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