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Moses Brown (1738-1836)

Moses Brown A prominent Providence merchant, revolutionary, reformer and philanthropist, Moses Brown was the youngest of the five brothers born to James Brown II and Hope Power Brown. Just a year old when his father died, Moses was soon apprenticed to his wealthy merchant uncle, Obadiah. Successful as a partner with his brothers in the shipping firm of Nicholas Brown & Company, Moses moved into politics as a deputy in the General Assembly in the 1760s, where he acted as an important ally of Governor Stephen Hopkins.

In 1774, Moses converted to Quakerism and began to push for the reforms that the Quakers held dear, especially abolitionism and the end of the slave trade. Not many in Providence agreed with him at the time, and his most vocal opponent on the issue may have been his brother John. Moses freed his own slaves and also provided other slaves and free blacks with financial and legal assistance. In public life, he led the successful effort in 1774 to ban all future importation of slaves into Rhode Island, he fought for the passage of the state’s gradual manumission act of 1784, and he helped to secure the passage of a statute in 1787 that forbade slaving voyages from Rhode Island ports.

Beginning in the early 1790s, Moses Brown and his business partners provided much of the financing for textile mills throughout southern New England, including Samuel Slater’s Pawtucket mill, the first water-powered spinning mill in the United States, an event often heralded as the beginning of the American Industrial Revolution.


Erik Christiansen, PhD, Rhode Island College