BIOGRAPHY OF CHIEF JOHN BROWN by Sheila Shelton Gibson
John BROWN Jr. was born about 1787, probably in Alabama. He is the son of Richard (Colonel Dick) BROWN. He is sometimes called John Jr. even tho the man known as John BROWN Sr. (or John BROWN I) is his grandfather, not his father. John BROWN Sr. did have a son, John (John BROWN II). That John married Susannah LOVETT.He died 3 February 1822 & is mentioned by his sister Catharine in her memoirs of that date: “Evening. Brother John is no more! O distressing thought, he has gone to return no more!”
Both John BROWN Sr. (or I) and his son John BROWN II were called captain. John BROWN Sr. was also called Yonaguska or Drowning Bear. John BROWN II & Susannah LOVETT also had a son John BROWN (III). There were many John BROWNS in close proximity & circumstance. Understandably, researchers have a difficult time keeping them straight.
Adding to this confusion, on 19 Nov 1920 Catharine BROWN wrote her brother David from Creek Path, Alabama: “Our dear parents are in good health. They have removed from the place where they lived before, and are now living with brother John” (“brother John” here being the husband of Susannah LOVETT). And so for a time we had John Browns I, II & III all residing in the same household at that time.
And that’s not all of this hodgepodge! A well-documented relative of this family is Judge Robert BROWN b 1779. Judge Robert had a son named John Lucien BROWN. Altho many suppose the future Old Settler’s Chief John BROWN (John BROWN Jr.) is the same person as the judge of the Chickamauga District of the Cherokee Nation, could the judge actually have been John Lucien BROWN, son of Judge Robert BROWN?
According to Rufus Anderson, John BROWN Sr. (or I) had three wives: (1) Selu (Corn Woman) had Richard & Patsy; (2) Sarah (Tsalah) had John II, Catharine & David (Awih) (plus children by a previous marriage to William WEBBER); and (3) Betsy (Wattee) had Polly, Alexander, Susan & Edmund. Richard, son of John I & Selu, is half brother to John II, son of John I & Sarah. John BROWN, Jr. who is the primary subject of this biography, again, is the son of Richard.
Several sources refer to Richard BROWN as having a son named John. A missionary letter refers to "Chief John Brown, son of Col. Dick Brown". H, pg 450 "John BROWN was son of Colonel Richard BROWN, who was son of John BROWN Sr. by his first wife." A journal entry by John, Jr.'s Aunt Catharine BROWN mentions John Jr. and his father, Richard.
On 4 Nov 1818 Catharine was brought to Brainerd Mission School by her parents and her half-brother (Alexander BROWN). Regarding Richard (another half-brother)’s death Catharine wrote: "John would be glad to return to school but the late death of his father had brought great care upon him in business to which he must attend." His father, Richard BROWN, died 26 Jan 1818 at Rogersville, Tennessee.
On the Register of Persons Who Wish Reservations in 1817, John BROWN Jr. signed for Reservation #57 and listed his place of residence as the late residence of his father, Col. Richard BROWN (?perhaps signed in 1818; Richard died in 1818.) Some speculate John Jr. kept his eastern lands in the family even though he is known to have spent a great portion of his life in the west.
The son of Richard does appear to have lived near Chattanooga, Tennessee. From the "History of Moccasin Bend" (regarding Cherokee ownership of 1 square mile (640 acres) per head of household): "One such property on the Bend was owned by a Cherokee named Richard Brown. His son John operated the ferry at what is still known as Brown's Ferry and built Brown's Tavern across the river."
As was pointed out above, it is often difficult to distinguish WHICH JOHN BROWN is mentioned in historical records. In 1803 a mixed blood Cherokee John BROWN established Brown's Tavern near the ferry he also operated at Moccasin Bend, across the Tennessee River in the vicinity of Lookout Valley, Tennessee. He also maintained a large agricultural development & a mill. His tavern became a popular rest stop along a wagon road connecting Fort Nashborough, Tennessee and Spring Place, Georgia.
This notation seems to be referencing John BROWN Jr., son of Richard. Whereas we have pointed out an instance when John BROWNs I, II & III all lived in the same household at the same time, it might be a safe assumption that many of these historical accounts are referencing some of the same property interchangeably mentioning John BROWNs of the same family. Further research, hopefully, will help clarify this.
John's land formed the boundary of the Cherokee Nation at the time of the forced removal. That being said, it should also be pointed out that John Jr., son of Richard, was then among the Old Settlers of Arkansas.If this was John Jr.’s land, it might be a safer assumption to say the tavern & ferry enterprises were then being managed by other members of the family. Also, in calculating ages of individuals, the initial construction at that site might have been by Captain John BROWN II, uncle to our subject John BROWN Jr.
There is census proof of John BROWN & Nancy at Lookout Valley, Hamilton, Tennessee, with 12 slaves in 1835. This is encouraging.
Our John BROWN married a woman called Nancy. If these are our ancestors, they would have been grandparents by 1835. Their daughter, Nancy BROWN Shelton, died abt. 1832. Family genealogy shows John BROWN Jr. married Nancy Sr. Their daughter, Nancy BROWN (Stephen SHELTON's first wife), was born about 1811. Our John BROWN (Jr.)'s wife, Nancy, Sr., was born about 1792. She is said to be full blood Oglala Lakota (Sioux) but was adopted & raised as Cherokee. She became a "doctor woman" & was especially skilled in herbal remedies. The seemingly unlikely match-up of a Cherokee family raising an Oglala baby is explained in the Biography of Nancy.
Nancy BROWN (b. abt. 1811), daughter of John Jr. & Nancy Sr. (b. abt 1792) married Stephen SHELTON (b. 1809) about 1826. After giving birth to five children in rapid succession, Nancy BROWN Shelton (b. abt 1811) died in about 1832. John BROWN's wife, Nancy Sr. (b. abt 1792), went to Missouri to help Stephen SHELTON (b. 1809) care for her grandchildren for awhile. And John BROWN, Jr. (bn. Abt. 1792) joined the leadership of the Old Settlers in Arkansas. (Stephen SHELTON (b. 1809) second married Abigail HARRIS (b. 1818) in 1838.)
Of historical & family interest, between 1817 & 1823 James & Hezekiah SHELTON did carpentry work for Brainerd Mission School for Cherokee in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Also mentioned in the mission records is "Jinny belonging to Mr. Shelton". Hezekiah is a cousin of Stephen SHELTON (b. 1809); and they were about the same age. This may have been a time & place whereby our Stephen (b. 1809) met Nancy BROWN (b. abt 1811). Our John BROWN is said to have been chief of the western Cherokee.
From Ancient Cherokee Rulers: "Since 1827 the names of the elected (Old Settler) principal chiefs and secondary chiefs were recorded but a listing of them is difficult to come by." A list of the chiefs in Arkansas shows John BOWLES, TAKATOKA & John JOLLY up to 1828. John BROWN became one of the three Old Settler chiefs in the west along with John LOONEY and John JOLLY.
John BROWN served as "second chief" or second in command to Chief JOLLY and assumed the role of principle chief after JOLLY died at his home in Webber Falls, Oklahoma, 28 Dec 1838. BROWN was elected 22 Apr 1839. From "Cherokee Nation – Reunion & Conflict": "In new elections that spring (1839) John Brown, son of former Old Nation Chief Richard Brown, was named principal chief while John Looney & John Roger were selected as second and third chiefs, respectively."
As head of the Old Settlers at the time the eastern Chief John ROSS arrived from the Trail of Tears, Chief John BROWN officially greeted the newcomers. On 3 Jun 1839 over 6,000 Cherokee people assembled at the Takatoka Camp Ground in the new homeland, four miles northeast of present-day Tahlequah, Oklahoma. At this time Chief John BROWN spoke & graciously welcomed the ROSS Party. Some parts of BROWN's speech, however, offended ROSS. ROSS felt the Old Settlers had not properly acknowledged that the newer emigrants already had a constitution and government. In effect he felt like BROWN was asking the (previous) eastern Cherokee to give up their government for that of the Old Settlers. From "After the Trail of Tears" by William G. McLoughlin: "What seemed generous to the western Cherokee left the majority to be government by the minority."
On 10 Jun 1839 John ROSS explained to John BROWN and other leaders of the Old Settlers that they could not accept their terms. Trouble escalated; and ROSS asserted a coup d'etat. Initially, many Old Settlers resisted political advances from ROSS. From "After the Trail of Tears by William G. McLoughlin: "The Old Settlers had decided at a council held on November 10, 1839 to deny any recognition of Ross's new government. They proclaimed their undying opposition to `the Ross Party' and declared all the laws passed by the new government, as well as the new constitution, `null and void'.
However, Chief John BROWN's reign did not last long. After the 10 Nov 1839 meeting (when the Old Settlers stated they denied ROSS' authority), many Old Settlers weakened their position & moved to the ROSS faction. Major RIDGE, John RIDGE & Elias BOUDINOT were assassinated for their involvement with the Treaty of New Echota back in North Georgia in 1835. And now John ROSS' camp, including former Old Settler "recruits", drew an act of deposement against John BROWN & John ROGERS. From "After the Trail of Tears" by William G. McLoughlin: " John Brown who had been principal chief of the western Cherokees when the Ross party arrived became so discouraged about the future of his people that he left for Mexico with his family and some friends." Some established homes near Guadalajara and Lake Chapola.
At an earlier date, a letter from the western chiefs (including John BROWN) reported the following about the Texas Cherokee: "One band of 200-300 Cherokees, have resided about ten years in Texas, about 80 miles south of Red River, opposite Fort Towson. It is said they are in comfortable circumstances. Principal Chiefs, Major John Jolly, John Brown, John Luna, Post Office, Fort Gibson." (Date & Source unknown) In 1819 two parties left for Texas, one under Duwali & the other under Richard FIELDS.
In Mexico John BROWN sought to join the refugee Texas Cherokee. However, things had changed significantly in Texas. There were few of his people left to be found due to the Texas Cherokee War. Chief Duwali Bowles (The Bowl) had been killed at the Battle of Neches in July 1839. The last battle of the Cherokee War with the Republic of Texas took place on the headwaters of the Sabine River. John BOWLES, son of DUWALI, was killed there. Most of the survivors of this massacre were moved into Oklahoma (although a few hid and escaped).
Back in Arkansas the Old Settler resisters to the new ROSS takeover continued to assert their own government & elected John ROGERS as their new principle chef. Intense civil war erupted in the Cherokee Nation . Finally, in Nov 1844 a three-man commission was sent to the Cherokee by President James K. POLK regarding Cherokee conflicts. By then John BROWN had returned from Mexico and was present at the meeting. Also, 286 Old Settlers and 179 Treaty Party members attended. John ROSS was invited but declined.
Brown's Ferry on the Tennessee River has been mentioned previously. Any ties to our family are unknown; but during the 1838 removal (Trail of Tears) , many Cherokee people crossed Moccasin Bend at Brown's Ferry. John BROWN's claim was a reservation on the right bank of the Tennessee River at a spot that took his name. Some Cherokee histories say the John BROWN of Brown's Tavern is the same person who became principal chief of the Cherokee Nation West. The Cherokee Treaty of 1817 and it's revision in 1820 had allowed for any Cherokee wishing to receive land to be placed on a list. The list became known as the Reservation Roll. Reservations of 640 acres were allotted from 1819 to 1820. Ultimately only about 156 people qualified for this land deal. Other rolls followed.
Eastern land was supposed to revert back to the U.S. upon the abandonment of property. If the head of household died, land was supposed to go to the spouse or child of the deceased. Upon receiving acreage, they gave up citizenship in the Cherokee Nation. Thus, some were not subject to the Removal Act of 1835.
Joyce Gaston REECE explains: The Siler Roll census was taken to enumerate those who had made improvements on the land (reservations) given to them to compensate them for imminent removal. Same for the Congressional Roll census which is an addendum to the Siler. The Chapman Roll census was a list of those who had been paid. The only eastern land given the Cherokee was the Qualla Boundary which isn't a reservation, technically.
John BROWN Jr. was on the 1817 Reservation Roll for the "late residence of his father Col. Richard BROWN" (mentions 7 in his family, which may have included his widowed mother). John Jr.'s half-uncle Alexander BROWN was also on the list for "Creek Path, Sour Mush Old Place" (mentions 2 in his family with notation "enrolled for Arkansas"). Alexander's sister, Polly BROWN, is listed at Crow Path Town on the road from Gunter's Landing (mentions 2 in family). John BROWN Sr. (grandfather of our John BROWN Jr.) is listed at Creek Path (mentions 4 in family).
If John BROWN Jr. became a leader of the Cherokee in Arkansas, if John BROWN Jr. then spent time in Mexico, our ancestor clearly left his land behind in the east. There were seven people listed on the land formerly belonging to Col. Richard BROWN. Any of this family staying in the east is not known. In 1830 Ephraim HIXSON Jr. bought the 640 reservation of the Cherokee John BROWN for $5,500.
With John BROWN Jr. having returned from Mexico in 1844, he once again found himself active in Cherokee leadership. He was part of an Old Settlers & Treaty Party delegation who traveled in the summer of 1845 to meet with U.S. officials. The group sought assistance in finding a peaceful solution to the political problems that continued in Cherokee Nation. Others in the group were Captain Dutch (Tatsi), Jon L. McCoy, Richard Drew & Ellis Phillips. Meanwhile, the people of Arkansas were tired of providing sanctuary for dissident Cherokee & wanted them removed from Arkansas. The Cherokee saga continued on; but what happened to John BROWN Jr. is not mentioned again in documents researched thus far. Entry 56 on the 1854 Siler Roll has Eliza, Polly, Narcissa & John Brown (don't know which one). And entry 76 on the Census of Cherokee East of the Mississippi in 1851 has "Mrs. Brown, widow of John Brown."
At the home of the Cherokee Nation East, there is today a celebration honoring the "last great chief of the Cherokee". His name is Yonaguska, also known as Drowning Bear. He is credited with ensuring the Treaty of 1819 was observed and for helping his people remain in the east. The grandfather of our John BROWN Jr. was also called Yonaguska. We still have lots of questions; but new information is being uncovered all the time; and so there is hope to learn even more.
DISCLAIMER: Where facts can be documented, they are; where that cannot they aren't. I'm doing the best I can do with the tools available to me. This document changes as new information is uncovered. This version was released 27 Sep 2011. Peace & blessings to all!