Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dr. Gustavus A. Brown of Smithland

I hope to do a biographical sketch periodically on some of the early residents of Livingston County. The first sketch is on Dr. Gustavus A. Brown, who only lived in Smithland for a short time, but even before he moved to Smithland, he made a name for himself in the area.

On 20 May 1811, Gustavus A. Brown gave notice that he intended to apply to the Livingston County Court to establish a town in the point above the mouth of the Cumberland River, at the confluence of the Cumberland and Ohio rivers. He stated that both rivers were navigable, timber was present for ship building and everything necessary for the erection of houses was present. Just two months later, Brown had established his town of Westwood with Lilbourn Lewis, John Daniel, James Gamble and Robert and Cullen Cook as town trustees.

This land on which Westwood was situated had been patented to Gustavus Brown’s father, William Brown of Alexandria, Virginia, as part of a military grant through the newly formed Land Office in 1784. In fact, this tract of land was the first entry filed in the Virginia Military District, which was opened that year for veterans of the Virginia Continental Line. Kentucky did not become a state until 1792 and Livingston County was created in 1798/99 so this land was in Virginia when the land was entered. Gustavus Brown inherited this land by virtue of his father’s will of 1791.

It is unknown if Brown realized any profit from the land he inherited from his father, but we do know from Livingston County land records that a portion of the land was lost due to non-payment of taxes in 1824.

In April of 1831, Brown swore in county court that he did not move to Kentucky with the intention of selling the slaves who came with him. Very likely he arrived in Livingston County not long before that time. It didn’t take long for him to become part of the lively social and business scene in Smithland. In 1832 at Stanley P. Gower’s Hotel, he attended a meeting of merchants, planters and others interested in establishing a national hospital for “the accomodation of boatmen and others who navigate” the Ohio River and its tributaries. Brown was appointed to the committee to prepare a report on the project.

Following the shooting death of Lewis Sanders by Townsend Ashton on Christmas Day 1835, Gustavus Brown was charged with aiding and abetting Ashton in the murder. He was acquitted, as was Ashton. [See my blog of 7 June 2008]

In April of 1838, An event occurred that would end the life of Gustavus Brown. The 18 Apr 1838 issue of the Nashville Whig reports the following: “We learn from S.B. passengers from Smithland that a most dreadful and fatal affray took place at Gower’s tavern in that place on Wednesday night last. Dr. G.A. Brown, an old resident of Smithland, being inebriated at the supper table, the landlady requested another boarder by the name of Clark to assist him to his room. On hearing this, Brown commenced abusing Mrs. Gower, and Clark thereupon forced him to his room, on reaching which, B. drew a pistol and shot C. through the body, immediately below the ribs. C. then plunged a dirk into the heart of B. and left him a lifeless corpse upon the floor. Clark was still alive at the last accounts, though with but little hope of recovery.”

On the 7th of May 1838, a writing purporting to be the last will and testament of Dr. G.A. Brown was produced in open court, but continued to the next term. Again, the will was presented, this time by his slaves, who were to be freed by the provisions of the will. The heirs of Brown objected and had the will set aside. The case went to the Court of Appeals, which decided the will was to be accepted and recorded.

The burial place of Gustavus A. Brown is unknown. Many of the early inhabitants of Smithland are buried in Smithland Cemetery. If Brown is buried there, his resting place is unmarked.

Brenda Joyce Jerome. Livingston County, Kentucky Estate Records 1799-1842, (Evansville, IN: Evansville Bindery, 2004), 130.

"Establishment of Town of Westwood, Livingston Co., KY," Western Kentucky Journal Vol 1, No. 3 (Summer 1994), 23.

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By Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG
Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog

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