February 8, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Nicholas Brown

Few schools formed in colonial times were fortunate enough to weld their fortunes to as solid a benefactor as Nicholas Brown, Jr. The son of a wealthy merchant, Brown graduated from tiny Rhode Island College, then 22 years old, in 1786. His oration was a prophetic presentation on “The Advantages of Commerce.”

Brown embarked on a great career as a Rhode Island merchant that would span half a century. His ships could be seen on all waters of the globe. In 1791, after the death of his father, he formed one of New England’s largest mercantile houses with his brother-in-law Thomas Ives. The firm would go on to pioneer American trade with India and China.

His father had been an early patron of Rhode Island College and Brown was named a trustee to the school in 1791 at the age of 22. In 1796 Brown was named treasurer. Devoted to his state, Brown’s efforts helped make tiny Rhode Island one of young America’s most prosperous states. A staunch Federalist in his early years, Brown switched to the Whig party and served many years in the state legislature.

In 1804 he awarded his alma mater a gift of $5000 and school officials voted to rename the school Brown University. Over the years Brown’s largess to the school would total $159,000, insuring the success of the institution.

Brown did not confine his philanthropic activities to education. He withdrew from business in 1836 and addressed many social ills afflicting his home state. With his death in 1841 at the age of 72 Brown left $30,000 for the establishment of an insane asylum, in addition to his final bequests to Brown University.

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