Joseph Brown

Despite enslaved status before and during the Revolutionary War, Joseph Brown’s life path showed the variety of possibilities that Patriots of Color could pursue. Brown was born into slavery in 1749 in the city of North Kingstown, Rhode Island.1 He was the enslaved person of Beriah Brown II, the Sheriff of Washington County, Rhode Island,2 and was the son of a Black mother and a Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Indian father.3 Joseph lived in Marblehead, Massachusetts, before, during and after the American War for Independence.4

In January 1776, Brown enlisted in Captain Francis Felton’s regiment of Marblehead militiamen, deployed to guard the coastline of Massachusetts.5 According to Brown’s own words, as recorded in his Revolutionary War Pension application of 1832, he “served ten months & twenty days,”6 joining the war effort around the “middle” of the war as a replacement for Beriah’s son, Christopher, “who left the company to go a [sic] privateering.”7 Brown’s additional amendment to that pension application stressed that “the time he was in service, he can never forget” due to his “master,” Beriah, “promis[ing] his liberty, if he would faithfully serve out his master’s son’s time.”8 Brown then stated that “he did so & received his liberty.”9

What is striking about the course of Joseph Brown’s life is that he was able to develop an exceptionally independent and prosperous one following his participation in the American Revolution. By the late 1780s, many Blacks, mostly former slaves, were being warned to depart Marblehead—likely due to hostility from the white population—but Brown was gainfully employed10 and records showed that he was living as a free man in Marblehead by 1790.11 He married Lucretia Thomas, the daughter of two former slaves of Captain Samuel Tucker,12 on January 5, 1794, in Massachusetts.13 By 1795 he had saved an adequate sum of money to purchase part of a saltbox home for himself and his wife on Gingerbread Hill, later buying the rest of the house where they would live for the rest of their lives.14 Together they would open and operate a tavern, the building of which is still standing today as a private residence,15 and Lucretia would eventually become famous for her at-home baking—one of the few marked ways Black women could support their families through domestic labor.16 Indeed, her “Joe Frogger” cookies remain a staple of New England culinary delights today.17

Sources

Leigh Blander, “What’s in a Name? History, Representation, Resilience: The Impact of Joseph & Lucretia Brown in Marblehead,” Wicked Local (Randolph, MA), Feb. 15, 2021.

Lauren McCormack, “Joseph & Lucretia Brown,” last modified May 5, 2021, https://marbleheadmuseum.org/joseph-lucretia-brown/.

Glenn A. Knoblock, African American Historic Burial Grounds and Gravesites of New England (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2016), 217.

Pam Matthias Peterson, Marblehead Myths, Legends and Lore (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2007), [page number unknown].

Glenn A. Knoblock, African American Historic Burial Grounds and Gravesites of New England, 217. There is considerable discrepancy with respect to which regiment Brown actually served in. Competing sources claim different companies. According to McCormack, “though Joseph does not specify his company in [his] pension document, it is likely that he served in the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment, based on his own identification of his commanding officers, Capt. Dyer and Lieut. Caleb Allen” (https://marbleheadmuseum.org/joseph-lucretia-brown/). Still, Peterson asserts that Brown “became a member of [Colonel John] Glover’s Regiment and fought for independence. He is the only black man to have been a part of the regiment, though it is probable that there were others.” See Marblehead Myths, Legends and Lore.

Jack Darrell Crowder, African Americans and American Indians in the Revolutionary War (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2019), 32.

Lauren McCormack, “Joseph & Lucretia Brown,” https://marbleheadmuseum.org/joseph-lucretia-brown/.

Joseph Brown was a prime example of how some Blacks—at least in the northern colonies/states—could purposely use their enslaved status to their advantage to secure opportunities for freedom through service in war.

Brown died on April 1, 1834—only two years after he filed for his pension—and received an annual sum of $35.53 for those remaining years of his life.18 Lucretia lived in their house for another 23 years until she passed away in 1857.19 She supported herself by baking wedding cakes, making perfume, and receiving a widow’s pension for her husband Joseph’s military duty.20

Joseph Brown was a prime example of how some Blacks—at least in the northern colonies/states—could purposely use their enslaved status to their advantage to secure opportunities for freedom through service in war. Such choices allowed for a degree of autonomy in how they shaped their lives within slavery and afterwards. Likewise, Brown’s wife, Lucretia, embodied how a degree of self-determination could also be a part of free Black women’s lives—particularly if they married free or freed Black male Patriots—in areas of the early United States that were relatively hospitable to their independence. Both together and separately, Patriots of Color such as Joseph Brown and their wives/widows, such as Lucretia Thomas/Brown, were able to build upon the triumphs of Revolutionary War participation to create reasonably comfortable, enduring lives and legacies.

Sources

Lauren McCormack, “Joseph & Lucretia Brown,” https://marbleheadmuseum.org/joseph-lucretia-brown/.

Lauren McCormack, “Joseph & Lucretia Brown,” https://marbleheadmuseum.org/joseph-lucretia-brown/.

Glenn A. Knoblock, African American Historic Burial Grounds and Gravesites of New England, 217.

Leigh Blander, “What’s in a Name? History, Representation, Resilience: The Impact of Joseph & Lucretia Brown in Marblehead,” Feb. 15, 2021.

Glenn A. Knoblock, African American Historic Burial Grounds and Gravesites of New England, 217.

Jack Darrell Crowder, African Americans and American Indians in the Revolutionary War, 32.

Glenn A. Knoblock, African American Historic Burial Grounds and Gravesites of New England, 217.

Leigh Blander, “What’s in a Name? History, Representation, Resilience: The Impact of Joseph & Lucretia Brown in Marblehead,” Feb. 15, 2021.

Glenn A. Knoblock, African American Historic Burial Grounds and Gravesites of New England, 217.

Aimee Tucker, “Joe Froggers Cookies,” New England Today: Food (Dublin, NH), Mar. 26, 2019.

Jack Darrell Crowder, African Americans and American Indians in the Revolutionary War, 32.

Glenn A. Knoblock, African American Historic Burial Grounds and Gravesites of New England, 217.

Glenn A. Knoblock, African American Historic Burial Grounds and Gravesites of New England, 217.

Sources

Leigh Blander, “What’s in a Name? History, Representation, Resilience: The Impact of Joseph & Lucretia Brown in Marblehead,” Wicked Local (Randolph, MA), Feb. 15, 2021.

Lauren McCormack, “Joseph & Lucretia Brown,” last modified May 5, 2021, https://marbleheadmuseum.org/joseph-lucretia-brown/.

Glenn A. Knoblock, African American Historic Burial Grounds and Gravesites of New England (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2016), 217.

Pam Matthias Peterson, Marblehead Myths, Legends and Lore (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2007), [page number unknown].

Glenn A. Knoblock, African American Historic Burial Grounds and Gravesites of New England, 217. There is considerable discrepancy with respect to which regiment Brown actually served in. Competing sources claim different companies. According to McCormack, “though Joseph does not specify his company in [his] pension document, it is likely that he served in the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment, based on his own identification of his commanding officers, Capt. Dyer and Lieut. Caleb Allen” (https://marbleheadmuseum.org/joseph-lucretia-brown/). Still, Peterson asserts that Brown “became a member of [Colonel John] Glover’s Regiment and fought for independence. He is the only black man to have been a part of the regiment, though it is probable that there were others.” See Marblehead Myths, Legends and Lore.

Jack Darrell Crowder, African Americans and American Indians in the Revolutionary War (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2019), 32.

Lauren McCormack, “Joseph & Lucretia Brown,” https://marbleheadmuseum.org/joseph-lucretia-brown/.

Lauren McCormack, “Joseph & Lucretia Brown,” https://marbleheadmuseum.org/joseph-lucretia-brown/.

Lauren McCormack, “Joseph & Lucretia Brown,” https://marbleheadmuseum.org/joseph-lucretia-brown/.

Glenn A. Knoblock, African American Historic Burial Grounds and Gravesites of New England, 217.

Leigh Blander, “What’s in a Name? History, Representation, Resilience: The Impact of Joseph & Lucretia Brown in Marblehead,” Feb. 15, 2021.

Glenn A. Knoblock, African American Historic Burial Grounds and Gravesites of New England, 217.

Jack Darrell Crowder, African Americans and American Indians in the Revolutionary War, 32.

Glenn A. Knoblock, African American Historic Burial Grounds and Gravesites of New England, 217.

Leigh Blander, “What’s in a Name? History, Representation, Resilience: The Impact of Joseph & Lucretia Brown in Marblehead,” Feb. 15, 2021.

Glenn A. Knoblock, African American Historic Burial Grounds and Gravesites of New England, 217.

Aimee Tucker, “Joe Froggers Cookies,” New England Today: Food (Dublin, NH), Mar. 26, 2019.

Jack Darrell Crowder, African Americans and American Indians in the Revolutionary War, 32.

Glenn A. Knoblock, African American Historic Burial Grounds and Gravesites of New England, 217.

Glenn A. Knoblock, African American Historic Burial Grounds and Gravesites of New England, 217.

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