Collection Number: 01090

Collection Title: Hamilton Brown Papers, 1752-1907

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the World Wide Web. See the Duplication Policy section for more information.

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Size 3.0 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 1,070 items)
Abstract Three 'generations' of a prominent family from Wilkes County, N.C., and Maury County, Tenn. Persons represented include John Brown (1738-1812), immigrant from Ulster, early landowner in western North Carolina and in Tennessee; his son, Hamilton (1786-1870), planter, businessman, sheriff, and militia officer of Wilkes County; Hamilton's sons Hugh Thomas Brown (1835-1861) and Hamilton Allen Brown (1837-1917); and Gordon, Gwyn, Finley, Lenoir, and McDowell relatives, including James Byron Gordon (1822-1864), Confederate general. The collection includes extensive and varied business and personal papers, including correspondence, accounts, legal papers, and other items pertaining to land acquisitions, planting, slaves, livestock, lumbering, merchandising, estates, and politics in Wilkes County, N.C., and elsewhere; military service in the War of 1812 and the Civil War; gold mining in Lumpkin County, Ga.; travels and settlement in Tennessee, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana in the early 19th century; business in Virginia, Georgia, and many places in western North Carolina; and local government of Wilkes County in the early 19th century. Other papers include letters and diaries, 1850s, of Hamilton Brown's sons at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; several letters from slaves, 1830s-1840s, and about runaway slaves; letters from students at other colleges; and a play and poems by a woman of the family.
Creator Brown, Hamilton, 1786-1870.
Curatorial Unit Southern Historical Collection
Language English
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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Information For Users

Restrictions to Access
No restrictions. Open for research.
Copyright Notice
Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Preferred Citation
[Identification of item], in the Hamilton Brown Papers #1090, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Acquisitions Information
Received from Virginia Brown Boardman of Columbia, Tenn., in 1946 and 1953.
Sensitive Materials Statement
Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, the North Carolina Public Records Act (N.C.G.S. § 132 1 et seq.), and Article 7 of the North Carolina State Personnel Act (Privacy of State Employee Personnel Records, N.C.G.S. § 126-22 et seq.). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assumes no responsibility.
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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Processing Information

Processed by: Lisa Tolbert and Roslyn Holdzkon, November 1992

Encoded by: Brian Dietz, May 2004

This collection was rehoused under the sponsorship of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Preservation, Washington, D.C., 1990-1992.

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subject Headings

The following terms from Library of Congress Subject Headings suggest topics, persons, geography, etc. interspersed through the entire collection; the terms do not usually represent discrete and easily identifiable portions of the collection--such as folders or items.

Clicking on a subject heading below will take you into the University Library's online catalog.

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Biographical Information

John Brown (1738-1812), Revolutionary War officer and state legislator, was born in County Derry, Ireland. He migrated to Lancaster County, Pa., where he taught school. He married Jane McDowell (1750-1838), the sister of General Joseph McDowell and Major Charles McDowell. In 1772, they moved to Quaker Meadows, Burke County, N.C., with the McDowells. Soon afterwards, they moved to a farm on the north side of the Yadkin River, about four miles west of Wilkesboro.

Brown served under Colonel Benjamin Cleveland in the Revolutionary army at King's Mountain, probably holding the rank of captain. After the war, he was a member of the first board of magistrates when Wilkes became a county in 1778. The first Wilkes County Court was held at Brown's home. He became Wilkes County register of deeds in 1778 and served on a jury designated to lay out roads in the county. He represented Wilkes County in the North Carolina House of Commons for three years and also at the constitutional convention in Hillsborough in 1788. He was a prominent Mason.

Brown had eleven children, eight sons and three daughters. Two of his sons resided in Wilkes County and six moved to Maury County, Tenn., where they obtained large land grants in the Duck River Valley in payment for negotiating treaties with the Indians. Brown died in Wilkes County.

Hamilton Brown (30 September 1786-27 March 1870), planter, stockraiser, and land speculator, a resident of Wilkesboro, was the son of Jane McDowell and John Brown. Hamilton Brown served as a lieutenant with the 18th Regiment, U.S. Infantry, in the War of 1812, and, afterward, was colonel of the Wilkes County militia. For a number of years, he served as county justice of the peace and was sheriff from 1816 to 1818. He also served as overseer of a program to clear the Yadkin River in order to allow boats to reach the mouth of Buffalo Creek.

Brown inherited land in Wilkes and adjoining counties, as well as in Virginia, and purchased additional land in North Carolina and Tennessee. He had business dealings in South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas. He inherited some slaves in Virginia from his mother's brother, but was unwilling to separate the men--two of whom were skilled blacksmiths--from their wives. Being prevented by Virginia law from freeing them, he arranged for them to stay in Virginia under the supervision of a local resident.

Brown married Sarah Gwyn Gordon, widow of Major Nathaniel Gordon (d. 1829). They were the parents of two sons, Hugh Thomas (1835-1861), a graduate of the University of North Carolina, who was killed in the Civil War, and Hamilton Allen (1837-1917), who also served in the Confederate army. Brown's stepson, General James B. Gordon, was killed near Richmond in 1864. Brown and his wife were buried in the yard of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Wilkesboro.

Hamilton Allen Brown (25 September 1837-9 April 1917), Confederate officer and planter, was born at Oakland, the old Gordon homestead in Wilkes County. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis as a member of the class of 1858, but was not graduated. On 3 June 1861, he became first lieutenant of Company B, 1st North Carolina Regiment. Because of his military training, he was detailed by Governor John W. Ellis to drill recruits and fit them for service. In the summer of 1862, when Colonel M. S. Stokes and other officers of his regiment were killed at Mechanicsville, Brown was placed in command. He was promoted to colonel in December 1863 and soon afterward took command of his regiment, which was then attached to General Stonewall Jackson's division. He was placed in command of the division's sharpshooters and is given credit for much of the fame of Jackson's division. It was related that Brown never ordered a man into battle, but instead always said, "Follow me." He was wounded thirteen times, but always stayed close to his men and returned to duty as quickly as possible.

Brown served in the battles of Gettysburg, Culp's Hill, Richmond, and Petersburg, as well as in the campaigns of the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, and the Valley. On 24 March 1865, at Fort Stedman, he and part of his command were captured by General Napoleon McLaughlin. Shortly afterward, McLaughlin was himself captured. Later, however, the Confederates were forced to surrender. Brown was taken to Washington and then to Johnson's Island and finally was confined at Fort Delaware until 24 June 1865, when he took the oath of allegiance.

Brown returned to Wilkes County and played a minor role in local events of the early Reconstruction period. In 1868, he married his cousin, Amelia Selina Gwyn of Green Hill. In about 1871, they, together with Brown's brothers and a sister, moved to Columbia, Tenn., where they owned land. Brown increased his holdings and became a planter of modest means. He and his wife were the parents of four sons: Hugh Thomas, Hamilton, Gordon, and John. Brown was buried in St. Paul's Episcopal Church Cemetery, Wilkesboro.

(Adapted from three biogrphical sketches by Sarah E. Holeman in the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, Volume 1, 1979.)

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Scope and Content

The collection includes extensive and varied business and personal papers of John Brown, his son Hamilton Brown of Wilkesboro, N.C., and members of related families in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.

Family correspondence documents the activities of John Brown's sons in Tennessee, the mercantile and gold mining pursuits of the Gwyns and the Gordons in Georgia, and the settlement of the Finleys in Cherokee County, Ala. It also includes letters written by several women family members.

Substantive business correspondence, accounts, and legal papers, document the extensive business interests of Hamilton Brown, including land holdings as far west as Missouri. In addition to land acquisitions, papers pertain to planting, slaves, livestock, lumbering, merchandising, estates, and politics in Wilkes County, N.C., and elsewhere; military service in the War of 1812 and the Civil War; gold mining in Lumpkin County, Ga.; travels and settlement in Tennessee, Missouri, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana; business in Virginia, Georgia, and many locations in western North Carolina; and local government of Wilkes County, N.C., and Wilkesboro in the early 19th century. Other papers include letters and diaries from the 1850s of Hamilton Brown's sons at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C.; letters from students at other colleges; and a play and poems by a woman of the family.

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Contents list

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 1. Family Correspondence, 1790-1890.

About 200 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Letters of the Brown, Gwyn, Gordon, Finley and related families, chiefly from Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama to Hamilton Brown in Wilkesboro, N.C. The Brown brothers--John, Allen, Hugh, Thomas, and William--moved to Tennessee around 1809, stopping briefly in Cumberland County before settling permanently in Maury County near Columbia. The brothers addressed Hamilton Brown as "sir," and sent much information about their acquisition and maintenance of land, livestock, and slaves; crop conditions; financial markets; and family news. Letters also mention conditions in the community around Columbia, including a cholera epidemic in 1834 and railroad construction in 1853. In the early 1850s, Hamilton's son Hamilton Allen (called Allen by his mother) moved to Columbia to attend school and manage his father's landholdings. During this period, he received several rare letters from Sarah Brown, who was distressed when her son decided to enter the Naval Academy in 1854. Letters show that Allen's brother, Hugh Thomas Brown, studied law in Chapel Hill, N.C., during the 1850s. As early as 1821, letters from Tennessee document rising family tensions as the Brown brothers competed for control of land. These disputes, ultimately long and tortuous, were not settled in court until after the Civil War.

The Gwyns and the Gordons were related by an intricate series of marriages. Hamilton Brown's wife, Sarah Gwyn, had previously been married to Nathaniel Gordon. Her sister, Caroline married James Harvey Gordon in 1823 and moved to Georgia, apparently accompanied by several other members of the Gwyn and Gordon families. From the late 1820s until about 1850, their letters from Georgia show that the Gwyns and the Gordons were primarily town merchants rather than plantation owners. James Gwyn wrote often about his mercantile business and family matters in Hillsboro, Ga.; while William Gwyn and George Gordon wrote about their stores in Forsyth, Ga. In 1833, William and James Gwyn moved their families briefly to Auraria, a "lawless" gold rush town of "about 1000 inhabitants" in Lumpkin County (23 April 1833). Several letters detail their miserable experience in the speculative employment of gold prospecting. By the end of January 1834, William had moved back to Forsyth to resume the somewhat more stable life of a small town merchant. A series of his letters in 1835 contains much information about arrangements he made to hire a slave couple near Macon. Larkin, "a class leader amongst the colored brethren in Macon," worked for a boat builder, and his wife Sarah earned money as a washerwoman (19 June 1835).

Finley family letters were chiefly written by two of Sarah Brown's daughters after they moved with their Finley husbands to Cherokee County, Ala. When their aunt, Caroline Gordon, visited in 1853, she found it "truly a wild country where they live newly settled" (30 May 1853).

Few family letters discuss the Civil War. In fact, there are no materials relating to Hamilton Allen's illustrious military career. An exception is J. B. Gordon's announcement of the death of Hugh Thomas Brown, son of Hamilton Brown, in battle near Springfield, Mo. (19 August 1861). On the other hand, Reconstruction is well documented, especially in the letters of Caroline Gordon, who lived in Griffin, Ga., after the war. In her letters, she discussed freedmen, Yankees, and Radicals in politics, and the efforts of her children to support themselves, including a daughter who opened her own school. Other significant Reconstruction information is contained in letters of Millie Brown (Amelia Selma Gwyn), young bride of Allen Hamilton. Her letters from Columbia discuss activities of the Ku Klux Klan in Maury County, Tenn.

Also of interest is a letter from Rebecca McDowell about her efforts to learn the mantua-making trade (16 December 1815); a letter from a former neighbor of Hamilton Brown who migrated to Indiana and sent back details about crops, towns, commerce, and industry in that "easiest and best poor man's country" (4 August 1830); and a letter from Hugh Thomas Brown describing a campaign speech of Stephen A. Douglas delivered in Nashville (28 October 1860).

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 2. Business Materials, 1752-1907.

About 850 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Financial and legal papers, business correspondence, account books, and other materials realting to John Brown, Hamilton Brown, members of the Gwyn and Gordon fammilies, and others.

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subseries 2.1. Loose Papers, 1752-1907.

About 825 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Business correspondence, deeds, bills for goods and services, receipts, tax lists, wills, work agreements, and other financial and legal papers of John Brown, his son Hamilton, and other related family members.

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subseries 2.1.1. 1752-1812.

About 250 items.

Chiefly business papers of John Brown, primarily documenting his public service in several county positions, such as register of deeds for Wilkes County, and his work as administrator of various estates. Papers also document the expansion of the Brown family from North Carolina to Tennessee. There is little information about personal or household expenses of the Brown family in Wilkesboro. Acquisition of slaves is documented in bills of sale rather than by slave lists. Papers include land surveys, deeds, promissory notes, wills, bills for services and merchandise, inventories of estates, receipts, and some official records of Wilkes County such as a 1796 list of taxable property.

Papers for this period also pertain to members of the Lenoir, McDowell, Gwyn, and Gordon families, and to various residents of Wilkes County.

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Folder 36

Undated 1752-1812

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subseries 2.1.2. 1813-1870.

About 500 items.

Chiefly business papers of Hamilton Brown, his brothers in Tennessee, members of the Gwyn and Gordon families, and others. Virginia papers chiefly relate to the estate of John McDowell. Disputes over land and slaves, which the Tennessee brothers played out in an extended court battle, are well documented in legal papers and accounts (see also family correspondence).

Many of the business papers during this period consist of substantive letters to Hamilton Brown from business agents and associates who discussed a wide range of topics: quality of land in various states where Hamilton owned property or considered buying property; sale of crops and livestock; slave hire; collection of debts; and local and national political issues, such as nullification and the election of James K. Polk.

Hamilton Brown's involvement in local government in Wilkes County is well documented, including his service as sheriff and his work as commissioner for building the jail in Wilkesboro. Although Brown lived in Wilkesboro throughout this period, papers show that he accumulated land as far west as Missouri, and his business interests extended well beyond North Carolina to Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. Papers also show that Brown considered buying land as far south as Florida. After the Civil War, Brown seems to have concentrated primarily on mercantile interests in Wilkesboro. Possibly because of health problems, however, by the mid 1850s, Brown was turning over considerable business responsibility to his step-son, James Byron Gordon.

Of particular interest is a series of letters, 1835-1839, from Indiana residents responding to runaway slave notices published by Hamilton. These correspondents sent detailed instructions about how they would assist Hamilton in recovering his slaves, whom they believed to be working as freemen in nearby communities. Letters show that Hamilton owned many slaves who hired out in towns far from Wilkesboro. Several of these slaves wrote letters during the 1830s and 1840s to negotiate terms of hire. See, for example, the letter dated 20 December 1832, requesting permission to open a blacksmith shop in Virginia.

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Undated 1813-1870

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subseries 2.1.3. 1871-1907.

About 75 items.

Business and legal papers of Hamilton Allen Brown of Maury County, Tenn., and others. Materials include bills for clothing, farm machinery, and other personal and household expenses; legal documents and accounts relating to the Brown family court case; work agreements with black tenant farmers; land surveys; estate papers of Hamilton Brown of Wilkesboro; and other papers relating to the Gwyn and Gordon families.

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Undated 1871-1907

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subseries 2.2. Volumes, 1785-1907

19 items.

Arrangement: chronological by first date in volume.

Folder 87

Volume 1: 1785-1802, 10pp.

"A List of the Date and No. of County Claims." This list was apparently passed on to John Brown by Rice Coffey. Entries probably refer to Wilkes County transactions.

Folder 88

Volume 2: 1799, 7 pp.

Notes on a survey in the Moravian claim on the Yadkin River.

Folder 89

Volume 3: 1812-1817, 20 pp.

Hamilton Brown's book containing records of goods purchased and a few notes about financial transactions and other matters.

Folder 90

Volume 4: 1812-1867, 28 pp.

Hamilton Brown's book containing records of his administration of the estates of John Brown and John McDowell. Also included are records of other financial and legal transactions with members of the Brown family and others, lists of notes and lands Hamilton Brown owned, records of the school expenses of Hugh Thomas and Hamilton Allen Brown, and a few miscellaneous accounts.

Folder 91

Volume 5: 1819, 12 pp.

Hamilton Brown's notebook containing records of expenditures on a trip to and from Charleston, S.C.; a list of "Examinations & Judgements Delivered to Mr. Geo. Parkes, for Majr. John Finley & Waugh"; and records of a land survey.

Folder 92

Volume 6: 1820-1824, 6 pp.

Hamilton Brown's book recording expenditures on trips to Virginia to administer John McDowell's estate.

Folder 93

Volume 7: 1821-1856, 42 pp.

From 1821-1856, there are miscellaneous financial records of Hamilton Brown; records of legal and financial transactions involving Thomas P. Gwyn and James Gwyn, members of the Brown family, and others; and a memorandum of cattle owned in Ashe County, N.C. For 1853-1856, there are records of a lumber business, including lists of planks sawed.

Folder 94

Volume 8: 1843, 1851-1853, 33 pp.

For 1843, there are records of expenses of an unidentified mining company and of gold found. The names Brown, Finley, and Gwyn show up in these records, which may relate to gold mining activities of the Gwyns in Georgia. For 1851-1853, there are scattered entries of Hugh Thomas Brown's school expenses.

Folder 95

Volume 9: 1847-1854, 112 pp.

Inventories of notes, judgements, and accounts belonging to Gwyn and Hickerson.

Folder 96

Volume 10: 1852-1853, 22 pp.

Miscellaneous accounts, apparently of Hamilton and Hamilton Allen Brown, including notes on possessions in Tennessee and disputes among family members about them.

Folder 97

Volume 11: 1853-1860, 21 pp.

Records relating to James Byron Gordon's store in Wilkesboro, N.C.

Folder 98

Volume 12: 1854, 36 pp.

Hamilton Allen Brown's book containing records of expenditures at school in Tennessee.

Folder 99

Volume 13: 1860-1865, 50 pp.

Notebook, owner unknown, containing miscellaneous financial accounts, including some records of money paid to military substitutes. There are also mess records.

Folder 100

Volume 14: 1861, 1872-1873, 25 pp.

Notebook probably belonging to Hamilton Allen Brown, containing records of arms issued to various Confederate army companies in 1861; memoranda of family expenses, 1872; records of bacon and lard consumed, 1872-1873; and part of a letter to "mother."

Folder 101

Volume 15: 1865-1866, 29 pp.

Daybook probably from the store kept by Hamilton Allen Brown in Wilkesboro.

Folder 102

Volume 16: 1869, 4 pp.

Notebook containing records of expenses for a trip to Tennessee made by Hamilton Allen Brown and a few miscellaneous accounts.

Folder 103

Volume 17: 1869-1871, 121 pp.

Hamilton Allen Brown's record of daily expenditures for traveling, merchandise, postage, etc. There are also a few entries detailing expenses at Meet Camp, the Browns' land in Watauga County, N.C.

Folder 104

Volume 18: 1871, 38 pp.

Hamilton Allen Brown's record of expenses for a trip to Tennessee and of miscellaneous expenditures for goods and services.

Folder 105

Volume 19: 1871-1873, 38 pp.

Hamilton Allen Brown's book containing a few entries relating to his account at the First National Bank in Columbia, Tenn., and records of services purchased from various individuals, numbers of hogs slaughtered, and expenses for clothing and other articles.

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 3. Other Materials, 1822-1917.

16 items.

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subseries 3.1. Loose Papers, 1858-ca. 1917.

12 items.

Included are Hugh Thomas Brown's 1858 University of North Carolina diploma; two sermons, probably antebellum; a memorial to Hugh Thomas Brown, who died in 1861; an essay, dated 1871, on nature and art, author unknown; a typed copy of an address by William H. H. Cowles on James B. Gordon, 10 May 1887; "To a Sweet Pea," a poem written on the back of a form letter dated 1896, author unknown; a typed copy of "Colonel Hamilton Allen Brown," by J. G. Hackette, ca. 1917; an undated address to the soldiers of the 1st North Carolina Regiment about tending the grave of Sydney Stokes, their first commander; and three recipes: 1835 directions to Mrs. Gordon for a tonic; an undated cure for "the yellow water"; and an undated "Indian Receipt for the Rheumatism."

Folder 106

Loose papers

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subseries 3.2. Volumes, 1822-1861.

4 items.
Folder 107

Volume 20: 1822, 1840, 100 pp.

Undated play, author unknown; brief notes on a trip from Wilkes County to the Mississippi River, 1822; a note about payment to S. H. Brown in 1840; and other minor entries.

Folder 108

Volume 21: 1835-1837, 1850, 1855, 52 pp.

Album of Mary Ann Lenoir, containing poems and notes on various subjects.

Folder 109

Volume 22: 1855-1859, 71 pp.

Diary with brief entries, probably kept by Hamilton Allen Brown while a student at the United States Naval Academy. Entries describe cruises and trips to Portland, Boston, and Plymouth, Mass. There are also a few miscellaneous financial accounts.

Folder 110

Volume 23: 1857-1858; 1861, 39 pp.

Journal kept by Hugh Thomas Brown while at the University of North Carolina studying law, 11 September 1857-25 April 1858. There is also one entry written at Camp Walker on 7 June 1861.

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