Who I Am

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Alex. Brown & Sons--Second, Third and Fourth Generations

Chapter Five

Alex. Brown & SonsThird Generation in Baltimore


George Brown (second generation) kept up his partnership in all the Brown family firms until 1852, when he relinquished Brown Brothers & Co. in New York and Philadelphia and Brown Shipley business in Great Britain. In Partners in Banking, John A. Kouwenhoven states he sold his interest in firms headed by James and William in 1839, and they also relinquished their partnership interests in Alex. Brown & Sons. George did, however maintain an interest in the Philadelphia branch until 1859.

George then focused all his activity on the Alex. Brown & Sons firm in Baltimore, training the youngest son, George Stewart (G.S.) Brown, to eventually take over management. G.S. became a partner with his father in 1856, but was not healthy enough to take over fully, leaving much of the business activity to William H. Graham—the husband of his sister, Isabel Brown. They worked closely together after George Brown's death in 1859.

The Southern Strain

The years during and after the civil war caused a strain between the original Alex. Brown firm and the Brown family living north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Kouwenhoven (p. 126 of Partners in Banking) relates that after George Brown retired in 1839, he had kept Alex. Brown & Sons alive for his son, G.S., though relatively inactive. The firm moved to the second floor of the building, allowing a branch of the New York Brown Brothers & Co. to take the ground floor offices. Alexander Brown had trained his brother's sons years earlier, and they had followed James Brown to New York in the mid-1820s, one cousin, Stewart Brown, becoming James' partner. As war approached, Brown Brothers & Co. assigned Stewart's half- brothers — John N. Brown and J. Harmon Brown—to work at its Baltimore branch of Brown Brothers on the ground floor of Alex. Brown's building. George Brown's son-in-law, William Graham, was the branch's manager, while acting also on behalf of Alex. Brown, representative agent for the New York bank. Graham took his orders from James in New York, rather than from Alex. Brown & Sons.

No wonder George had lost interest in banking. Southerners were bitter. They had developed a way of life which had become alien to those merchants from northern cities who were attempting to declare that way of life illegal and extinct. The Brown family was not immune from the dissension. James and John Brown had grown up in Baltimore, but had become businessmen in the same cities which were now warring against the men with whom their brother George engaged in business. One of those men was a farmer named John Merryman (also a dealer in fertilizer), who owned an agricultural estate called Hayfields in the region near Cockeysville. According to "Ex Parte Merryman," Maryland Historical Magazine, Dec 1961, pp.384-398:
On May 25, 1861, U.S. Soldiers arrested John Merryman at his home "Hayfields" in Cockeysville, Maryland. He was a lieutenant in the Maryland State Militia who had (under orders from the Governor) burned rail bridges north of Baltimore to prevent the passage of northern troops through the city. The army confined Merryman at Fort McHenry, and he was held without charges and denied legal counsel.
Hearing of Merryman's plight, Chief Justice Taney intervened. He issued a Writ of Habeas Corpus to Fort McHenry's commanding officer, Major George Cadwalader. However, citing military orders from the President, Cadwalader had the Writ refused at the Forts outer gate. Taney's written opinion, known afterwards as "Ex Parte Merryman," stated that only Congress has the power to suspend the Writ, and then, only in cases of extreme emergency. He admonished the President for overstepping his Constitutional limits; as he had no right to suspend the Writ.
Lincoln read Taney's opinion, but decided not to honor it. He felt the state of affairs warranted emergency action, and since Congress was not in session, he had to act on its behalf. In response to Taney's opinion, Lincoln wrote, "Are all the laws but one to go unexecuted and the government itself go to pieces lest that one be violated." As the war progressed, the arrests continued, and Lincoln suspended the Writ as far north as Maine. On March 3, 1863, Congress authorized the President to suspend the Writ.
In the minds of Lincoln's supporters, these actions were necessary to preserve the Union, and essential to the survival of the United States. The Southern leaders, however, condemned Lincoln, calling him a dictator and a man who would stop at nothing to gain total power.
Was all this necessary? Was he a dictator, or were these actions necessary to hold together the country in its most perilous hour?... (See also Brian McGinty, Lincoln and the Court, pages 66-88.)

Fourth Generation in the Post-War South

From Baltimore: Its History and Its People, Vol. II, by Clayton Colman Hall
Between the war years of 1856 and 1865 the Brown Brothers & Co. office in New York sent its own representatives to Baltimore while George's eldest son was in the military. Having served as an officer in the civil war, Alexander Davison (A.D.) Brown seems to have had no interest in banking after his return from battle. George's two daughters Grace and Isabel, had married bankers, and Isabel's husband came into the firm to assist his father-in-law and ultimately preserve the bank for the youngest son, George Stewart Brown.

Needless to say, 1861 was an extremely trying time for normal business activity in Baltimore. George Brown, had died two years earlier, on a year after George Stewart Brown's wife, Harriet Eaton Brown, gave birth to Alexander (photograph), their only son. After the civil war ended, Maryland's Governor Thomas Swann, who had been an early director of George Brown's B&O Railroad, appointed George S. to serve as paymaster for the state, a position which continued for many years. He was also an officer in several corporations, including the Havana Steamship Company.

George Stewart Brown's client list contained many who were descendants of Alexander's earlier clients who had invested in the bank of the United States, hoping to support the cause of the early Federalists. Charles J. Bonaparte, mentioned earlier as grandson of William Patterson, one of Alexander Sr.'s most important clients—would eulogize his friend when he died in 1890. Bonaparte and G.S. Brown had organized a Reform League in Baltimore, following the lead of Theodore Roosevelt in New York in advocating civil service reform. Bonaparte would be appointed Secretary of the Navy in 1905 and later Attorney General in Teddy's administration which ended in 1909.

Since the Browns were Presbyterians and his mother, formerly Harriet Eaton, had been born in New Jersey, it was natural for Alexander to attend Princeton. He graduated in the class of 1878 at the age of nineteen. After traveling to Europe, Alexander joined the bank, becoming a partner on January 1, 1882. Seven months later he traveled to Liverpool, England, boarding the S. S. Cunard in New York; also aboard the ship was General Charles Price Montague and his family—Bessie, Kate and William Ivanhoe Montague, who on their return trip to Baltimore attended a family reunion in Hadley, Massachusetts. One year almost to the day after boarding the Cunard, Alexander would marry Bessie Montague—one of the "big five," the five prettiest girls in Baltimore.

An announcement of their marriage on July 3, 1883 appeared in the Philadelphia Times, stating:
Baltimore - July 3. Miss Bessie Montague and Alexander Brown, Jr., were united in marriage this morning at Christ Episcopal Church. The bride has been an acknowledged belle here for two seasons. She is a daughter of General Charles P. Montague, a retired capitalist. Mr. Brown is a son of General George S. Brown, of the banking firm of Brown Brothers.
Only two years after Alexander's marriage, his uncle William Graham died suddenly, followed in 1890 by his father, thus leaving Alexander Brown as the highest ranking family member in the bank, if not the most experienced. His 1883 marriage to the southern beauty from Virginia would serve to link him to the Warfield banking family through his wife's cousins.

Upon George Stewart's death management of the bank, located at the corner of E. Baltimore and Calvert Streets, fell into the hands Alexander, who had become a partner of the firm in 1882. He would be assisted for a time by William Graham, Bowdoin, William Graham's nephew, who died in 1905. The address was 135 E. Baltimore. Also at Calvert and Baltimore was Wallis' uncle's institution, the Continental Trust.

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George Brown had built a residence on Cathedral Street, and another would go up in the same block for George Stewart around 1850. The 1860 census indicates that, after their marriage, William and Isabel Brown Graham lived with her widowed mother in the home designated as 704 Cathedral, while George Stewart and Harriet were next door at #712 with daughter Harriet Stewart Brown, who would grow up to marry first Thomas Suffern Tailer and, after his death, C. Ledyard Blair.

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George's residence would pass to their son, Alexander, who grew up there and where he continued to live for a time after his wife, Bessie Montague Brown, died in 1930. At some point just prior to Harriet's marriage to T. Suffern Tailer of New York in 1909, Alexander had built a ballroom "at the rear" of their mansion (see clipping to the right).

Even before the former Bessie Montague died in 1930, they moved permanently to their country estate, Mondawmin, north and west of Druid Park, where Alexander died in 1949. Many years later the Cathedral Street residence would become home to Baltimore's school for the arts, after first being acquired around 1924 by the Catholic order of Knights of Columbus and called Alcazar Hall. There was a swimming pool in the basement by that time. The brownstone at #704 would be rented out or sold long before 1924. From 1933 to 1935 it was the residence of acerbic Baltimore journalist, H.L. Mencken, and his wife until her death.
Mrs. Alexander (Bessie Montague) Brown, was a first cousin to Alice (or Alys, as she preferred) and Bessie Montague, the daughters of her father's brother, William Latane Montague. Alys would marry Teackle Wallis Warfield and give birth to Bessie Wallis Warfield who would, in 1937, scandalize the British royal family and the world by marrying England's King Edward VIII. By then Mrs. Alexander Brown, who had hosted a reception for Wallis when she was much younger, had died though her husband was still alive.

William H. Graham had been born into an old Virginia family with ties to George Washington, but his mother, Lavinia Upshur Teackle, chose to marry a seagoing merchant from Ireland rather than one of Virginia's aristocrats. The Teackle blood in Graham's veins had no family connection to Teackle Wallis Warfield, who had simply been named for a political crony of his father, Daniel Warfield. As mentioned earlier, Alice (Alys) Montague, and her sister Bessie (Mrs. D. Buchanan) Merryman, were daughters of William Latane Montague whose niece became the wife of Alexander Brown, the only son of George Stewart Brown.
George Brown's Children and Grandchildren