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On the very first day of 1788, John Francis, son of Tench and Anne Francis, married Abigail Brown, the oldest of John and Sarah Brown’s three daughters. A letter from Ann Eliza Goddard to her friend Rosella (no last name) of January 1788 gives a glimpse into the celebration and also contains an early mention of the John Brown House, at that time still under construction. Goddard was attending as one of the bridesmaids, along with John Francis’s sister Sophia and Polly Stillman, daughter of the Reverend Samuel Stillman, one of the founders and first trustees of Brown University. In her letter, Goddard details the urbane style of all present, mentioning specifically that Abby “was dressed in an elegant white satin & very handsome hat,” while also assuring Rosella that “the bride maids…made no despicable appearance” either. Ann Eliza Goddard’s description of the John Brown House, however, is quite interesting, because it shows the house in the process of being built. Goddard explains that John Brown “gave a smart ball at his house on the hill” after the wedding. She describes the house as built but not furnished, taking care to mention such fineries as “two of the largest and most elegant mirrors,” a great luxury at the time, and the “large chambers of the hall.” Goddard closes her letter with a bit of personal reflection, noting with sadness that this event is her second time being a bridesmaid rather than a bride, and lamenting that “there is scarcely such an animal as a man in town.”
The documents surrounding the marriage of Sarah Brown, John Brown’s second daughter, known more often as Sally, provide richer insight into the Brown family than Goddard’s outsider experience. Sally, the middle of the Brown’s three daughters, married Carl Friederich Herreshoff on July 2, 1801. Their courtship, however, was not easy. In a series of letters from October to November 1800, Herreshoff writes passionately about his love for Sally, while also revealing her uneasiness about revealing their plan to marry to her father John. In the first letter, dated October 1st, Herreshoff emphatically says that he “grows more impatient to see this unatural situation terminated,” the unnatural situation being their love which has not been sealed by marriage. But Sally, it seems, disagreed with him about making a specific timetable. She was hesitant to tell John of their plans, but Herreshoff implores her, arguing that doing so “would…be the best and most proper step at the present moment.” By the time he writes the next letter, written from New York on October 20th, things have changed. Sally and Herreshoff decide to postpone their marriage, as Herreshoff puts it, “until my affairs were wound up,” complimenting Sally for her pride in not asking anything of John. According to a letter on October 22nd, also from New York, Sally goes to her uncle (almost certainly Moses, because all of John’s other brothers have died) in order to have him speak to John on the matter. Herreshoff does mention, however, that “it is not always good to follow old people’s advice in such cases,” as he says “they forget too often that they once possessed a heart, and that there are other sources of happiness than those derived from riches.” This sentiment, a struggle between marriage for wealth and a marriage for love, is not unusual even in our own day.
Despite the complications and postponements experienced by Sally and Herreshoff during these months, they were married in July of the next year. John Brown, apparently, had poor relations with all of his sons-in-law. For a time, he accepted John Francis (Abby’s husband), but he never came to like Carl Herreshoff. Because of this, the couple lived in New York for a short time, moving back to the John Brown House only after John’s death in 1803. Herreshoff himself mentions Sally’s “insurmountable pertiality for the neighbourhood of (her) native place,” in his October 22nd letter. Both Sally and Herreshoff lived there for the rest of their lives. Herreshoff tried to go into mining on John Brown’s old Adirondack property, but the venture did not go well. In the autumn of 1819, Herreshoff tried to trick some of his workers into burying him alive at the bottom of one of his mines. He committed suicide a week later. Sally lived until 1846.
My Big Fat Brown Wedding: Marriage & Courtship
The Brown Brothers
Son and Heir: John and James Brown
Dear Child: John and Sally Brown