Select Brown Surname Genealogy

The name Brown is a nickname from the Old English brun - for someone with brown hair, or who wore brown clothing, or was called Brun as a personal name.  Browne is the variant spelling and has been more common in Ireland.  

The Brown surname in the English-speaking world has absorbed similar nicknames from other languages, brunn in Old Norse, bruin in Dutch, and braun in German. 

Select Brown Resources on The Internet

England.  The name Brun or le Brun appeared frequently in 12th and 13th century records.  Sir Hugh le Brun was one of the Lords of the Marches of Wales in the 12th century, from whom came the early Brownes of Ireland.  And there was a Brun or le Brun family in Cumberland around 1250 and possibly earlier.  

However, the early sightings of the Browne name were along the east coast of England, from Northumberland down to Lincolnshire and then to Essex.  

The Browne name was first seen at Stamford in Lincolnshire sometime around 1250.   The Brownes here became wealthy wool merchants through their membership of the wool staple at Calais.  Brownes also resided at Betchworth castle in Surrey and were Aldermen and, with Stephen Browne, Lord Mayor of London.  Sir Thomas Browne was English Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1450 but then executed for treason ten years later.   

Another Browne family with Lord Mayor of London credentials came from Northumberland.  These Brownes were mercers.  Sir John was Lord Mayor in 1480 and his son Sir William, who died in office, in 1514.  Sir William left a bequest “to my poor kinsfolk on my father’s side in Northumberland.”   

Then there were early Browne families in Essex: 
  • the Brownes who held Rookwood Hall near Ongar from 1480 to 1583.  These Brownes were lawyers.  Sir Anthony Browne was appointed Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in 1558.  
  • and the Brownes of Colchester and Horsley.  One line of this family was to be found at Deptford in Kent and included Sir Richard Browne, the English ambassador to France in the 1640’s and 1650’s. 
The Browne spelling began to give way to Brown during the 1600’s.  It was sometimes Thomas Browne and sometimes Thomas Brown who was born in Lavenham in Suffolk in 1605.  His children were Brown.   Brown later became the preferred spelling.  

Brown's Hotel on Albemarle Street in London was created in 1837 by James Brown and his wife Sarah,
the butler and maid to Lord Byron, as London’s first hotel or “genteel inn” as it was then described.  

The Brouns of Coulston in East Lothian date from the 13th century.  George Broun of this family married the daughter of Lord Yester in 1543 and was the recipient of the famous Coulston pear:  

“The lady’s dowry included the celebrated ‘Coulston pear’ which her distant ancestor, a famous magician, was supposed to have invested with extraordinary powers.  It would secure unfailing prosperity for the family which possessed it.  

The pear was said to have been as fresh as the day it was picked until a pregnant descendant took a bite of it in 1692 and it became as hard as rock.” 

Misfortune did ensue as her husband George Broun ran up huge gambling debts and his brother Robert was drowned with his two sons in a flash flood.  

The Browns of Fordell came originally from Elgin in Morayshire.  They became major landowners in eastern Scotland from their base in Fifeshire.  David Brown of this family (the 16th of the line) went to Russia in the late 1700’s and grew rich as a merchant in St. Petersburg.  

The Brown name also appeared in the Highlands.  Browns were considered a sub-sept of the MacMillan and Lamont clans.  And the Brown
name was often taken by Highland clansmen when they wanted to get rid of their Gaelic names.  John Brown, Queen Victoria's famous gillie, may have been in this category.  

.  Brownes began in Ireland as an Anglo-Norman family, starting with Philip le Brun who came with Strongbow and was appointed the Governor of Wexford in 1172.  As the Brownes of Mulrankan they continued in Wexford as Catholic gentry until Cromwell confiscated their property in the 17th century.

Another line through Walter Browne went to Galway.  The Brownes of Galway were later described as one of “the twelve tribes of Galway.”  Domenick Browne, a wealthy merchant, was mayor of Galway in 1575.  

Other notable Browne lines in Ireland were:  
  • the Brownes of Mayo, starting with John Browne of the Neale who was High Sheriff of Mayo in 1583.  Later Brownes became Lord Kilmaine and Marquis of Sligo.  
  • the Brownes of Camus in Limerick, however, were less fortunate.  They were on the losing side at the Battle of the Boyne and exiled.  George Browne found service with the Czar of Russia, Maximilian Ulysses Browne with the Austrian army. 
  • while the Brownes of Killarney took descent from an Englishman from Lincolnshire, Sir Valentine Browne, who had been appointed Auditor General in Ireland in Elizabethan times.  They later became the Earls of Kenmare.  Although Catholic landowners, they survived the change from Jacobite to Hanoverian rule.  
The Browne name was to be found at Raphoe in Donegal in 1659 as a result of English settlement.  Later Browns began to appear as a result of anglicization of the Gaelic clan name Mac ABrehon.  

.  Chad Brown, a Baptist minister from Buckinghamshire, had followed Roger Williams to Rhode Island in 1638 and was the progenitor of the Brown merchant family of Providence.  It was his grandson James who began trading to the West Indies on his own vessel.  Sugar and molasses would be shipped to Rhode Island to make rum which in turn was exchanged for a variety of goods, including slaves from Africa. 

He had two very different sons:  
  • John was the adventurer.  During his lifetime, he made, lost, and made again a fortune.  “His life abounded in superlatives.  It was no mere accident that he sent the first New England ship to China or that he built the finest house in Providence.” 
  • but it was his younger brother Moses who left the greater legacy.  He became a Quaker in the 1770’s and was an early advocate of abolitionism.  He co-founded Brown University and donated land for the Quaker Moses Brown preparatory school in Providence.  He also helped pioneer the first water-powered cotton mill in the United States.  
There were some notable early Scots and Scots Irish Browns in America. 

The Rev. John Brown, a Presbyterian minister from Ireland, was in the 1750’s one of the early settlers in the Scots Irish tract in Augusta county, Virginia:
  • his son John served in Congress and was heavily involved with the creation of the state of Kentucky (and later serving as its Senator)
  • while John’s grandson Benjamin was Governor of Missouri and a later Brown the children’s author Margaret Wise Brown.  
  • meanwhile John’s brother James was a wealthy plantation owner in Virginia who in 1804 moved to New Orleans to be the US District Attorney there.  
Angus Brown came to North Carolina in 1750 and also brought his Presbyterian faith with him.  His grandson Duncan migrated to Tennessee in 1809 and two of Duncan’s sons served as Governors of Tennessee, Neil in 1847 and John in 1871.  William Brown and his wife Margret were first to be found in Vermont, but by the 1760's had made their way to Rowan county, North Carolina.  

Alexander Brown came to Baltimore from county Antrim in Ireland in 1800.  His business there expanded from a small linen importing company to one of the biggest business and banking companies in America at the time. 
Son James moved to New York and started what was to become the investment house of Brown Brothers Harriman.  Another son George took a leading role in the founding of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1827.  

Grandson Alexander, however, outraged Baltimore society because of his choice of wife: 

“In his old age Brown had fallen in love with the daughter of his father’s lodge-keeper.  She disappeared and then returned to run a local bawdy house.  He persuaded her to marry him and the result was the greatest society scandal in Baltimore history.”  

Alexander Brown & Sons was the oldest banking house in the United States until its acquisition by Deutsche Bank in 1999.  

Finally, Edmund J. Brown had come out to San Francisco from Ireland in the late 1800’s.  His Brown’s Opera House, built in 1908, served as a vaudeville theater.  From this unlikely origin came a California political dynasty, Pat Brown the Governor of California in the 1960’s and his son Jerry Brown, twice the Governor.

Brown numbers in America have been boosted by the many Brauns from Germany who adopted the Brown name, particularly in Pennsylvania.  Michael Braun, for instance, who had arrived in Philadelphia in 1737 was Michael Brown by the time of his marriage in Lancaster county in 1746.  Another Braun/Brown family in Berks county became Brown in the 1760’s.  

South America
.  William Brown from county Mayo in Ireland brought the Brown name to Argentina.  Joining the Argentine navy in the early 1800’s, he became a celebrated Commander and later Admiral of their fleet. There are statues and memorials to William Brown both in Buenos Aires and in his hometown in Ireland, Foxford.  

Another Brown family in Argentina descended from Scottish immigrant James Brown, a farm laborer who arrived with his family in 1825.  This family produced a number of high-profile footballers in the early era of Argentine football

Select Brown Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Brown Names

Philip le Brun arrived in Ireland in 1172 and was the first of the Irish Brownes.
Capability Brown
was an 18th century English landscape achitect.
Alexander Brown was the forebear of the Baltimore banking company of Alexander Brown & Sons.
John Brown was the Scottish servant to Queen Victoria.
Maggie Brown was the American socialite who became famous after surviving the sinking of the Titanic.
Helen Gurley Brown was the founder of Cosmopolitan magazine.
James Brown was the acclaimed American funk and soul singer.
Gordon Brown was a recent British Prime Minister.

Select Browns Today

  • 380,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 502,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 159,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)
Brown is the #2 ranked surname in Scotland. #4 in America, and #5 in the UK.

Select Surname List

Adams Ellis Johnson O'Connor
Allen Evans Jones O'Sullivan Shaw
Anderson Fisher
Kelly Parker Simpson
Bailey Foster Kennedy Perry Smith
Baker Fox King Peterson Stevens
Barnes Fraser 
Lee Phillips Stewart
Bell Graham Lewis Powell Taylor
Bennett Gray Marshall Price Thomas
Brown Green Martin Reed
Griffiths Mason      
Reynolds Turner
Campbell Hall McDonald Richards
Carter Hamilton Miller  Richardson Walsh
Chapman Harris Mitchell Roberts Ward
Clark Harrison
Moore Robertson Watson
Collins Henderson Morgan Robinson White
Cook Hill Morris Rogers Williams
Cooper Howard Murphy Ross Wilson
Cox Hughes Murray Russell Wood
Davis Jackson Nelson Ryan Wright
Edwards James O'Brien 

For other surnames check the surnames2 page where there are to be found the history and genealogy for more than 800 surnames.

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