A House for Widow Brown

“We reached Red Bluff a hungry, almost barefoot, ragged lot of emigrants. But the people came generously to our aid and gave us food and clothes.” Abbie Brown

When the Brown family arrived in Red Bluff in October 1864, they were, like almost all overland emigrants, trail-worn and tired. The group consisted of Mary Day Brown, the widow of John Brown, her three daughters Annie (20), Sarah (17), and Ellen (10), her son Salmon, his wife Abbie, and their two small children.

The conflict between the Union and the Confederacy was still raging in the East and most Red Bluff residents were supporters of the Union. They knew about John Brown, his failed raid on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry and his execution by the State of Virginia. They knew “his soul goes marching on.” They were generous in their aid to his remaining family.

Mrs. Brown found a small house to live in — some described it as a shack. Sarah and Annie taught school, but school-teaching was poorly paid. During her time in Red Bluff Mary Brown worked as a nurse and midwife.

Six months after their arrival a newspaper in San Francisco, the Daily American Flag, published a letter from Red Bluff, sent in by “A Friend of John Brown.” The letter suggested that people should help the Brown family by raising funds to build a house for them. The editor of the Red Bluff Independent agreed.

Red Bluff Independent, 10 April 1865

The editor of the Independent was eager to contribute to the cause. His article continued:

Here is five dollars. How many others will contribute an equal amount, or more or less?  Whoever has twenty-five cents, or twenty-five dollars to bestow in a “good work” let them hand it to Judge Earll for building “The John Brown Cottage.”

Other towns and other newspapers took up the cause, but the money was slow to accumulate. The Independent put out another appeal in October 1865. By mid-January 1866 it reported that the house was nearly finished and that ladies of the town were raising money to furnish it.

Red Bluff Independent, 10 January 1865

The house was nothing fancy — an ordinary frame house painted white. But the modest home was gratefully received by Mrs. Brown and her daughters. The house still stands at 135 Main Street, Red Bluff.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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