Brown Family Collections

BrownFamilyPapersThe Brown Family Collections include family papers, portraits, and photographs as well as over one hundred nineteenth-century books that belonged to members of a Black family in Worcester, Massachusetts. The collections center around William and Martha Ann Brown who were married in Worcester in 1850 and had one son, Charles F. Brown. William Brown’s ancestors (the Moore family) and the family’s descendants (the Goldsberry family) are also represented. The Moore-Brown-Goldsberry family created and maintained a family archive over generations and have entrusted it to the American Antiquarian Society to be made available to aid the work of researchers, poets, & artists, and community members for generations to come.

Brown Family Papers

This manuscript collection contains correspondence, official documents, receipts, and other material generated by family members. The family is also connected to the Hassanamisco Nipmuc people (learn more about Nipmuc histories here: The manuscript collection includes letters from Black soldiers during the Civil War; the deed, mortgage and a letter with directions for building the family home at 4 Palmer Street in Worcester; an 1889 letter from Frederick Douglass; a commonplace book with pressed flowers and poetry kept between 1847-1849 by Martha Ann Lewey before she married into the Brown family; patents taken out by William Brown. More information and a detailed family genealogy are available in the manuscript finding aid.

Brown Family Library

  • Consists of nineteenth-century books owned by the family
  • AAS catalog records for over 130 books owned by the family
  • Spreadsheet available of over 200 titles found in the family’s library, not all of which were able to be retained (contact curator of books Elizabeth Pope at epope[at] for access to the spreadsheet)

Over 200 nineteenth-century books remained in the family home in 2019. Most were added to the American Antiquarian Society’s collections because they have ownership inscriptions from the family or are editions which AAS lacks. (Some were not able to be kept because of condition issues.) Most of the books in the Brown Family Library were owned by William Brown, his wife, Martha Ann Brown, or their son, Charles F. Brown. Many had the family’s address at 4 Palmer Street inscribed in the volume. A few had extensive annotations or even drawings in the margins. An impressive breadth of subject matter was covered in the library, which included history, poetry, politics (including an edition of Worcester’s city charter), a cookbook, a formerly enslaved person’s narrative, a book on the African American press, and even a health book on the “masculine functions.”

Family & Collection History

John Moore (1751-1836) was born a free Black man in New York City. As a young man he moved to Boston, Massachusetts, and fought in the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1776. About 1781, after being granted a seaman's certificate, he sailed from Boston to Nova Scotia and then to Spain. Due to ill health, he retired from seafaring in 1784 and owned a store near Boston Harbor. In 1791, he married Alice Miles (1769-?), of Watertown, Mass. In 1831, their son, John Moore, Jr., became a guardian of Frederick Brown and William Brown (1824-1892), sons of Moore's sister Alice Brown (1793-1866). William Brown was an upholsterer and carpet maker in Worcester, Mass. William Brown married Martha Ann Lee Lewis Lewey (1818-1889) in 1850. Both became prominent members of Worcester’s Black community, aiding formerly enslaved people, raising funds for Black churches, and also joining local predominantly white charitable organizations. They had one son, Charles Frederick Brown (1826-1931), who inherited the family business and home. In 1915, Charles F. Brown successfully petitioned the state of Massachusetts for an annuity as a member of the Hassanimisco band of the Nipmuc people. Charles married Emma Griffith (1889-1961) and had a son, Lemmuel F. Brown (1889-1932), who died in World War I, and two daughters, Martha Jane Brown and Bernice Brown Goldsberry. The two daughters donated the family’s papers and portraits to AAS in 1973-4. In 2019 Dr. John Goldsberry, Jr. (Bernice’s son) and his wife Dr. Dorista Goldsberry, along with their family, gave to AAS the Brown family’s nineteenth-century library, the Frederick Douglass letter, and Martha Ann (Lewey) Brown’s commonplace book. AAS member Bob Bradbury assisted with the sorting and acquisition of the family’s library. The manuscripts in the Brown Family Collection were digitized in 2022 with the support of The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation

Related posts on AAS's blog Past is Present

  • Martha Ann Brown – Community Leader, Knowledge Keeper
  • Who Was John Moore Jr.?
  • Selected Items from the Collection

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    Wm. Brown trade card

    AAS catalog record

    Contributor: Brown, William, 1824-1892
    Date: [ca. 1850-1859]
    Resource: View images
    Alice Brown letter


    Letter from Alice Brown to her sons Fredrick and William Brown

    Item description / catalog record

    Contributor: Brown, Alice (1793-1866).
    Date: 1847
    Resource: View images
    letter from Frederick Douglass to William Brown


    Letter from Frederick Douglass to William Brown

    Item description / catalog record

    Contributor: Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895
    Date: 1889
    Resource: View images
    Martha Ann Brown's commonplace book


    Martha Ann Lewey Brown's commonplace book

    AAS catalog record

    Contributor: Brown, Martha Ann Lewey, 1818-1889)
    Date: 1847-1849
    Resource: View images
    John Moore Jr. painted portrait


    John Moore, Jr. (1751-1836)

    Portrait Information

    Contributor: William P. Codman (c. 1798-1831)
    Date: 1826
    Resource: View all images
    Martha Ann Brown


    Martha Ann Lewey Brown (d. 1889)

    AAS catalog record

    Date: ca. 1860
    Resource: View all images
    Charles F. Brown


    Charles F. Brown (1853-1932)

    AAS catalog record

    View all images
    William Brown


    William Brown (1824-1892)

    AAS catalog record

    Date: 1860 ?
    Resource: View images

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