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"My life has been of little worth, mostly filled up with vanity. I was born at West Simsbury (now Canton), Connecticut, Feb. 16, 1771. I have but little recollection of what took place until the years '75 and '76. I remember the beginning of war, and some things that took place in 1775; but only a little until '76, when my father went into the army.[1] He was captain in the militia of Connecticut, and died in New York, with the dysentery, a few weeks after leaving home. My mother had ten children at the time of my father's death, and one born soon after, making eleven of us all. The first five were daughters, the oldest about eighteen;[2] the next three were sons; then two daughters, and the youngest a son. The care and support of this family fell mostly on my mother. The laboring men were mostly in the army. She was one of the best of mothers; active and sensible. She did all that could be expected of a mother; yet for want of help we lost our crops, then our cattle, and so became poor. I very well remember the dreadful hard winter of 1778-79. The snow began to fall in November, when the water was very low in the streams; and while the snow was very deep, one after another of our hogs and sheep would get buried up, and we had to dig them out. Wood could not be drawn with teams, and was brought on men's shoulders, they going on snow-shoes until paths were made hard enough to draw wood on hand-sleds. The snow was said to be five feet deep in the woods. Milling of grain could not be had, only by going a great distance: and our family were driven to the necessity of pounding corn for food. We lost that winter almost all of our cattle, hogs, and sheep, and were reduced very low by the spring of 1779.

"I lived at home in 1782; this was a memorable year, as there was a great revival of religion in the town of Canton. My mother and my older sisters and brother John dated their hopes of salvation from that summer's revival, under the ministry of the Rev. Edward Mills. I cannot say as I was a subject of the work; but this I can say, that I then began to hear preaching.[1] I can now recollect most, if not all, of those I heard preach, and what their texts were. The change in our family was great; family worship, set up by brother John, was ever afterward continued. There was a revival of singing in Canton, and our family became singers. Conference meetings were kept up constantly, and singing meetings, - all of which brought our family into a very good association, - a very great aid of restraining grace.

"About 1784 the Rev. Jeremiah Hallock[2] became the minister at Canton. I used to live with him at different times, and received a great deal of good instruction from him. About this time I began to make shoes, and worked mostly winters at shoemaking, and at farming at home summers. In the winter of 1787 I took a trip into Massachusetts, through Granville, Otis, and Blandford. In these towns I worked at shoemaking over half of the winter. I was but a bungling shoemaker, yet gave good satisfaction, was kindly treated as a child, and got my pay well, in clothing and money. I then went to Great Barrington, Sheffield, and Salisbury. Here I hired learning to be a better workman. I returned home in the spring of 1788 and worked on the farm through the summer. In 1789 I lived at home, but in the fall I went to Norfolk, and worked at shoemaking all winter, mostly around at houses, for families.

"In the spring of 1791 we as a family were rising in the gain of property; we had good crops; our stock had increased, and we felt able to make a small purchase of land; our credits were good for the payment of debts. In all this, we must acknowledge the kind providence of God. Our former poverty had kept us out of the more loose and vain company, and we appeared to be noticed by the better class of people. There was a class of young men and ladies that were a little older than my brothers, who had rich parents that dressed their families in gay clothing, giving them plenty of money to spend, and good horses to ride. Oh, how enviable they appeared to me, while my brothers and sisters lacked all these things! Now, while I write, I am thinking what was the change of fifteen or twenty years with these smart young folks. I cannot think of more than one or two that became even common men of business, but a number of them did become poor drunkards, and three came to their end by suicide. God knows what is best.

"In the spring of 1790 I returned and hired out to the Rev. Jeremiah Hallock for six months. Here I had good instruction and good examples. I was under some conviction of sin, but whether I was pardoned or not, God only knows; this I know, I have not lived like a Christian.

"About this time I became more acquainted with Ruth Mills (daughter of the Rev. Gideon Mills), who was the choice of my affections ever after, although we were not married for more than two years. In March, 1793, we began to keep house; and here was the beginning of days with me. I think our good minister felt all the anxiety of a parent that we should begin right. He gave us good counsel, and, I have no doubt, with a praying spirit. And I will say, never had any person such an ascendancy over my conduct as my wife. This she had without the least appearance of usurpation or dictation; and if I have been respected in the world, I must ascribe it to her influence more than to any one thing. We began with very little property, but with industry and frugality, which gave us a comfortable support and a small increase. We took children to live with us very soon after we began to keep house. Our own first child was born at Canton, June 29, 1794, - a son, we called Salmon, a thrifty, forward child.

"We lived in Canton about two years, I working at shoemaking, tanning, and farming; we made butter and cheese on a small scale, and all our labors turned to good account; we were at peace with all our neighbors, and had great cause for thanksgiving. We were living in a rented house, and I felt called to build or move. I thought of the latter, and went directly to Norfolk, as I was there acquainted, and my wife had taught school there one summer. The people of Norfolk encouraged me, and I bought a small farm with a house and barn on it. I then sold what little I had, and made a very sudden move to Norfolk. We found friends in deed and in need. I there set up shoemaking and tanning, employed a foreman, did a small good business, and gave good satisfaction.

"Feb. 18, 1796, my little son Salmon died. This was a great trial to us. In the spring of 1796 my business was very much increased, but owing to sickness of wife and self, I could not get but a small part of the leather out in the fall. The people became somewhat dissatisfied with me, and things went hard that winter; but when spring returned, my leather came out well, and from that time I gave good satisfaction to the people, as far as I knew. July 5, 1798, my daughter Anna was born in Norfolk. Soon after this, my wife and I made a public profession of religion, which I have so poorly manifested in my life.

"In February, 1799, I had an opportunity to sell my place in Norfolk, which I did without any consultation of our neighbors, who thought they had some claim on my future services, as they had been very kind and helped; and they questioned whether I had not been hasty. But I went as hastily to Torrington and bought a place, although I had but little acquaintance there. I was quick on the move, and we found there good neighbors, and were somewhat prosperous in business. In 1800, May 9, John was born, one hundred years after his great grandfather; nothing else very uncommon. We lived in peace with all men, so far as I know. (I might have said the years of '98 and '99 were memorable years of revivals of religion in the churches of our town and the towns about us. Perhaps there has never been so general a revival since the days of Edwards and Whitfield.) April 30, 1802, my second son Salmon was born.

"In 1804 I made my first journey to Ohio. I left home on the 8th of August, came through Pennsylvania and saw many new things. Arrived in Hudson about the 1st of September; found the people very harmonious and middling prosperous, and mostly united in religious sentiments. I made a small purchase of land at the centre of Hudson, with the design of coming at a future day. I went to Austinburg, and was there taken sick, which proved to be the fever and ague; was there a month, very sick and homesick. I started for home against counsel, and had a very hard journey, - ague almost every day or night, - but arrived home on the 16th of October. I had the ague from time to time over one year; yet my determination to come to Ohio was so strong that I started with my family in company with Benjamin Whedon, Esq., and his family, on the 9th of June, 1805. We came with ox teams through Pennsylvania, and I found Mr. Whedon a very kind and helpful companion on the road.

"We arrived in Hudson on the 27th of July, and were received with many tokens of kindness. We did not come to a land of idleness; neither did I expect it. Our ways were as prosperous as we had reason to expect. I came with a determination to help build up, and be a help in the support of religion and civil order. We had some hardships to undergo, but they appear greater in history than they were in reality. I was often called to go into the woods to make division of lands, sometimes sixty or seventy miles from home, and be gone some weeks, sleeping on the ground, and that without serious injury.

"When we came to Ohio the Indians were more numerous than the white people, but were very friendly, and I believe were a benefit rather than an injury. In those days there were some that seemed disposed to quarrel with the Indians, but I never had those feelings. They brought us venison, turkeys, fish, and the like; sometimes they wanted bread or meal more than they could pay for at the time, but were always faithful to pay their debts. In September, 1806, there was a difficulty between two tribes; the tribe on the Cuyahoga River came to Hudson, and asked for assistance to build them a log-house that would be a kind of fort to shelter their women and children from the firearms of their enemy. Most of our men went with teams, and chopped, drew, and carried logs, and put up a house in one day, for which they appeared very grateful. They were our neighbors until 1812, but when the war commenced with the British, the Indians left these parts mostly, and rather against my wishes.

"In Hudson my business went on very well, and we were somewhat prosperous in most of our affairs. The company that we received being of the best kind, the missionaries of the gospel and leading men travelling through the country called on us, and I became acquainted with the business people and ministers in all parts of the Western Reserve, and some in Pennsylvania. In 1807 (Feb. 13) Frederick, my sixth child, was born. I do not think of anything else to notice but the common blessings of health, peace, and prosperity, for which I would ever acknowledge the goodness of God with thanksgiving. I had a very pleasant, orderly family, until Dec. 9, 1808, when all my earthly prospects seemed to be blasted. My beloved wife gave birth to an infant daughter who died in a few hours; as my wife expressed it, 'She had a short passage through time.' My wife followed a few hours after. These were days of affliction. I was left with five small children (six, including Levi Blakesly, my adopted son), the eldest but about ten and a half years old. The remembrance of this scene makes my heart bleed now. These were the first that were buried in the ground now occupied as a cemetery at the centre of Hudson. I kept my children mostly around me, and married my second wife, Sally Root, Nov. 8, 1809. Through all these changes I experienced much of the goodness of God in the enjoyment of health in myself and family, and general prosperity in my business. April 19, 1811, Sally Marian was born.

"In July, 1812, the war with England began; and this war called loudly for action, liberality, and courage. This was the most active part of my life. We were then on the frontier, and the people were much alarmed, particularly after the surrender of General Hull at Detroit. Our cattle, horses, and provisions were all wanted. Sick soldiers were returning, and needed all the assistance that could be given them. There was great sickness in different camps, and the travel was mostly through Hudson, which brought sickness into our families. By the first of 1813 there was great mortality in Hudson. My family were sick, but we had no deaths. July 22, 1813, Watson Hughs, my seventh son was born; he was a very thrifty, promising child. We were mostly under the smiles of a kind Providence. Florilla, my fourth daughter, was born May 19, 1816. From this time I had many calls from home, and was called to fill some places of trust which others were more capable of filling. I now believe it was an injury to my family for me to be away from them so much; and here I would say that the care of our own families is the pleasantest and most useful business we can be in. Jeremiah Root, my eighth son, was born Nov. 8, 1819, and Edward, my ninth son, July 13, 1823.

"Nothing very uncommon in this period, save that there was a change in general business matters. Money became scarce, property fell, and that which I thought well bought would not bring its cost. I had made three or four large purchases in which I was a heavy loser. I can say the loss or gain of property in a short time appears of but little consequence; they are momentary things, and will look very small in eternity. Job left us a good example. About this time my son Salmon was studying law at Pittsburgh. I had great anxiety and many fears on his account. Sept. 21, 1825, Martha, our fifth daughter, was born; Sept. 18, 1826, she died from whooping-cough. Lucian, my tenth son, was born Sept. 18, 1829. Here I will say my earthly cares were too many for the good of my family and for my own comfort in religion. I look back upon my life with but little satisfaction, but must pray, 'Lord, forgive me for Christ's sake, or I must perish.' Jan. 29, 1832, my son Watson died, making a great breach in my family. He had not given evidence in health of being a Christian, but was in great anxiety of mind in his sickness; we sometimes hope he died in Christ. Martha, my sixth daughter, was born June 18, 1832; and Sept. 6, 1833, Salmon, my third son, died in New Orleans with yellow fever. He was a lawyer, and editor of a French and English newspaper called the 'New Orleans Bee;' was of some note as a gentleman, but I never knew that he gave evidence of being a Christian. Aug. 11, 1840, my second wife died with consumption, which she had been declining under for a long time. I think she died a Christian. Here my old wounds were broken open anew, and I had great trials.

"Some little time before this there had been great speculation in village lots, and I had suffered my name to be used as security at the banks. My property was in jeopardy; I expected all to be lost. I had some to pity me, but very few to help me; so I learned that outward friendship and property are almost inseparably connected. There were many to inform me that I had brought my troubles upon myself. April, 1841, I was married to the Widow Lucy Hinsdale. My worldly burdens rather increased, but I bore them with much patience. April, 1843: about this time my family had so scattered - some by marriage and other ways - that I thought best to leave my favorite house and farm, and to build new at the centre of Hudson.

. . . I have great reason to mourn my unfaithfulness to my children. I have been much perplexed by the loss of property, and a long tedious lawsuit; while my health has been remarkably good for one of my age, and I have great reason for thanksgiving."

Source: F. B. Sanborn, ed., The Life and Letters of John Brown. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1891., pp. 4-10.

Chapter One: Childhood and Early Adult Years

His Soul Goes Marching On

West Virginia Archives and History