Friday, January 21, 2011

The Brownings of Pictou, Nova Scotia

The name Browning is English, coming from Anglo-Saxon origins, meaning a person with brown hair or a dark complexion.  There are many spelling variations for this name, including Brownrigg and Brownridge.  However, the name Brownrigg/Brownridge has additional roots tied to the ancient Scottish Boernician clan.  I'm not certain which direction to take the research at present, but I can list what I know so far, in the event that other researchers can comment.

My Browning ancestors come from Nova Scotia (New Scotland), so I'm more tied to the idea that their original name was actually Brownrigg.  However, their names and their descendants' names all carry a variety of name differentials, including Brownrick, Brownsby and Brownrig (with one 'r').  For the sake of consistency, everyone below is listed with the name Browning, since that seems to be the most frequent usage in available records.

William Brownrigg, my fourth great grandfather, was born around 1775, and died around 1810.  He was a sailor and died at sea, according to family legend.  Apparently the Brownrigg family were original settlers of Pictou and Truro Nova Scotia.  Nobody appears to know much more about William, though.  He married Mary Jeffers (of French extraction) in 1797, and had five children:

1.  John Browrigg (1799-abt 1860) (also known as Robert Brownrigg) and his wife Isabel Blair (1795-1869) (these were my third great grandparents), were both born in Colchester, Nova Scotia.  For the 1850 Census, John was serving time at the Maine State Prison in Thomaston for attempting to poison someone.  In the 1860 Census, John & Isabel were living in East Machias, Maine, with a Joanna (aged 30), and three young children.  It's possible that Joanna was a daughter, and the three kids grandkids (TBD).

2.  Jacob 1799-1864, married Janet Currier

3.  Jane ( no birthdate) married William Holstead

4.  Anne 1806-1880 married John Copeland

5. William, Jr. (1809-1895) married to Joanne Kitchin.

John & Isabel definitely had three confirmed children in Truro, Pictou, Nova Scotia, two of whom moved to the Greater Portland area of Maine in 1851:

1.  Sarah Jane Browning (1825-1892), my 2nd great grandmother, who married Marcus Temm from Hamburg Germany and settled in Scarborough Maine.

2.  Joanna Browning (1829- ), who had three children (James W., John and Isabella).  I'm assuming the three children are Joanna's, since they were living with her and with John & Isabel in Machias in 1860, and since the children were much too young to be John & Isabel's own children.

3.  Robert Browning (1832-1905), who married Catherine Whalen (1838-1874) from Ireland (whom I believe was related to the Whalen family that intermarried with my Leonard family from Ireland/Portland, but I've yet to prove it).  They married in Portland in 1864.  In 1866, he was working as a provision dealer on 127 Fore Street under the name Robert Brownrig.  In July 1869, he purchased several properties on Fore Street for $1,391.00, retained domestic servants, and called them the Brownrig Boarding Houses for Merchant Seamen.  They were located at 103, 125, 299 and 301 Fore Street.  103 & 125 were on the corner of Mountfort Street (125 was torn down to build a ship forge owned by Thomas Laughlin Company.  299-301 was on the corner of Pearl Street, next door to the Hub Furniture building across from the Customs House). 

101-103 Fore Street (in 1924)
(Corner of Mountfort Street)

299-301 Fore Street
(somewhere in this picture from 1924 City Planning Tax Records Collection)

Robert's niece Lizzie Temm worked as a servant at 103 Fore Street when she was a teenager.  Robert naturalized as "Robert Brownrig" in Portland Superior Court in February of 1876.  In December 1879, he sold off all the Fore Street properties to William Morton.  By 1900, he was renting property and working as a day laborer, at 67 years of age.  I wonder how he lost all his money?  He purchased a cemetery lot in Forest City Cemetery, South Portland for an Esther Jones, Augustus Clarke and his sister Sarah Jane's grandson Edwin Temm, who died as an infant.  I wonder what the connection was to the other people?

Robert & Catherine had six children in Portland, and they chose the "Brownrig" spelling at some point after 1871, dropping one of the g's at the end.  Three of their children died in infancy (Isabella, John & Gertie), and the two who survived to adulthood were:

-Mary Elizabeth "Minnie" Brownrig (1865-1925).  Minnie also grew up on 103 Fore Street.  She never married, but lived with her brother Thomas for a time on 267 Congress Street (corner of India Street).  Each census showed her as having no occupation.  I wonder how she filled her days.

-Thomas A. Brownrig (1868-1950).  Thomas also never married, and was a saloon keeper and beer retailer at 49 Commercial Street (currently where the AutoEurope building is) and 342 Fore Street (currently Bob's Barber Shop).  He grew up in his father's boarding house on 103 Fore Street, and later lived and helped manage his father's boarding house on 299 Fore Street.  He also lived on 45 Commercial Street and 267 Congress Street.  He purchased a house on Sebago Lake in 1904.  In 1911 he was bequeathed the Commercial Street properties from the will of William S. Perry of Brunswick (not sure of the relation).  He kept the properties until 1921.

Minnie and Thomas share a gravesite at Calvary Cemetery in Plot N 349.

Robert (under the name Browning), his wife, the three deceased infants, and also Catherine's brother, Thomas Whalen, are all buried in Calvary Cemetery, South Portland, in Plot H 8.

However, in 1868, Robert had purchased an additional lot in Forest City Cemetery, South Portland, where a random mix of people happen to be buried, and it's a mystery I've yet to uncover the answer to...I firmly believe that his sister Sarah Jane's husband, Marcus Temm, was the first buried there, since the date of lot purchase was just weeks after Marcus' death.


In doing some research at the Mormon library, I was pleased to see that someone had saved a document that indexed all birth, marriage and death records from Nova Scotia newspapers in the 1800s.  Here is an abstract of the announcements I found as they relate to Brownriggs living in Nova Scotia:

-25 Dec 1829, by Rev. J . Waddell:  Alexander Archibald, Esq. married Ann, only daughter of late William Brownrigg

-27 May 1833, at Helstone:  Gen. Sir Robert Brownrigg

-9 Mar 1837, at Truro by Rev. Mr. Burnyeat:  Marriage of John Copeland of Musquodoboit & Miss Ann Brownrigg

Colchester Historical Museum Archives sent me an email with the following information:
"Hi Scott: The only Isabel Blair that I found in our records that married a Browning was born Jan. 17, 1795 in Onslow Township and died 1868. She was the daughter of James Blair, Esq. and Isabella Catherwood. She had a family of 2 sons, and 6 daughters. However, the Browning she married was not named Robert but John. John Browning apparently died sometime before 1868. If in fact the family we found is the right one then he would have died between 1860- 1868.  On we looked at the 1850 US census and put in Robert Browning born in Nova Scotia but only John turned up being born in Nova Scotia. He was in the Maine State Prison. It says he was born in Nova Scotia. In the 1860 US census he is in East Machias, Washington , Maine with his wife Isabella age 64 (he is 63) and 4 younger people - a couple could be children and two grandchildren maybe. Says he was a stone mason. Should see if they might be in the 1870 census. They shouldn't be if the above is correct for yours."

Here's a pedigree chart for Sarah Jane Browning.  Sarah was of 100% Scottish descent, and her mother was of a noble Scottish lineage.


  1. Robert Brownrig(g)'s name doesn't show on the Calvary Cemetery database.

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