Jacob Brown (1789–1846)

Jacob Brown was an important but often overlooked figure in Arkansas’s territorial and early statehood period. He served as the chief disbursement agent for the Office of Removal and Subsistence and was the first president of the Arkansas State Bank. After Brown fought and was killed in the Siege of Fort Texas during the Mexican War, Fort Texas was renamed Fort Brown in his honor; the city of Brownsville, Texas, also bears his name, as does Brownsville (Lonoke County).

Jacob Brown was born in Charlton, Massachusetts, on July 19, 1789. Brown’s father, also called Jacob, had served during the Revolutionary War against Great Britain, and his mother was Mary Wells Brown, also from Charlton. Brown served with distinction in the War of 1812. Between 1818 and 1825, Brown’s regiment was sent to protect the Arkansas-Missouri border from supposed “hostile Indians.” However, after the Indian Removal Act was passed by Congress in 1830, Brown was assigned to permanent service assisting with the removal and subsistence of Native Americans through Arkansas in Little Rock (Pulaski County).

At some point before 1830, Brown married Sarah Aldora Smith in Canajoharie, New York; they had two daughters together, Sarah Jane and Mary Augusta.

At the time of his recommendation by Commissary General George Gibson for the job as chief disbursement agent, on September 7, 1831, Brown was captain of the Sixth U.S. Infantry under Colonel George S. Gaines, at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri. The Little Rock Office of Removal and Subsistence had opened earlier that year with Captain John B. Clark as its chief disbursement officer and superintendent, but by October 19, 1831, Brown had replaced Clark, who had become ill. In his brief time in the office, Brown negotiated the complicated logistics involved with the removal and subsistence of thousands of Indians through Arkansas, and their subsistence afterward in the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).

Before Arkansas became a state, it had no banks, which meant that funds needed to keep removal and subsistence operations running smoothly had to be accessed at Natchez, Mississippi; New Orleans, Louisiana; or Memphis, Tennessee; rather than in Arkansas. The first Arkansas General Assembly established two banks almost immediately after President Andrew Jackson signed its statehood bill on June 15, 1836. The Arkansas State Bank and the Real Estate Bank were signed into existence by Governor James Sevier Conway, and, by 1837, despite having no buildings or record books, they had begun operations in Little Rock with Brown as the Arkansas State Bank’s first president (while he was still serving in his other role), with branch offices springing up across the state by 1839.

Brown came under scrutiny when an “Investigator” wrote in the Arkansas Advocate on July 31, 1837, that Brown was “allied with the dominant party in this State (The Family) and no member of it has shown more a craven vassal, or paid more fealty to a few ignorant malochs than [Brown].” This investigator criticized Brown because he was holding two offices at the same time, one in the military, the other at the bank—an obvious conflict of interest. However, the investigator did not know that Brown was also working for the Office of Indian Affairs during that time.

Brown had become so well liked by Arkansas’s elite that he was permitted to march in Governor Conway’s inaugural parade alongside his successor at the Removal Office, Captain Richard D’Cantillon Collins. From March to October 1837, Collins and Brown worked together at the Little Rock Office of Removal and Subsistence. Because of mounting pressure to resign, Brown soon requested to be relieved from his post as chief disbursement agent. Collins replaced him at the Office of Removal and Subsistence on February 8, 1837.

After he had left his post at the bank and his position as chief disbursement officer in Little Rock, Brown was criticized by Collins for knowingly feeding spoiled rations to Indians at Fort Gibson and Fort Coffee in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). In reality, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Carey Allen Harris had given Brown, Collins, and William Armstrong authority over those rations. The Indians were diverted to Fort Coffee to consume the rations despite the fact that the rations were spoiled.

Brown was replaced as president of the Arkansas State Bank by William Field. Brown then went to Washington DC to acquire $300,000 in Chickasaw orphan funds to be invested in Arkansas State Bank bonds, but the deal went sour after Commissioner Harris resigned under a cloud of suspicion in October 1838. The bank made only about one-third of what had been promised by Harris, and the profits went to establish branch banks in Fayetteville (Washington County) and Batesville (Independence County).

Brown was promoted to the rank of major on February 27, 1843, and his unit was sent to join General Zachary Taylor’s army at Fort Texas, near the Rio Grande in Texas. Brown eventually was placed in charge of the fort and was given orders to defend it to the last man by Texas Ranger Samuel H. Walker.

A letter from the Treasury Department, dated September 11, 1846, reported that Captain Jacob Brown was killed in action while defending Fort Texas, which was renamed Fort Brown in his honor. Brown had been hit by an artillery shell on May 6, 1846, during the Siege of Fort Texas. Brown survived for another three days, dying from his wounds on May 9. His remains were buried at the Alexandria National Cemetery in Pineville, Rapides Parish, Louisiana, after being moved from Brownsville, Texas, which also bears his name.

For additional information:
Cutrer, Thomas W. “Jacob Brown.” Handbook of Texas Online. http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbr87. (accessed October 13, 2020).

Kent, Carolyn Yancey. “Jacob Brown: Superintendent of Removal and Subsistence.” Carolyn Yancey Kent Collection, Sequoyah National Research Center. University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Paige, Amanda L., Fuller L. Bumpers, and Daniel F. Littlefield Jr. Chickasaw Removal. Ada, OK: Chickasaw Press, 2010.

Worthen, W. B. Early Banking in Arkansas. Little Rock: Arkansas Bankers’ Association, 1906.

Cody Lynn Berry
University of Arkansas at Little Rock


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