One of the leading businessmen in antebellum Natchez, Andrew Brown was born in Crail, Scotland, and educated as an architect at the University of Edinburgh between 1807 and 1810. Brown’s father, Andrew Bailie Brown, was a member of the municipal government in Crail but was not prosperous. The younger Brown came to America in the early 1820s and settled for a short time in Pittsburgh. He later moved to Natchez, where he first worked as a builder and then in 1828 bought a sawmill from Peter Little. The mill, located at Natchez-under-the-Hill, was a small, single-blade establishment but soon grew, and by 1860 it and its related operations had become the largest business in the Old Southwest. By the start of the Civil War the Brown sawmill produced three million linear feet of lumber annually, and a subsidiary in New Orleans constituted that city’s largest woodworking factory.
By 1835 Brown was operating the sawmill and working as a building contractor. The sawmill employed seventeen slaves (some owned and some hired) and one white worker. Sometime early in the decade, wealthy Natchez doctor and cotton planter Stephen Duncan became a silent partner in the firm. The 1830s was a prosperous time in Natchez, and Brown’s position as the principal manufacturer of lumber helped him quickly become wealthy.
In 1817, Brown married Elizabeth Key, a neighbor’s daughter. Their son, Andrew Brown Jr., was born in 1818. Andrew Jr. joined his father’s firm in 1840 and became a full partner in 1843 when he bought out Duncan’s share of the company for more than thirty-six thousand dollars. The name of the firm became Andrew Brown and Son. The younger Brown founded and operated the New Orleans branch of the company’s business until his death from yellow fever in 1848.
In 1837 the elder Brown became a director of the Mississippi Rail Road Company, headed by Duncan. Brown also owned a Mississippi River steamboat, the Hail Columbia, as well as many acres of timberland in the Yazoo River Valley. Brown was elected as a selectman in Natchez in 1837. He was a member of the Whig Party and served in a group aimed at preventing the practice of dueling.
Brown was known for his unusual treatment of his slaves. In spite of the provisions of the Mississippi slave code, most of Brown’s slaves were literate; some were allowed to carry guns, were trusted with large sums of money, and were paid salaries; some traveled as part of their work in the lumber industry; and some were allowed to buy their freedom and that of their family members.
Brown’s elegant home, Magnolia Vale, was built beneath the bluff in Natchez in the 1830s at a cost of more than sixty thousand dollars and stood for more than one hundred years before being destroyed by fire. In 1839 he hosted a party for five hundred people at his home.
Brown died in 1871. His personal and business papers are housed in Archives and Special Collections in the J. D. Williams Library at the University of Mississippi.
- Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Mississippi (1891)
- Andrew Brown and Son–R. F. Learned Lumber Company/Lumber Archives, Department of Archives and Special Collections, J. D. Williams Library, University of Mississippi
- Dale L. Flesher and Tonya K. Flesher, Accounting and Business Research (1979)
- Rufus F. Learned Collection, Lumber Archives, Department of Archives and Special Collections, J. D. Williams Library, University of Mississippi
- John Hebron Moore, Andrew Brown and Cyprus Lumbering in the Old Southwest (1967)