential Fairfax family.  It will also lead him through land already purchased from the vast Fairfax holdings by our ancestor, the entrepreneur Richard Brown. 

That friendship with the Fairfax family will see the young surveyor settle on land not all that far from the Brown family’s estate. By 1759 the 32 year old surveyor has married Martha Custis and by the time of his death in 1799 he will have far exceeded  the acquisitions of our Richard Brown by accumulating over 52,194 acres of prime land stretching from Virginia to the Ohio Valley and from Maryland to Kentucky.

George Washington during the French & Indian Wars

By 1753 that same boy will burst onto the pages of history as Lieutenant Colonel George Washington in the newly formed Virginia Regiment actively involved in defending Virginia’s Ohio Valley frontier against the French. 

The Fairfax County Resolves written at Mount Vernon on July 17, 1774 by George Mason and George Washington are today considered among the founding documents of the United States of America.   They contain the first clear explanation of the fundamental constitutional rights of the American colonies subjected as they then were to the British Crown.

George Washington 's Signature
The eager young surveyor who learned his craft in the backwoods of Virginia, and his political acumen in the long and bitter struggle for Independence will become the United States of America’s first President in 1789.

Eventually though, small school children throughout the world will continue to remember him as the small boy who couldn’t lie when he chopped down his father’s cherry tree.



There is one other political aspect regarding these tumultuous times that would have contributed to our particular branch of the Brown family moving away from the coastal hot spots of the emerging nation.  This was the swiftly growing problem of unfair taxation. 

In the beginning the new arrivals, Quakers, Baptists, Presbyterians and other German sects were largely left unhindered to manager their affairs in small and often isolated communities, as the years passed family groups intermarried and moved away to create new communities.  As these centres grew into townships so too did the authority of the English Crown.

At the same time these mingling of beliefs and people created men of vision, men like Jefferson, Washington, Madison and Franklin.  As these men grew to maturity they observed with alarm the growing influence of the English King and the Church of England, the imposition of unreasonable taxes to pay for their representatives excessive living habits, the new laws that cut across the very reasons these new Americans had fled to the colony in the first place.

One of these representatives of the Crown, North Carolina’s Governor Tryon built himself a mansion of grandiose proportions from those unfair taxes levied on struggling farmers.

Governor Tryon's mansion

At this point emerged the Regulators.  A group formed to protest these abuses, initially to print petitions, distribute pamphlets, advertise their demands for fair hearing and tax.  The Regulators comprised no one section of a community;  Presbyterians and Baptists were prominent, German Lutherans and even the peace loving Quakers added their names to the growing list. 

What started as a war of words swiftly moved to confrontation in the North Carolina courthouse of Hillsborough when a mob took over the building and removed the judge.  Governor Tryon immediately passed a law making membership in the Regulators an act of treason.  He then called up the militia in the eastern counties and in May 1771 marched on Piedmont a small farming community where the former Quaker Herman Husband had formed a large protest group numbering 2000 men.

Battle of Alamance 1771

Tryon issued a proclamation to the group...
 Alamance Camp, Thursday, May 16th, 1771.
To Those Who Style Themselves "Regulators": In reply to your petition of yesterday, I am to acquaint you that I have ever been attentive to the interests of your County and to every individual residing therein. I lament the fatal necessity to which you have now reduced me by withdrawing yourselves from the mercy of the crown and from the laws of your country. To require you who are now assembled as Regulators, to quietly lay down your arms, to surrender up your leaders, to the laws of your country and rest on the leniency of the Government. By accepting these terms within one hour from the delivery of this dispatch, you will prevent an effusion of blood, as you are at this time in a state of REBELLION against your King, your country, and your laws.
 (Signed) William Tryon.

One man from the Regulators, attempting to negotiate peace, crossed to Tryon who took a gun from one of his militiamen and shot the man dead. 
An order to ‘Fire and be damned’ was given and the Battle of Alamance ensued, the Regulators though not outnumbered were without sufficient arms and ammunition and the outcome was swift. Governor Tryon took 13 prisoners, six were later executed in nearby Hillsborough.  Many of the Regulators travelled on to frontier areas beyond North Carolina.  Others were pardoned and allowed to stay on condition they pledge an oath of allegiance to the Royal Government.
A number of our Brown’s kinsmen appear on Regulators Lists, the Norton’s, Henry and William, the Brown’s Daniel and William, Morgan’s, Mercer’s and Kirks.
All of these evolving events would have a profound influence on our branch of the Quaker Brown’s.


In 1764 our 23 year old Mercer Brown has incurred the wrath of the Fairfax Friends Monthly meeting by eloping with a ‘young woman not a member of our society’.
His bride to be is Sarah Piggott, a non Quaker somehow in the midst of an extended family of Quaker Piggotts.  The young couple have become engaged and Mercer is immediately and sternly cautioned by his elders at their Monthly Meeting.
But there is an urgent need for the elopement.  Sarah is already pregnant.  Pretending to agree to the edicts of the Quaker Meeting, Mercer leaves Fairfax, Virginia on a short trip to nearby South Carolina.  Sarah meets up with him along the way and the two are wed by a Protestant Minister.
It’s interesting to read from these relevant Minutes of that Fairfax Meeting...

 Mercer Brown who hath had his education among Friends and appeared to be a young man of modest behaviour but lately hath been carried away with insinuations and temptations of the wicked ones so far as to keep company with a young woman not our Society withy whom he hath committed fornication she with child or a child now born after which he proceeded on a journey to Carolina, she pursuing overtook him when he complied to marry her which was consummated by a priest for all which reproachful conduct it is the sense of the meeting that a Testimony be drawn up against him and his reproachful conduct.’
To be honest I don’t know which titillated me more, the extremely long paragraph sans full stops or commas, or the actual wording and singular blame placed squarely on young Sarah.

In any case Mercer was immediately disowned by the Quaker community and wouldn’t be restored to Meetings until 1770 when he and Sarah and their then three children were accepted back into the Fairfax Monthly Meeting; but this occurred only after a panel of Friends that included two sons of Richard Brown’s old neighbour Amos Janney, met with Mercer and reported back to the next Monthly Meeting...
"The Friends appointed to treat with Mercer Brown respecting his Offering report they had an Opportunity with him, and that they thought him in a suitable Disposition to condemn his former misconduct and assisted him in correcting the Paper he offered last meeting which was read and approved, and he rec'd into Membership again”.


As the years pass with marauders and renegade Indians attacking settlements the life and edicts of a pacifist  are becoming increasingly difficult to put into practice for Mercer and Sarah and their five children, all born in Loudon County, Virginia and they begin to consider their options.



The inevitable revolution and war of Independence that followed the initial French Indian wars and skirmishes with Regulators proved long and bloody and in its aftermath emerged the question of human slavery.  The Quakers were opposed to slavery though it must be admitted in the early days of the colony some did follow the practice and various early Quaker wills are dotted with clauses either setting a slave free, or ensuring they had a home for life.

But many Quakers sought homelands where slavery wasn’t practiced.  There was much talk about new and fertile land opening up on the northern side of the Ohio River.

Mercer, Sarah and their eleven children lived in Loudon County, Virginia for most of their married life, but with the evident growing dependency on slave labour and increasing taxes they decided following the birth of their youngest son, yet another Mercer in 1780, to move to Wrightsboro in Georgia.

There the Brown’s joined the Quaker minister Joseph Cloud on a great trek northwest to the promised land across from the Ohio River. Their eldest son Richard Brown 3rd and his bride the Georgia born Mary Embree travelled with them.

Ahead lay a great adventure into largely unknown land.  Mercer will have little time  to enjoy his new home, he will die in 1802 in Preble County, Ohio leaving his son Richard to continue the story of my Grandfather’s Quaker Browns.


Next – Quakers 5 RICHARD & MARY BROWN ...                          CHEROKEE TERRITORY

Robyn Mortimer ©2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011


It came as a complete surprise.  Quakers in our family tree, correction!  Quakers in my Grandfather’s family tree;  a man I had barely known yet loved as only a small grandchild can; a man with a double past and a questionable nature.  A man I would consider the most unlikely to sprout from Quaker stock.



Richard Brown, my Grandfather's fifth g-grandfather, was coincidentally his father’s fifth born son, the fifth born child of William the immigrant’s union with his second wife Ann Mercer. 

Born nearly eleven years after his father’s arrival in the new colony of Pennsylvania he would barely remember his mother who died two years later following the birth of her last child Thomas.

The Brown youngsters grew up in the wilderness surrounding the Octoraro Creek where William Penn established the Nottingham Lots, a new settlement wholly within the precincts of Pennsylvania.  The seventeen families, including that of his Uncle James providing a loving and ever vigilant umbrella over his and his siblings lives.

The Octoraro Creek

When neighbour and fellow Quaker Robert Williams died in 1716 he thought so highly of his friend and neighbour he bequeathed to William Brown Snr his house and land in Nottingham. He then went on to distribute his goods and chattels to William’s wife and children, and his friends...

  • ·      To Joseph Brown he left his shoe making tools 
  • ·      To Mercer Brown all his carpenter tools
  • ·      To the Friends Nottingham Meeting House 3 pounds. 
  • ·      To friend Andrew Job 20 shillings. 
  • ·      To friend Jane Brown rod and kettle. 
  • ·      To Hannah Brown his great kettle.
  • ·      To Samuel Brown his wolf trap. 
  • ·      To William, son of William Brown my gun. 
  • ·      To Richard and Thomas Brown 10 shillings each. 
  • ·      To Mary Brown one piece of gold that is in my chest. 
  • ·      Remainder to William Brown Snr, also executor. 
·      Witnesses James King and Samuel Finler.(I’m sure this gentleman is actually Finlay, an Irish immigrant.)

I wonder, did this 10 shillings bequest, a considerable amount at that time, set the young 23 year old Richard Brown on the road to the riches and prosperity he most certainly accumulated later in life in distant Virginia.



A Quaker wedding - sadly not one of ours....

The money would certainly have come in handy when less than a year later Richard married Hannah, the daughter of Henry Reynolds and Prudence Clayton. 
The Reynolds and the Brown’s were neighbours and fellow pioneers of the Nottingham Lots. Carved out of virgin bush, the settlement in those early years was a frontier town in the midst of wilderness.

A description at the time of the land around the Octoraro Creek tells of a land rich in natural resources, heavily forested with trees of hickory, chestnut, walnut and oak.  The land was fertile and the streams clear and vibrant.

The Nottingham Friends enjoyed a simple life where each family was dependent on the help and friendship of their neighbours. Their children, including Richard and his brothers and sister Mary, and Hannah Reynolds and her siblings, together with mutual cousins grew together through childhood, sharing the farming chores, exploring the heavily forested land that surrounded their home.

Theirs was a life perhaps our children should envy.



Catoctin Creek - Virginia

By 1720 the population of American colonists has reached 475,000, almost doubling in twenty years.  Boston is still the largest city in the new colony, followed by Philadelphia with a population of 10,000;  New York a mere village with an estimated 7,000 residents.  Benjamin Franklin, the tenth son of a  Boston soap maker is completing his education and by 1729 will begin publishing The Pennsylvania Gazette. The new land is slowly moving towards Independence.

Many of the original occupants of the Nottingham Lots have begun to move away from the settlement, disillusioned perhaps by the resulting chaos over land claims following William Penn’s death; or  because the settlement had grown and more space was needed.

By the late 1730’s Hannah has died; the widowed Richard has acquired land grants in Virginia’s Northern Neck not far from the Potomac River. This land, as beautiful and virgin as the land they left behind is part of a huge estate belonging to Thomas, 6th Lord Fairfax, Baron of Cameron. 

Richard has already created a plantation that includes a house, malthouse, mill, millhouse, sawmill and brewhouse.

In 1741 he secures yet another land grant from the exceptionally wealthy Lord Fairfax.  Richard, whom I have chosen to call ‘the entrepreneur’ will, before his death possess a total of 2,774 prime acres of Virginia soil.

But these riches have come at a cost.  Hannah has died in 1726 at the age of 30; his second wife Rachel Beeson will pass away in 1732 after only two years of marriage, and though at this time he can’t possibly know it, he will be married to his third wife, the Irish born Mary Norton for only 12 years.

The Browns from Nottingham, Pennsylvania didn’t leave behind any diaries or ledgers that might help plot their movements nor the circumstances surrounding their travels.

But along the way there are clues that point to extended family influence, to childhood friends who accompanied each other as they trekked through the untamed land from Pennsylvania to Virginia.



The Janney's property adjoined the Brown's.
I have enough headaches trying to sort out the extended families of the Brothers Browne who in their wisdom saw fit to bestow on their children an ever growing repetition of Christian names.  Williams, Mercer’s, Richards, Johns litter the centuries and only the utmost diligence to detail isolates the one person you’re seeking.

But the tangle doesn’t end there.  When the first Quakers arrived in America they naturally settled in clusters, their children growing up together and eventually marrying each other. (As did Richard Brown to Hannah Reynolds and later to Rachel Beeson.)

As a result the Brownes merged with the Churchman’s, the Mercers, the Claytons, the Reynolds and the Beesons.  (I rather think I’ll be adding to this list as the story continues...)

As their young offspring rushed from house to house, or visited with their parents to other settlements they must have been hard put to know which Reynolds, Brown, Clayton or Churchman was an uncle, aunt or cousin, or if indeed one might end up eventually in a closer relationship as husband or wife.

I’m sure their parents kept a close watch on varying friendships but to a researcher like me the extended Brown family is a colossal jigsaw puzzle, one that would need a gigantic computer to completely sort out.

I guess it was perfectly natural that these young people, as they grew to adulthood would perhaps join together as they ventured to new localities.

One family I feel sure accompanied Richard and Hannah to Virginia was that of Randall Janney who occupied two of the 500 acre lots that comprised the original Nottingham Lots.  I mention this only because an Amos Janney originally surveyed the land granted to Richard Brown by Lord Fairfax ‘near the Catoctin Creek’.
(There is some doubt that the Randall Janney who purchased his Nottingham block from a Jno. Willmer in London, a man best described as a speculator, for £120 to be paid in full within 2 years, actually lived in the Nottingham Lots; and at a Philadelphia Friends Monthly Meeting in 1705 there are complaints that Randall Janney is greatly indebted to a Richard Hill who desires that he be allowed to sue him.)

Following Amos Janney’s surveying of the Fairfax land in Virginia his measurements were later included in Richard Brown’s patent registered in the Proprietor’s Office in 1741...

...The land grant begins by identifying the proprietor of the Northern Neck of Virginia: Lord Fairfax, Baron of Cameron in Scotland. It then declares that Richard Brown, previously of Pennsylvania, will be given a tract of land near the Catoctin Creek. The land had been surveyed by Amos Janney...

measurements include 176 poles to a Red Oak, 112 poles to a Spanish Oak, 140 poles to Amos Janney’s neighboring property, 404 poles to two White and Spanish Oak trees, 462 poles to George Atwood’s neighboring property, and 54 poles bordering Catoctin Creek...

The grant also provided for a third part of all lead, copper, coal and iron mines in the vicinity.  The conditions of the land grant included a required rent of 1 shilling to be paid yearly on the feast of Saint Michael and if the rent was not paid within a period of two years Lord Fairfax and his attorneys reserved the right to confiscate.

After reading the fine print in the land grant, I guess I really wasn’t all that surprised that even back in those days lawyers were kept busy writing iron clad contracts to safeguard their clients!



Amos Janney became a close neighbour of the Brown’s, their land holdings sharing a common border; in later years the Janney children would marry members of the Brown family. 

Several other Quaker families moved into the Catoctin area and their lives too became intertwined with the Brown’s and the Janney’s.  The young people would meet at the Quaker Meetings usually held at the Fairfax Meeting House, but I doubt these young teenagers had the same freedom the youngsters of today have.

Unexpected guests? - an artists early interpretation of a Friends Meeting.
As time progressed though, perhaps the importance of the Friends Meetings began to wane with some members needing the occasional prod to attend.  The minutes of a 1762 Friends Meeting states that a committee was sent ‘to visit’ certain groups to excite them to more diligence.

Members at Fairfax meetings were cautioned against ‘joining in light company for dancing...’ Some were dealt with for ‘drunkenness’...’disowned for adultery and fornication’.

A man was ‘reproved for taking off his hat at a court martial to gain favour with the officer in charge’.  Another was ‘attended to for encouraging the visit of a man not in our Society in Courtship of his daughter.’

A committee on ‘Spirituous Liquors’ saw the elimination of the demon rum and by 1809 there were no Friends selling spirits.



Richard not only built commercial mills and establishments he also created lasting brick and mortar homes for his descendants to cherish and for the State of Virginia to treasure.

Oakland Green, one of the homes he built for his growing family is lived in today by a 9th generation Brown, Sara, who is descended from Richard and Hannah Brown’s son Henry.

Oakland Green - photo by Chris Warner
The home has been in the family since the original log house was first built in 1730.  Handed down from son to son over the generations it has been added to in various ways.

  • ·       Richard Brown built the log portion probably in the early 1730's.
  • ·       His son, Henry (1720-1801) constructed the stone wing in the 1740's.
  • ·       His son, John (1749-1828) built the brick addition in the 1790's.
  • ·       His son, Nathan (1783-1821) added the porches on the front & back.
  • ·       His son, William (1818-1900) whose portrait hangs in the parlor, built the barns and added one of the first bathrooms in the county.
  • ·       His son, Joshua (1857-1946) added a kitchen (since replaced) and heat.
  • ·       His daughter, Helen (1893-1970) planted many of the trees and shrubs.
  • ·       Her nephew, William Holmes Brown (1929-2001, grandson of Joshua) restored the log portion and replaced the kitchen wing in 1978; also put in poolhouse.
  • ·      His daughter, Sara (1974- ) built her own cottage on the property in 2001
Oakland Green in winter

It’s both wonderful and humbling to know that my distant kinswoman Sara Brown and her family have taken such great care to preserve and record so much of our Quaker history.



Hunters Hill, built of field stone by Richard Brown c1730.

Richard died in 1745; by Browne family standards at an early age of 52. In his will he appointed his eldest son Henry and his Irish born third wife Mary as his executors.  He went on to acknowledge his beloved wife Mary Norton, leaving to her 300 acres including ‘the remaining part of the tract of land whereon we now live, together with the house, malt house, mill, mill house, saw, saw mill, brew house and houses of all kinds whatsoever’.

The house referred to in his will was most likely  Hunters Hill.

Richard Brown’s house stood above these remnants of the old mill.

 Many of Richard’s land dealings were transacted with Mary’s kinsmen, in particular her father Edward Norton in whose name some tracts of land were held.   Richard left full instructions for their dispersal in his will and these were followed faithfully by his executors.  However because of the large size and complicated nature of the will its dispersal took some time and Henry sought help with the will's completion.

Obviously Henry later inherited the property he had probably already been living in with his wife and children; in the 1740’s adding a stone wing to the house that came to be known as Oakland Green.

Mary Norton Brown later married the respected Quaker William Kirk who took over the running of the mill.  Her last born son, Mercer Brown only four years of age at his father’s death later inherited the Mill House which he sold to the Quaker Thomas Taylor of Frederick, Maryland.


The next Quaker in my family’s direct line will incur the displeasure of a Friends Monthly Meeting and will be disowned and cast adrift from the community... I have chosen to call him Mercer the Headstrong.

Next - Quakers 4 - Mercer the Headstrong
Further ahead - Ohio - and war.

Robyn Mortimer©2011

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Benjamin West 1771 - Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts


I’m fairly sure at least one of you at some time or other has needed to sell off a small (or large) bauble to settle a pressing debt.  I know I have, read through some of my much earlier travel stories and you’ll see the lengths I went to.  (Actually I flogged off  the bits and pieces so my Reluctant Traveller wouldn’t know just how much was put on a little plastic card I later cut to pieces.)

It was probably much the same scenario that settled the Browne brothers future.  If a King of England hadn’t been so deeply in debt to William Penn’s father, a retired Admiral, the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania may never have eventuated.

The history of my American Browns are tied irrefutably to the Penn’s, father and son, but their destiny was settled much earlier than that. It all began with a crusading minister, George Fox in the years when the Browne children were tiny babes.  He travelled the length and breadth of England preaching pacifism and freedom of religious worship.

Richard Browne, William's and Jame's father was an early convert.  



 By the 1600s, there were several hundred different religious sects in England; Apart from the Quakers and Puritans there were Seekers, Ranters, Antinomians, Soul sleepers, Adamites, Diggers, Levellers, Anabaptists, Behemists and Muggletonians. 

Some were only small groups and some obviously had limited creativity when it came to choosing a name.

The Quakers though in refusing to give tithes to state churches or in taking oaths to the crown made themselves targets of any standing government. Their religious beliefs prevented them from lending any support, either personal or monetary, to any group who engaged in physical violence, for theirs was a religion that embraced pacifism. As governments kept, and used armies, Quakers could neither, by the tenets of their faith, lend support, in any way; nor pledge allegiance to any but God, thus doubly angering the government.

Many Quakers were jailed for their beliefs and a large number died in those jails, others were executed and women were burned at the stake.  It was not the most ideal time to lobby for freedom of speech and worship.

 In 1681 the land which is now Pennsylvania was given to William Penn to settle a huge debt owed to his father, by the King of England. William Penn, a devout Quaker, used this land grant to create a Quaker colony, thus creating what was then known as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.


1650 -1746

Back in 1682 when an Englishman decided to up stakes and make his home in an entirely different continent it wasn’t simply a case of selling off his belongings in a car boot sale and replacing them when he reached his destination.  A great deal of thought and planning was needed.  He was after all removing himself and his family to the very ends of the Earth.

The brothers, William and James Browne, still in their early twenties were to have travelled to the new colony together but William’s wife was understandably nervous and William delayed their departure. As a result James arrived on board the Kent in 1677, in a part of America that would in time be known as Pennsylvania.

It would be five years before William and his wife Dorothy Presland with infant son Joseph finally boarded the vessel Bristol Factor to begin the long perilous journey to join brother James.  And perilous it was, some voyages taking three months to complete, some ships disappearing never to be seen again.

As it happened William’s wife had every reason to be nervous. Dorothy died aboard ship on the voyage leaving William and baby to continue alone.

In those days anyone contemplating such a move needed to plan very carefully.  No convenient corner store in the wilderness of the new America, nowhere to stock up on the odd piece of hardware, nails, tools, clothes for the growing children.

William Browne for instance shipped on board the Bristol Factor the following cargo: 4 cwt nails, 4 cwt wrought iron, 120 goads cottons, 2 cwt gunpowder, 1-3/4 cwt chesses, 1-1/4 cwt cordage, 11 cwt lead shot, 56 lbs brass manufactured, 28 lbs wrought pewter, 170 ells English-made linen, 2 small saddles, 48 lbs serges, 2 Spanish cloths, 2 dozen & 4 pairs woollen stockings, 1 firkin butter, 1/8 part of a chalder grindle stones, 2 bags of 1 chest wearing apparel, 1 lb. English thrown silk, 28 lbs haberdashery wares, 9 parcels of several sorts of wares value 14 Pounds.

I love the fact that the only foodstuffs he appeared to include were cheese and butter.  What? No crackers!

My daughter emailed me a long list of ‘must have’ items to bring on our first visit to her new home in Ecuador and I’m pretty sure James did the same with his brother William; sending a huge wish list of desperately needed items to include in the ships lading.

After all,  five years was surely enough time for a letter to reach home, even allowing for storms, ships lost at sea or a tardy 17th century mail service.

In those five years James Browne and his fellow immigrants, many of them from Yorkshire, set themselves the task of creating a town, erecting primitive buildings, a meeting house of sorts for worship.
And in those first years James also acquired a wife.  His marriage to Honour Clayton was the first recorded in the town of Bridlington, now known as Burlington,  the ceremony performed in the shelter of a tent.  Though by the time William and his small son arrived, his brother had moved on to establish his base in Chichester.

Burlington Meeting House 1686

Two years after his arrival the widowed William married Ann Mercer beginning the ongoing chain of young Mercer Browns that would eventually drive family historians crazy as they attempted to sort out which Mercer belonged to which son, grandson or sibling, or for that matter which generation even to slot them into.  In truth we all had the same problem sorting through the fast arriving baby Richards. 

To start the ball rolling William and Ann’s first son was called Mercer 1st, second was named after dad and the third was Richard 2nd.  James and Honour had grabbed first spot with their son Richard 1st.  

Sorting through them all became a nightmare.



The Susquehanna River today.

William at the time was called William the Immigrant to identify him from the many William Browns then making their mark in the new colony. He could also have been called the Quaker who outlasted four wives. 

Life in those early years was particularly harsh for the Quaker women many dying during childbirth. Ann Mercer died 12 years and six children after their marriage. 

 After Dorothy and Ann came Katherine Williams and when she passed on he married Mary Mathews. In total William fathered ten children dying in 1746 at the age of 89, and outliving his brother James by 31 years.

Both were renowned preachers but William was specially noted for his strong oratory speech. Of the two, James was the less zealous. The brothers together with their friends Andrew Job and John Churchman were among the first Quakers to settle William Penn’s Nottingham Lots in the early 1700’s.

Today you would call the lots a sub division;  a new housing estate designed to attract a certain type of resident;  as indeed it was.

 William Penn’s Nottingham Lots were originally established to provide a political buffer in a running dispute over border rights between Maryland and Pennsylvania. 

The Quaker Friends of Nottingham including William and James were existing residents of Chester County until the late 1600’s when the running of the famous Mason and Dixon line brought them suddenly within the limits of Cecil County, Maryland.

For Penn this meant his jurisdiction over the colony and subsequently the resident’s freedom would have been severely restricted and so he set up an alternative site beside the rambling Octorara Creek, between the two great rivers, the Susquehanna and the Delaware.  

The new settlement to be built on a tract of some 18,000 acres of land within the perimeters of Pennsylvania was to be known as the Nottingham Lots.

In 1701, a total of seventeen families, all Friends, as the Quakers were known, including John Churchman, Andrew Job, William and James Brown, and Henry Reynolds, removed from the old settlements around Chester to become land owners in the new Nottingham settlement, their names included in the  diagram listing the numbered allotments.

Neatly surveyed, the average lot holding was 500 acres.  The two pioneer brothers, James and William Browne, both Quaker ministers were among the first settlers paying ‘£8 for every 100 acres within one year of date hereof’ and one shilling for a yearly quitrent.

It’s claimed William cut the first tree on the new site and it brought to mind a line from Diana Gabaldon’s novel ‘An Echo in the Bone’ when Clair Fraser is visiting Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s capital in the 1800’s.

“...there were trees everywhere, thanks to William Penn’s dictum that one acre in five should be left in trees...”


William Brown owned Lots 23, 28 and 33; one of those lots was owned by William’s son, Mercer Brown, who may not have been of age when the lots were laid out.  James Brown owned lots 14 and 27: When the Mason-Dixon survey was completed, the eleventh ‘mile stone’ used in that survey was on James Brown's Lot number 14.


The first homes in the village, called "bee hives," were very small stone houses built on two levels.  By the 1730’s as wealth amassed in the community, somewhat larger, but still modest, four-room houses of brick and/or stone were built. They often had a "keeping room" with a cooking fireplace and had very simple, narrow staircases to the second floor. 

They were occasionally built with the help of neighbouring Friends. To this day, several homes built in the 1700's, such as the Messer (Mercer) Brown home, have the names of the builders inscribed in the exterior brick.

In 1728 young Mercer married John Churchman’s daughter Dinah and their house was built on the original Nottingham plot bought for him by his father William the Immigrant.  Over the years timber and log additions were made by successive Brown and Churchman grandchildren.  

These two families  and that of James Brown were closely intertwined, their grand children  continuing the ideals and work of their grandparents.

(As their sequence of photos show the present owner of the Mercer Brown property, the Plumsteads and the Goodales have done a magnificent job retaining the original ambience.)

I did warn you how difficult it became to work out the relationship of all these Mercers, Williams and Richards, not to mention their parentage;  to separate them further would require a long list of ‘so & so begat so & so on etc’ which would only make this story overly long

In 1752 two of these young men, one a Brown the other a Churchman, cousins by now, returned to England as Quaker preachers documenting their visit to England, Wales, Scotland and Holland, and no doubt catching up with their grandparents siblings still living in the old country.

I only wish, in their book  they had uncovered the family origins of those first Quakers Richard and Mary Browne of Podington. (Not Puddington, an understandable error when spelling matched pronounciation.)

With the photo below you get a better idea of the beehive house and the manner in which Mercer’s dwelling was added to.



Around 1710 Andrew Job, like the Browns a foundation resident of the Nottingham Lots, established the Blue Ball Tavern on Lot 35.  Born in 1750 on the voyage to the new colony he was a carpenter and the sheriff of Chester County between 1697 and 1701. 

Andrew didn’t marry until he was in his forties. A close friend of William Penn, he was well educated and it’s thought he returned to England at some time for his education.

The Tavern served travellers for over 100 years and is still standing, though now a private residence.  And as you can see he also had a distant relationship to the author Daniel Defoe.

William Brown’s role as a Quaker preacher pushed him into a position of authority within the Friends Monthly Meetings.  Apart from ministering to his flock he also, as a member of long standing, took an active part in governing the community.  His signature on Andrew Job’s Inventory of goods and chattels bears the word senior to separate him from his son William who was also a preacher.  

In later chapters you will read about a young Brown descendent who was not only admonished but also punished at a Friends Meeting assembly for daring to elope with a non Quaker.


Andrew Job’s death in 1722 provides this rare sample of both William Browne Snr and John Churchman’s signatures on the inventory of his goods and chattels. The amounts are given in pounds, shillings and pence and items in every room, the parlour, the middle room, upstairs, in the cellar and the kitchen are included in the inventory.

I’m especially grateful to the Job Family for preserving so carefully their ancestor’s history, and to the extremely thoughtful Job descendant who emailed to my daughter Jen this rare glimpse of our kinsman, William Brown’s signature.




Those early years in the raw settlement that became Pennsylvania were both turbulent and eventful.  Penn and his followers had to deal not only with the Native Americans but also with England’s bureaucracy.  The British Crown and its Parliament were ever present and ever meddling.

Penn’s dealings with the Lenni Lenape natives whose favourite camping ground was sited near the spring that Penn favoured for his Nottingham Lots was peaceful and fair.  However some considerable time after his death Penn’s sons produced a deed for land they claimed their father had acquired from the Lenni Lenape tribe. 

The Penn brothers claimed it stated the area of sale measured land as far as a man could walk in a day and a half. In order to prove their claim they then hired three of the three fastest runners in the colony, Edward Marshall, Solomon Jennings and James Yeates to 'walk' the western boundary of the purchase with the Indian Chief’s observers escorting the men.

The ‘walk’ began at dawn on September 17th 1737, the first man quit after 18 miles, the second collapsed and later died, but the third managed to cover 65 miles in 18 hours gaining for the Penn brothers 1200 square miles along the Delaware River.

Though the Chief knew he was being cheated he believed the deed of sale and its conditions were legal and true.  I have a strong feeling the boys father William Penn would not have approved.

While William Penn has rightfully emerged in the history of Quakerism as a benevolent father figure he died penniless, said to have been duped by unscrupulous business partners.



The brothers William and James Browne shared an amazing period in America’s history but they differed in small ways that became more obvious as their paths diverged and their offspring multiplied.

It’s said James was never the zealous Quaker though many of his children became inspired preachers taking their religion and beliefs to far flung parts of America and even back to the old country.  His branch of the Brown family went on to become lawyers and writers, their Quaker fervour leading them into the public arena.

William the Immigrant never deviated from his chosen path, as he aged he evolved into the role of Quaker patriarch, a guiding force within the Friends community.  His children multiplied, many of them, both sons and daughters becoming like him  preachers.

But one son would differ.  He would blend the pacifism of the Quakers with the business acumen of an English merchant.  The monetary results of his endeavour are still evident today.

This son, Richard Brown, the third born of William the Immigrant's sons, might well have been known as the Quaker Entrepreneur.


Next Quakers 3 – The Innovative Richard Browne 

To come   –          Mercer the Headstrong Quaker

Robyn Mortimer ©2011