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”