Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Robert Brown
MSA SC 5496-51875
Founding Officer of Freedom's Friend Lodge No. 1024; Trustee to Union M.E. Church; Talbot County

Biography:

Robert Brown was a community man. His life was dedicated to serving and aiding his fellow country men and women any way that he could. As a member of the founding officers of  Freedom’s Friend Lodge No. 1024 and one of the first Trustees to the Union Methodist Episcopal Church in Saint Michaels, Mr. Brown’s life fully embodied the ideals of his beloved beneficial society.  

Robert was born a slave on Samuel Harrison's plantation in Talbot County, Maryland, in 1836.1 His parents Lucretia and Ben Brown were also property.2 He had one older sister, Martha Ann.3 However, he did not remain long within the custody of the Harrisons. Mr. Harrison died in 1837 and some of his slaves were divided up between his relatives, mostly his nephews and nieces.4 But for other slaves, including Robert’s father, freedom was granted that same year.5 According to his last will and testament, Samuel Harrison desired that all of his slaves would eventually gain their freedom.6 For the males over the age of twenty-one and women over the age of thirty-one he arranged their freedom upon his death.7 For those younger than thirty-one he made provisions to set them free once they became thirty-one.8 

After the death of Mr. Harrison, Robert, Martha Ann and Lucretia became the property of Stephen Harrison, one of Samuel Harrison’s nephews.9 The records do not indicate where Ben Brown went after his emancipation. Despite his freedom it appears that Ben did not remain with Lucretia and his son. It is not long after moving to Stephen’s property that Robert would soon be separated from his family once again. It seems that in the late 1840s Lucretia, who would have been approximately thirty-one years of age, was granted her freedom in accordance with Samuel Harrison’s will since she was a free woman as of the 1850 census.10 However, Lucretia did not have custody over Robert after she was manumited. By 1852 Robert was sold to Mrs. Susanna Harrison.11

It is uncertain if Robert received his freedom by becoming a Union soldier during the Civil War, after Maryland adopted a new state constitution that outlawed slavery, or if Mrs. Harrison enabled manumission. Despite the possibiliteis by 1870 Mr. Brown was living in Saint Michaels Maryland12, the same town in which his mother had lived for nearly two decades.13 He married his wife, Julia, around the time that the Civil War came to an end.14 Robert worked as a farm laborer while Julia cared for the house.15 The couple had two children, George and Florence Brown.16 They lived in a very segregated neighborhood on the same street as his sister and mother.17 But this did not stop Robert from trying to provide the best for his family. He enrolled his children in school.18 All of them learned how to read and write.19 According to the 1870 Federal Census Robert Brown was a literate farm laborer.20 He most likely learned how to read and write at Long’s Chapel in the 1850s during the Sunday School programs for colored people that Mrs. Hambleton and Reverend Mr. J.D. Long organized.21 

In the late 1860s Robert was elected  Noble Father, the highest rank in the organization’s local hierarchy, of the Freedom’s Friend Lodge.22 And he did not take such an honor lightly seeing how he purchased land for the organization and even sold some of his property23 to the lodge. Robert was among the original officers who obtained the deed for the land on which the lodge now rests.24 In addition to Joseph Leeds Johnson, Daniel E. Chaney, and William Skinner, Mr. Brown acquired land on what is now know as Freemont Street on February 6th of 1867.25 It is also clear that Robert respected the democratic process of the lodge: after his time as Noble Father Robert was elected the Treasurer of the lodge for a number of years.26

Aside from his work with the lodge it was his commitment to providing care and support as an active member of the Union Methodist Episcopal Church that marked Robert Brown as the quintessential Odd Fellow. Union M.E. Church was established in 1852 by the name “Long’s Chapel” as it was so called in honor of Reverend J.D. Long. Robert was one of the original Trustees to Union in 1865.27 He would continue to appear as a Trustee to Union until the 1880s, during which he purchased a plot of land owned by the church.28 Robert also cared for his mother, Lucretia, by offering her his home in 1900.29 In addition to this he gave a relatively large donation to the Earnest Workers Association, Olive Leaf Association, Sunday School, and the Henry Green Committee in Saint Michaels.30 In this way Mr. Brown likely gave back to the very same organizations that gave him the gift of knowledge and the skills essential to effective leadership.

Though little is known about the very end of Robert's life it can be surmised from his dedication to the lodge and his committment to caring for others, that he did not die undignified. Through his monthly dues to Freedom's Friend the organization was likely able to give him the proper burial that he deserved .


Footnotes-

1. SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (The Papers of the Maryland State Colonization Society Collection), Manumissions and Copies, 1837, MSA SC 5977, M 13249, page 264.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. TALBOT COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Wills) 1837, Liber JP 9, page 79, MSA C1925-9, CR9505, 314.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. TALBOT COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS (Assessment Record, Slaves) 1832-1852, Box 042, Folder X, MSA C1836-3, MdHR 12,839.

10. U.S. CENSUS BUREAU (Census Record, Talbot County, MD, 1850), MSA SCM 1501-2, 626.

11. TALBOT COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS (Assessment Record, Slaves) 1832-1852, Box 042, Folder X, MSA C1836-3, MdHR 12,839.  

12. U.S. CENSUS BUREAU (Census Record, Talbot County, MD, 1850), MSA SCM 1501-2, 626.

13. U.S. CENSUS BUREAU (Census Record, Talbot County MD, 1870), MSA SCM 7260, 179.

14. Ibid. 

15. Ibid. 

16. Ibid. 

17. Ibid. 

18. Ibid. 

19. U.S. CENSUS BUREAU (Census Record, Talbot County MD, 1880), MSA SCM 4751, 763

20. Ibid

21. Lift Every Voice: Echoes from the Black Community on Maryland’s Eastern Shore (Wye Mills, Maryland, Chesapeake College Press, 1999), 130.

22. “Structure of the Order,” The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America and Jurisdiction, http://guoofamerica.com/oddfellows_natl/Structure.html.

23. Ibid.

24. TALBOT COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, (Land Record), 6 February 1867, William Green to Freedom’s Friend Lodge No. 1024, MSA CE 90-10, Book STH 73, page 278.

25. Ibid. 

26. TALBOT COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, (Charter Record), 01 January 1884, MSA CM 993-1, CR 10018, 63. 

27. Lift Every Voice: Echoes from the Black Community on Maryland’s Eastern Shore (Wye Mills, Maryland, Chesapeake College Press, 1999), 130.

28. TALBOT COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, (Land Record), 28 December 1889, MSA CE 91-48, Book TH 111, page 403. 

29. U.S. CENSUS BUREAU (Census Record, Talbot County, MD, 1900), Saint Michaels District, Sheet 18, Ancestry.com.  

30. Methodist Episcopal Church, Delaware Conference, Official Minutes of the Forty-First Session 1904 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Order of the Conference, 1904), 116,859.


Researched and Written by Tierra Langley, 2013

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