For our purposes, the Brown family begins with Major Brown. Born in New York around 1813, he married Selina Matthews by 1832. From this marriage came 10 children: Major J., Martha, Matthew D., Melvin M., Marlon E., Miles, Manley B., Mary, Selina, and Martin L. After his wife’s death in 1858, he remarried, this time to Ingaby Greenlee. From this second marriage came another child: Willie Ann Brown.
Major Brown and his family moved to Hartford in 1857, when he bought a 356-acre farm from Daniel Polsley. In 1874, he built a large, brick home on the banks of the Ohio to replace their old farmhouse. It is said this house was so large that riverboat pilots used it as a landmark to avoid running ashore. Although Brown was primarily a farmer, he did have his hands in various other businesses. In 1878, he bought the steamer Hummingbird, which he put in charge of Matthew and Martin. He also offered land to anyone who would build an iron furnace, though nobody took him up on the generous offer. Major Brown passed away in 1887 due to heart disease.
The first son, Major J., was a riverman, though he was killed by typhoid fever in 1858, just months before his mother was killed by the same disease.
Matthew D. Brown, the eldest surviving son, and Martin, the youngest, seem to have been inseparable. As I mentioned, they were both captains on the Hummingbird from 1878 through the 1880s. In 1899, the State Gazette reports, “Capt. Matt D. Brown had his master and pilot license renewed by the local inspector here at Gallipolis. Captain Matt has not steamboated for about 20 years, yet his knowledge is as good as any steamboatman.” This was so that he and his brother could take control of another steamer, the Hattie Brown. Matthew married Miriam Alexander and had 8 kids. Martin remained unmarried, and was living in the Brown family home when it burned in 1898.
Melvin, the next in line, was also a captain. He and Nick Stone, also of Hartford, operated the Klondike and Mary Hatcher. Melvin married Josephine Kennedy, but had no children. Instead, they helped raise the daughter of niece of their housekeeper.
Marlon and Miles, twins, were the only two brothers to leave Hartford. They made their home in Gallipolis, across the street from one another. Marlon was captain of the Louella, named after his only daughter. Miles was captain of the Carrie Brown, a packet boat that delivered mail between Gallipolis and Huntington. Marlon’s wife was Elizabeth Harper, daughter of Hartford’s Methodist minister and Civil War veteran, William W. Harper. Miles married a woman from Gallipolis and had one son.
Manley, the last brother, married Rebecca Knight of West Columbia and had two daughters. He, like his brothers, worked on the river, though it isn’t known exactly which boat.
As for the three daughters, Martha never married and stayed home to act as her father’s housekeeper. At one time, a Captain McDaniel sought her hand in marriage, but she refused. Mary married Charles Bird, of Gallipolis, and had at least 3 children. He was the first teacher in the free schools of Mason City, as well as a lawyer, mayor and councilman of Gallipolis, and a Justice of the Peace. Selina married Dr. Wesley B. Guthrie, also of Gallipolis.
As the State Gazette noted of the Browns in 1899, “No better set of men have ever lived in the Ohio Valley.” Major, Selina, 7 children/in-laws, and at least 8 grandchildren/in-laws are buried in the family plot at Brown Cemetery. Other descendants are spread out across the Ohio Valley.
Editor’s note: The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society is at 6:30 p.m., June 20, Mason City Library, Mason.
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society. More information on the organization found on Facebook at Mason County Historic Preservation.