Robert Brown – Militiaman from Kingsbridge

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    • #948

      After the fighting of the American Revolution began, residents of the Kingsbridge area formed the South Yonkers Company of the Westchester County Militia.  I’ve always been fascinated by the names on the militia roll. Since they were largely common people, there is not a lot of information about them available.  But sometimes the few facts that can be found are enough to make you extremely curious about their lives.

      Not having a very unusual name, I did not expect to find information on the “Robert Brown” from the list.  Other than the militia roll, his name appeared on only one other document–an affidavit that he signed along with some of the other men of the militia.  So, unlike some of the other militiamen, Robert Brown could write his own name.

      But it turns out Robert Brown was not a common name in Westchester.  There were plenty of Browns in the area but no other Robert Browns at this time (that I could find).  So when I found a reference to a child named Robert Brown living in Kingsbridge in 1752, I knew I had the same person.  The reference comes courtesy of the will of Leonard Brown, which reads: “It is my real will and I do order that my two molatto children Robert and Mary shall be free and I do by these my last will and testament make my two children absolutely free for ever.”

      Leonard Brown was a farmer living just west of West 242nd Street and Broadway, perhaps in the area of the Manhattan College dorms.  Neither he nor his wife, Catharine, were Black. So, how did he end up with his two mixed-race children, Robert and Mary? In his will he instructs the entirety of his estate including “my negro wench and her two negro children to be sold . . . either at publick vendue or private sale.”  Perhaps this enslaved Black woman was the mother of Robert and Mary–although it is hard to fathom him referring to the mother of his children as a “wench.”

      Leonard Brown’s will instructs that his son Robert was to be raised by his friend, Charles Warner, who was given 20 pounds for “bringing the boy up.”  With his father dead and his mother and siblings sold off, Robert grew up on the Warner farm, which was located in today’s Van Cortlandt Park just east of Broadway between W. 260th and W. 261st Streets.  Charles Warner had several children as did the 10 enslaved Black people that worked the on the Warner farm. Leonard Brown instructed that his son “be put to any trade which he shall like the best.” The next record of Robert Brown is in his late 20’s and early 30’s when he enlists in the militia.  To my knowledge he was the only free man of African descent in the area and the only person of color in the militia companies raised in today’s Bronx. In the South Yonkers Company of militia Robert served alongside Charles Warner’s son, William, and other members of the Brown family.

      Robert Brown’s mixed-race sister, Mary, was to be raised by a close neighbor, Abigail Emmons, according to the instructions of Leonard Brown’s will.  The Emmons farm was located near the boundary of today’s Van Cortlandt Park at Broadway near where Post Road intersects with Manhattan College Parkway.  In addition to the Emmons family, there were also several enslaved Black people living on the farm.

      It is hard to fathom growing up motherless and fatherless as mixed-race children in an area rife with slavery.  I have not found any records for Robert and Mary Brown other than the ones that I referenced although I am still looking for information about them.

      This 1781 British map depicts most of the households that I mentioned above.  To get your bearings, the word “Courtland” labels the location of the Van Cortlandt House in the park.  The hill just above is Vault Hill.  To the left of  the word “Courtland” is the word “Ammans.”  This is the Emmons household where Mary Brown grew up after the death of her father and sale of her mother.  Leonard Brown’s house would have been just to the west of the Emmons’ farm.  If you follow the road to the north (the Albany Post Road), the Warner farm can be seen just to the east of the road.

    • #950
      Peter Ostrander

      Interesting article, and good research making the connection between the names and documents and relating it to our area as so little is know of the personal life of early settlers.

      Regarding the use of the word wench. Dictionary indicates it means as a NOUN (archaic) -a girl or young woman.
      synonyms: young woman · young lady · miss · lass · lassie · colleen · [more]

      So taking it in the context of the times might not sound as bad as we think of it today. Still the sad truth this woman was his slave.  The interesting piece is that Robert Brown assumed the responsibility and welfare of his children in his will. We still have much to learn about the relationship of owners and slaves.   I’d be interested in what Mrs.. Brown felt about his having 2 children and not by her?

    • #951

      I have a lot of questions about this situation as well but I don’t think there are answers.  But he did give custody of his mixed-race children to his neighbors, as opposed to his wife, so I think that might answer your question as to how she felt about the kids.  It really is impossible to know.

      Another really interesting name on the militia roll is Anthony Allaire.  The South Yonkers Company of militia (that included men from Kingsbridge) was organized after the battles of Lexington and Concord.  You would assume that the militia was composed of Patriots but at that time the national politics had not yet taken shape as “Patriots” versus “Loyalists.”   Anthony Allaire would be best known as fighting for the British later in the war.  In 1780 he was a loyalist soldier in the south and kept a detailed journal, which is treasured by historians of that theater of the war:

      It is wild to think that his military career started in Kingsbridge in the Patriot militia but ended as a prisoner of the Patriots in South Carolina.  Like many local loyalists he wound up living in Canada after the war.

    • #952

      I think the amazing thing is how the will can circumvent the law in those days.  He can just will someone free.  It would be nice to wield that kind of power today.  Maybe this great individual power is what led the founding fathers to for Congress.

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