Author of Brown’s History Had Feeling for History

by Miss Kate Williams (1887-1986)

Undated manuscript from the late Kate Williams who notes, “This biography of Alfred John Brown was compiled from his private memoirs which he left for his family, from information supplied by his son, J. P. Brown, and from my personal acquaintance of A. J. Brown”.

Alfred John Brown was born at Garlandville December 26, 1834, and died in Newton December 10, 1907.  His father, Hamilton Brown, was a native of Georgia.  His parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Brown, moved to Wayne County, Mississippi, about 1812, when Hamilton was a small child.  Here they acquired considerable land holdings, slaves, and cattle.  Upon the death of John Brown this property was divided among his six sons and one daughter.  So just at the becoming of age, Hamilton Brown became a farmer and stock raiser in comfortable circumstances.  On September 20, 1832, he married Mary Ann Lucretia Montgomery.

Miss Montgomery was born in Madison County, Alabama, in 1814.  When her sister, Eliza Jane, married Henry Ward, Mary Ann went to live with them (the Wards) in Pickens County, Alabama.  About 1830 the Wards moved to Wayne County, Mississippi, with Mary Ann accompanying them.  It was there, near Hough’s Ferry in Wayne County, that Hamilton Brown and Mary Ann Montgomery were married, the rites being performed by the Hon. John Watts, who years later became Alfred John Brown’s father-in-law.

First White Family

That same year, 1832, the Henry Ward family moved to the site of Garlandville in Jasper County, the first white family to live there among thousands of Choctaw Indians.  Here the Wards opened an inn.  Their first guests were the commissioners from Washington, D.C., sent to remove the Choctaws to the lands allotted them by the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek.  In 1833, Hamilton Brown sold his Wayne County holdings and, with his wife and an infant daughter, moved to Garlandville.

The first removal of Choctaws had occurred, and the land they vacated was open to purchase from the U. S. government.  Hamilton Brown purchased holdings about 1 miles west of the present town of Garlandville.  Mr. Brown brought his horses, cattle, hogs, and his slaves—one family of father, mother, five grown sons and two girls.  The Browns first lived in an Indian cabin, but soon, with the help of slave labor, built a log house with a 1 x 6 puncheon floor.  It was in this house after Christmas in 1834 that Alfred John Brown was born.

I quote from Alfred Brown’s own description of this home:

    “This new home was in a wild frontier country with very few white neighbors and thousands of Indians who had refused to emigrate with the first removal of Choctaws.  The Indian cabins had dirt floors.  A cane awning sheltered the front door.  The path that led from one cabin to another passed directly under this awning.  But the Brown family lived there in perfect safety.  My father was often away for several days or even weeks, but my mother felt perfectly safe to be left with two small children and a family of slaves.”

So Alfred Brown’s earliest recollections were associated with Indians.  Throughout his life he had a tender feeling for them, and took great interest in trying to have them educated and Christianized.  He was instrumental in bringing the first Christian missionary among them in Jasper and Newton Counties.

Rich Land

This new land was rich; game and fish and wild fruits were plentiful.  The farmers raised cotton for a money crop and corn and other food products for family use.  Wagon trains carried the cotton and other marketable produce to Mobile, Alabama to sell and bring back supplies.  In the late 1830s came the so-called Flush Times when money would be borrowed by pledging land to the State Banks.  When the crash came, men were broke by neighborhoods, for they had usually endorsed each other’s notes.

Hamilton Brown had sold his original holdings and had gone into debt to buy much more expensive land.  When the crash came he had to give up his land, slaves, horses and crops to settle his indebtedness.  Times were hard for the Brown family for awhile until Mr. Brown got a job as a plantation overseer.  Mrs. Brown was a skilled seamstress, so was able to help by sewing for her neighbors.

At Montrose Academy

When Alfred was 10 years old, his uncle, Elias Brown, sent him to boarding school in Montrose, taught by the Rev. John N. Waddell, who later became Chancellor of the University of Mississippi.  Alfred would later remark:

    “My mother had taught me to read, but I could neither write nor cipher.  When I entered Montrose Academy I was the smallest and poorest scholar among 60 or 70.  During my three years attendance I studied geography, arithmetic, writing, and made considerable progress in Latin grammar, and learned to declaim.”

By that time there was a good village school at home.  This he attended intermittently until his late teens, stopping from time to time to clerk in a store to make money for tuition and other expenses.

His first clerking in a village store paid him $75 a year and board. The store was owned by a merchant who had little respect for the Sabbath, so Alfred’s mother made a special stipulation that he could not work on Sunday.  Subsequent clerk and bookkeeping jobs paid somewhat better.  In 1855 he taught a session at school.  Then the following year he went into the mercantile business for himself.

Trip to New York

His uncles, Alfred and Elias Brown, gave him all the credit he wanted, so he went to Mobile, Alabama and bought a stock of goods.  By hard work and close economy he was able to meet his obligations and stay in business during the panic of 1857.  He soon was able to hire a clerk, and this made it possible for him to make a trip to New York to buy goods.  The following is an account of his trip:

    “I went in company of John Cochran, a merchant from Enterprise.  The Mobile and Ohio Railroad was not finished at the time.  We took a stage at Egg’s Point and by this stage went to Inca, Mississippi.  Not being able to get conveyance on the Charleston and Memphis Road that day we drove to East Point on the Tennessee River and took a small stern-wheel steamboat and went down the river to Paducah, Kentucky, thence to Cairo, Illinois.  There to a small place called Calumet.  There we waited for a train on the Michigan Southern to take us to Detroit, Michigan.  The next day we reached Detroit and crossed the river and went on Canadian soil.  The same day we reached Niagara Falls and much enjoyed a visit to the sights of the place.  We took a night train and the next morning we were in Albany, New York.  We took the train down the Hudson River and arrived in the City of New York about one week from the time we left Enterprise.  We bought our goods, staying in the city eight or ten days.  Then we went home by way of Washington, D.C.”

Mr. Brown’s stock of New York goods sold so well that he again visited New York and bought another stock.  This time he went on to Boston, Massachusetts and bought shoes.  It was a time of great excitement.  John Brown, the abolitionist, had just been hanged for his attempted Harper’s Ferry insurrection.  It was also the presidential election year.  But in spite of the excitement, no one had any idea there would soon be war.

Marries in 1861

In 1861, Alfred Brown married Miss Cornelia Watts, daughter of Hon. John Watts.  Four children were born of this marriage: Henry McLain Brown (died as an infant), Mattie Brown, later wife of W. B. Richardson, Molly Brown and Julia Brown.

Poor health prevented Mr. Brown from taking part in the fighting when war came, but he was given a Captain’s commission as tax collector to assist in trying to raise money for the war’s expenses.

After the war, in 1866, Mr. Brown moved his family to Newton.  Here he was engaged in the mercantile business for a number of years until ill health caused him to sell his store.  He then worked for the firm of M. J. L. Hoye and Company, and after Mr. Hoye’s death, helped wind down the estate.

In 1868, his wife Cornelia Watts Brown, died, leaving him with three small daughters.  In 1872, he married Miss Caroline Clark of Forest.  Six sons and two daughters were born to this marriage:  Minnie Brown (Mrs. Joe Barber), Alfred Brown, died in infancy, John Brown, Douglas Brown, Carrie Brown (Mrs. J. C. Potter), James Paulding Brown, Berry Brown and Frank Brown.

Opens Hotel

In 1883, Mr. Brown opened a hotel known as the Brown House.  It was located on the present site of Buckley Brothers store.  The Browns ran this hotel until 1901, when it was closed to the public.  After six years of private life, Alfred Brown died December 10, 1907, and was buried in the Baptist Cemetery in Newton.

Mr. Brown was a member of the Methodist Church, where he served as a member of the Board of Stewards, as superintendent of Sunday School, and as teacher of the Men’s Bible Class.  He was at one time president of the Newton County Interdenominational Sunday School Convention and usually represented the county at the State Convention.  He loved his church, knew its history and its policies, and was deeply interested in its welfare.

Feeling for History

Mr. Brown had a “feeling” for history.  He said in his memoirs that he thought everyone who has any pride of family relations and a desire to perpetuate their memories should express it in writing so that much of history that is known only to close relatives should be known by others.  In the preface of his History of Newton County he says that by his writing it “many facts and incidents will be preserved from oblivion and the names of men and women who have served well their day and generation will be cherished in perpetual remembrance.”

Fant Tribute

The late Dr. J. C. Fant, one time superintendent of Newton, was singularly devoted to duty and school and was a close friend of A. J. Brown and is the author of the tribute that follows


Hon. A. J. Brown
A Deserved Tribute to Newton’s Late and Lamented Citizen

by J. C. Fant
(Published in “The Newton Record”, January 6, 1908)

Meridian, Miss.—The late Alfred J. Brown, who recently passed away at his home in Newton, Mississippi, surrounded by a loving family and devoted friends, was an upright and widely useful citizen, and his death deserves more than a mere passing notice.

In Jasper County, where he was born and raised, and in Newton County in which he lived a long and useful life and in the counties contiguous, he was generally known and universally admired and esteemed.

Singularly devoted to duty and wit his mind alive to every interest for progress and righteousnes for moral uplift in his community, he was such a person as you would expect to find closely identified with the church, active in support of schools, and prominently connected with every movement to improve the material and moral welfare of the community.  And that is just what he was.  He was largely instrumental in providing Newton a public school on a sound and progressive basis, the efficiency of which for many years has been recognized generally throughout the state. 

It would be impossible to think of Mr. Brown without recalling his association with the church in whose service he labored in the various offices of Sunday School teacher, superintendent of the Sunday School, and member of the board of stewards.  He loved his church and was deeply interested in its welfare, few men being better posted in its history and polity. 

He was unusually endowed mentally, but unfortunately his academic education was of short duration, so that he lacked that training that might have enabled him to put to efficient use his innate literary talents. In his short school career, however, he had the good fortune to come under the tutelage of a distinguished teacher in the person of Dr. Waddell, who afterwards became chancellor of the University of Mississippi, of whom he always spoke in terms of greatest respect and highest admiration.  It is probable that it was at that time and due to the association with this learned man that his talent was first discovered and his literary aspiration first kindled.

He was a great admirer of Sargeant S. Prentiss, who he placed at the head in that long list of great speakers and debaters of that period immediately antedating the Mexican War.  He had a fine sketch of Prentiss and of other prominent men that would have been valuable to the State Historical publications.

He was remarkable for a wide and accurate acquaintance with the history and development of east Mississippi, Jasper and Newton Counties especially, and his name will always be inseparably connected with the history of these counties.  As author of the History of Newton County, he has placed several of the state’s historians under obligations to him and already has secured wide recognition and appreciation of his merits as a writer and historian.

This record in permanent from of his extended knowledge of local facts and details that might have perished with him is a public benefaction and will be appreciated more and more as the years go by.

Though not a college bred man and little thrown with persons of literary ability on account of his activity of his business, he read and was familiar with the best literature, and always cherished to his heart the desire some day to cultivate the talent which he possessed for writing and speaking.  His conversation revealed (and the writer has had the privilege of frequent and intimate conversations with him) an especial love for the writings of Robert Burns and Lord Byron, from whose poems he would give from memory many copious and pertinent quotations.

Mr. Brown was a man who had left a deep impression not only upon the gross progress of his community, but upon so many individuals of his large acquaintance.  His life will be a refreshing and beneficial memory to the old citizens, and an inspiration to many of the young men and women who have [been] in contact with him.  The writer counts as one of the fortunate circumstances of his early manhood, his intimate acquaintance with this noble man for several years as a member of his household and in the relation of trustee and principal of the school.  In the latter relation we can testify that he was thoroughly appreciative of the benefits of education and he was tireless in his efforts to promote the welfare of the school.  Not only did he appreciate the school for the direct benefit to its students, but he regarded it as an institution best calculated after the church to raise the moral and intellectual conditions of the community.  As a young man not yet having reached my majority with the responsibility of the school resting on me, I found his ready sympathy and wise counsel as invaluable help.  While he had little opportunity or attendance on school himself, and knew from experience but little of how a modern school should be conducted and its pupils taught, he was always sympathetic with the management and broadly liberal in all matters pertaining to the school.

His intellectual qualities and store of reminiscences and other acts made him an interesting conversationalist, a good public speaker, and a wise counselor, for his thoughts were elevated and his sentiments fine and subtle, such as bespeak the divine in man.  He stood high with the masses for honorable dealing, integrity of character and moral and religious influences.  In the business world his name was a synonym for honesty and fair dealing, and he possessed the respect and good will of all who had dealings with him.  In any moral issue his reputation was such that it was known without inquiry [with which] side he would be found arrayed.

He was an unusually well balanced man, his methods were fair and just, and his judgment good and his conduct above suspicion.  He was strictly tenacious of principles, was a good friend and neighbor, and above all a God-fearing and sincere Christian.  A pure elevated conscience dominated all he did, and in his every day walk in life he held ever before him an ideal of perfect manhood.  He was well versed in the Bible, combining in his study of it his intellectual ability and his Christian devotion.  His interpretations of complex passages and writing were always clear and showed deep thought, for he weighed his opinions judiciously and maturely.

A friend who had the fortune to spend a month at his home the past summer, one of the last of Mr. Brown’s life, a friend who like him has attained the Biblical sum of years three score and ten, pays this tribute to him.  “He seemed specially anxious to be at his best as my host; yet I am sure that the most acceptable thing he offered me was himself—the flowing courtesy, the modest graceful attention, the discussion of such things as could charm and thrill—all the intellectual fires were fully aflame and revealed the inner beauty and richness of the temple.”

His life’s ideal can be no more fittingly expressed than in the words of the poet:

So may my life be like the hills
Not high
My hopes and plans, but midway
‘twixt the sky and mother land,
Not like the mountains towering o’er
The sea
Wrapt in the cold splendor of the work apart
With granite thought and barren boulder heart,
But high enough to tempt my gaze above
And low enough to catch the sunshine off thy love.”.


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