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Freeman Whitcomb Brown (1832-1917)

The History of Washington

Seattle Daily Times, 27 Apr 1912, page 2

With the indorsement of a number of North Pacific Mariners, Freeman W. Brown, 80 years old, a pioneer Tacoman, will send his plans for an unsinkable lifeboat to Senator William Alden Smith, chairman of the Senate committee now investigating the Titanic disaster. The invention of Mr. Brown which was patented several years ago, is considered by mariners who have seen it one of the best ideas for improved life-saving boats yet offered in the marine world.

Mr. Brown, the inventor of the boat, has been on Puget Sound for many years. He grew old in the government service as an engineer in the coast and geodetic survey work and has published a number of interesting articles concerning his work along this line.

Mr. Brown believes his lifeboat would prove unsinkable even in the roughest seas. It has a waterguard mounted centrally over the top, with means for securing the sides of the guard to the sides of the boat to close the top of the latter, and means for supporting the sides of the guard above the sides of the boat to cause it to serve as an awning. The boat has water-tight compartments and ballast tanks so constructed as to cause the boat to right itself should it capsize. The boat is said by the inventor to be windproof and waterproof. Any motive power desired can be used.

Freeman W. Brown, a resident of Olympia and prominently connected with the surveys of the Territory of Washington, was born in Washington County, Vermont, September 2, 1832, son of Leonard and Mary (Whitcomb) Brown, natives of that State, descended from the pioneer settlers of New England.

Mr. Brown was educated in the primary and high schools of Washington County, taking the advanced academic studies and paying particular attention to the higher mathematics in view of the profession of civil engineer. In the spring of 1850 he went to western New York and attended Randolph College, continuing his mathematical studies, and in the fall he engaged in engineering work in Iowa, performing work for the Government.

Deciding to visit the Pacific coast, he returned to New York city in the fall of 1851 and embarked by steamer, via the Panama route, landing at San Francisco in April, 1852. Following the tide of emigration, he then visited the mines on the American river, but after a few months, with no flattering success, he returned to San Francisco and embarked for Oregon to join his uncle, Lot Whitcomb, then residing at Milwaukee. While there he engaged with David P. Thompson in running the first standard parallel west from the Willamette meridian. Completing this work about January 1, 1854, he went to Shoal Water bay to look after the estate of his deceased brother, Joel L. Brown, a pioneer of 1849. After settling the affairs of the estate, Mr. Brown went to Cowlitz County and engaged with Henry Stearns in sectionizing several townships of that country and in running the fourth standard parallel west of the Willamette Meridian.

In the spring of 1855 Mr. Brown enlisted in Company B, Captain Gilmore Hayes of Second Battalion, commanded by Colonel B. F. Shaw. Their service began upon the Puyallup River and numbered the severe battles of Connell's prairie, White River, Green River, a continuous fight while crossing the Cascades, and the battles of Umatilla and Grand Ronde in eastern Oregon, besides a huge number of skirmishes. He continued in the service about twelve months.

Returning to Olympia, he engaged in Government work until 1857. Then he taught school three winters, first in Portland, afterward in Milwaukee and then in North Salem. The summer of 1859 he spent with an exploring and prospecting party through the Cascades, Blue and Rocky mountains. In the spring of 1860 he went to the mines of Salmon River and Mormon Basin, remaining till the spring of 1861.

Mr. Brown went to California in 1861 and enlisted in the First Regiment, California Volunteers, Colonel E. D. Baker. He was detailed to the Quartermaster Department and located at Benicia, and after six months was discharged, as his regiment had gone to the front. He then came to Oregon and enlisted in Company B, Oregon Volunteers, Captain C. P. Crandall, which was stationed at Steilacoom; was again detailed to the Quartermaster Department, and continued in that service until the close of the war, receiving his discharge in the fall of 1865.

In the spring of 1866 he took a contract under the Territorial government of Washington to make a topographical survey and map of the Skagit River and Tributaries, the passes of the Cascade mountains, Lake Chelan, and the northern part of the territory east of the mountains. He made this survey, returning by the Wenatchee and Sauk Rivers to Puget Sound, and completed his work by fall. The following winter he taught school at French Prairie, Oregon, and in the spring of 1867 settled on his homestead, eight miles south of Olympia [Section 35 of 17N2W 20 May 1872]. He had married that spring, and to his home took his bride. Here his family resided until 1887, he meanwhile engaging in public and private surveys and during the intervals of service employing his time by grubbing stumps and ditching and draining marshes, thus reclaiming 130 acres of nature's wilds and making one of the finest farms in the county.

His more important work during this period was the sectionizing of five townships on the Kalama river in 1872, and surveying the preliminary line for the Northern Pacific Railroad between Olympia and the Cowlitz River. In 1875 he ran a preliminary railroad line from Olympia to the south side of Gray's Harbor, and about 1878 located the line for the Olympia and Gray's Harbor Railroad. During 1887 and 1888 he was engaged with the Pennsylvania Land Company and the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, in making geological and mineralogical surveys in the Cascade mountains. He has also made extensive topographical surveys of the Rocky mountains and the southern part of Alaska, passing through tribe after tribe of Indians who had never before looked upon the face of a white man. Mr. Brown by tact and diplomacy secured their friendship and retained their respect.

"Olympia Record" 14 Aug 1905, page 1, col 7

Mrs. F. Brown, mother of County Superintendent Fred J. Brown, and a pioneer of Thurston county, died Saturday at the family home in Tacoma. The funeral, held yesterday morning at the First Methodist church in Tacoma, was attended by many friends of the family. Interment took place in the cemetery at South Tacoma.

Mrs. Brown was a resident of this city from the date of her marriage to Mr. Brown, March 17, 1867, until 1898 when they moved to Tacoma. She was 59 years of age. Besides her husband three children survive her. They are: Mrs. Nellie Derbyshire, of Tacoma; Fred J. Brown, superintendent of Thurston county schools, and Leonard J. Brown, of the Tacoma Engraving company.

Fred Brown and family returned this afternoon from Tacoma, where they were called by Mrs. Brown's death.

In 1887 he build his present cottage residence on land he had purchased in 1885, it being located on East Side street in East Olympia, and here he and his family have since resided. He sold his farm in 1889 for the handsome of $8,500. Since coming to Olympia his time has been fully occupied in general survey work, and since the summer of 1892 he has been employed in tideland surveys for the State.

Mr. Brown's marriage in the spring of 1867 has already been alluded to. Mrs. Brown whose maiden name was Ellen E. Mathiot, is of French descent. Her father, John Mathiot, came to this coast in 1853. Following are the names of their four children: Frederick J., Edward M., Joel L., and Nellie P.

Mr. Brown is a member of the George Thomas Post, G. A. R. He is a man of honesty and strict integrity, ever true to the responsibilities devolving upon him, and is highly respected by all with whom his brought in contact, either socially or in a business connection.


"Seattle Daily Times" 12 Jun 1917, page 14

Freeman Whitcomb Brown, 84, veteran of the Indian wars of Puget Sound in 1856 and 1857 and of the Civil War, died in the Tacoma General Hospital last evening. He came "around the Horn" in 1853, mined gold in California, lived in Oregon, came to what is now Washington to fight Indians, taught the first school at Olympia, explored many new sections of Western and Central Washington and was one of the first white explorers of the Chelan country. He is survived by a daughter in the East and two sons, Fred J. Brown of Grandview and Leonard J. Brown of Tacoma.