Brown was born into slavery sometime around January 1830 in Southampton County. The names of his parents are not known. His owner, Robert Ridley, was a large-scale planter who sat in the Convention of 1850–1851. Ridley died in 1852, and, possibly as a result of that event, Brown's wife, two daughters, and perhaps a brother were later sold and taken to Mississippi. He maintained sporadic contact with them until the Civil War.
Brown resided on Ridley family land until at least 1870. About 1861 he remarried, to a woman named Chloe with whom he had six children, including three sons and two daughters. In April 1867 Brown dictated a letter that the local agent of the Freedmen's Bureau wrote for him and addressed to Holly Springs, Mississippi, to his daughters from his first marriage. Evidently it did not reach them.
Brown and other politically active blacks in Southampton spurned an alliance with moderate white former Whigs who hoped to win black votes. They boldly took matters into their own hands. In an astonishing display of group cohesion and discipline, almost 98 percent of registered black men appeared at the polls on October 22, 1867. All 1,242 black voters and a lone white supported Brown, who easily defeated two white candidates. Nothing since Nat Turner's Rebellion in 1831 so shocked the local gentry. Available evidence does not indicate how Brown emerged as the spokesman for Southampton's freedpeople, but in the short time after Emancipation he must have exhibited impressive leadership abilities to command a unanimous following.
The 1870, 1880, and 1900 census takers listed Brown as unable to read or write. Described as a carpenter who owned no land in 1870, he paid taxes on one horse and several other animals. In 1880 and 1900 Brown was identified as a farmer. He may have been related to a Brown family of African Americans from New Bern, North Carolina, some of whom moved to Norfolk after the Civil War and became active in the Republican Party. Brown died on an unknown date after the census enumeration of his district on June 19, 1900. Neither he nor his wife was listed in the 1910 census.
January 1830 - John Brown is born into slavery in Southampton County.
1852 - Robert Ridley, of Southampton County, dies, and possibly as a result, the wife, two daughters, and perhaps a brother of Ridley's slave John Brown are sold and taken to Mississippi.
ca. 1861 - John Brown, whose first wife was sold and taken to Mississippi, marries a woman named Chloe with whom he fathers six children.
April 1867 - John Brown, of Southampton County, dictates a letter that the local agent of the Freedmen's Bureau writes for him and addresses to Holly Springs, Mississippi, to his daughters from his first marriage. Evidently it does not reach them.
October 22, 1867 - John Brown, of Southampton County, is elected a delegate to the constitutional convention in Richmond. All 1,242 black voters and a lone white support him and he easily defeats two white candidates.
December 3, 1867–April 17, 1868 - John Brown, a representative from Southampton County to the constitutional convention, serves on the Committee on the Judiciary.
After June 19, 1900 - John Brown dies on an unknown date. Neither he nor his wife are listed in the 1910 census.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Crofts, D., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. John Brown (ca. 1830–after 1900). (2015, January 23). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Brown_John_ca_1830-after_1900.
- MLA Citation:
Crofts, Daniel and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "John Brown (ca. 1830–after 1900)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 23 Jan. 2015. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: May 29, 2013 | Last modified: January 23, 2015
Contributed by Daniel Crofts and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography.