Orville Chester Brown was born in Litchfield, New York, attended area schools and briefly studied at the Oneida Institute. After school, he left home working variously as a fisherman on the Grand Banks, a whaler in the Atlantic and as an apprentice mason. He was 17 when his father died and he came home to farm the family place. At that young age, Brown took the temperance pledge and never broke it. Later he worked in a shingle mill, retail stores and in dry goods. In 1840, he opened his own store in Belleville, New York.
Orville Chester Brown (1811-1904)
The real "Osawatomie" Brown [Kansas State Historical Society]
By 1844, Brown had become an ardent abolitionist and a station agent on the Underground Railroad to Canada. He sold his store in 1848 and moved with his young family to New York City to work as a salesman. The family moved to Kansas in October 1854 for health reasons. [Introduction, Orville Chester Brown Collection, www.kshs.org] Brown was a proprietor of a town company along with William Ward of New York and Samuel Pomeroy, representing the New England Emigrant Aid Company. Together, they projected the town in Kansas that became Osawatomie. [Johnson, Emigrant Aid Company,434]
William Coffin, a Quaker colonist, wrote that Brown and his company of 26 men were well organized, were provided by a sawmill in Westport to supply lumber and had "all the necessities to build a town and form a flourishing settlement, being intelligent Eastern people." Brown asked the Quakers to join him in building a town on the "beautiful site for one being close by on the prairie, between the rivers," but the Quaker party "was not ready to make a permanent settlement." [Coffin, Settlement, 325] Brown's town company made claim to the site and met with Baptiste Peoria of the Confederated tribes to strike a bargain. Louis Chouteau, Albert G. Boone and other traders witnessed the negotiation. Brown wanted to call the town Brooklyn or Brownville. Baptiste wanted Peoria or City of Kansas. They settled on Osawatomie , a combination of Osage river and Pottawatomie creek. Ed Black, chief of the Peorias started calling Brown "Osawatomie" on that first day. John Brown, the more famous man sometimes called that name, had not yet arrived in Kansas. [Moore, Naming of Osawatomie, 339]
As agent for promotion of the town, Brown issued circulars advertising the site, available building materials, richness of the soil and the opportunities for acquiring land. Brown's business card noted he could locate land warrants and purchase and sell claims. [KSHS Item Number 102849] A serious split developed between Ward and Pomeroy representing the Emigrant Aid Company and Brown in 1857. The town site had not been properly preempted and the probate court declared its title invalid. In order to avoid creditors, Brown conveyed his interest to others. In 1860 the banks threatened foreclosure of the town company, Ward abandoned the enterprise and the Emigrant Aid Company was forced to pay the total $1,000 owing. [Hickman, Emigrant Aid, 258]
A Free-State activist, Brown was elected to the Topeka Convention. He favored military action against the Missourians, but was in Lawrence getting supplies for defense of Osawatomie when the town was attacked. His teen- aged son, Spencer Kellogg Brown, was captured by Reid's forces in August 1856. Thought to be John Brown's son, the boy traveled with the Missouri troops and their other prisoners, and for several weeks he lived under house arrest with Dr. James Keith in Lexington, Missouri. [ KSHS Item Number 101690] Spencer Brown's time among the Southerners was put to good use during the Civil War. He became a spy for the Union by "deserting" his post as a sailor on a Federal gunboat on the Mississippi River. After an espionage mission behind Confederate lines, he reported to Grant's headquarter at Shiloh on the Confederate order of battle. Later on a naval mission to blow up a Confederate vessel, he was captured and charged with being a Confederate deserter and Union spy. He was executed in 1863. [Smith, Spencer Kellogg Brown, 267ff]
Orville Brown left Kansas in 1861 to lecture and raise money to support free-state militias in Kansas. He lived in Buffalo and later in Adams, New York. Not long before his death in 1904, he moved to Leonardo, New Jersey to live with relatives. . [Introduction, Orville Chester Brown Collection, www.kshs.org]