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  --  1817--(?)   Table of Contents    Illustration

Brown, Hallie Q.
Homespun heroines

- FRANCES JANE BROWN -- April 15, 1819--April 16, 1914

April 15, 1819--April 16, 1914

Mrs. Frances Jane Brown
At the Age of 70 Years At the Age of 94 Years
Homewood Cottage
Wilberforce, Ohio

Frances Jane Scroggins first saw the light of day in Winchester, Virginia. Her mother, Ellen Anne Scroggins, with three other small girls formed the household. Their names were Harriet, Eliza Anne and Martha Ellen. Their father died leaving them alone and unprotected.

The grandfather of these children was an officer in the Revolutionary War. He did the honorable thing by emancipating the mother and the four little girls. But they were left destitute and were bound out until a few years later when their mother married a free man, William Tocus, and the children were brought under the shelter of a home.

Frances Jane, the subject of this sketch, often related the cruel treatment at the hands of her "bound mistress," lack of food, clothes and sharp reproof; often stripes from leather tawse upon her bare shoulders. She was frequently mistaken for the daughter of her mistress which so enraged that lady that Frances' long, black hair was cut zigzag that it might grow curly, but it only grew out the straighter. She was made to stand in the sun to tan her, but her complexion was as soft and beautiful as a rose petal. The rigid laws of Virginia prohibited her from ever learning to read or write.

Other children came to the Tocus family increasing the number to seven. It was then that the father, with rare courage and faith determined to migrate to a free state. Frances relates the journey. "We were placed in a big old fashioned covered wagon drawn by four large, black horses which were Daddy's pride. There was plenty of room for us all with feather beds and patch work quilts. We were

often frightened going over the mountains and dangerous roads. As night came on we halted, built a fire and ate from the well filled hamper mammy prepared. Several times we were held for hours by the patrol to see if our free papers were correct or valid. Our joy knew no bounds when we sighted and finally crossed the Ohio river and reached free soil."


Frances never forgot her first impression of slavery. One bright spring morning, as a little girl, her mother sent her to the nearby town pump for water. Hanging her new tinpail on the spout and swinging onto the huge wooden handle, she was startled by a great cloud of dust which seemed to be coming up the road toward her. Greatly frightened, she left her pail and hid herself behind a clump of bushes by the roadside. She had scarcely concealed herself when a man, with black whiskers and a big straw hat, seated on horseback, brandishing a big, black whip rounded up a long line of naked slaves two by two, chained to each other, calling sharply on them to drink in a hurry. She saw them lap the water from the horse trough under the pump as the soul-driver drank from the pail. Then with the crack of the whip, he dashed down the road, the slaves running at full speed to keep pace with the horse and its rider. For days together, she could not lose sight of those poor creatures with wild staring eyes and tongues lolled out lapping the water like dumb, thirsty animals.

Crazy Jane

There was not much in those early days to interest a little girl like Frances and so minor incidents loomed great in her childish mind.

A strong impression was made upon her by a poor old white woman known as "Crazy Jane" who roamed the streets and lanes repeating snatches of poetry and verses from the Bible, telling the people God was angry with them

for holding slaves. As night came on she would sit on some friendly door-step or by the way-side, crooning and singing her favorite bits. One couplet never left Frances.

Seated in the quiet of Homewood Cottage at twilight in the evening of her long life--memories of her childhood came as the plaintive notes of the woodland dove were heard and the couplet heard so often would be given in the drawl of "Crazy Jane"--

"O, don't you hear the mournful dove
Token of Redeeming Love."

For several years after reaching Ohio, Frances made her home with the family of Major W--in Cincinnati. She became deeply interested in the cause of the slaves and joined the Abolitionists. She had several narrow escapes from being arrested.

Walking down the street one day, she came face to face, with a beautiful, young colored woman who was running and looking back. "What is the matter," said Frances. "I just got of'n the boat," she exclaimed breathlessly, "I'm a slave an' runnin' away. They are after me. Won't you hide me?" Frances took her hand, turned about and the two girls ran as fast as they could and had barely got inside of a friend's house before loud knocks were heard. When the door was opened an irate man demanded his slave whom he said he had seen enter the house. Frances stood trembling. The slave-holder declared she was his property. "O, no," said the friends, "we know this girl but you are at liberty to look further." In the meantime the slave girl Caroline, had been passed over back-gates and fences and was several doors away. With mutterings of wrath, the man hurried back to the boat which had whistled a warning to depart. Caroline was kept in hiding for some time and finally sent to Canada, where after forty years, she and Frances met on English soil to recount that narrow escape from slavery.


At the age of twenty-two, Frances was married to

Thomas Arthur Brown of Frederick, Maryland.

He was held in slavery by his own relatives. By industry he purchased his freedom, that of his only sister, Ann, his brother and his aged father. He was a man of remarkable character and intellect. The full account of his eventful life cannot now be given.

The young couple made their home in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Six children were born to them; all save one reaching womanhood and manhood; Jere A.; Belle J.; Anne E.; Mary F.; Hallie Q. and John G. who was born in Salem, Ohio, the others in Pittsburgh in the homestead on Hazel Street.

Mr. and Mrs. Brown were industrious and accumulated considerable property. Their greatest ambition was to give their children useful education. The older ones attended private school at Avery College under such renowned instructors as Miss Amanda Wier, Prof. J. B. Vashon, Professors Freeman and Samuel Neal. Having seen the horrors of slavery together they espoused the cause of the slave and fought his battle.

Their home became a Station of the Underground Railroad . Many a hunted slave found food, shelter and encouragement while waiting to be sent to Canada. At one time a mother and her five children remained one cold winter hidden by Mrs. Brown even from the rest of the family and the knowledge of the neighobrs. At another time, a family, well-known today, escaped from Texas and were cared for in their home for weeks. A remarkable incident occurred when the slave-holder came demanding his property. The children of this family were so fair with blue eyes and golden hair, that none believed they were former slaves. Mr. and Mrs. Brown had their pictures taken, with the American flag wrapped about them, which were sold to help finance the family.

A Haven of Rest

Their home became a haven of rest for the weary, traveling

ministry, while one room was set aside and known as "The Bishop's Room." The eldest son was christened by the first Bishop Brown, the youngest daughter was given the name of Bishop Quinn. From this home, while the A. M. E. General Conference was in session in Pittsburgh, Daniel A. Payne was elected Bishop. That home was one of plenty and comfort and for that day and time of elegance and refinement.

Mr. Brown traveled through the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky collecting funds to build Old Wylie Avenue A. M. E. Church while Mrs. Brown with the women of the church raised great sums at home.

Mrs. Brown was the guiding star of the home. Quiet, unobtrusive, she ruled her household by love and gentleness. A model housekeeper, a worker in the church and a neighbor beloved. Mr. Brown was a steward on a Mississippi steamboat making the run from St. Louis to New Orleans. The eldest son, a lad of 16, was allowed to accompany his father on one of his trips on the steamboat, "The Pennsylvania." The crew was composed of colored men and women. That was a fatal trip. The boiler burst, the boat was destroyed and 600 souls were lost. For days no tidings came to Mrs. Brown of her husband and son. With a calm, hopeful manner, she went about her daily task ministering unto and consoling her children and showing only a cheerful face when the report came that Captain Clinefelter and his entire crew were lost. Early one morning, father and son returned, empty handed, dressed in old clothes given them by strangers, but unharmed. It was the occasion for great rejoicing in that home which had been cheered by the faith and trust of a devoted wife and mother.

Failing Health

Mrs. Brown's health became greatly impaired and the family removed to Chatham, Ontario, remaining in that city a year, then went to the farm purchased by Mr. Brown

on the 9th Concession, County of Kent, four miles away; well stocked and with a modern and commodious house, well constructed barn and out buildings. Mrs. Brown gained in health and strength and prosperity seemed to wait on the inmates. This, however, was not to last.

Early one Sabbath morning in June that home was destroyed by fire and the fairest of the family, pretty little Mary, with her winning ways, soft black curls and large dark eyes was burned to death. The house had fallen in before she was missed. When the cry came--"Where is Mary?" frantic screams from women and children were heard, terrified men ran here and there seeking the child. Mr. Brown, the father, lost his mind and was restrained by kindly hands from leaping into the flames. Again that quiet, little mother went from one to the other comforting, consoling and during that ordeal--for weeks when the father's mind was a blank--hers was the strong arm upon which the family leaned. Friends by the score came to their relief and through their aid a five-room cottage was built. Here the mother found herself--stripped of all material wealth--no fine furniture or polished mirrors; no rich carpets or silverware; no instruments of music or costly pictures; only plain deal tables and bare floors.

Soon flowers and vines bloomed and clung outside that cottage door, muslin curtains draped the windows and homemade carpets covered the floor. The mother was teaching her children how to be frugal and content. She was Mary and Martha in one. "Homewood Cottage" became a beauty spot on the 9th Concession.

Mr. Brown still plied the river for a livelihood. It was during the Civil War. One day as the boat lay in port at St. Louis, Mo., two men came aboard and asked the porter, Mr. Brown, to take charge of two large carpet bags until they had finished their shopping, taking note of the boat's departure. Always courteous and obliging, Mr. Brown readily consented. The boat left without the two men appearing. At Memphis, Tenn., officers came aboard

searching for contraband goods. The carpet bags were seized. The porter could give no other account than that two men in St. Louis left them in his care until their return. The carpet bags contained percussion caps sent to the rebel army. The porter was returned to St. Louis in irons and imprisoned.

It was early autumn when Mrs. Brown learned of her husband's imprisonment. Not knowing how long he would be detained, she began with that calm, quiet spirit, full of determination and action, together with the help of the older children and one hired man to plan for the comfort of her family. It proved to be a most severe winter but there was plenty of meat in the smoke-house, canned and dried fruit, with jellies and pickles on the pantry shelves. The apples and vegetables were stored away; grists of flour and meal were brought from the mills; cords of wood stacked near the cottage door; the cattle were well housed with corn and fodder in crib and barn. Well, could the inmates smile at the great snow drifts that blocked the highways and piled in fantastic heaps about the cottage? All that was missing was the father far away. Words of sorrow and grief came from the helpless, imprisoned one but letters of cheer and happiness were sent to him from Homewood Cottage to brighten the gloomy cell.

Four books adorned the little center table in the home, the Bible, Pilgrim's Progress, Jane Porter's Scottish Heroes, and Spurgeon's Sermons. Each Sabbath, the children gathered around the family altar, passages from the Bible were read and then a sermon from the collection of Charles Spurgeon, the noted English preacher. During the week tales from Jane Porter's Scottish Heroes were read by a member of the family. Every evening after the milking and the chores were done, as twilight approached, a huge back log was rolled into the wide fire-place and soon warmth radiated cheer through the big living room.

The frugal meal of milk and mush was over the dishes tidied, then each would take her task. The wool would be

carded by one, another would be at the spinning wheel and the yarn reeled into banks by the mother.

Deprived of the music of former years, the children sang without accompaniment making melody in their hearts.

During the short winter days there would be an occasional wood chopping bee for the boys and a quilting party for the girls. Again on the moonlight nights a sleigh ride party when several wagon beds, placed on bob-sleds, filled with soft clean hay and merry boys and girls covered with buffalo robes skimmed over miles of road while gay, happy laughter rang out on the frost-laden air.

One day in late spring when the snow had gone and the ice had melted in the nearby streams the father, emaciated and pale came home. It was a season of rejoicing in that happy re-united family. He told them how he had prayed until some one said he not only shook the jail but all St. Louis and as nothing was found against him, he was liberated. "Yes," said Mrs. Brown, "and we prayed too."

One by one the older children left the home to make nests for themselves. Two remained with the mother.

After a few years Mrs. Brown concluded to rent the farm and move to the United States, which she did taking her two youngest children Hallie Q. and John G. to Wilberforce, Ohio, where they could obtain an education at Wilberforce University. Shortly afterward a residence was purchased and the name of the Canadian abode was transferred to the Ohio one. Here in the new "Homewood Cottage" she was permitted to spend in quietude and comfort her declining years. She entered heartily into the spirit of college life and placed her children under the tutelage and training of that master instructor, President Daniel A. Payne. She befriended scores of poor, worthy students and for thirty years brought into her home young men and women to "work for their board" but treated as members of the family, many of whom are today of sterling character and worth in the arena of life.


Mrs. Brown was an active worker in the Holy Trinity Church and one of the first members of the College Aid Society, an organization formed to assist indigent students. She saw borne from the cottage door to peaceful Massie's Creek Cemetery three children and her faithful husband and companion who with her had trod the path of life together for fifty years. Two devoted daughters were left to minister to her declining years. Her influence for good was felt by student body and community while little children loved to lisp the name of "Ma" Brown, the pretty old lady.

Her gentle life and gracious presence fell as a benediction upon that home. A visiting friend remarked that it was worth a trip across the Atlantic to see her. Trained by long schooling and patient labor, possessed by great social timidity and extreme shyness, the writer often gazed on her placid face and wished that hers might grow so fair and pure. She was ninety-five years and a day when silence came to that clear voice, "Thou shall come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in His season."

A tribute to Mrs. Frances J. Brown on her 91st birthday, April 15, 1909, by Mrs. B. F. Lee, Sr.:

With glad and reverent hearts we come
Our high esteem to prove,
To bring the lady of this home
Some token of our love.
This lady fair, this mother queen,
With eyes serene and bright,
(Upon whose brow no scowl is seen)
Is ninety-one tonight.

But she is young in heart and soul,
For years have never aged
A heart so warm, with love its goal;
Nor gloom her spirit caged.
What sphere or what position high
Does our sweet lady fill?
With no ambition did she try
To gain fame's shining hill.

But hers was highest of them all
And hallowed most of heaven
Her children do arise and call
Her blest. To her is given
A calm and ripened womanhood,
Nobel type of mother;
And all that's gentle, pure and good
In her has come together.

The secret of endurance long,
By love and duty bound,
She learned and in her task grew strong
And true contentment found
We thank you for the life you live
Of labor, peace and love;
For sure the creed which you believe
Was handed from above.

The Lord bless thee and keep thee still,
O mother true and dear;
His loving grace thy cup o'erfill,
His presence be thy cheer;
His smiling countenance ne'er cease
To shield thee from all fear
And give thee everlasting peace
O mother true and dear.

  --  1817--(?)   Table of Contents    Illustration