Rev. Charles Edwin Brown (my maternal second great-grandfather) and his family first went to Iowa for Baptist missionary work in 1842. He toiled at that work until 1851 when illness forced him and his family to return to their native New York State for recuperation.
In 1857 he and his family returned to Iowa to continue his missionary work, this time in the northeastern part of that State.
The trip to Iowa this time presumably did not take a month like it had in 1842 although there is less discussion of the later journey in his memoirs.
All he mentions is taking an overnight voyage on the Great Lakes steamer “Southern Michigan” from Buffalo, New York to Toledo, Ohio and a train (the Michigan Southern and Indiana Northern Railway) to Chicago. Mrs. Brown and their three youngest sons continued by train to DeWitt, Iowa (not far from Maquoketa) while Rev. Brown went by horse and buggy to the latter town.
Rev. Brown soon learned that several Baptist families near the town of Vernon Springs in Howard County that abutted Minnesota to the north wanted to organize a church. He accepted their call, and he and his family made this town their home for the next 11 years and Howard County the site of his missionary work for the next 30 years.
This town then had a sparkling water spring, general store, post office, blacksmith shop, tavern, saw mill and a building for the county court house and about a dozen families. Soon thereafter the county seat was moved to another town, leaving its building for use as a school and church. The new Baptist church had an initial membership of 8 that grew to over 60 by 1860.
Today that church is located in the nearby larger town and county seat of Cresco, Iowa. Prominent in the sanctuary is a beautiful stained-glass window in honor of Rev. Brown. A panel states that he was “a Pioneer Missionary [who] settled in Iowa Territory in 1842 and continued in the work for nearly Fifty years, organizing Churches at many places in Illinois and Iowa” and that in “1857, He organized this Church, was its faithful Pastor for many years, and his revered example continues to inspire its membership.”
In 1858 Brown was elected as the very first Howard County Superintendent of Schools when it had only three schools and served in this position until 1861. He addition, he was a school teacher in the Vernon Springs, Iowa public school, 1858-1867.
The U.S. Civil War from April 1861 until its end in April 1865 was “a subject of absorbing interest and sleepless anxiety” for the people of Howard County. The War also affected the Brown family.
- Brown’s eldest son, Charles Perry Brown (then 20 years old) in 1861 was the first volunteer from the County for Company D, Third Iowa Infantry. (In September 1862 Charles was home on leave during the U.S.-Dakota War in neighboring Minnesota as discussed in a prior post.)
- In 1862 the Brown’s next eldest son and my first great-grandfather, James DeGrush Brown (then 17 years old) enlisted in the Sixteenth Regiment, U.S. Infantry (Regular Army), but a serious illness ended his service after a few months.
- In early 1865 Rev. Brown was appointed the Chaplain of the 88th U.S.C. Infantry (and later the 3rd U.S.C. Artillery). In May 1866 he returned home to Vernon Springs to continue his pastoral work.
In 1868 Rev. Brown accepted a call to the pastorate of a Baptist church in Carroll County, Illinois, but he and his family returned to Iowa and moved their home north to Lime Springs, but still in Howard County. There they helped build a new church and house. This was their home for the next 20 years except for another return to central New York in 1875-1876. During most of these years, he was not a full-time pastor although he did engage in pastoral work.
In his previously mentioned Fourth of July speech at Le Claire in 1845, Brown listed intemperance as the top domestic enemy. He elaborated at great length on this topic in a speech in Cresco, Iowa on January 3, 1875. He described intemperance as an “unsurpassed evil which entails upon the human family far more widespread and dreadful calamities than war, famine and pestilence combined.” It visits upon humanity “squalid wretchedness” and “untold and indescribable devastation, moral and physical.”
In 1877 Brown was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives. He served one term and declined to run for re-election in 1878. He was especially proud of his resolution, albeit unsuccessful, to amend the State Constitution to authorize majority civil jury verdicts, instead of unanimous ones. He lamented, “So long as our legislative bodies are made up largely of lawyers it can scarcely be hoped that measures looking to simplify litigation–expediting and reducing cost–will meet with favor.”
After his death, the Iowa House of Representatives on February 13, 1902, adopted a resolution proclaiming that his “life and character . . . command our love and esteem, and his public series to the state and country were of such distinction as to demand the respect and gratitude of his fellow citizens” and that the State of Iowa “has lost an able conscientious citizen.”
One of the House members said on that occasion that Brown was “a man of excellent judgment, strong character, and of a progressive nature, and could have attained a high place in the commercial world, but preferred rather to devote his life to the betterment of his fellow men.” Another Representative said, “Throughout his life, whether in the cabin or more pretentious dwelling, he was always the same social, devout Christian gentleman, practicing in his daily walk those precepts he sought to inculcate in others. He was intensely loyal and patriotic and when his conclusions were reached upon any subject, they were definite and positive. He advocated his religious and political opinions with earnestness, sincerity, and fidelity, and he was never vacillating or uncertain. He had a clear head and a strong mind.”
The economic importance of the U.S. development of railroads in the latter part of the 19th century is seen by three of the Brown’s sons being initially employed by the Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway. William Carlos Brown (W.C. or “Will”) was in its Minneapolis’ trainmaster’s office; James DeGrush Brown was an engineer; and George Lyon Brown was a trainman. In September 1871 George (age 18) was killed in a railroad accident.
In the Fall of 1882 a diphtheria epidemic broke out in northern Iowa, and two of Rev. Brown’s grandchildren died of the disease.
On June 12, 1887, Frances Lyon Brown (my maternal second great-grandmother) died at age 74 in Lime Springs, Iowa. Her husband said, for “nearly fifty years, she was my constant companion and helpmeet [sic]. Her cheerful, sunny disposition made itself felt through all these years, in the lonely cabin on the frontier, or the more comfortable home in the East. Whatever of success attended my labors in the ministry, and the success attained and positions of honor and trust gained by our sons, are largely due to the loving care and instruction of the sainted wife and mother.”
Rev. Brown died at age 88 on July 23, 1901 in Ottumwa, Iowa.
 This post is based upon Charles E. Brown, Personal Recollections 1813-1893 of Rev. Charles E. Brown with Sketches of His Wife and Children and Extracts from an Autobiography of Rev. Phillip Perry Brown 1790-1862 and The Family Record 1767-1907 (Ottumwa, IA 1907). Another source in that book is J.W. Wendell’s “Lest We Forget,” a Memorial Discourse in Honor of Rev. Charles E. Brown, Oct. 6, 1901.
 Brown might be pleased to know that his great-grandson (the author of this blog) was an attorney who was an active member of the Minnesota State Bar Association’s section for alternative dispute resolution, which sought to develop and promote less expensive and more conciliatory ways to resolve legal disputes.
3 thoughts on “Rev. Charles Edwin Brown’s Baptist Missionary Work in Iowa, 1857-1887”
Hello, I am a Baptist pastor in Iowa that has read the above mentioned biography and I am interested in reprinting several copies for pastors here in Iowa. Please contact me at 712-260-1464. Thank you – Josh Davenport of Spencer, Iowa