April 16, 2009

David Sands Brown and Camden County

I finished processing the David Sands Brown and Company series and found it to be a good example of the entrepreneurial spirit associated with the economic development of the United States, especially if looked at from a micro-history-based point of view. After taking American History classes that only covered the major aspects and events of the United States past, looking at the papers in this part of the Chew collection gave me a new perspective on how just one individual took a neglected town and propelled it to progress through sheer will power and financial savvy.

Between the 1840’s and his death in 1877, David Sands Brown was a determining figure in the development and industrialization of Camden County in New Jersey, particularly Gloucester City. After working at his brother’s firm, he established his own dry goods enterprise and went on to become a successful and influential textile merchant in the South Jersey-Philadelphia area. He also served as Director of Girard Bank from 1840 to 1843 and founded, among others, the Washington Manufacturing, Washington Mills and the Gloucester Manufacturing companies.

According to Jeffery M. Dorwart, author of Camden County, New Jersey: the making of a metropolitan community, 1626-2000, Brown contributed to the development of urban neighborhoods through two other corporations he initiated: Gloucester Land Company (which provided housing to workers employed at his factories), and the Gloucester Saving Fund and Building Association that assisted workers in buying their own houses. He also bought Gloucester Iron Works and played a key role in planning and building the Camden, Gloucester, and Mt. Ephraim Railroad.

The papers that I processed are rich in details and descriptions of the daily operations of Brown’s enterprises and show different aspects of the development of Gloucester City. They are also rich in their variety. Besides business correspondence, accounts, financial reports and deeds, this part of the Chew collection features fabric samples, maps, broadsides and business cards, and even printed texts of songs about his companies. These songs are interesting in that they show a differing perspective on David Sands Brown so-called good business intentions. There is also a large group of maps, blueprints, and ground plans offering a visual description of the industrial and urban development of Camden County.

In these papers we can also see a chronicle of David Sands Brown relationship with the Chew family. His daughter Mary Johnson Brown married Samuel Chew (1832-1887), who became Brown’s business associate and treasurer and took charge of his estate after his death in 1877. Papers that document both the personal and professional relationships of the Chews and the Browns can be reviewed in Series X-Samuel Chew (1832-1887), Series XI-Brown and Johnson Families, and the papers pertaining to Mary Johnson Brown in Series XVI-Cliveden.

Papers related to all the companies Brown established can be found in this series of the Chew Family Papers and in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s Manuscript Collection 1586, David S. Brown & Co. Records, 1828-1910.

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