The journal of James Percy Brown documents the life of a wealthy young American living in Paris from 1834-1835 during the reign of Louis Philippe.
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As the nephew of noted senator James Brown, ambassador to France from 1823-1829, Percy Brown entered Paris as a well-connected socialite. Undoubtedly, his family's prestige is what also enabled him to obtain a position as an attach‚ at the United States Legation working under Edward Livingston and Thomas P. Barton. Because of his affiliation with the embassy, and his status as a member of high society, Percy Brown was constantly in the company of foreign diplomats and aristocrats. His social activities are well chronicled in the pages of his journal as he recounts countless of soirees, dinners, visits with acquaintances, and even his presentation to the Royal Court of Louis Philippe. Towards the end of his journal Percy Brown took the time to write down a description of those with whom he had spent the past two years with. Researchers will find that he provides an interesting perspective on many famous figures, most notably the Livingstons, against whom he harbors some animosity.
As Percy Brown made it a point to consistently read newspapers, he makes frequent references to current political and social events. In addition, he devoted much time to his education, reading numerous works of literature, reviews of which are found throughout his journal, and attending many theatrical performances. Besides his lengthy stay in Paris, Percy Brown also toured various countries of Europe including Switzerland, Prussia, and Belgium all of which is described in his detailed journal entries.
Although James Percy Brown never managed to achieve fame on his own accord, a fact that he repeatedly laments, this chronicle of his life is valuable because it serves as a link in the long and compelling histories of both the Brown and Percy families. His parents, Dr. Samuel Brown and Catherine Percy were both members of highly respected Southern families. Born in Rockbridge County, VA to Presbyterian minister, John Brown and Margaret Preston Dr. Samuel Brown was an accomplished physician who contributed much to the field of medicine. He was not the only successful one in his family as his two elder brothers, James and John, were both distinguished senators and lawyers. Catherine Percy was the youngest child born from the union of Charles Percy and Susannah Collins. Percy was originally from the British Isles, most likely Southern Ireland, and managed to amass a fortune in land and slaves in the area surrounding Natchez, MS. His son, Thomas G. Percy, managed his estate after his death in 1794 and became a close friend of Samuel Brown. The two men relocated to plantations near Huntsville, AL after the death of Catherine Percy in 1813. Although the histories of both families have been thoroughly researched, little is known about the life of James Percy Brown, a melancholy young man who often paused to reflect on life and his surroundings, which only serves to make this record of his existence that much more valuable. The journal remains physically bound and intact, however, the journal entries have, for the most part, been separated by week into different folders for cataloging purposes. The cataloger has also numbered the pages so that the entries can be referenced more easily.
Occasionally researchers will come across pages that have been torn out or passages that have been blacked out with ink. Given the extremely personal nature of these particular entries, it can be assumed that James Percy Brown himself tore these pages out upon perusing his journal.
Genealogy trees of both the Percy and Brown families can be found in the following pages. Anyone wishing to learn more about either family's history should refer to the biographical notes for sources.
Biographical Sources: Brown, Wyatt, The House of Percy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994) Hardin, Bayless E., "Dr. Samuel Brown, 1769-1830, his family and descendants" (Louisville, KY: The Filson Club History Quarterly, Volume 26, Number 1, 1952) Hardin Bayless E., "The Brown Family of Liberty Hall" (Louisville, KY: The Filson Club History Quarterly, Volume 16, Number 42, 1942) Dictionary of American Biography (New York: Scribner, 1952-1964) Biographical Sketch The second and youngest child of Dr. Samuel Brown and Catherine Percy, James Percy Brown was born in 1810 on a plantation near Natchez, MS. His mother died when he was three years old shortly after giving birth to a baby girl named Catherine Ann who soon followed her mother to the grave.
After the death of his wife, Dr. Brown moved the rest of his family to a plantation near Huntsville, AL and it was here that Percy Brown was raised and educated. At the time of his father's death in 1830, Percy Brown inherited half of Dr. Brown's estate, which totaled to $33,399.18 in slaves and stock alone. The other half was bequeathed to his older sister Susan, who later married Charles Ingersoll of Philadelphia. Statements made in his journal confirm the fact that Percy Brown also held property in Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi.
In addition to being a planter, Percy Brown was also a lawyer, although it is unclear as to when and where he obtained his degree. Sometime in 1833 he traveled to Europe and began his extensive stay in Paris, where he received private tutoring in several languages, including Italian and German. After a year, he began working at the United States Legation as an attache under the direct supervision of Thomas P. Barton. According to his journal, Percy Brown left Paris sometime in 1835 to visit other European countries, however, the exact date of his return to the United States is unknown. His wealth and prestigious background made it possible for him to secure an alliance with an equally prominent family. On April 25, 1839, he married Lizinka Campbell, the daughter of eminent diplomat and politician George Washington Campbell, in Nashville, Tennessee. Two children were born out of this marriage, George Campbell Brown in 1840, and Harriet Stoddart Brown on August 1, 1844. Unfortunately, Percy Brown did not live to see his children mature as he died in 1844 of unknown causes, leaving behind almost no records of his short life.
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