John Carter Brown

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John Carter Brown
Born 1797
Died June 11, 1874
Nationality American
Alma mater Brown University
Occupation Book collector
Sophia Augusta Brown
(m. 1859; his death 1874)
Children John Nicholas Brown I
Harold Brown
Sophia Augusta Brown
Parent(s) Nicholas Brown, Jr.
Ann Carter
Relatives Nicholas Brown, Sr. (grandfather)

John Carter Brown (1797 – June 11, 1874) was a book collector whose library formed the basis of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.[1]

Early life

John Carter Brown was born in 1797, the youngest of three surviving children born to Nicholas Brown, Jr. (1769–1841), the namesake patron of Brown University, and Ann Carter, daughter of John Carter, a prominent printer in Providence.[2] His grandfather was Nicholas Brown, Sr. (1729–1791), brother of John Brown, Moses Brown, and Joseph Brown, merchants, active in Rhode Island politics, who brought the College of Rhode Island to Providence in 1771.

During his upbringing, he was taught philanthropy and public leadership by his father and his uncles who were involved with such work. He attended Brown University (renamed in honor of a gift made by his father in 1804) and graduated in 1816.[2] His graduation oration was on “The Revolution of Empires.”


In 1822, John Carter Brown was sent to Europe as a super-cargo for Brown & Ives. After being shipwrecked in France, he turned the business trip into a two-year grand tour.Dr. Benjamin Carter, his eriudite uncle, was an important influence in introducing John Carter Brown to “the great subject,” the interaction between the old and new worlds.[2]

After his father's death in 1841, John Carter Brown had the freedom to withdraw from Brown & Ives affairs and to develop his passion for books. In fact, he was continuing a family tradition as his ancestors had been buying books since 1749, helping to found the Providence Library in 1758 and 83 years later, the Providence Athenaeum. In 1846, he bought his elder brother's collection of books on the Americas and began purchasing books in Europe, using Henry Stevens as his agent. The same year, he bought the collection of Frenchman Henri Ternaux. When his collection became too large, he expanded his house The Nightingale-Brown House by adding a modern fireproof library; he also hired a full-time librarian, John Russell Bartlett, to manage the collection and produce its first catalogue.

In 1846, he became the first American to join the Hakluyt Society as a charter member, and in 1855, he was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.[3] In 1852, he received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Brown University.[4]

Personal life

Brown's daughter, Sophia Augusta Brown (1867–1947), second wife of William Watts Sherman, circa 1914

In 1859, at the age of 62, he married Sophia Augusta Brown (1825–1909),[5][6] a descendant of Roger Williams (1603–1683). Together, they had:

He died on June 11, 1874 at 77 years of age.[10] The bulk of his estate, besides a $50,000 (equivalent to $1,083,235 in 2017 dollars) donation to Brown, was left to his children. The trustees were his wife, Robert H. Ives, Thomas P. I. Goddard, and George W. R. Matteson.[11] In 1876, his wife had a cottage in Newport on Bellevue Avenue.[12]


In addition to gladly sharing his books, he still continued to make contributions to Brown University, Butler Hospital, and the Rhode Island Hospital. He played major roles in Anti-Slavery campaigns, he became President of the Emigrant Aid Society. Before his death, he was able to amass a collection of 7,500 books.[2] When his oldest son died in 1900, his well collected books were granted to Brown University with an endowment and a building.[1]


He was the grandfather of John Nicholas Brown II (1900-1979), Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and great-grandfather of J. Carter Brown III (1934-2002), director of the National Gallery of Art.


  1. ^ a b "History of the John Carter Brown library". Retrieved 2011-04-21. Although the Brown family had been acquiring books since early in the eighteenth century, the present collection was not fully launched until the mid-nineteenth century when John Carter Brown (1797–1874) began avid pursuit of Americana, an area of interest he termed “the Great Subject.” His son, John Nicholas Brown (1861–1900), actively continued this tradition and before his untimely death had conceived the idea of giving the Library to the world of historical research as a memorial to his father.
  2. ^ a b c d "John Carter Brown, Inducted 2012". Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 25 February 2017. Retrieved 9 February 2017.
  3. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  4. ^ "Article 12 -- No Title". The New York Times. 19 July 1852. Retrieved 9 February 2017.
  5. ^ Times, Special To The New York (1 March 1909). "Mrs. John Carter Brown". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 February 2017.
  6. ^ "$30,000,000 TO MRS. SHERMAN; Reported Bulk of Mrs. John Carter Brown's Estate Goes to Daughter". The New York Times. March 4, 1909. Retrieved 9 February 2017.
  7. ^ a b "DEATH OF HAROLD BROWN.; He Was Ill on His Arrival on the Oceanic, and Died Last Night". The New York Times. 11 May 1900. Retrieved 9 February 2017.
  8. ^ "YESTERDAY'S WEDDINGS.; BROWN -- SHERMAN". The New York Times. 5 October 1892. Retrieved 9 February 2017.
  9. ^ "Wm. Watts Sherman Dead. Prominent in New York Society and Father of Lady Camoys". New York Times. January 23, 1912. Retrieved 2011-03-14.
  10. ^ "DEATH OF JOHN CARTER BROWN". The New York Times. 11 June 1874. Retrieved 9 February 2017.
  11. ^ "BEQUESTS TO BROWN UNIVERSITY". The New York Times. 19 June 1874. Retrieved 9 February 2017.

External links

  • History of the John Carter Brown library, retrieved March 15, 2008
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