Friday, 6 November 2015

Chad Brown (c1600-c1650) (Week 45) My Theme: Religious Freedom

For a man with such an ordinary surname, my 10th great grandfather Chad Brown led an extraordinary life.

Born in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England in about 1600, the first record that can be found for him is for his marriage there on 11 September 1626 to Elizabeth Sharparowe. Their first son John (my 9th  great grandfather) was born in High Wycombe about 1630. We know this because the three emigrated from England to Boston on the ship Martin in 1638 when young John was stated to be 8 years old. Clearly the motivation for their move was the proverbial desire for religious freedom that led so many of my ancestors to America.

After first arriving  in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, it quickly became apparent that Chad's Baptist beliefs were running against the Puritan tide in that colony: no religious freedom was to be found here either. He soon moved with his family to Providence in Rhode Island, recently purchased from the Naragansetts by Roger Williams as a separate settlement for his Baptist group of followers.  Brown and 12 others signed an agreement called the Providence Plantation Compact. He was on a committee of 4 men who compiled the first form of government for Providence Colony - set out to separate church and state and to provide for religious freedom.

As a surveyor, he was on the committee that set out the original lots of the settlers along "Towne Street" in Providence.

Chad Brown's lot (shown in pink 3 lots south of ancestor Stukely Westcott
and a few lots away from another ancestor William Wickenden)
In 1642, Chad Brown was ordained as the minister of the First Baptist Church in Providence, Rhode Island. There is some dispute as to whether he should be called its first minister or second (after Roger Williams himself) but it is agreed that he is certainly the first ordained minister of the Baptist Church in America. During his pastorship, the congregation worshipped in a grove or orchard and in the homes of its members. The iconic building that stands today wasn't built until later.

First Baptist Church, Providence, R.I.
Chad Brown was a man of cool temperament and was well known as an arbitrator of disputes in the colony. He was a well-respected leader whose advice was often sought.

Chad and Elizabeth had a family of about 9 children, some born in England and some in Providence. Chad continued as pastor until his death, which may have been as early as 1650. (Other records give the date of his death as 1663 or 1665 and that of Elizabeth as being the 1650 death.) First buried on the site at the corner of College and Benefit Streets, his remains were removed later to the North Burial Ground where a memorial was installed in 1792.

1792 Memorial to Chad Brown, North Burial Ground, Providence, RI
Photo courtesy Jen Snoots of
Chad's son John Brown (my 9th great grandfather) ably filled his father's footsteps in being a Baptist pastor in Providence and in involvement in community affairs and responsibilities. John married Mary Holmes, daughter of Obadiah Holmes, another prominent Baptist in early Rhode Island.

Brown University, an Ivy League university named for Chad's descendant Nicholas Brown, is situated primarily upon Chad's original homestead in Providence. It was established in 1784 and was the first college in the United States to accept students regardless of their religious beliefs. Religious freedom here prevailed!

Location of Brown University, Providence, RI
Google Earth Image


  • "The Chad Brown Memorial 1638-1888"
  • Genealogical Publishing Co., "Genealogy of Rhode Island Families", Baltimore: 1983, 2 volume set
  •, "U.S. and Canada Passenger and Immigration Lists"
  • article dated 9 May 2013 for "Rev Chaddus Brown"


  1. Joanne - another engaging and informative story about your early ancestors - so many wonderful details! I was reminded that my maternal HAZARD ancestors were also early residents of Rhode Island. Others say that Thomas Hazard first settled in Boston before moving to Portsmouth RI in the 1630s, and then moved again, becoming a founding father of Newport RI. Although I hadn't thought much about the religious reasons for his move, I think he must have been similarly motivated. So I wouldn't be surprised if my ancestor knew your ancestor!

    1. Claudia, I have no doubt our ancestors would have known each other. In addition to Chad Brown, I just checked my database and I had a 9th great grandfather William England who immigrated to Portsmouth RI in 1638; my ancestor Stukely Westcott was also there and another ancestor Elizabeth Alden died in Newport in 1724. (I also remember that you and my husband have ancestors from the same little place in Suffolk, England. We are going to turn out to be distant cousins somewhere along the line!)

  2. My name is John Brown I am also a descendant of Chad Brown through an early pioneer in Oregon named Tabitha Brown.
    She and her brother traveled to Oregon at the age of 68 and 70 by wagon train and her diary was the source for a book written about her life called Wheels West. More can be found about the Oregon browns at the Oregon historical society museum. They homesteaded near Forest Grove Oregon and she was responsible for the founding of what later became Pacific University in Forest Grove. Her original intent was minister to the Indians and evangelize the Indians but later started a school for the children of fellow pioneers who died on the trail.

  3. That is a fascinating addition to the Brown family story, John. Thanks for sharing.