John Brown was born April 9th, 1830 in Fifeshire, Scotland. His wife Mary Elizabeth, was born April 7th, 1830, also in Fifeshire. We believe she was a Mitchell prior to marriage. One of her relatives, a Dodds, did come to Sydney Mines and worked as a miner for a time. He brought with him a friend, last name "Dickie". After this friend died in a mining accident, Elizabeth's relative returned to Scotland.
Alex Brown, a grandson to John and Elizabeth, visited relatives in Scotland during the second world war. While no one remembers who these relatives were, they do say that the relatives had a "Big book" of the family history of those who stayed in Scotland. In the late 1800's John Brown, a son of John and Elizabeth, went to stay with relatives in Scotland for at least a couple years but we do not know who they visited there or where they went in Scotland. It is said that the Browns can be traced to royal blood.
There is a rumour put forth by local MacDonalds that the Browns were "kicked out" of Scotland for sheep stealing. Elizabeth seems to have some connections to the Highlands, where sheep stealing was often used as an excuse for the highland clearances.
John Brown was a blacksmith by trade and it is likely that he responded to the General Mining Association advertisements for coal mining professionals from Scotland. In the spring of 1855 John and Elizabeth sailed to Canada on the same ship as Richard Brown, an Englishman and GMA's new mine manager.
The decision to sail could not have been made lightly. Emigrant ships at that time did not have a great track record. Ships were generally blown off course and many were wrecked on rocky shores, particularly off Newfoundland. Communicable diseases ran rampant and it was not uncommon for more than half a ships passengers to die during the voyage. Frequently, those who did arrive safely were weak and sick and many died after reaching their destination.
The voyage for John and Elizabeth was no less dangerous. The ship was blown off course several times and food and water supplies ran very short. The trip took over three months and a number of people died. The strength and endurance of the Browns is evident...when they arrived in Canada, they were a family of three.
On April 26th at sea, Elizabeth had given birth to their first child, David. Since he was born at sea, he automatically assumed the nationality of the home port of the ship. Later census records indentify him as being of Scottish nationality and as having been born in Scotland. We therefore assume that the ship was Scottish. It was, however, a family joke that he had been born at sea - how could he have a vote when he didn't even have a country?
John and Elizabeth first went to Lingan, C.B. where John worked in the mines. The census of 1860-61 shows John Brown as head of the household with one male and three female dependents. The family then would have included John, Elizabeth, the son, David, and daughters Christie (born in 1857) and Margaret (born in 1859).
At some point between 1860-61 and 1870-71 the Browns moved to Sydney Mines where John worked as a blacksmith making picks, shovels, etc. which were used to hew out Princess Mine. He also apparently obtained a grant of land in what is known as Cranberry. It would be interesting to discover how he came by this land grant. It was highly unusual for miners to own property. They rented their houses and house lots from the company.
John's tract of land was large by town standards and included the area between what is known as Lamond Street and Young street. It extended to the "back shore". At that time a huge rock shelf formed a natural wharf and boats were tied to a huge boulder, a cornerstone for the property lines. The wharf has long since eroded. The boulder, however, became known as "John David's Rock" and was a favourite diving spot for many years. A smaller rock nearby became known as "Little John David's Rock". These rocks are now barely visible at low tide.
The first house John built was a log house. This was replaced by a 1 1\2 storey structure which had a big kitchen, front room and two upstairs bedrooms. It was built on the corner of Lamond Street, across from Cable Street and was last inhabited by Roddie and Catherine Campbell (Catherine being the great grand-daughter of John and Elizabeth) in the 1970's. As of 1996 the house no longer exists.
To accomodate a large and expanding family, John built a second larger house next door to the first and then a third in line with the first two houses. The second house burned but as of 1996 the third house still stands and has been converted to apartments. John was an excellent carpenter as well as a blacksmith. He made all his own tools and, as of 1988, the tools were still being used by Buddy Brown, John's grandson.
Having property meant that John was eligible to vote in elections. 1879 election records show that John was on the voters list (a very short list). He also voted himself which meant that he could read and write. It was unusual for miners of the time to be able to read and write. Since schooling was not free, most miners' children did not attend school. Those who did attend were usually girls; the boys went to work in the mines.
The 1870-71 census for Sydney Mines shows that John and David were miners. Margaret and Elizabeth (Eliz born in 1862) went to school. The census includes notations that John, Elizabeth and David could all read and write.
Most of the Brown men were miners and there were always long lines of washing on wash days. The wash was boiled in big tubs on the stove and stirred with a long wooden paddle. On one occasion multitudes of small holes appeared in all the boys long johns. It was discovered that one of the girls had used a long fork rather than the paddle to stir the wash. The clothes all had to be darned and, needless to say, the same mistake was not made again.
By 1880-81 the Browns belonged to the Presbyterian Church. The early Presbyterian church was located where the Sydney Mines Centotaph now stands. The cemetery was located where Sydney Mines High School (today Sydney Mines Junior High School) is located. When the high school was built, the stones and remains from the cemetery were moved to Brookside Cemetery on the Halfway Road in Sydney Mines. A large rectangular stone for John and Elizabeth as well as the stones for many of the early Browns are located near the road at Brookside.
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