The Crown Brown: Brown University's Namesake

There are a few things that Rhode Island lacks: adequate parking at the beach, pothole-free streets, and enough Del’s to go around. One thing it does not lack however is prominent figures with the last name “Brown.” To be fair, it was a Brown that co-founded Providence; it was the Brown family that helped bring the school (Rhode Island College) that would become the university to its current location; and it was a Brown that brought the father of the American Industrial Revolution, Samuel Slater, to Rhode Island. But it is often unclear who in this large and influential family was Brown University’s namesake. That would be businessman and philanthropist, Nicholas Brown, Jr.

Nicholas Brown, Jr. was born in Providence on April 7, 1769, to Nicholas Brown and Rhoda (Jenckes) Brown. After graduating in 1786 from the school that would eventually bear his name, Brown entered the family mercantile business and worked under his father. Following his father’s death in 1791, the younger Brown partnered with fellow Providence businessman Thomas P. Ives, and together they formed the firm of Brown & Ives – a mercantile partnership that would become one of the longest-lived and most respected trading entities in New England of its time.

The idea of a religiously-tolerant institution was conceptualized in 1762 by a Baptist Reverend, James Manning, and two years later Rhode Island College became a reality. Originally located in Warren, the school moved to Providence in 1770 with financial help from the “Brown Brothers”: Joseph, Nicholas (Sr.), John, and Moses.

After his uncle, John Brown, resigned his position as treasurer of Rhode Island College in 1796, Brown, Jr. was selected to fill the vacant seat. After Brown, Jr. was elected to the seat, he donated a law library of “considerable extent and value” and paid for several works of great English literature to be added. Years later, in 1804, Brown, Jr. donated $5,000 to the school to be put towards a Rhetoric and Oratory program. Because of his generous donation, school officials renamed the institution “Brown University.” Brown University is a part of the eight-member Ivy League and one of the oldest colleges in the country.  

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5 Branch Avenue, Providence, RI 02904 ~ Access the grave via North Burial Ground's south gate/main entrance at North Main Street and Branch Avenue during normal business hours, or by the pedestrian gate on North Main Street and Rochambeau Avenue.