Tuesday, April 26, 2011

QUAKERS 4 – MERCER BROWN THE HEADSTRONG

MERCER THE HEADSTRONG

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.

oOo

LIVING IN EXCITING AND DANGEROUS TIMES


 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.

oOo

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.

oOo

THE REGULATORS

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.


QUAKERS AT RISK

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”.

oOo

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.

oOo

THE GREAT TREK WEST


 
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.

oOo


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

Robyn Mortimer ©2011