Members of the General Assembly 1887–88

Goodman Brown (1840–1929)

Goodman Brown represented Prince George and Surry counties in the House of Delegates. He came from a free, property-owning African American family. During the American Civil War (1861–1865), Brown served in the U.S. Navy as a cabin boy aboard the USS Maratanza. In the 1870s he became involved in politics and later was an ally of Readjuster leader William Mahone. As chairman of the Surry County Readjuster Committee, Brown used his relationship with Mahone to seek patronage positions for local men. When the Readjuster Party ceased to exist, Brown followed Mahone into the Republican Party. Winning the party's nomination for the local House of Delegates seat in 1887, he soundly defeated his Democratic opponent in the general election. Although he did not seek reelection in 1889, Brown remained one of Surry County's most important African American citizens. MORE...

 

Brown was born on July 24, 1840, in Surry County, the son of Herbert Brown, a farmer, and Parthena Bell Brown, both of whom were free African Americans. His grandfather Scipio Brown received his freedom in 1804 from James Bell, of Surry County, and in 1809 married Amy Johnson, a free woman. Herbert Brown and his brother Benjamin Brown both owned property in Surry County before the Civil War. Goodman Brown worked on his father's fifty-acre farm until age nineteen and obtained some rudimentary education in a night school.

On November 1, 1862, near Cape Fear, North Carolina, Brown enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a cabin boy aboard the USS Maratanza. He was discharged at Savannah, Georgia, on December 20, 1864. Brown's whereabouts immediately before and after his Civil War naval service are not known. An unsubstantiated later account indicates that he served in the U.S. Army. Possibly Brown worked for the army in some civilian capacity. After the war he returned to Surry County and quickly emerged as a community leader. When the new county agent of the Freedmen's Bureau sought to identify the most respectable African American men in the county, local black residents provided him with eight names in April 1867, among them Goodman Brown, his brother Bedford Brown, and their father and uncle. Later two other members of the family, James Brown and W. T. Brown, served as overseers of the poor in Surry County. In 1872 Brown married Mary Todd Park (or Parke), of Richmond. A pioneering black teacher in Surry County, she helped him continue his education. Of their nine children, four sons and four daughters survived.

During the 1870s Brown became involved in politics. On March 14, 1881, he attended a meeting in Petersburg at which regional African American leaders resolved to support the Readjuster Party and its leader, William Mahone. Brown corresponded with Mahone and in a letter dated May 14, 1883, identified himself as chairman of the Surry County Readjuster Committee. He used his relationship with Mahone to seek patronage positions for local men and ask that prominent political leaders be scheduled to speak in the county. After the Readjuster Party ceased to exist, Brown followed Mahone into the Republican Party. Several times Brown sought the Republican nomination to the House of Delegates from the district consisting of Prince George and Surry counties but lost to candidates from Prince George County. In October 1887 he finally secured the nomination and despite opposition within his own party defeated Democratic candidate John Wilson by a margin of more than two to one. During the campaign newspapers identified Brown as a Mahone supporter. The Democratic Party then fully controlled the assembly, and as a Mahone Republican and an African American, Brown received the lowest-ranking appointments on the Committee on Immigration and the inconsequential Committee on Retrenchment and Economy. He did not seek renomination in 1889.

Brown had been acquiring land since the end of the war. By the time he entered the assembly he owned five tracts totaling almost 226 acres, on which he raised corn and peanuts. Brown resided in the Cobham district near Bacon's Castle. He belonged to the Mount Nebo Baptist Church after 1875 and for four decades was one of his county's leading African American men. Goodman Brown died of uremia in Surry County on July 4, 1929, and was buried near Bacon's Castle.

Time Line

  • July 24, 1840 - Goodman Brown is born in Surry County, the son of Herbert Brown and Parthena Bell Brown.
  • November 1, 1862 - Goodman Brown enlists in the U.S. Navy as a cabin boy aboard the USS Maratanza.
  • December 20, 1864 - Goodman Brown is discharged from the U.S. Navy at Savannah, Georgia.
  • 1872 - Sometime this year, Goodman Brown marries Mary Todd Park (or Parke). They will have nine children.
  • March 14, 1881 - Goodman Brown attends a meeting in Petersburg at which regional African American leaders resolve to support the Readjuster Party and its leader, William Mahone.
  • May 14, 1883 - In a letter to William Mahone, Goodman Brown identifies himself as chairman of the Surry County Readjuster Committee.
  • October 1887 - Goodman Brown secures the Republican nomination to the House of Delegates from the district consisting of Prince George and Surry counties. He will defeat Democratic candidate John Wilson.
  • July 4, 1929 - Goodman Brown dies of uremia in Surry County.
Further Reading
Dailey, Jane. Before Jim Crow: The Politics of Race in Postemancipation Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
Foner, Eric. Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction. 1996 ed. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993.
Jackson, Luther Porter. Negro Office-Holders in Virginia, 1865–1895. Norfolk, Virginia: Guide Quality Press, 1945.
Plunkett, Michael. "Brown, Goodman." In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 2, edited by Sara B. Bearss, et al., 293–294. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2001.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Plunkett, M., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Goodman Brown (1840–1929). (2013, August 15). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Brown_Goodman_1840-1929.

  • MLA Citation:

    Plunkett, Michael and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Goodman Brown (1840–1929)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 15 Aug. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: August 15, 2013 | Last modified: August 15, 2013


Contributed by Michael Plunkett and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography