Saturday, May 21, 2011



1800:  Our Quaker Brown’s American footprints have grown ever larger:  the family has multiplied many times over, their various branches spreading throughout the country.

Crossing the Ohio River

It is becoming increasingly difficult to separate the familial strands.  The progeny of the original brothers Browne, James and William, have married and moved in varying directions both geographically and in lifestyle. 

Some have stayed on in the general area of Virginia and Maryland, others have gradually moved away until now we find Mercer Brown, the fifth in our particular line to bear that name, surviving his childhood in what will become known as Preble County, Ohio.

The steady growth of the slave trade has meant that more and more Quakers, mindful of the persecution their forebears suffered in the old country, have made the move into the great North West where slavery is not practiced..

But now they are faced with the evidence that this great land spreading before them is not uninhabited, there are others living here whose history goes back in time long before the Quakers, long before the first European settlement by the Puritans.

The peace loving Quakers come in friendship but there are others intent only on domination.  A bitter struggle is about to begin and it can only end in the tears of a defeated nation.



In the beginning there were many individual Indian tribes roaming the great plain lands of the Northwest.  They had no defining barriers, most enjoyed a nomadic life chasing the seasons, some remained close to their homelands, banded together and were at peace with their nearest neighbours; others maintained a continuing war like stance over hunting grounds.

In this way they had lived for centuries, considering and believing they possessed an eternal bonding, an ownership of their tribal lands.

But then came the white man, and for the great Indian Nations nothing would ever again be the same...


Whole Indian Nations have melted away like snowballs in the sun before the white man’s advance. They leave scarcely a name of our people except those wrongly recorded by their destroyers. Where are the Delaware’s? They have been reduced to a mere shadow of their former greatness. We had hoped that the white men would not be willing to travel beyond the mountains. Now that hope is gone. They have passed the mountains, and have settled upon Tsalagi (Cherokee) land.

The Shawnee had made their home in the rich and  verdant lands in the Ohio Valley as early as the 1600’s until the stronger Iroquois drove them away.  But as was the way with the white man in their own home lands back in Europe, the usurpers themselves became weaker and the Shawnee moved back to reclaim their home ground.

The Shawnee were fierce warriors and became allies of the French, fighting with them against the British. But then as the traders and fur trappers gave way to British colonialism followed then by open American rebellion  the Shawnee began attacking encroaching forts and settlements. An uneasy peace had again been shattered.

Into this upheaval moved the Quakers.  They arrived in ever increasing numbers intent on living as peaceful a life as possible.



The Browns settled in a small encampment that eventually became the town of Gratis.

Perhaps like other adventurous settlers their men folk too had first scouted ahead searching for suitable sites to settle their families. And once they had found their Eldorado they journeyed back to Georgia and South Carolina to hook up their wagons, collect their wives, sweethearts and children, to then make the slow trek back to the Great Miami Valley.

The Quakers settled together, dependent on each other for comfort and safety.  One of their first chores was to quickly set up a Friends Meeting place at West Elkton in Preble County.

One of the earliest arrivals at Gratis was a kinsman to the great hunter Daniel Boone, this one also a Daniel.  Perhaps like others he had first set out alone or with small groups to scout ahead for suitable land.  Later our Richard Brown arrived from Georgia, his selection was registered on section 20.

Between 1803 and 1805 over fifty families from Georgia and South Carolina settled in southern Preble and Northern Butler counties.  Nearly all were Quakers.  Apart from the Browns were their kinsfolk, the Stubbs, numbering eleven brothers, the Maddock’s and the Gifford’s.

Mercer the Headstrong, our next young Mercer’s grandfather, who eloped with his non Quaker bride Sarah Piggott in Virginia made the arduous journey with his son Richard and his wife Mary Embree and their children. He died in 1802 and was buried in Preble County.   His wife Sarah outlived him by 28 years.

Their lives were simple and not easy for our modern day family to comprehend. Luckily though, an old man who grew up in the same era, in the same raw beginnings of Ohio, put pen to paper lending us his eyes to see for ourselves the life our young Mercer and his siblings experienced.



By 1800 more than 800 Quakers had moved to Ohio. The early settlement at Gratis in Preble County was predominately Quaker and for some time, an early settler wrote, ‘none of us had a house at our command to meet in, to worship the Almighty Being’.  This early resident went on to say...’we met in the woods until houses were built.’. ..
In 1814, the year this current Mercer Brown married Nancy Thompson, a central place of worship to service all the Friends was erected  at Mount Pleasant.  A site central to all of Ohio, but still a fairly long journey to travel for those from Gratis; which is why this major Meeting House was designated as a yearly one.  No doubt the many Friends who travelled these long distances camped in the grounds and stayed there for many days.

The three story brick building was the first yearly Quaker Meeting House to be built west of the Allegheny Mountains.

A truly huge building for its time it was capable of holding 2,000 people and contained an auditorium with a balcony. The auditorium could be divided into rooms by the lowering of a wooden partition,  one room for the men’s meeting, the other for the women.

"Last Sunday was a great day in town. The shops and everything was open and the Street full of Melon and Gingerbread Wagons.... If you know what a fair is like in Ireland, you know very near what it was like here last Sunday... You would never see the like of before. Tell Bill about it I wish you were here."
-- Jesse Spencer of Mt. Pleasant,
Describing the annual meeting time, 1846

These yearly meetings held in the new hall were immensely popular and held in a fair like atmosphere where farmers could exchange their wares.  Used extensively until 1909 the building has now been restored by the Ohio Historical Society and is open to the public.


“My father’s family was small and he took us all with him to the Miami wilderness.

The Indian meal which he brought was expended six weeks too soon, so for that time we had to live without bread.  The lean venison and the breast of the wild turkey we were taught to call bread.

I remember how narrowly we children watched the growth of the potato tops, pumpkin and squash vines, hoping from day to day to get something in place of bread.

How delicious was the taste of the young potatoes when we got them! What a jubilee when we were permitted to pull the young corn for roasting ears!  Still more when it acquired hardness to be made into Johnny-cakes by the aid of a tin grater.

The furniture of the table consisted of a few pewter dishes, plates and spoons, but mostly of water bowls, trenchers and noggins.  If these last were scarce, gourds and hard shell squashes made up the deficiency.

I well remember the first time I ever saw a tea cup and saucer.  After the death of my mother which sad event took place when I was seven or eight years of age, my father sent me away to school.  I stopped at a tavern which was plastered on the inside both as to the walls and ceiling.
I had no idea there was a house in the whole world that was not built of logs – the tavern was a stone affair – but I looked around and could see no joists. 

Whether such a house had been built by the hands of man or had grown up by itself I could not conjecture. I had not the courage to inquire anything about it.

When supper came my confusion was worse confounded.  A little cup stood in a bigger one with some brownish stuff in it which was neither milk, hominy or broth.  What to do with these little cups and the spoons belonging to them I did not know and I was afraid to ask anything concerning them.

(I remember) In the winter evenings around the fire blazing on the hearth would congregate the family with mother engaged in making or mending the clothes of the household while father was shaping an axe handle, a hickory broom or perhaps repairing the moccasins for himself and us boys.

The children cracking nuts or studying their lessons, while at our feet stretched out upon the hearth quietly slept the faithful watch dog, the guardian of the place, an indispensable acquisition to the pioneer home.....”

I can see Richard and Mary’s small children in that same rough cabin, dressed in their homespun clothing, the light from their fire flickering on the walls; around them busy at their chores, mother, father, brothers and sisters; outside the darkness of night, the strange, piercing sounds of the forest.

And I can imagine a small boy’s wonder at the very novelty of a delicate teacup on a saucer.

Our heartfelt thanks go to the unknown author who left his memories for posterity, and to the historians who have compiled and made public the History of Miami County.



When a white army battles Indians and wins, it
is called a great victory, but if they lose it
is called a massacre.
Chiksika, Shawnee

 The Northwest Territory during the last decades of the 1700’s was a violent place to live as Native Americans fought to retain what land they could still call their own. Treaties between the new American States and the various tribes, the Wyandot, Delaware, Ottowa, Chippewa, Potawatomi and Sauk were signed and broken.

Fearing massacres and Indian raids the Government tried to hold back the trickle of settlers moving north of the Ohio River but failed.  The trickle became a flood. 

A new Treaty of Fort Harmar was signed in 1789 confining the Native American tribes to a defined area roughly bordered by the Cuyahoga River, the Tuscarawas River and the St Mary’s River near what is now known as Fort Wayne.  But many refused to honour the treaty, including the mighty Shawnee.

Newcomers settling in isolated areas were easy picking for marauding tribesmen.  Families were slaughtered, and often surviving children were absorbed into Indian families, some of these emerging in later life curious about their white heritage.

In 1811 two Shawnee brothers were prominent in the affairs of their nation; Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa, who was also known as The Prophet.  These brothers had very different ideas on how to stem the tide of white encroachment on their land.

Tecumseh attempted to gather all the various tribes into one allied group believing that if they all put aside their traditional nomadic way of life and worked with the white men they would find a way to share and co-exist together.

His brother, The Prophet, however claimed he had been told by the all powerful ‘Master of Life’ that the only way he would reward his followers was if they rejected the white man and his dependence on alcohol and trade goods and ultimately drove them all from the Indian’s land.

In 1808 the brothers moved their tribesmen to a place known as Prophetstown near the Tippecanoe River in Indiana Territory, just across the border from Ohio and there they lived and prospered. The Indian population swelled to such an extent settlers in the area feared for their safety and were forced to seek protection from the Government.

In 1811 the Governor of the time, William Henry Harrison responding to the settler’s demands led an army to Prophetstown halting his forces a short distance from the Indian village.

Tecumseh was away meeting with other tribes far distant and his brother, The Prophet decided to attack the American army.  He told his braves the ‘Master of Life’ had spoken to him saying the Indians could defeat the white men because the ‘white man’s bullets could not harm them’.

Harrison’s army comprised roughly one thousand troops, including cavalry and infantry, and while both sides suffered heavy casualties, the Americans defeated The Prophet’s braves and burned the Indian village to the ground.   The encounter became known as The Battle of Tippecanoe.

Tecumseh returned to find his nation in ruins, his dreams for a confederacy of Indian Tribes dashed.  Ahead for these Native Americans would be even more years of desperate struggle.

But for General William Henry Harrison the Battle of Tippecanoe became his stepping stone to the eventual Presidency of the United States and to this day he is known in history as ‘Old Tippecanoe’.

In time some of our Mercer’s extended family will settle on the banks of the Tippecanoe.



Mercer Brown and Nancy Thompson grew up together in the early formative years of Preble County.  I couldn’t find a great deal about Nancy’s parents other than their names, Richard and Susannah and the hint that either one or both were of Irish stock.

Their early years probably echoed the experiences of the unknown youngster who remembered his life in a log cabin.  They were frugal years for everyone with each successive day a challenge.

Surrounded by kin; parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins the two young people set up their own home, started their own family.  They reared nine children, Anson, Mary, John A., William R., Hester, Israel, Levi and Phoebe A.

With his marriage to Azuba, William followed his cousin Susannah Brown by marrying into the  Washburn family.  He would later be responsible for building the first school house in Indian Creek, Indiana.

Phoebe, the last born child would in time become Abraham McDonald’s second wife, while her sister Mary married David Moss in 1840 and died in 1854 following the birth of their sixth child.

The following record in the  History of Cass Council, Indiana accounts for Mercer and Nancy’s son Israel...

About the year 1840 Mercer Brown owned land north of Logansport, two miles on the Michigan road and like most pioneers, when the visiting angel claimed a loved one, he interred the remains on a knoll upon his own lands. So Mercer Brown buried his son Israel in an improvised box in a secluded spot on the northwest quarter of the southwest quarter of section 18, Clay township, about eighty rods west of the Michigan road opposite the home of Robt. Barnett, where he has slept the sleep that knows no waking for the past seventy-five years."

Of the others, their ongoing history is yet to emerge, perhaps they stayed on in Preble County, their names merging with the countless sons and daughters  descended from others of the Brown family.  If one belongs to you please let me know.



 Ohio and Indiana shared a common border, and for the Brown family of Mercer and Nancy it seemed Preble County served merely as a stepping stone in their search for a final place to call home.  

 Mercer 5th’s mother, Sarah Piggott who won the heart of Mercer the Headstrong and shared his long trek from Virginia to the virtually unknown Northwest, died in 1830 and not long after her death her children and grandchildren set their sights on Indiana.

This extraordinary woman had survived through 90 years of America’s bloodiest history; invoked the criticism of her peers; challenged the beliefs of her husband’s family and safely nurtured her children to adulthood.  She had seen enormous changes in the way the world was perceived.  

War, revolution, slavery, interaction with Native Americans and the dangers of the west, all faced and endured  amid the high death rate of pioneer mothers during childbirth.

We have only to recall the letters and diaries left behind by others from her time to understand the anxious and exhausting life of a pioneering woman.

I wonder did Sarah ever think back to that early Quaker wife and mother, Ann Mercer, William Browne's second wife, whose name was passed on to countless Brown sons, including her own husband, Mercer 5th. 


The next Brown we follow will be Dennis, Sarah’s great-Grandson, the lad perhaps given an Irish name by his mother Nancy Thompson and his father Mercer 6th.

For this next generation there will be a great war, an upheaval that will see cousin pitched against cousin.  A war that had it’s beginnings in the previous century when slavery became for many the means to attain riches, but for others was a despised way of life.



Robyn Mortimer©2011