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The Mystery of the James "Jim" Brown Family 
by Joseph P. Warner
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The Mystery of the James "Jim" Brown Family

James Brown apparently was married for the first time while still in Ireland, not long before he came to Western Maryland in the midst of the Potato Famine over 150 years ago. Not long after he arrived here, he married again and raised a large family. But what happened to his first family?

An Irish genealogical firm suggests that James Brown probably lived in or near Doon, a village in Coonagh, County Limerick. The firm’s sleuthing found a baptismal record of a James Brown, son of James Brown and Mary (or Margaret) Bourke, dated August 15, 1842. Little James’ sponsors were John Quinn and Mary Ryan. There are also records of the Burke/Bourke, Coffee/Coffey and Duggan/Dugan families near Doon at the time. These are family names that would be found in Western Maryland within a few years.

According to family legend, James had to leave Ireland in a hurry after he struck an English lord at a political rally. Some years ago, I heard the story from a cousin that he hid in a hay stack after the incident and fled the country as soon as possible. The author has no knowledge of the facts but assumes the story is true After all; we Irish would never embellish a story.

James and his family turn up in American in the 1850 US Census (taken in District 10, Allegany County in July 1850). We find there a Jas Brown, 35; Margaret Brown, 30; Mary Brown, 7, James Brown, 5, and Ann Brown, age 1 ˝. All the children were born in Ireland, except Ann, who was born in Maryland. This would indicate that James and Margaret probably immigrated to America sometime between 1845 and early 1849.

James Brown the father appears in the 1860 US Census was well, but now he has a second wife, and has started a new family. In Hampshire County, Virginia (the enumeration date was October 1860) James Brown, 40, lived with Julia Brown, 30; James Brown, 13 [or 18?]; Patrick Brown, 6; Joseph Brown, 4; and Margaret Brown, 2. The census reports that James, Julia and James the son were born in Ireland, and the younger children in the United States. Marriage records in Allegany County show a marriage of James Brown to Julia "Julie" Dugan on May 8, 1853. James Brown the elder worked as a miner and lived with his family in Piedmont, West Virginia until his death by "sunstroke" in June 1868.

The younger James Brown was a miner as well. He eventually married Bedelia Connolly [also spelled Conley and Connelly] of Cumberland in August 1872 in Westernport, Maryland. They reared six children in Elk Garden, West Virginia. Bedelia died in 1889 when she was only 45 years old. After her death, James remarried, and in doing so he applied for a marriage license in Mineral County, listing his parents as James and Margaret Brown. His age in the 1880 US Census in Mineral County, West Virginia was 38, which fits nicely with the 1842 baptism record from Doon.

His oldest half-brother, Patrick Henry "PH" Brown was born in 1854 in Kitzmiller, Maryland (which at the time was in Allegany County), according to family lore, and he took 'Henry' as a middle name after he became an adult. Patrick and his wife Bridget Burke Brown were my maternal great-grandparents. They married in Westernport, Maryland in 1876 and reared a large family in the Elk Garden area of Mineral County, West Virginia and later in Frostburg in Allegany County, Maryland. ‘PH’ Brown was a miner and eventually a mine owner, serving as president of the Elk Garden Big Vein Coal Company for many years. He also owned hotels in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and may have been a partner in a distillery in Frederick County, Maryland.

In addition to Patrick, the children of James "Jim" and Julie were Joseph, Margaret, Phillip and Nellie It is interesting to note that all of the sons and many of the grandsons of James Brown were coal miners in Kentucky, Maryland and West Virginia In addition, the husbands of Margaret (Dennis Healy) and Nellie (John Davis) were miners. Tragically many of the men in the family died either in the mines or from mine related diseases.

All this we know about the second family of James Brown of Ireland. But what about his first family, who journeyed to America, then disappeared from our knowledge? One suspects accident or illness carried off his wife, Margaret, and their young daughters Mary and Ann. sometime between July 1850 and May 1853, but we may never know for sure since there are very few newspaper and public records for that period in Allegany County. The names of Ann, Anna, Julia, Julie, Mary, and Margaret, however, have been used in every generation in my family for over 150 years.

Source: Published in The Old Pike Post, Vol. 23, No. 1, Cumberland, Maryland, March 2006. Used with permission of the Genealogical Society of Allegany County, P.O. Box 3103, Lavale, MD 21504-3103. 

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