Tuesday, May 31, 2011


This saga about our Quaker Browns has  reached the 1830’s: We’ve seen Mercer 5th and Nancy usher their children from Ohio to Indiana on this their final trek into the northwest. But they are relative latecomers in the steady migration across the undefined boundaries that separate Ohio from it’s neighbouring Indiana.

Such was the fast growing Quaker population in this new Northwest State of Indiana that by 1821 Friends were granted permission to build a central Yearly Meeting House in Richmond, a huge building described by a journalist in 1840 as a wonder of construction.

It’s hard to guess why Mercer and Nancy finally decided to leave their farm near the small township of Gratis in Ohio.  Perhaps he feared the civil unrest in the southern states might infiltrate into Ohio...

...or he may have been inspired by the words of a neighbour’s son that he had "…found the country we had been in search of...spring water, timber and building-rock appear to be abundant, and the face of the country looks delightful."

Perhaps this description echoed in later memoirs by a then much older David Hoover stayed in Mercer’s mind to be rekindled later with reports reaching Gratis that there was cheap, fertile land for the taking along the banks of the Tippecanoe.

Up to then the far flung Quaker settlements in the Carolina’s and in Ohio just didn’t have the same promising future that young David had seen evolving across the border.  With hindsight he wrote in his memoirs "…I never had the opportunity of reading a newspaper …until after I was a grown man...”

David Hoover never regretted his move to Indiana.  With hard work he prospered, planned and laid out the Indiana city of Richmond, and later became the judge of the Wayne County Circuit Court.



Tippecanoe River Park
Pulaski County:  When Mercer and his sons claimed their land along the banks of the Tippecanoe River they may not have been aware of its already rich history.  For centuries it had been the life blood of the Potawatomi Indians;  these Native Americans had fished its waters, canoed from village to village, knew intimately its every twist and turn.  Later pioneer hunters and trappers had taken freely of the country’s plentiful wildlife. 

Now white man settlers were harnessing the river’s flowing waters to run saw and grist mills.  Forests were being cleared to provide farming land.  The Native Americans were being further separated from their homes.

Part of the pioneer Quakers success story  lay with their close attachment to kin.  When they travelled from one settlement to another they moved in company with other families, nearly always linked to them by close or even distant kinship.  The Brown’s were no exception. 

On arrival the top job on a settler's ‘must do’ list was to erect a dwelling, usually a rough hewn log affair  with wood taken from surrounding forest.   While the men gathered to assist each other, their families lived in the wagons they had arrived in.   Then corn and vegetables were sown, and before long where once had been prairie or forest was transformed into flourishing farmland.

Farming was a community affair where neighbours and kin came together for barn raising or building, harvesting of crops. Often these events were the only social intermingling these early pioneers enjoyed apart from shared worship.

A Brown Family Barn’ - Painting by Indiana Artist Gwen Gutwein
Much of this new land was occupied prior to the sale of officially public land; their occupants, including our Browns were called squatters.  Some newcomers, described as unscrupulous speculators, deliberately set out to rob these hard working farmers of their untitled land.   The Quaker families weren’t unaware of this and set out to ensure they had proven title.

In 1838 among the first men to officially lay claim were Joseph Smith, Moses Washburn, Isaac Coppock and Mercer Brown, all fellow pioneers from the great trek west that started initially in the Carolinas.



You will find several Pulaski Counties throughout the various States of America, all named in honour of the Polish Count Kazimierz Pulaski who became a brigadier general during the revolutionary war and died during the Siege of Savannah in 1771.


When Indiana’s Pulaski County was formally established in 1839 a Board  of Commissioners was formed that saw  several local men appointed to office, among them were many related in one way or another to the Browns;  Peter Demoss and Jesse Coppock, George Smith, and  Moses Washburn who was appointed as one of the Inspectors for White Post Township.

By 1840 not less than 40 families lived in the small community of Indian Creek and already a number of timber frame dwellings were in evidence.  Within another five years dirt roads and rough bridges were put into place with a road running alongside the bank of the Tippecanoe River.

In 1842 Peter Hoover, a relation of the young man whose praise of the new country convinced many to migrate to Indiana, erected a dam across Indian Creek and built a timber mill.

Photograph of a deserted Indiana schoolhouse by Suzan Hayden

For a while the schooling of youngsters was conducted in back rooms of small homes, Peter Hoover’s cabin being one site with a young Quaker boy, a member of the  Brown family  a temporary teacher.  Later still one of the Washburn homes became a school house when the Washburn’s moved on to another farm. 

And later still, in 1870, my Grandfather’s grandfather, John William Brown aged 19 will become the teacher at the Indian Creek School.


Not only was Indian Creek thriving, so too was the adjacent Cass County where Mercer had bought another block of land, leaving his eldest son William R. Brown to work the Indian Creek property.



Many hands make light work...

While there was no slavery in Indiana there was the legally sanctioned custom of indenture, the binding of children, usually boys or girls from poor or destitute families, for a certain period of their lives to a farming family. For a number of years this was a common practice in Indiana.

There were strict rules attached to these indentures or as we could describe them, apprenticeships: In one case a researcher going through the Delaware County Archives found an 1838 contract of indenture stated... 
...the master must provide wholesome provisions in health and in sickness with good common clothing and must agree to give the child two years schooling between the ages of eight and eighteen.  Furthermore the child must be given a good freedom suit and a mare or gelding when the said lad is of lawful age...

and then presumably free to lead his own life. 

All such indentures were listed in an official book of “Indentures”, some of which still exist in  Delaware County archives.  There is for instance another 1838 record of the binding of 13 year old Charlotte Thornburgh to a Henry Taylor and a lad, probably her brother, Lot, to William Brown.

In Brown’s case he is obligated to send the boy to school for nine months and “the said Brown doth bind himself to learn said Thornburgh to mold and lay up brick as far as the said Brown’s own knowledge.”

This had been common practice in England for many years and properly governed would in many cases have saved a needy child from starvation or worse, or provided a sound grounding in a trade for others.  And it may have been practiced by our particular Indiana Browns in instances where I found young children with differing surnames included in their family census entries.

In the 1860 census for Noble Township in Cass County, both Levi and his father Mercer have young children not of their immediate family living with them.  In both instances the Brown’s are shown to be relatively wealthy.  Were the ten and 12 year old youngsters distant kin:  or, as a charitable gesture were they indentured servants?

In the case where William Brown indentured young Lot Thornburgh, it’s interesting to note that nearly half a century earlier in 1782  a young Quaker girl, Rachel Brown married a Joseph Thornburgh in a  North Carolina ceremony that marked the first instance of the name Thornborough being contracted to Thornburgh.



But times were changing.  No longer could I rely on Quaker Meetings to supply the everyday bits and pieces of our Brown’s lives.  More and more it seemed the Brown family through preference or marriage was being absorbed into other religions.  Perhaps by this stage too they had moved away from the sombre dress code of The Friends, maybe by now they had even dropped the quaint speech of their forebears. The Brown’s proud tag of Quakerism was being relegated to their past.

More often the talk on the streets and in the newspapers of the day was about the Underground Railway secreting slaves away from the plantations of the south to freedom in Indiana. In this the Quaker community was constantly active.

In the southern states cotton has become their economic mainstay and the cheap and degrading use of slave labour continues. The rift between north and south widens.

But while it is early days yet, Indiana and the States of the Union are moving slowly but ever closer to open conflict with the south.


Soon after Pulaski County was officially recognized in 1839 Mercer and Nancy  with their youngest children Levi, Phoebe and Hester moved to  a new farm on the Michigan Road closer to Logansport. The older boys were either working the farms their father left behind in Indian Creek or had struck out on their own.

Travelling between settlements and towns in Indiana was becoming increasingly difficult. As settlers moved further into the interior they were faced with a constant problem in getting their stock and produce to coastal markets or even of travelling themselves to distant towns.

Rivers like the Tennessee and the Cumberland that fed into the broad Ohio River, which in turn merged with the Mississippi and flowed on to the Port of New Orleans, became  major thoroughfares.

Rafts were the cheapest and simplest method of flotation but became dangerous when some parts of the river flowed through rapids.  Flatboats were popular for a while, but then the Keelboat evolved where a small crew could control its swift  down river progress with long poles. 

This provided a fast journey and its reckoned as many as a thousand such boats a year headed down the various tributaries to New Orleans in the early 1800's alone..

But using the flat boats created a major problem; one that was however surprisingly overcome.  The Keelboats could be easily and swiftly handled downstream, but making the return journey upriver against the flow proved slow and costly.

As a result Keelboats made one way trips; once the craft arrived at journey’s end and the cargo unloaded, the flatboat was simply broken up and sold for wood with the crew making the trip home by land.

Two way transport by river arrived with the advent of the steamboat in 1807, an addition to American life that provided countless authors and movie makers with colourful and romantic grist for their creative mills.

While river travel was fine for those with access to the rivers or canals that evolved in later years, the rest of America was growing at a fast pace. With new inland territories opening up, hamlets and towns needed to be connected. 

In Indiana a major road was needed to speed up the movement of people and goods from the Great Lakes ports of the north to the river ports on the Ohio River.

In those early days travel within the new State  of Indiana was far from easy.  Roads were no more than rough tracks and more often in poor condition.  If you didn’t have a sturdy wagon you rode on a horse, if you didn’t have a horse then you used ‘shanks pony’ – you went on foot.

In 1822 a contract was issued for a road from Richmond to Indianapolis, to be built in one mile sections, ‘48 feet wide, cleared of trees though allowing stumps to project 12 inches above the ground.’

This olden style freeway became the Michigan Road, named not after the State, but for the Lake of the same name, resulted from the 1826 treaty with the Potawatomi Indians and was the first major road in Indiana. Once completed it would run from Lake Michigan to the Ohio River and was touted as the future principal route of travel for westward migrants...

However with delays and financial problems the road wasn’t completed until 1840, just in time to be superseded by a fast growing network of railways.



Not long after the move to Cass County  Nancy, now in her mid forties had borne another son, Israel, who died in infancy.  His death is documented in the 1813 History of Cass County by Dr Jehu Z Powell...

 "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 infant 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." 


Mercer’s son William virtually married the girl next door, Azuba Washburn and for a while they lived on the farm his father had first settled at Indian Creek.   William built the first schoolhouse in Indian Creek and for many years filled the office of Trustee.

In 1860 Levi and his wife Mary with their one year old daughter Ida were living on a farm in Cass County adjacent to his parents Mercer and Nancy Brown.  Their unmarried daughter Phoebe Ann was still living at home. And with them were living three youngsters aged 10 to 12, Patrick Burns, Daniel Welsh and Ellen Murphy. Kin or indentured workers?

Phebe wouldn’t marry until the age of 42 becoming the second wife of Abraham McDonald and step mother to his six children.

Mercer and Nancy’s daughter Mary married Wesley Demoss in 1836, and the couple would no doubt serve as catalysts in later bringing together her brother Dennis’s son John William with his future bride Laura Welch.

 John A., Anson and Hester Brown proved impossible to reliably trace;  there were numerous people of that name floating about Indiana at that time, but none I could safely tie in to Mercer and Nancy Brown.

And of course that left only the one other child to account for, Dennis William Brown who had married his childhood sweetheart from Ohio, Hannah Burton.



The year is 1860, Queen Victoria sits on the throne of England, unaware this is the last year she will spend with her consort Prince Albert;  the Maori Wars begin in New Zealand; Abraham Lincoln is elected President of the United States of America, and on December 20th South Carolina votes to secede from the Union.


But the affairs of the world are far distant from the everyday life of our Indiana Browns.

On their farm in Cass County, just off the Michigan Road,  Mercer and Nancy live a life of semi retirement, their son Levi lives close by to help them with the farm’s daily chores.   Within five years though Mercer will have died, his name carved on the imposing tombstone that will in time list both his wife, Nancy and his son, Levi.

Mercer, Nancy and Levi Brown - Mt Hope Cemetery
Meanwhile Dennis and Hannah have being tending a farm in Indian Creek Township on land given to him by his father Mercer.  In 1856, with their then three children, Levi, John W. and Eva Jane they moved to the town of Royal Centre in Cass County. 

In a complete change from farming, Dennis suddenly uproots the family and moves to the larger town of Winamac to try his hand at running a business.

Is Hannah surprised?  Apprehensive?  Worried?


She does indeed have a great deal to be worried about though at this stage it has nothing to do with moving to town.  The Browns, and indeed the entire American population is about to be swept into a nightmare that no one could have envisaged.  Civil War – Cousin against Cousin. 


Next Quakers 8 – Civil War- Cousin against Cousin.

Robyn Mortimer ©2011