Monday, September 30, 2013

Who was Alexander Brown?

A Protestant in Ireland, Alexander Brown had worked as an auctioneer in the linen market in Belfast, which after 1785 was conducted in an impressive building owned by the Earl of Donegall. The building's lease was bought by John Brown, founder of the Bank of the Four Johns in Belfast, but who does not appear to have been a close relation of Alexander. Although his auction business was profitable in Ballymena, after visiting a brother, Stewart Brown, in Baltimore, Alexander decided to settle in that city on the opposite side of the Atlantic. Another brother remained behind in London to work with him in an import-export business. By 1811 all four of his sons were partners with him in Alex. Brown & Sons, headquartered in Baltimore.

The British Browns

William Brown, his eldest son, returned to England in 1809 and set up a brokerage firm that would operate first as W. and J. Brown, renamed in 1839 as Brown, Shipley & Co., in Liverpool. William’s role in the business, among other duties, would be to find wealthy investors to buy the paper issued in America.

Finding such investors required that he create a network around himself of powerful society members with whom to socialize, possibly one of the reasons he first stood for Parliament in 1846. Twenty years later he was created a baronet, Sir William Brown of Beilby Grange (a mansion near Leeds) and Richmond Hill (near Lancaster). His descendants are set out in Burke's Peerage. (See also website, The Peerage).
Sir William Brown
It is a truism in banking families that they frequently marry not-too-distant cousins and relations of their father’s business associates, helping to keep the money—and the secrets—within the family. Researching genealogies is, therefore, a very useful tool in understanding confidential financial relationships.

When William returned to Britain in 1809, his younger brothers were still being educated by a country minister at Catterick in North Yorkshire. Initially, William went to Ireland to work at the market where Alexander had started his career. There he met and married the daughter of his father’s Belfast linen supplier, Andrew Gihon. Although they had eight children, only two lived to become adults, and none of those survived him.
  • Grace (1812-1849), in 1831 married John Hargreaves, whose family owned the calico print works at Accrington—midway between Leeds and Lancaster. Grace Hargreaves' son John continued with the calico business, while her son Thomas pursued a military career.
  • Alexander (1817-1849), married James Brown’s daughter, Sarah Benedict Brown, during a visit to America in 1838, thus uniting the English and American house of the brokerage company and the bank in which the brothers were all partners. Their children were as follows: William Richmond Brown (1840-1906); James Clifton Brown (1841-66); Louisa (1842-63), who married Capt. Alexander William Cobham; Alexander Hargreaves Brown (1844-76).
William's grandson, Alexander Hargreaves Brown, became a Member of Parliament in 1863 and served until 1902, while during that time becoming a partner of the Brown Brothers bank in 1875, later serving as senior partner in the London office on Pall Mall.
These two branches of Sir William's descendants continued to marry their children to their cousins and thus perpetuate the financial connections on both sides of the ocean.
James Brown was the only one of Alexander Brown's sons who married a native American girl. In December 1817 he married Louisa Kirkland Benedict, youngest daughter of Dr. Joel Benedict, and his wife Sarah McKown Benedict. Her father has sometimes been confused with Dr. Benedict's nephew and namesake, Rev. Joel Tyler Benedict, a Presbyterian minister who was working at a branch of the American Tract Society in Philadelphia when James arrived in that city, having been tasked by his father to  assist his brother, John A. Brown, in starting a branch of Alex. Brown & Sons there, and it is possible he met her through this relationship since the Brown family had long been Presbyterian rather than Episcopalian.

James Brown of New York

Eliphalet Nott
Connections to church hierarchies

In 1817 James Brown, Alexander Brown's youngest son who had recently relocated from Baltimore to Philadelphia, married Louisa Kirkland Benedict, youngest daughter of Dr. Joel and Sarah McKown Benedict.

Her parents' eldest daughter, Sarah "Sally" Benedict, was already 21 years of age by the time Louisa was born in 1795.  Union College was founded that same year in Schenectady, New York, and Dr. Joel Benedict's student and new son-in-law, Rev. Eliphalet Nott, was named the president of the college.

The eminent Potter family

Although Sally Benedict Nott died the year her husband ascended to that position, she left behind a daughter, Sarah Maria Nott, with whom Louisa was quite close. Seven years after James Brown became part of the Benedict family, his wife's niece married Rev. Alonzo Potter, her father's foremost divinity student at Union College. He also became a professor at the college (1831-45), after which he was named Bishop of the Pennsylvania Diocese of the Protestant Episcopal Church.

Louisa Brown died in 1829 and her niece followed a decade later. James Brown waited two years before marrying Eliza Maria Coe, the orphaned daughter of another Presbyterian minister, Dr. Jonas Coe of Troy, New York. Alonzo Potter married, after the death of Sarah Maria Potter, the daughter of her brother Robert, who was also named Sarah Benedict, and with her had three more sons.

The daughter born to James Brown and Louisa Benedict in 1827 would grow up to marry Howard Potter, the second son of Louisa's favorite niece, Sarah Benedict Nott and her husband Bishop Alonzo Potter. After their marriage, Howard Potter became a partner in the Brown Brothers & Co. investment bank in New York, although he spent many years as manager of the London office. It will be recalled that James Brown's eldest daughter, Sarah Benedict Brown, had married her first cousin Alexander, whose father was Sir William Brown of the Liverpool and London offices. Two of their siblings--Grace and William--were lost aboard ship in 1854 as young adults. The youngest sibling, Margaretta Hunter Brown, married James Couper Lord, a son of the firm's attorney, Daniel Lord and his wife Susan DeForest. The Lord family, as has been mentioned previously at this blog, is one of the most significant families involved in the Skull and Bones secret society.

It has also been mentioned at this author's blog, Quixotic Joust, that the DeForest family were connected to some high-level members of the Episcopal Church, such as Dr. Horatio Potter, who became acquainted with Frank G. Wisner shortly before he was chosen to become head of a select arm of intelligence in the United States. We will soon discuss how all these connections interlink with the Brown Brothers investments.