9 – Now 10 – Generations of Browns in Harford County
In the last one hundred years or so, Harford County, Maryland has seen tremendous changes — changes in population, in governmental structure, in way of life. But with all the change, there has been one constant — since 1901, Harford County has been home to the law firm now known as Brown, Brown & Young — a firm that has been in practice longer than any other law firm in the county.
But as impressive an achievement as that is, the past one hundred years is just the last quarter of close to four hundred years that the Brown family has been a major part of the civilization and growth of this part of Maryland.
It is impossible to know precisely how early there were members of the "Brown" family living in what we now call Harford County. Englishmen of the 1600s and 1700s were notoriously free in their spelling — that is, of course, when they could spell or read at all! Early wills and deeds in the family spell the name Browne (with an E), Bourne, Bowen, and sometimes even Broune. So it is possible that James Bourne, a gentleman companion of Captain John Smith in his voyage up the Chesapeake in 1608, was the actual ancestor and the first "Brown" over here. If so, there may very well have been "Browns" on the shores of Maryland waving the Arc and the Dove in to their landing in 1627!
In any event, the Browns were well established here in Harford by the mid 1600s. They were related to the Uties — whose name still exists in Spesutie Island and from whose extended family Thomas Browne bought Oakington on Swan Creek in 1696. The family definitely traces itself back nine generations to Thomas Browne — spelled with an E at the end — who was born in this area probably in 1655 or 1659.
Genealogists and researchers find out most things about ancestors from their wills: wills list possessions, land, sundries, define family relationships, and confirm title. In Harford County in the 17th century a will would be sure to state how much tobacco a property owner had, because tobacco (in the cash-poor colonies) was pretty much coin of the realm; Thomas Browne's will states, for instance, that he bought 200 acres at the head of Swan Creek in 1686 for 12,760 pounds of tobacco.
Thomas Browne died in 1708 and left Oakington to his son John; Thomas had previously deeded to him a 400 acre plantation called "Stoop" near Havre de Grace. John Browne died fairly young in 1716, leaving three sons: the oldest, Thomas, aged only 8, who inherited Oakington; Augustus, who got Stoop; and Gabriel, who got 400 other acres called "Brown's Inheritance" in the branch of Swan Creek. Besides all the tobacco, feather beds, and books, Thomas also left a 14 gallon still — that this was important enough to enumerate lets us know how difficult it was four hundred years ago to be assured of access to spirits.
Thomas Browne, the 3rd generation of the Brown(e) line, was born at Oakington in 1708 and died in 1766. He had 8 children, the youngest of which, named Freeborn, was born in 1743. Father Thomas provided for all his children, and Oakington went to Freeborn's older brother James in 1754 by deed of gift. Oakington then remained in the Brown(e) family through their cousins for many years, before it was purchased by Millard Tydings in the 1930s.
We don't know much about Freeborn's son Thomas Freeborn Brown, the 5th generation, born around 1790. According to family lore, he died of malaria in the West Indies and was buried at sea, around the time his youngest child Augustus — the 6th generation — was born, in 1833. This Augustus — Augustus Freeborn Brown — and his wife Harriet Salter Wheeler Brown had 13 children, 6 of whom lived to adulthood. Their names were Thomas - known as Uncle Tom; Virginia; Mary, who became Mother Superior of the Convent of the Good Shepherd in Baltimore; Rosa; James; and, of greatest importance to the legal climate in Harford, A. Freeborn Brown, Jr., the 7th generation, who was born in 1873 and died in 1945.
A. Freeborn Brown, Jr., was a pretty interesting fellow. Admitted to the bar of Baltimore County in the late 1890s, he signed the "Test Book" of the Harford County Circuit Court in February, 1901, which means it was "attested" that he was certified to practice law here beginning then; this date establishes the origination of the firm that still bears his name. A. Freeborn Brown was, by all accounts, a marvelous lawyer, and somewhat of a "Renaissance Man," too. Early in this century he also ran one of the Brown family farms and canning operation. Around 1914, he invented a steel cross tie that diminished derailments, and crossed over on the Lusitania to try to sell it in England and on the continent — but war broke out over there, which ended that opportunity; the Lusitania, by the way, came to bad end on its next voyage.
After his first wife died of pneumonia in 1907, A. Freeborn Brown, Jr., married Mary Josephine Busch in 1914, and they had 4 children - A. Freeborn Brown, III, born in 1915, Thomas Carroll Brown, born in 1916, Harriet, and Charlotte. Having moved his practice from Havre de Grace to Bel Air in 1929, A. Freeborn Brown, Jr., practiced law with great distinction until his health failed during the Second World War. There are lots of stories about him — he hosted co-ed poker games (very daring in the 1920s) — he was an ebullient host who loved to stand up at the end of a dinner party and say, "It was very nice having you all over — now, Good Night!"
A. Freeborn Brown, Jr., died in 1945. At his funeral on Monday, November 12, 1945, active and honorary pallbearers included Senator Millard E. Tydings, Judge Walter W. Preston, Judge Frederick Lee Cobourn, Harry E. Dyer, Isaac Loeb Strauss, Robert M. Vandiver, James R. Broumel, D. C. Higginbotham, George T. Pennington, and many other local businessmen, lawyers, and community leaders.
Both his sons went into the law, too: A. Freeborn III joined the firm immediately upon his demobilization from the Army in 1946, and Carroll joined the practice in 1954.
Over the years, the firm of Brown, Brown & Brown has included many prominent members of the Harford County bar, including Harford County Judges Cy Whitfill, Stephen Waldron, Maurice Baldwin and Lawrence Lanahan — under the leadership from 1946 to 1998 of A. Freeborn Brown, III.
At the time of his death on July 25, 1998, Freeborn Brown was one of the most respected lawyers in the state, having served as a legislator, a Bar Association officer, City Attorney for the Town of Havre de Grace and Post Commander of the American Legion. As a trial attorney, Freeborn Brown specialized in criminal defense work, establishing many trial precedents still in use to protect the rights of the accused.
Freeborn Brown also distinguished himself in civil litigation. In the case of Gaskill v. Preferred Risk Mutual Insurance Co., he established the precedent, now recognized as Maryland law, that an insurance company has a good-faith obligation to resolve a claim within a policy's limits or be liable for any balance over.
Freeborn Brown enjoyed his life, his work and his family — his motto may have been something he often said: "If you are doing what you like — and it makes a difference — what can be more fun?"
T. Carroll Brown, who retired in 2004, was an active supporter of his alma mater, the University of Maryland School of Law, and was made a member of the President's Club for his outstanding contributions to the ongoing programs of the University.
T. Carroll Brown served as a member of the Character Committee of the Maryland State Board of Law Examiners for many years, screening applicants for admission to the Bar based on their moral character and fitness. A beloved and respected figure in the Harford County legal community and in the county as a whole, the long-time Bel Air resident served on the Board of Directors of First Virginia Bank Central Maryland (formerly The Commercial Bank and now part of Branch Banking & Trust), as well as holding the positions as Secretary, Treasurer and two-term President of the Harford County Bar Association. T. Carroll Brown died in March of 2010.
Here is a brief family tree of the Brown family of Harford County:
Thomas Brown(e) c. 1659 - 1708
bought "Oakington" in 1696
John Brown(e) 1680 - 1716
Thomas Brown(e) 1708 - 1766
Freeborn Brown 1743 - 1820
Signatory to Bush River Declaration
Member of Harford County's First Petit Jury
Member of Josias Carvell Hall's Harford Militia, Company #1 in 1775.
Thomas Brown c. 1790 - 1833
"Died of malaria and was buried at sea"
Augustus Freeborn Brown, 1833 - c. 1900
Augustus Freeborn Brown, Jr., 1873 - 1945; "Founder of the Firm"
Signed the Harford County Test Book in February, 1901
A. Freeborn Brown, III, 1915-1998
T. Carroll Brown, 1916-2010
Augustus F. Brown (IV; known as Gus Brown), born 1949
Gus Brown's 4 children now constitute the 10th generation of the family to live in Harford County!
For more about the firm of Brown, Brown & Young, please select this link.