Former Residence of Maj-Gen Jacob Brown at Brownville

Early History of Brownville, New York

The town of Brownville derives its name from its founder and first settler, Jacob Brown, who afterwards became major-general in the United States army.
The town was formed from Leyden, April 1, 1802, and originally embraced all that portion north of Black river from a line running from the northwest corner of champion, north forty-five degrees east to the southwesterly bounds of the county of St. Lawrence.
Prior to 1788 these lands were in possession of the Oneida Indians of the Iroquois Confederacy. In September of that year the Oneidas, by treaty, conveyed, for a consideration, the greater part of their land to the State. This treaty was confirmed by the United States in 1784.
The office of land-commissioners was created by the State in 1786, and authority given the commissioners to dispose of any inappropriate lands.


Former Residence of Maj-Gen Jacob Brown at Brownville
Former Residence of Maj-Gen Jacob Brown at Brownville

In 1791 Alexander Macomb bargained for a large tract of land embracing this section, and in 1792 employed Wm. Constable to sell lands in Europe. On the 12th of April, 1793, constable effected a sale of 210,000 acres of this land to Peter Chassanis, of Paris; and Chassanis appointed Rodolphe Tillier, of New York, to manage and sell this property.
Macomb’s tract No. 4 was surveyed in 1796 by C. C. Brodhead, assisted by Jonas Smith, Timothy Wheeler, Joshua Northrup, Elias Marvin, John Young, Isaac Le Fevre, Elijah Blake, Samuel Tupper, Eliakim Hammond, and Abraham B. Smede, each with a few men as assistants, and the whole having a general camp or rendezvous at Pillar Point, at a place called Peck’s cove, near where the Chassanis line crosses the bay.
When Chassanis first arranged for this tract of land, it was proposed to divide it into lots of fifty acres each, giving title and possession of one lot to each purchaser, and reserving for each purchaser another lot of fifty acres, of which he was not to come in possession until a future period. Provision was also made for two cities, one of which was to be located between Brownville and Dexter; six hundred acres to be set aside for this city, to be called the “city of Basle.”
The early history of the settlement of Brownville is closely interwoven with that of Jacob Brown, who, while teaching school in New York, formed the acquaintance of Tillier, and became interested in the Black River country.
Samuel Brown, the father of Jacob Brown, resided in Bucks county, Pennsylvania, on the banks of the Delaware. He was a man of wealth, and Jacob, with an older brother, was being educated at an academy in Trenton, when his father lost his property by an unfortunate speculation, and Jacob was obliged to teach school and become the teacher of his younger brothers and sister. He was now a lad of sixteen. He afterwards taught a large school at Crosswicks, New Jersey, qualifying himself in the meantime for land-surveying, and, as land-surveyor he spent a year in the Miami country, Ohio, thus early developing those sterling qualities of energy and self-reliance that fitted him for pioneer life, as well as the arduous duties of his brilliant military career.
The Brown family were now casting about to retrieve their fortunes, and Jacob, as well as his father, had strong proclivities towards a home in Ohio, and, with that in view, had entered into some negotiations for a tract of land, now the site of the city of Cincinnati. These plans were not nurtured, and Jacob returned to New York in 1798, and took charge of a Quaker school, and while thus engaged, formed the acquaintance of Tillier, the agent of Chassanis, and the project of coming into the Black river country was discussed. Tillier accompanied him on a visit to his father’s house, and a written agreement was entered into by which Tillier agreed to defray all the expenses of a prospecting trip, whether he purchased or not.
In February, 1799, having closed his school in New York, he proceeded to the French settlement at the high Falls, finding his way from Utica by marked trees; here he remained to complete his plans, making several journeys to Utica, and bringing from thence supplies as would be needed in his projected trip.
In March, he launched his boat upon the swollen waters of Black river, and floated down to Long Falls (Carthage), and from thence, in company with two men by the name of Chambers and Samuel Ward, and a few hired men, he took the route of the “French road,” so called, which Tillier had caused to be opened at the expense of the French company, from the High Falls on Black river to Great Bend; thence nearly direct to Clayton or French creek. Traveling this road until he supposed they had gone far enough, he struck off towards the river, which he reached at the Basin, one and a half miles below the present village of Brownville. Here he heard the sound of a waterfall, and followed the river up till he came to a point whre a creek, swollen by the spring freshet, poured its torrent of waters into Black river. This creek did not then run in its present channel, but at a point near the present railroad bridge, it made an angle, and found a channel along the space between the present residences of Byron Cole and George Hunter, and thence down through “Scrabble Hollow” into the river. A straight channel was afterwards cut through the rocks to the river, as at the present day.
It was the intention of Jacob Brown to establish himself at the head of navigation, and believing this creek would afford water sufficient for mills and all manufacturing purposes, and the river below need but little improvement to make it navigable for boats, he determined to locate here, and thus began the settlement of Brownville.
He immediately set about clearing the land, and the first house north of Black river was built of logs, on the edge of the bank, where the hay-scales now stand.
In the mean time he sent on for his father’s family, who arrived on May 27, 1799, having found their way by the tedious navigation of the Mohawk, Oneida lake, and Lake Ontario, pitching their tent at night on the shore, and resuming their way by day. When the family arrived the log house had neither roof nor floor, door or window. It was built of pine logs, felled on the spot; a sail-cloth was taken from the boat and stretched across the upper timbers for a roof, and the openings for doors and windows were closed as well as possible by quilts and blankets. In this rude domicile, twenty feet square, were gathered the twenty person, male and female, old and young, who composed this little colony.
At this time there was not more than three families within forty-five miles, and nothing like a settlement for twenty-four miles,–all north of Black river being a dense wilderness. One may imagine-the-feelings of Jacob’s mother, when she said, on taking a survey of her new home, “Well, Jacob, thee has got us all here, but thee has not a board to make us a coffin, nor a spade to dig us a grave.” Tradition says the mother of Jacob Brown was not known to smile for six months after she came to this wilderness. About that time Jacob returned from New York with goods, and among other article brought a spade. His mother said, “Jacob, what will thee do with a spade, among these roots and stumps?” “Oh! Some of us may die” (alluding to the remark his mother had made on her first introduction into pioneer life), “and we shall want a spade;” at which reply, it is said, she smiled.
The Brown family at this time consisted of Samuel Brown and his wife, Christopher, Jacob, John (afterwards Judge Brown), Joseph, Mary (Mrs. Newland, of Fishkill), Benjamin, Samuel (Major Brown, of Brownville), Hannah (Mrs. B. Skinner), William (who was drowned in Lake Erie, while acting as aid to his brother, Major-General Brown, during the War of 1812), Abi (Mrs. Evans), and Joseph, General Brown, of Tecumseh, Michigan. With them had come George Brown, a relative, with his two sons, Henry, a lad of fourteen, and Thomas, then eight.
Of course there was no lumber for building purposes, but their necessities made them fertile in invention, and, as a substitute for planks for floors, they used long strips of bark, laid down closely, and taken up each day, carried into the open air, cleansed, and then re-laid.

Source: Durant, Samuel W. and Henry B. Peirce. History of Jefferson County, New York, With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co., 1878.

5 thoughts on “Early History of Brownville, New York”

  1. Judy Ellen Smith (maiden name)

    I was interested in Brownville during the mid to late 1863 to 1867 period. I have an ancestor who is said to have been born in1863 in Brownville to A Sally (williams) sMITH, WIFE OF jAMES sMITH. bOTH ARE FROM dEkALB (EAST) AND WERE BURIED THERE IN THE e. dEkALB CEMETARY The problem is that Sally was 51 yrs of age when this event happened. And this is the only son of James and Sally. There is also a record of Martin James Smith with the name of Matthew Priest in parentheses. Was he adopted? He was my fathers grandfather. and there doesn’t seem to be any other birth records.

  2. I’m still seeking articles or documents for the elusive Sylvenus COLE who married 1813, Jefferson County, New York to Elizabeth Tillepaugh (Tillapaugh); from IGI COLE- NY and is known to have had son Nelson Washington COLE in Nov 1818. Father was reportedly (no documented source) drowned in St. Lawrence before the birth of his son. I have found many Sylvanus but nothing permanent. According to the Dällenbach’s of America (book) there was another son, Harrison (#666/7) with no more information. Could be Harrison (1816-1890) but in trees his Father is listed as Walter Cole & Charlotte Gunn, yet I cannot find birth certificates for the two boys and would love help finding some record of their marriage.

  3. I’m looking for Kendall Hursley and wife Nancy, They had 4 sons who served in the Civil War. All were listed as sailors. Birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates for all 6 would help solve the puzzle of 2 Kendall Hursleys.

  4. I am also searching Brownville for an Abner Wilson, probably a farmer. He and his family are listed in a federal census from 1820, but it hard to interpret the early census. It only lists his name and no family members. The categories are numbered, no words. The columns are listed as 107, 61,18,81,77, etc. I haven’t seen this before. I’d like to know what the numbered columns stand for.
    Barbara Wulf (Wilson)

  5. Barbara – I was researching in the same census – on the page that showed the image 3 of 6.
    Abner Wilson was at the top and my David Pecks were at the bottom.
    If I may ask, have you got an Alexander Wilson in your Jefferson county Wilsons?
    He’s not a relative but played a significant role in helping people to come to Jefferson County from the county of Montgomery, NY
    The census form (in 1820 sometimes the enumerator created it but after 1820 it was usually pre-printed) goes like this:
    Each page has the numbers in each column totaled at the bottom
    The numbers at the top of the page are the carried over totals from the previous page.
    The form is set up with the Head of the household followed by 15 columns with the numbers (answers to the questions).
    The questions that were asked on the 1820 US federal census include:
    • The name of the head of the household
    • The number of free white males in a household under the age of ten
    • The number of free white males in a household aged ten to sixteen
    • The number of free white males in a household aged sixteen to twenty-six
    • The number of free white males in a household aged twenty-six to forty-five
    • The number of free white males in a household aged forty-five and up
    • The number of free white females in a household, in the same age groups as the free white males
    • The number of un-naturalized foreigners in a household
    • The number of people in a household engaged in agriculture, commerce, and/or manufacturing
    • The number of male slaves in a household, in the same age groups as white men
    • The number of female slaves in a household, in the same age groups as white women
    • The number of free African-American men in a household, in the same age groups as white men
    • The number of free African-American women in a household, in the same age groups as white women
    • The number of all other people not otherwise categorized in a household, except Native Americans who were not taxed
    That’s it, Barbara Happy Hunting Bruce

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