On the corner of Union Avenue and Phillips Street, near the chain link fence that borders St. Luke’s cemetery is a gravestone that has obviously been repaired. An old marble stone, broken at the bottom, has been attached to a new granite stone. It is the grave of James F. Brown, who died on January 14, 1868, aged 74 years, 3 months and 14 days. People who walk or drive past the cemetery may not have know who James F. Brown is and why his story is so interesting.
His obituary from The Fishkill Standard, in January 18, 1868, tells a little about him:
Mr. James Brown, a colored citizen who has been a resident of this village for nearly forty years, died at his residence on the Verplanck estate, on Tuesday. Mr. Brown was well -known to nearly all our citizens. He was formerly a slave in Maryland, but his master giving him his freedom, he came north, and by industry accumulated funds enough to purchase the freedom of his wife. For about thirty-six years, he has lived with the Verplanck family, first as a coachman, but for the last twenty years as head gardener. He was, as near as we can learn, about 73 years of age. He assisted at the building of the Episcopal Church, Matteawan. Mr. Brown was an old landmark, a prominent man among the colored people, always courteous and deferential, with a good education, probably self-acquired, and his death will be regretted by many.
Brown’s wife Julia is believed to be buried with him, although her name is not on the stone. She died in August 1890 and although her age is a mystery, she was probably in her 90s. She told the story of how, as a young girl she had witnessed the British attack on Washington, D. C. She too had been born a slave and her husband paid for her freedom.
Eventually, Brown’s stone eventually toppled and broke. The Beacon Historical Society and the Mount Gulian Historic Site located it up on the hill where the Browns are buried. After it was repaired it was reset in its current location.
Brown is noted for the journal he kept from the late 1820s to the 1860s in which he recorded daily events including the weather, planting, purchasing seeds, and births, marriages and deaths of the people in Fishkill Landing.
He also records the comings and goings of his wife, Julia, who he usually refers to as Julia Brown. She worked at various houses throughout the area. often staying for days or weeks. In the summer she would go to Saratoga Springs to cook at one of the hotels.
Black men had to own property worth $250.00 to vote in New York State. In 1836 Brown purchased property in Fishkill Landing (now Beacon) and was eligible to vote. On November 8, 1837, he recorded in his journal, “James F. Brown voted for the first time.”
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New York Historical Society, James F. Brown Papers
Mount Gulian Historic Site “James Brown, Runaway Slave and Journal Keeper”
“Here Lies Beacon’s Most Illustrious Son” reads the headline over the photo of a gravestone in the September 26, 1939, edition of The Beacon News.
The newspaper referred to James Kent, former Chancellor of New York and Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, whose modest gravestone lay fallen over somewhere in the oldest section of St. Luke’s Cemetery in Beacon.
Kent, however was not one of Beacon’s sons. He was born in Dutchess County, in Fredericksburg, which is now part of Putnam County and did practice law in Poughkeepsie, but he had little association with Beacon other than being buried here. His interment in our city came about when his son, William Kent, had the chancellor’s body removed from Marble Cemetery in Manhattan and moved to Beacon.
According to an article in the April 1873 edition of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record,
“Then, pious hands prepared a fitter resting place for him in the retired and beautiful cemetery attached to St. Luke’s Church, in the village of Matteawan.”
The article contains a further description of the grave as a
“… large white marble slab resting at four corners on four upright marble posts.”
The grave toppled from the posts sometime before 1939 and while the grave has been uncovered, there are, so far, no signs of the posts. The Beacon Historical Society plans to restore this grave.
James Kent had an illustrious career. He served as Chancellor of New York State, the highest judicial position in the state, from 1814 – 1823. He was the first law professor of Columbia University. Kent County, Michigan is named after him, because he represented the Michigan Territory in its dispute with Ohio.
He is known for his Commentaries on American Law, which generations of American law students studied and which is still available on Amazon. Scholarships are still given in his name, and scholarly articles written about him and his writings. ITT Chicago-Kent College of Law is named after him.
In the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress, statues represent eight categories of knowledge. Chancellor Kent represents law.
Beacon Cemetery brochures are now available at the Howland Cultural Center and the Beacon Welcome Center.
The Cemetery Committee will soon start several projects to restore and preserve our cemeteries. If you are interested in helping join us at our next meeting:
Thursday, June 27, 2013
Howland Public Library
313 Main Street, Beacon
If you cannot attend the meeting, but would like to help, please complete this form:
There will be two tours:
2:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
But first, stop at the Howland Cultural Center at 477 Main Street. At the Centennial Exhibit you will learn about many of Beacon’s notable citizens who are buried in St. Luke’s and other cemeteries in Beacon.
View the short video about the cemeteries and pick up the Cemetery Trail Brochure.
After touring St. Luke’s, check out the other cemeteries in Beacon.