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Orville Chester Brown Collection

Microfilm MS 1293 – MS 1294

Ms. Collection 301



The papers of Orville Chester Brown, pioneer; founder of Osawatomie, Kansas; and ardent abolitionist, of Osawatomie, Kansas; New York; and Leonardo, New Jersey, were given to the Kansas State Historical Society by Mr. Brown between the years 1892 and 1904.


Orville Chester Brown was born 25 February 1811 at Litchfield, New York. He attended the common schools of the area then spent a brief time as a student at the Oneida Institute in Whitesboro, New York. After leaving school he worked for a time as a fisherman at the Grand Banks off the Newfoundland coast; later he labored as a whaler on a ship in the Atlantic near the Azores.

When his father died when he was seventeen, Brown stopped his work as an apprentice mason to return to work on the family farm. This, plus a brief stint teaching and various odd jobs, enabled the family to continue. That same year he signed a temperance pledge; he never breached it.

He worked in a shingle mill at Henderson, New York, and later in retail stores in the New York communities of Mexico and Richfield Springs. By 1836 he was working in the dry-goods business. Four years later he opened a store of his own at Belleville, New York.

He married Mary Ann Cozzens in March 1837. Two years later in April of 1839 their first child Cordelia Gould ("Kitty") Brown (later Byron by marriage) was born. In August 1842 their first son, Spencer Kellogg Brown, arrived, followed in March 1844 by a second son, James Rockwell Brown. Two other children died in infancy.
It was about this time that Brown became an ardent abolitionist. While still in New York he became a "station agent" on the Underground Railroad, assisting escaped slaves to Canada.

He sold out his store in 1848 and went to New York City as a salesman. While there three more children were born to them; Frederick Orville and one other child survived infancy.

In October 1854 he came to Kansas. Surprisingly the major reason for his coming west was not the cause of abolitionism, although that certainly must have been an influence, but to improve his health.

He established the town of Osawatomie in Lykins (now Miami) County, which he named for the nearby Osage and Pottawatomie creeks. He was also the founder and agent of the now-extinct town of Battle Hill in Linn County. During his residence in Kansas he also established the first four-horse mail stage in the territory.

O. C. Brown's work promoting Osawatomie and his fervent abolitionist views earned for him the nickname of "Osawatomie Brown," a term that many erroneously ascribe to his friend and neighbor John Brown (no relation). Like John Brown, O. C. Brown hated slavery and worked to rid the country of it; unlike his more famous compatriot he did not become obsessed with it. Nonetheless, the two men were often regarded by pro-slavery advocates as relatives, and O. C. Brown's son Spencer was kidnapped by Missourians who supposedly thought he was the son of the hated John Brown.

In June 1856 "free-state" (antislavery) men murdered pro-slavery advocates in what became known as the Pottawatomie Massacre. In retaliation pro-slavery forces sacked Osawatomie on 30 August. His home was burned to the ground in the raid, and Spencer was captured and taken to Lafayette County, Missouri, for several weeks.

Brown was instrumental in having Governor Samuel Medary promote an amnesty act under which free-state advocates were released from prison. This act contributed to the lessening of tensions in Kansas during the latter part of the territorial period.

After leaving Kansas in 1861 for Buffalo, New York, O. C. Brown traveled extensively through the Northeast lecturing and raising money to support free-state forces in Kansas.

During the Civil War, Spencer was imprisoned in Mississippi and tried and executed in Virginia.

In 1876 he and his wife moved to Adams, New York, where she died two weeks after the move.

On 4 November 1888 he married Eliza Ann Bushnell.

He moved to Leonardo, New Jersey, presumably to live with relatives, not long before his death in 1904.

Spencer Kellogg Brown, the subject of much of the collection after 1860, was born on 17 August 1842 in Belleville, New York, the son of Orville Chester and Mary Ann (Cozzens) Brown. He spent his teenage years in Osawatomie, Kansas, and took an active role in the conflict between anti- and pro-slavery elements there. In 1856, in the aftermath of the Pottawatomie Massacre, he was captured for several weeks and taken to Lafayette County, Missouri, his captors mistakenly thinking he was the son of John Brown. While in Missouri Spencer gained the respect of his enemies, spending most of his time under virtual house arrest at the home of Dr. James Keith.

The drought of the late 1850s in Kansas made it necessary for Spencer to look for outside employment. He went to Missouri to teach, a job secured for him by his former captors. Resentment against anyone named Brown from Osawatomie, Kansas (related or not to John Brown), led to threats against his life, causing him to flee to Saint Louis after one day.

In January 1861 Spencer, using the name Spencer Kellogg to avoid suspicion, enlisted in the Union Army. He was sent to Newport Barracks, Kentucky, and from there made several scouting trips, on one occasion riding 900 miles through Missouri. In September he was discharged from the regular Army so he could be John C. Fremont's recruiting officer in Saint Louis, in charge of enlisting volunteers into the "Lyon Legion," part of the 12th Regiment, Missouri Volunteers. This appointment lasted only a few weeks until Fremont was replaced and Spencer dismissed. He then enlisted as a sailor on the Essex, a Union vessel in the Mississippi River. The Essex played a pivotal role in the destruction of the Confederate Navy along the Mississippi, most notably in the disabling of the Confederate ironclad Arkansas.

While in the Army Spencer found himself very adept at espionage, at one time spending many weeks behind enemy lines in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee, and observing the battles of Corinth and Fort Pillow from the Confederate side. After the latter conflict he escaped across the Tennessee River to rejoin the Union forces. During his expedition in the South he was twice invited to join Confederate units. The first time he was able to decline without arousing any suspicion, but on the second invitation he was obliged to go so far as to don a Confederate uniform, though he never took an oath or participated in any actual enrollment.

During a furlough from the Essex in June of 1862 he married Mary Manahan whom he had met during his earlier residence in Saint Louis.

While ashore from the Essex on surveillance duty he was captured by Southern troops and eventually was sent to Jackson, Mississippi. Because of his affability, and because the charge of spying was not a serious one, he was allowed some freedom of movement in the city. Unfortunately while on one of these trips he was spotted by a Confederate soldier who remembered him as a Southern serviceman from his previous espionage mission in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. This man alerted the authorities that Spencer was a deserter, a much more serious charge. Although technically he never enlisted in the Confederate Army, Spencer was charged with desertion and spying. When General Ulysses S. Grant's forces converged on Jackson, Spencer and other prisoners were moved to Montgomery, Alabama, and ultimately Richmond. After over a year in confinement Spencer was finally tried and condemned to death. His execution took place in Richmond on 25 September 1863.

Scope and Content

The Orville Chester Brown collection contains a wealth of information on the slavery dispute in territorial Kansas in the 1850s, town-building in the territory, national politics immediately before and during the Civil War, letters from his sons Spencer and Rockwell ("Rocky") fighting for the Union during the war, efforts to secure Spencer's release after his imprisonment by the Confederates as a spy, the devastating effect of Spencer's execution on the family, and O. C. Brown's reminiscences about early Kansas history.

Most of the collection consists of O. C. Brown's correspondence and related papers, beginning with his 1834 Seaman's Protection Certificate from his work on fishing boats. There are no letters before 1850, and only limited correspondence until the dangerous year of 1856 when Brown sent his wife and daughters back East from Osawatomie, Kansas, for their safety. Letters for the years Brown resided in Kansas (1856-61) describe in vivid detail how the conflict in Kansas affected settlers in the east-central part of the territory; Brown's anti-slavery activities in Kansas and in the East; his views on slavery; raids, burnings, and looting, including the destruction of Lawrence; the Pottawatomie Massacre; the disruption of elections; the kidnapping of Spencer K. Brown and his life in captivity; fund-raising in the East for both the anti-slavery cause and the new Congregational church building in Osawatomie; instructions for transporting anti-slavery people, arms, and goods through or around Missouri; the attitudes of Missourians; the indictment of O. C. Brown, John Brown and his son John Jr., William Partridge, and others by a Lykins County Grand Jury for conspiracy to prevent the execution of territorial laws; and descriptions of national events prior to the outbreak of the Civil War with reactions to those events.

Other, more pacific events during the latter part of the 1850s reflect his wife's experiences while Brown was away, formation of the church at Osawatomie, sales of lots by the Osawatomie Town Company, the bringing of a piano to Brown's home for his daughter Kitty, starting a newspaper, migration to Osawatomie from Iowa, effects of the 1860 drought on the economy of the territory, and decisions of the General Land Office affecting the Osawatomie townsite.
Correspondence for the war years (1861-65) begins with continued views on the national situation, descriptions of military life by his sons Spencer and Rocky, railroad speculation in Kansas, appeals to friends in the Northeast to aid the starving victims of drought in Kansas, Kansas statehood, continued friction with Missourians over the slavery issue, a description of O. C. Brown's fragile health, letters of advice to his daughters, Spencer's description of the Battle of Wilson's Creek in Missouri, crop prices, and a letter to U.S. Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy of Kansas advocating the confiscation of slaves as "rebel property."

As the war continues, however, Spencer Kellogg Brown's exploits begin to dominate the correspondence. The letters reflect his activities as a Union spy in the South; a description of a naval engagement at Baton Rouge, Louisiana; letters to military and civilian officials asking for their assistance after Spencer was captured by the Confederate Army; Spencer's 2-month diary telling of his spiritual concerns while imprisoned at Jackson, Mississippi; Spencer's final letters to his wife and family; letters to members of his family from those with information on his situation; a letter from the Richmond prison where he was executed describing his last days; letters exchanged between family members describing their reactions to his execution; and efforts to claim Spencer's back pay and pension following his death.

Other letters during the period tell of details and preparations for the funeral of the infant son of O. C. Brown's cousin Arthur Brown; the worthlessness of land in Kansas due to the drought and the large migration out of the State; the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation; news of Union victories in the field; a description of President and Mrs. Lincoln by A. J. Brown, who stood next to them at a social function; and letters from James Rockwell Brown in Arkansas describing action of the 5th Kansas Cavalry there.

Spencer Kellogg Brown continues to be a major focus of the postwar correspondence, as letters from a grieving family attempt to perpetuate the memory of his courageous acts. A number of letters relate to proposed biographies of him, and other letters document the return of his effects. Fellow prisoners write the family with an account of an autobiography Spencer narrated to them in prison containing additional information about his military service.

Also included is a letter from Rocky Brown with a brief description of the end-of-track town of Sheridan, Kansas, and information about the Indian "menace" in the area. Correspondence with the Kansas State Historical Society begins during this period, a time when the Society was attempting to collect recollections, records, and objects pertaining to early Kansas history. A letter from Mattie Bingham, wife of the artist George Caleb Bingham, describes early Kansas City, Missouri, and a pre-Civil War controversy over railroad promotion there. A genealogy of the John Brown family appears in a letter by Samuel L. Adair. A series of letters from O. C. Brown to the Kansas State Historical Society tells of his residence in the territory, intervening events in the lives of members of his family, and his intention to return to Kansas to commemorate his early work there. Other historical topics in Brown's correspondence include the construction of the Confederate raider Arkansas; recollections of the sacking of Osawatomie; a discussion of the nickname "Osawatomie Brown" and its misapplication to John Brown; papers, "The Settlers' Meeting and Protest of April 16th, 1856, in Osawatomie," and "Ose-wat-o-mie," the latter describing the town's founding; a biographical sketch of Kersey Coates ("Sketches of Some Early Leading Men"); details about Spencer's internment in Missouri in 1856; recollections on the origin of the Republican Party in Kansas on 19 May 1859 in Osawatomie; and a remembrance of William Quantrill at Osawatomie. Several letters discuss the possible donation of O. C. Brown's manuscripts and other papers to the Kansas State Historical Society. Letters about current affairs consist of comments on the 1896 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and a letter to President William McKinley congratulating him on the management of the Spanish-American War with an acknowledgement of receipt.

Many of the letters have been edited for a documentary biography of Spencer Brown: Spencer Kellogg Brown, His Life in Kansas and His Death as a Spy, edited by George Gardner Smith (New York: D. Appleton & Co.), 1903 (in the Historical Society Research Center's Library: K B B811). Often editor's marks appear on letters, documents not included in the published volume are marked Omit, and in a few cases sections of letters are crossed out.

Correspondents include O. C. Brown's wife, Mary Ann (Cozzens) Brown; U.S. Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy of Kansas; Kansas territorial governors Wilson Shannon and Samuel Medary; Franklin G. Adams; and his son, Spencer Kellogg Brown.

Included with the correspondence is a folder of essays by O. C. Brown and other members of his family. They include a biography of Spencer Kellogg Brown by his mother, a history of Osawatomie, and a description of Jesus Christ.

O. C. Brown's Autobiography is an account of his early life through his second marriage in 1888. It is particularly detailed when recounting his early life through the end of the Civil War, focusing on his childhood, his adventures as a fisherman, his career as a merchant, conflicts between pro- and antislavery forces in Kansas, conditions in the central United States immediately prior to the start of the Civil War, and Spencer Brown's military career.

The essay "Pioneer Life in Kansas, 1854-1861," is much more than a narrative account of his five years in the territory. He begins with an analysis of the antislavery cause and its philosophy. He discusses his own involvement in abolitionist movements while in New York prior to coming to Kansas. He then continues with a detailed narration of events around Osawatomie, providing details on his founding of Osawatomie, the effects of having the John Brown family live in the area, fraudulent elections, violence and the threat of violence from pro-slavery forces, his speaking trips East on behalf of the antislavery cause and Osawatomie, and his exodus from Kansas.

Spencer K. Brown's "Account of the Battle of Osawatomie . . . (August-October 1856)" was compiled from his shorthand diary. The series actually contains two complementary accounts: an unpublished chronicle describing the battle and his actions in detail which ends at the time he was captured and taken to Missouri, and an account published in the Osawatomie Graphic (Osawatomie, Kansas: 1888) on 2 July 1892 which includes his experiences in Missouri and later. The two stories vary somewhat in style, although the facts reported are consistent in both versions.

The folder of "Miscellaneous" [sic] materials contains autographs of Spencer Kellogg Brown and his commander aboard the Essex, W. D. Porter. Also in this series are lists Spencer prepared of authors he had read, some grouped into categories, generally based on sex or profession.

Other collections containing information about O. C. Brown, the struggle in territorial Kansas, and Osawatomie-area history include Samuel Lyle & Florella (Brown) Adair (collection no. 161, microfilmed), William Barnes, John Brown (microfilmed), Thaddeus Hyatt (microfilm MS-571), and the Charles A. Foster miscellaneous collection. In addition, letters from O. C. Brown appear in the records of the American Missionary Association (microfilm MS-769).

The Historical Society Research Center's Library holds several publications written by O. C. Brown promoting Osawatomie, biographical sketches of him, and clippings of newspaper articles on early Osawatomie history and William Quantrill's raids. The Library also has a documentary biography of Spencer Brown, Spencer Kellogg Brown, His Life in Kansas and His Death as a Spy, edited by George Gardner Smith (New York: D. Appleton & Co.), 1903, which includes all or parts of many of the letters in this collection relating to Spencer K. Brown, as well as other family letters.

Contents List

This collection has been arranged to the document level, described to the series level, listed to the folder level, and cataloged to the collection level. A folder list is appended to this register. The entire collection has been microfilmed (MS 1293-MS 1294).

Series Descriptions

A. [Correspondence and other papers.] 1834-1904. 3 in. (279 items) (folders 1-42)
Correspondence, essays, and other writings. Subjects include the slavery dispute in territorial Kansas; town-building, particularly Osawatomie, Kan.; national politics; letters from his sons fighting for the Union during the Civil War; efforts to secure his son Spencer's release after his imprisonment by the Confederates; the effect of Spencer's execution on the family; and O. C. Brown's reminiscences about early Kansas history. Correspondents include O. C. Brown's wife, Mary Ann (Cozzens) Brown; U.S. Sen. Samuel C. Pomeroy (Kans.); Kansas Terr. Govs. Wilson Shannon and Samuel Medary; Franklin G. Adams; and his son, Spencer Kellogg Brown. Essays are by O. C. Brown and other members of his family and include a biography of Spencer Kellogg Brown by his mother, a history of Osawatomie, and a description of Jesus Christ.

A. Autobiography of O. C. Brown. 1894 Jan.-Feb. ½ in. (4 items) (folder 43)
Autobiography with 2 letters of transmittal. Included is information about Brown's birth & early childhood, youth, fishing for cod, the Westport scare, and his son Spencer's execution.

A. Pioneer life in Kansas, 1854-1861, by O. C. Brown. [not before 1854], ½ in. (87l.) (folder 44)
Historical and analytical commentary and history, reflecting Brown's philosophies. The narrative traces the history of anti-slavery movements known to Brown, his own activities, an account of his arrival in Kansas & the founding of Osawatomie, residence of John Brown's family in the area, fraudulent elections, terrorism, O. C. Brown's speaking trips on behalf of Kansas, and his departure from the territory.

A. Account of the Battle of Osawatomie from Spencer K. Brown's diary (Aug.-Oct. 1856). 1892 July 2. ½ in (2 items). (folder 45)
Two accounts of the Battle of Osawatomie transliterated from Spencer K. Brown's private diary in shorthand. At the time of the skirmish he was 14 years old. One of the accounts is taken from the article published in the Osawatomie Graphic (Osawatomie, Kans.: 1888), 2 July 1892. The unpublished account gives only details of the battle and ends when he departed for Missouri; the printed account includes his captivity in Missouri and his trip to Utica, N.Y. The accounts describe assisting residents, being taken prisoner, going east into Missouri, and being befriended by Dr. James Keith. Included are copies of letters by S. K. Brown and other family members; details of his flirtation with Keith's daughter; his release; his experiences in Lexington, Mo.; his trip east to Utica; and lecturing on behalf of Kansas.

A. Miscellaneous [sic] [Autographs, lists of authors read by Spencer K. Brown]. 1863 July. ¼ in. (4 items). (folder 46)
Autographs of Spencer Kellogg Brown and his commander aboard the Essex, W. D. Porter, and lists of authors read by S. K. Brown, some of which are divided into categories.

Notes on the Microfilm Copy

At the request of the person ordering the microfilm of this collection, several documents written by, addressed to, or concerning O. C. Brown in other manuscript collections and Kansas State archives record groups are included in this microfilm. These documents have been inserted into the Correspondence and Other Papers (series A), Dated Correspondence and Other Papers (file unit 3), in their proper chronological sequence. A target identifying each inserted document precedes it; the name of the collection or record group from whence the document was removed appears on the target.

Many of the letters have been edited for a documentary biography of Spencer Brown (Spencer Kellogg Brown, His Life in Kansas and His Death as a Spy, edited by George Gardner Smith [New York: D. Appleton & Co.], 1903 [in the Historical Society Research Center's Library: K B B811]). Those letters published in their entirety have been identified, and a target citing the page of the book on which they appear precedes the letter. The volume also contains portions of many other letters, as well as documents that were not donated to the Kansas State Historical Society. In addition, editor's marks sometimes appear on letters, documents not included in the published volume are marked Omit, and in a few cases sections of letters are crossed out. In these cases the unintelligible words have been identified and precede the letter.

Typewritten transcripts precede handwritten originals on this microfilm. Faint documents may have been photographed several times at varying exposures.

Microfilm MS 1293–MS 1294

Folder List

Roll ms # fo description dates #it
1 1293   A. Correspondence and other papers 1834-1904 279
    1 1. [Undated letters and fragments] [n.d.] 17
    2 2. [Undated essays and other writings] [n.d.] 19
      3. [Dated correspondence and other papers] 1834-1904 243
    3   1834 1
    4   1850 1
    5   1854 1
    6   1855 2
    7   1856 19
    8   1857 3
    9   1858 5
    10   1859 7
    11   1860 22
    12   1861 Jan.-June 24
    13   1861 July-Dec. 14
    14   1862 23
    15   1863 Jan.-Apr. 15
    16   1863 May-Aug. 19
    17   1863 Sept.-Dec. 24
    18   1864 8
    19   1865 4
    20   1866 2
    21   1867 2
    22   1868 1
    23   1869 2
    24   1877 1
    25   1881 1
    26   1883 4
    27   1884 2
    28   1885 1
    29   1886 1
    30   1890 1
    31   1891 2
    32   1892 1
    33   1893 5
    34   1894 5
    35   1895 5
    36   1896 4
    37   1898 6
    38   1899 1
    39   1900 1
    40   1902 2
    41   1903 1
    43 B. Autobiography of O. C. Brown 1894 Jan.-Feb. 4
2 1294 44 C. Pioneer life in Kansas, 1854-1861 / by O. C. Brown [not before 1854] 1
    45 D. Account of the Battle of Osawatomie / from Spencer K. Brown's diary (Aug.-Oct. 1856) 1892 July 2 2
    46 E. Miscellaneous [sic] [Autographs, lists of authors read by Spencer Kellogg Brown]   4

Linear feet of shelf space occupied: 0.42
Number of items: 290

Additional Information for Researchers

Suggested Citation

The suggested citation form for this collection is:

[title or description of document], [date of document], [series], Orville Chester Brown collection, Manuscripts Department, Kansas State Historical Society.

If this microfilm of the collection is used instead of the originals, it is suggested that that fact and the appropriate roll number be cited. Folder numbers, while not a required element of citation, can often help archivists locate materials more quickly.

Some examples of specific citations:

Spencer Kellogg Brown to Mary (Manahan) Brown, 9 April 1862, folder 14, Correspondence and Other Papers, series A, Orville Chester Brown collection, Manuscripts Dept., Kansas State Historical Society.

William G. Scandlin to O. C. Brown, 16 October 1869, Correspondence and Other Papers, series A,
Orville Chester Brown Papers, Kansas State Historical Society microfilm MS 1293.

O. C. Brown, "Pioneer Life in Kansas, 1854-1861 . . ." series C, Orville Chester Brown Papers, Kansas State Historical Society microfilm MS 1294.


There are no restrictions on access to these papers.

The subject of literary rights was not addressed at the time of donation, consequently copyright is presumed to belong to O. C. Brown's heirs. Copyright to items written by persons other than O. C. Brown is owned by the heirs of the authors or their assigns.

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